Friday, 22 September 2017

Things Are Definitely Warming Up

Those of us who have lived through the nightmare of TR and the resulting probation omnishambles created by Chris Grayling and his Lib Dem cronies have learnt to be surprised at nothing over the last couple of years. None of it has 'bedded in', improved or stabilised - it just gets worse day by day, a state compounded by a prison crisis and a worsening situation that cannot be ignored for much longer, not least because it's becoming increasingly likely that some CRC's are about to fall over. 

I thought this comment left recently rather neatly sums things up:-
"How the fuck did it become okay to take shitloads of public money by saying you can do something, utterly screw up the task, complain its not fair, get given shitloads more public money, then get told if you achieve something close to what you originally said you could do you'll get a 'reward' - like we'll turn a blind eye to what you do in the future... AND probably more money, or a knighthood, or something."
Throwing more money at the problem in the form of just giving the failing CRC's more dosh isn't working and I get the sense that things are going to come to a head one way or the other quite soon. It's to be hoped someone down at MoJ HQ has dusted off the file marked 'contingency planning', written I gather by WYPS in the early days of preparations for the whole TR traincrash. But of course things have moved on since then and there are no easy options and some are just not possible, such as NPS taking over a failed CRC. And where are all those clever civil servants who dreamt this whole mad idea up? Got the awards and moved on of course.

So, if this is the context and something is likely to 'blow' fairly soon, it's interesting to note that media interest is definitely growing and I suspect the MoJ spin doctors will have to start proving their worth over the coming weeks. Here are two articles that have appeared on the internet over the last couple of days with Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary, quoted at length in each. This on the website:- 

Chris Grayling's probation reforms have been a disaster for the service

"Successful offender reform depends on so many people," an open letter from the justice secretary said earlier this summer. "Among the most vital are probation staff, who seek to improve the lives of those they work with and, by extension, society as a whole. They are key to disrupting the cycle of offending."

They are and they should be. But it's not happening. And no one's talking about it. The lack of any meaningful public scrutiny around the state of our probation service is remarkable given how crucial it is to keeping us safe. Probation officers supervise offenders on their release from prison. They assess risk, hold interventions to change behaviour and help them commit to crime-free lives. The system worked relatively well - or as well as things tend to in Britain's creaky and underfunded justice infrastructure. But then a few years ago Chris Grayling became justice secretary and chaos ensued.

Driven by the government's austerity agenda, he split probation in two: a public sector National Probation Service (NPS) which would supervise high-risk offenders, and 21 privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to manage those posing low-and-medium-risk. Warnings were voiced by staff and unions at the time about the scale and pace of the reforms, but they were not heeded. Now, in news that will surprise no-one, they have come to fruition.

The NPS is now characterised by dwindling staff numbers struggling with unmanageable caseloads, while its previous 'joined-up' approach of bringing together housing and education authorities with the police, employment and health services has deteriorated. But it is the situation of the CRCs – run by firms including Sodexo, Interserve, MTC Novo and Working Links – which is most concerning.

In the latest report published by the chief inspector of probation, the work of the NPS in Gloucestershire was found to be "reasonably good" but the CRC's work was deemed "so far below par that its owner and government need to work together urgently to improve matters". Other reports have raised similar concerns.

Ian Lawrence, head of the National Association of Probation Workers (Napo), told me that the CRCs’ poor performance is the result of financial difficulties and unsuitable models being used to supervise offenders – something he believes is incentivised by the profit motive involved in the running of the contracts.

The result? Minimal time being spent with offenders – some of whom are being spoken to on the phone every few weeks - staff shortages, unmanageable caseloads, high staff sickness levels and workers being recruited with no probation qualifications. Most worryingly, Lawrence said that a number of "serious further offences" had been committed by offenders, including murders, in the past year which he puts down to ineffective supervision. Feeding into this, many CRCs are now operating at a loss as fewer low- and medium-risk cases have been referred to them than had been projected.

To help keep them afloat, £22m of public money has been given to them to this year, while another £277m will be injected over the next four years – figures that only emerged after Private Eye trawled through the obscure Official Journal of the European Union, which requires publication of such payments by member states. Yet these pots of money have not been mentioned explicitly by ministers anywhere.

In his open letter, the justice secretary said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had "adjusted the CRCs’ contracts to reflect more accurately the cost of providing critical frontline services" as result of "unforeseen challenges" following the splitting of the service. A similar written statement was made to parliament by the prisons minister but, again, no amounts were given.

"It's outrageous," Lawrence told me during a recent interview. "The whole model on which the privatisation was predicated has failed and the government is in such a state over it, the only option it seems to have at the minute is to plough more taxpayers' cash into it."

The centrepiece of Grayling's reforms, Through the Gate, has also been a disaster.This policy, aimed at reducing reoffending by helping prisoners to resettle into the community, has been dismissed by both the chief inspectors of prisons and probation as being so ineffective that, if it was removed tomorrow, "the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible".

Lawrence added: "Untold millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has gone into that and, save for a few pockets, you would have to say that it’s manifestly failed. Grayling once said 'it's not right that people should walk out of prison from a short-term sentence with £46 in their pocket and nothing else'. Now, it's quite probable that the offender will walk out of prison with £46 and be given a leaflet on who they should contact to try and get employment or accommodation support. It never got off the ground. The MoJ belatedly ramped up the pressure on their CRC contractors about delivery, but it's a disgrace."

Alongside a parliamentary enquiry, the Napo boss is calling for failing CRCs to be stripped of their contract. It's the only way he believes any real public accountability can be restored to the service. "If a CRC has an operational model that had failed to the extent that the government stripped it of its contract, then it changes the whole ball game,” he said.

The work of such a CRC could be returned either to the NPS to run (although this is unlikely given how overstretched it is), or to the offices of elected regional mayors or police and crime commissioners – a prospect London Mayor Sadiq Khan has welcomed for probation services in the capital. Crucially, while some CRCs could still be commissioned to provide the service, they should not decide how they should be run, Lawrence said.

The need for greater scrutiny was acknowledged by the justice secretary in his open letter. Since transparency is key to effective public service reform, probation providers will come under keener scrutiny," he said. "Taxpayers should know how money is spent on their behalf to improve lives."

Indeed. But, what form would this take? Giving more money to the chief inspector of probation to "carry out annual performance reviews and publish individual ratings"? Surely the failings now require action demanding urgent improvement, not more reports confirming a lack of it retrospectively. Within the context of the prisons crisis, a focus on inspection reports rather than a fundamental rethink really seems to be missing the point.

"You've got overcrowded prisons, next to no rehabilitation support in those, and CRCs struggling under huge caseloads to actually put the mechanisms in place that might allow clients to turn their lives around," Lawrence said. People are emerging from prison more broken than they were before, with a surveillance and support structure which is underfunded and shattered by misguided attempts at privatisation. The problem is now so severe that it will take more than a few more reports to fix it.

Hardeep Matharu is a justice and social affairs journalist.


This on the Huffington Post website:-

Probation Companies Handed Cash Windfall Despite Explosion In Reoffending
‘The public is paying more for a probation service which is failing to deliver.’

Private firms who have presided over an explosion in violent reoffending have been handed millions of pounds of extra cash by the Government, HuffPost UK can reveal. An additional £37m was handed to Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) last year in a move branded a “bung” by probation union Napo and “rewarding failure” by Labour. The 21 CRCs have been mired in criticism since they took over from publicly-run probation trusts in 2015.

The number of offenders on probation charged with murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious violent or sexual crimes has risen by more than 25% since the service was privatised and prison numbers continue to rise. A joint report of the prisons and probation inspectorates in June also gave a damning verdict on the CRCs’ Through the Gate (TTG) programme. It found 10% of long-term prisoners leave jail homeless and just two out of the 98 prisoners surveyed as part of the report were found accommodation before they were released - 10% of that number were back in jail within 12 weeks.

Prisons minister Sam Gyimah said the payments, additional to the Government contract agreement, were made “for a variety of reasons” and “on a case-by-case basis” in order to “improve services”. It comes after Interserve Justice and MTCnov, two of the private companies running CRCs, threatened to pull out of Government contracts in March, citing unsustainable finances. “Our work is going up, our payment is going down,” Yvonne Thomas, director of justice at Interserve, told the Justice Select Committee.

Dame Glenys Stacey, the Chief Inspector of Probation told the same committee probation was in an “unsettling position” and CRC staff were overwhelmed by workloads because of “half-baked” reforms.

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, who has demanded the service be renationalised, said: “Once again the costly failures of the Conservative’s privatisation of our justice system are clear to see. The public is paying more for a probation service which is failing to deliver.

“The Government must get a grip of the crisis in probation that its reckless policies have created, which are leaving the public less safe as reoffending levels rise and prisoners are not given the help such as training and housing on release to rebuild their lives. It needs to stop rewarding failure and guarantee that no more money will go to these private CRCs until they can show they are fit for purpose.”

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo, added: “This money is a bung, as far as we are concerned. It is a signal that no matter how CRCs perform, they will get money thrown at them.”

Justice Secretary David Lidington has admitted the CRCs system has come up against “unforeseen challenges” since it was introduced in 2015 and has pledged “balancing policies” as part of an ongoing MoJ review. Answering a parliamentary question from Burgon, Gyimah said: 

“A total of £37.15m was paid to CRCs above their agreed contracts in 2016/17. These payments were made for a variety of reasons and cannot be broken down by CRC because the information is commercially sensitive. Furthermore, some concessions were agreed with CRCs on a case-by-case basis to enable them to re-invest contractual payment deductions in key areas of the business and improve services. In addition, we have made changes to how CRCs are paid for future years so they can focus on activities that best rehabilitate offenders and keep society safe.”

MoJ figures last month revealed there were 86,413 people behind bars in England and Wales last month (up 1,500 on 2016). Revised projections also said there would be 2,700 more prisoners - a number three-times an at-capacity Belmarsh prison can hold - by next June. The official predictions for the rise in the prison population will also set alarm bells ringing after surging levels of violence, self-harm and drug use within jails. There has also been a 20% increase in prison violence this year, with frequent reports of jails losing control of inmates as the Ministry of Justice grapples with a prison officer recruitment crisis.


  1. How on earth will this situation be rectified? Is it too late? Why was it allowed to happen and to continue for so long?

  2. I missed the NOMS annual report released Aug 2017. I thought they were now HMPPS but it seems Spurr can't let go. Here's an extract highlighting some of his delusional ramblings & a link to the document. It might also offer an answer to the query about Interserve hunting down the BASS contract:

    "Community Rehabilitation Companies

    During 2016-17 we have continued to exert robust oversight of delivery of probation services
by the 21 CRCs. This has included detailed scrutiny of practice through a series of operational assurance reviews. As highlighted in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) inspections, we have continued to see substantial differences in the performance of CRCs during 2016-17. We have taken steps, in line with the contract, to address areas of under-performance.

    In 2017-18, we will implement changes to the contracts with CRCs to adjust how they are paid for their services. This will ensure the payments more accurately reflect the extent to which CRCs are able to adjust their costs when the volume of offenders and the requirements of managing those offenders change.

    We will continue to manage delivery against agreed contract levels robustly. We recognise that there are opportunities to further improve delivery of community interventions, by supporting greater collaboration and process efficiency between the NPS, CRCs and the Electronic Monitoring (EM) service. We will continue to work with all of our providers to deliver a programme of whole system improvement.

    The Bail Accommodation Support Service (BASS) will be recompeted during 2017-18, this provides an opportunity to ensure that the number and location of properties provided under this contract supports the ambitions of prison reform by providing appropriate alternatives to custody."

    1. A perfect example (from that report) of the openness & transparency that this Govt champions:

      "Community Rehabilitation Companies

      Included within the table above is a commitment of £1,566.7 million (2015-16: £1,933.6 million) and £18.8 million (2015-16: £16.0 million) relating to the Fee for Service (FfS) and Fee for Use (FfU) elements respectively of contracts with Community Rehabilitation Companies.

      The CRC contracts include a Payments by Results (PbR) element, under which additional amounts will be payable to the CRCs on a sliding scale upon the achievement of targeted reductions
      in reoffending. Estimated payments over the duration of the contracts based on the projected volume of offenders entering each cohort are £593.0 million. This additional value has not been disclosed in the table above, due to uncertainty of the amounts at this early stage of the contracts. Also, FfS and PbR are based on a predicted volume of offenders, changes in which will result in a corresponding increase or reduction in the amount payable to CRCs."

    2. Combined salary cost in 2016/17 for the executive jokers who prepared this pack of lies, excluding bonuses & pension pot contributions:


      A few of these Simple Serpents have already jumped the wall & are now in gilt-edged employment with the privateers, shamelessly selling us down the river & advising the asset strippers on how to extract many more £millions of public funds - from the very contracts they specified and commissioned when they were in public office!! For Fuck's sake...

      ... Public Accounts Committee, Justice Select Committee, Parliamentary Standards, HMIProbation, HMIPrisons, MPs in general - where the fuck are you?

  3. they have forgot ingeus who runs 2 areas as well

  4. Actually from the client's point of view very little changed between pre TR and post TR in terms of quality of service and help from probation to resettle into the community. The only thing that really changed was that the useless monthly meeting became a useless monthly telephone call. There never was any help or support or even interest in you as a human being only some very peculiar ideas and an awful lot of very unhelpful judgement.

    1. Oh dear sounds like you've had a bad experience I don't believe my clients would agree with you. Many remain in contact long past the end of sentence and have expressed appreciation of the help and support I've given them They can't all be lying?

    2. Me too! I keep in touch with quite a few and although not flavour of the month for everyone have had some very positive comments. I prefer not to judge or label people personally.