Friday, 27 October 2017

Napo Responds To Panorama

Thanks to the reader for sending me the following e-mail to all London Napo Branch members yesterday:-

Dear Members

Those who saw the BBC Panorama programme ‘Out of Jail: Free to Offend Again?’ last night will no doubt be shocked, saddened, disappointed, and even in some cases feel angered by the programmes content.

We all want to work for ethical employers (public or private) that we are proud to work for and who we have confidence in to enable and facilitate the work we know we can do. The last three years have been extremely challenging to say the least with fundamental changes taking place that have left many of those in our profession feeling powerless and a significant number feeling that we are at rock bottom and that they have had enough.

We have yet to meet any member of probation staff who does not want our work to be appreciated and better understood by the wider public in its entirety and valued more for the contribution it makes to our communities as a key public service that makes a significant difference, along with other public services, to the quality of life in the UK. That does mean opening our work more to increased public scrutiny where both our failures are discussed but also those things we can do well such as helping to rehabilitate increasing numbers of people who might otherwise be sent to prison or reoffend and create far more victims than there are now. There are fundamental questions to be addressed both by us and others about what we do and how we do it going forward.

We don’t think anyone watching the programme could fail to be genuinely moved by the truly tragic and heart-breaking images and footage shown and the terrible sequence of events mentioned. As caring human beings and professionals our thoughts go out to all victims and all those impacted upon by what may often be considered avoidable events. We all work hard in our professional lives to prevent these types of tragic events precisely because we know in detail how devastating they can be to all concerned.

The programme featured probation staff who made disclosures anonymously and who tried to share their own authentic experiences of working in probation in 2017 that must have been uncomfortable viewing for some. Those who were at Napo AGM will have recognised London MP Bob Neill who chairs the Justice Select Committee and who is no stranger to probation staff in his home constituency in Bromley and of course the redoubtable Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey as well as former senior probation officer and criminologist Dr Lol Burke and not forgetting our own Ian Lawrence who all made insightful contributions in the very limited time available. 

In the case of all members and probation staff who may now be facing increased public scrutiny because of the failings the programme highlighted we cannot also fail to reflect on our own practice and professional standards and consider what realistically needs to happen to make improvements. Remember that Napo is not just a trade union but also a professional association. Our advice to anyone who has concerns about particular cases and/or the impact of instructions policy or procedures on their ability to carry out their work is to alert their line manager in the first instance and ask for clear management advice and/or support. Make sure that this advice is recorded accurately on nDelius or otherwise recorded. Whistle-blowing policies are clear that organisational processes must be exhausted before making disclosure in the public interest. It is never considered reasonable to threaten employers with public disclosure of potentially damaging information either directly or indirectly on social media etc and members should personally refrain from doing so. If you need advice concerning this please ask Napo.

We realise that what we all signed up for can never be just a job nor can it ever be just about ticking boxes and hitting targets. Part of our concerns stem from the fact that we all know it’s so much more than that and can be so much better given a chance to be more united again. This is perhaps why we feel so strongly when it appears that we are being divided and criticised, fairly or unfairly, or being held responsible for matters that we may feel are either in our control or not. We may for instance feel aggrieved that there are other factors at play that make it far more challenging for us now to do our work as well as we would like to do it and that we now feel even more powerless than previously to do anything to change that situation or even whether anyone is listening to our concerns or even cares.

Hopefully we can all take something positive from this intense and thought provoking 30- minute programme and we hope that those who really do need to listen to the serious issues raised do in fact listen carefully and calmly and more importantly act decisively but wisely to improve matters that transcend ideology or party politics. We hope that they will ask more difficult questions of both themselves on behalf of the public and are courageous and resolute in helping to remove any barriers that there might be to fixing what we all know is now wrong with probation. Whilst they are at it they may also help to fix the rest of the criminal justice system that many now say is not fit for purpose and it would be a great help if they were to address some of the wider structural problems that impact severely on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people and further damage and divide our already divided communities and as such seriously impact on the ability of all those involved in rehabilitation to do their jobs in a unified/joined up and meaningful way that we all know will truly serve to protect the public and help create the safer communities we all want to live in.

Lastly, we would like to draw your attention to a message from National Napo yesterday

‘The much-anticipated Panorama investigation into probation services will air tonight at 7.30pm on BBC1, and we expect it will confirm many of the serious concerns Napo members have expressed since the service was split three years ago.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns about the programme following its broadcast, please email
Keep well

David A Raho and Patricia Johnson
Co-Chairs Napo London Branch


Here we have the response from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence contained in his latest blog post:- 


The social media activity that followed this weeks Panorama expose into the state of the Probation service shows that the issues highlighted in the programme are attracting an increasingly wider and very concerned audience.

Feedback indicates that the BBC team did an effective job of nailing the key issues that Napo and others have been campaigning about. The same issues that we forecast well before the ink was dry on the contracts that were mis-sold to the CRC speculators struck and the unlamented Chris Grayling, who can now add Transforming Rehabilitation to his spectacular list of abject failures.

As always it would have been great to have got more actual air time for Napo given the amount of time that we invested in briefing the team from as far back as May this year, but we have no editorial influence on what finally goes in to the end product. Suffice to say that I was very pleased with the fact that there was significant input from NPS and CRC practitioners who are at the sharp end of operations, which hopefully helped to convince a sceptical public that despite its problems before privatisation, the service is now in a much worse position and importantly, and illustrate exactly who was responsible for the shambles.

A denial of the obvious

I don’t think I need to mince words in describing the response by the MoJ and Working Links to the two Serious Further Offences featured, as quite pathetic. As I said at our AGM, hideous things happen in society. Sadly, they always did, they are now, and they will in the future. But the combination of events ranging from the staff split, incompetent planning, political hubris and subsequent post-TR reductions in staffing suggest that there will be many more.

At this weeks meeting with Probation and Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah, where Napo were represented by Chris Winters and myself, we highlighted the dreadful track record of Working Links in seriously engaging with the probation unions on key issues such as staffing, workloads and their operational model which has seen thousands of hours of Unpaid Work simply not done; face-to-face supervision at farcical levels, caseloads and sickness levels through the roof and two high profile murders which I have been told by an anonymous source, were perpetrated by people who were ‘on the books’ The same Working Links that has seen two senior managers fall on their swords in the midst of chaos, and where the response by the CRC Chief Executive to the second damning HMI Probation report into their operations in Gloucestershire, was that there were too many Women on maternity leave and not enough staff available during the period covered by the report.

The Minister has invited me to write to him personally about this and the long list of other issues that, despite the best efforts of ACAS, remain unresolved. I will also be investigating alleged comments from a Working Links Senior Executive to staff that they don’t believe they have to talk to the unions. In the face of all this you might appreciate why I almost fell off my chair last night when Working Links (who declined to be interviewed by the BBC) stated that it was ‘highly committed to public safety’.

Not that MTC NOVO in the form of The London and London NPS emerged with much glory either, as they received some pretty negative coverage in the programme. You may also want to know that any members facing a backlash for whistle blowing and contributing to the programme will have Napo's full support.

Time for serious action

Underpinning all of this is the stark fact that while some CRC Providers and NPS divisions do better than others, standards of supervision have markedly worsened. This is why I was pleased in many ways that Panorama especially highlighted the independent findings of Dame Glenys Stacey and the HM Probation Inspectorate. It was also very timely that the Justice Select Committee Chair Bob Neill MP spoke up. As an aside, I can tell you that Bob greatly valued the time that he spent at our AGM where he spoke with a number of members following his encouraging speech.

While we obviously welcome the Justice Committees inquiry into TR, it was made very clear at our AGM that the Ministerial inertia on taking action against failing contractors is quite unbelievable as much as it is unacceptable. Billions of pounds of public money has been (and is being) spent shoring up providers who are unfit for purpose. Who will step up and do something other than merely offer more of the same presumably in the hope that it will all be OK In the end?

Minister, its time to find some money for probation staff

As you might expect, the Probation Unions had a bit to say about the money that has been earmarked for the CRC’s over the next four years (£277m) as well as the £22m cash injection that has magically fallen from the money tree this year. It was one of a lengthy list of issues for discussion with the Minister, as was the need for some positive action on Probation pay, namely the conclusion of discussions on 2017 and longer term modernisation.

In fairness to Mr Gyimah he gave about as positive a response as his brief allowed; but it’s clear that he is relying on decisions elsewhere before we might see some new money on the table. We made it clear that we were uncomfortable with the current public focus on Prison pay and reform seemingly at the expense of Probation. This elicited a response which showed appreciation as to why we think this is the case together with a reassurance that it is not.

As these types of meetings go, it was reasonably productive and time well spent, but our members will need more than just warm words.

Mappa reports 2016-17

A plethora of Government reports has emerged in the last 24 hours and while we spend a bit of time analysing them, here is the link to MAPPA reports that are to be found on the GOV.UK Website. See how your area fared.

Ian Lawrence



Graph of Blogger page views

The response to the Panorama programme on Wednesday night has been dramatic, effectively more than doubling readership with well over 8,000 hits in 2 days, figures I've not seen since the early traumatic days of TR. Despite the inevitable long-term loss of readers due to general disillusionment and waves of redundancies, it would appear that this blog site remains a 'go-to' place, especially at times of significance for our profession. 
Graph of Blogger page views

I'd like to thank everyone, particularly contributors, for keeping it a lively and most importantly, relevant place for all interested in our work and of course those still struggling daily with its delivery in the most trying of circumstances. 


  1. It's not just about lack of money or TR or the system that causes the problems highlighted in the Panorama programme. It is fundamentally about the attitude of probation staff at all levels to those they supervise. I wrote a guest post a while back about my experience of being on probation and was saddened and disgusted by many of the comments made on the post by extremely judgemental and dismissive probation practitioners who claimed not to recognise my experience of being supervised by probation. Yet the Panorama programme brought into sharp relief the unhelpful, judgemental and superior attitude of probation practitioners towards those they supervise. The supervisee they highlighted who was sleeping on on friends' couches and got recalled due to failing to attend two appointments he was not notified about is so typical of the nasty attitude of probation practitioners - punishing supervisees for your own failings and flaws. I know a woman who got recalled merely for breaking down in front of her OM when notified of a family death by an OM who decided without any evidence whatsoever that she was going to rush out and commit a crime simply because she was legitimately upset. Neither of these people had committed a further offence; neither was a danger to themselves or others and both were doing their best to turn their lives around without any help whatsoever from their OM's or anyone else in probation. Probation effectively punished them for probation's own failings and for trying to turn their lives around. Probation is broken - yes in large part due to Grayling's totally ludicrous "reforms" but there is also something far more fundamentally wrong with those working as probation officers at whatever level. Probation wasn't working before TR and TR has simply exposed the rot in the system. A root and branch rethink of probation is required and one that puts the "client" at the heart of it. You won't change people by imposing ludicrous and ridiculous requirements on people. You need to involve people from the start and work with them not do things to them. If people buy in to things and feel they have a stake in whatever happens they are far more likely to adhere to conditions than if you impose stuff on them.

    1. The fundamental power control issue runs right through. It operates in all status and rammed structures. It's a reality of probation there are many power trippers sadly that culture has grown stronger over the years.

    2. "You won't change people by imposing ludicrous and ridiculous requirements on people. You need to involve people from the start and work with them not do things to them."

      This is where there is a division between 'old' probation ("dinosaurs") & 'new' probation ("realists"). It invokes bitter commentaries as they wrangle about the validity or efficacy of PO/PSO, pre-and post- social work qualified, 'clients' or 'offenders'.

      The social work training and ethos of the 80's & 90's gave a focus on working WITH or alongside, person-centred, enabling. Boateng's signature "We are an enforcement agency..." was indicative of the 'new' direction.

      Those who were recruited in the 'new' era are the product of the time, the training, managerialism & the mixed messages from employers, e.g. SEEDS training, enforcement targets, the influence of NOMS' control & command.

      I also think that the 'new' era brings restless ambition. Time-was a PO would qualify after three years' full-time study with placements, a year's probationary period under supervision with protected caseload; consideration for holding more serious cases or Lifers would follow if the practice teacher felt the time was right; specialist roles (courts, programmes) would be available after two/three years' experience. A Senior PO (now perhaps Team Manager) position required minimum five years' experience.

      I know of too many probation staff who are control/command orientated, who seem to relish authority over others, who are motivated by fear of failure, who respond to targets & 'metrics', who can't wait to become senior management & leave 'offenders' behind. The privatisation & current hierarchical structures is manna to them.

      But I also know many more who are focused on working with their caseloads, who see that task as their professional role and who would happily spend 30 years as a PO. They are struggling, collapsing exhausted, and leaving. These are the 'dinosaurs', the 'weak', the 'soft'... those that TR is crushing the life out of.

    3. Well said - the whole of my 73-75 University of Liverpool Training for their Diploma in Social Work Award, which was supplemented by, the then new CQSW - first awarded in 1974 - was underpinned by care/control issues & thus it followed into practice.

      What was not stressed enough was the probation officer as firstly officer of the court (which precise Court was not exactly clarified) but I was in no doubt that my first responsibility was to be answerable to the court that sentenced the person, who I was (mostly - some clients came off the street or were voluntary after care bods) supervising or preparing an enquiry about.

      Occasionally such issues were tested but it was well understood in my early days of practice that the employer could reallocate a client or dismiss me but not direct me how to supervise or what to write in a report, once my employment was confirmed after the first year in employment, (end of three years training - for most) as referenced by Anon at 09.01 above.

      It became more complex from Leon Brittan's Statement of National Objectives and Priorities in 1984 compounded again after legislation (I think) by the National Standards from about 1991/2.

      Also during my Home Office, Probation Department Approved training we undertook exercises jointly with those training to apply child-care and mental health legislation, that made it explicit that Local Authority Social Workers (certainly in England & Wales) had much more Power than Probation Officers employed by Magistrates' Courts Committees in England and Wales.

      Hence Home Secretaries Michael Howard & Jack Straw, who tried to "out tough" each other collectively finalised the change away from working alongside clients, but alerting the courts or Home Office Minister when they appeared not to be cooperating for them to determine alternative action, if supervision was to be discontinued or have the terms varied.

      I found that model agreeable though one was constantly balancing duty to client, the court/secretary of State, the wider public and the employer.

    4. There must be almost as many competing notions of what the purpose of probation should be or is held by those working in the service itself, as held by the general public.
      Public protection is mooted often, a bit like Brexit means Brexit, but if you can't deliver the practical support to enable change, then I don't think that mantra holds water.
      The threat of sanction and imposed restrictions really only shifts responsibility for change from the organisation onto the individual.
      Many just don't have that ability within themselves, or have the social tools at there disposal to instigate that change.
      Is that where probation can help perhaps?
      What is the purpose of probation today? What does it achieve? Would society be any worse off if probation in its present form didn't exist at all?


    5. Last two posters thanks its good to see some analysis of the change in the culture from training and the government demands. The way we all shifted to accommodate new requirements. Later on I suspect the bash the old brigade will return to this blog and give us the wisdom of aggressive control directives and breaches as the only way we can and should manage offending. Punishment works whatever form it takes.

    6. I can appreciate the points you make, but I think it's wrong to characterise old probation as dinosaurs. Old Labour were also dismissed as dinosaurs and I think it was Donald Rumsfield who dismissed Germany and France as old Europe when those countries refused to get involved in the Iraq war. Behind the labels it's always about ideas and values. - and whilst these wax and wane in the battle of ideas, they never become extinct. Who the Realists are depends on whose winning the arguments at any given time.

      I happen to think the probation 'modernisers' were never realists – they were pawns of the management consultants who promoted management practices that viewed people as commodities. This went down well with some probation staff, but many rejected this new model. They weren't dinosaurs: they simply weren't for sale. Many have since left probation, but you only have to read this blog on any day, to see that the ideas and values that animated old probation are alive and well – and in vogue across the political spectrum – from rail renationalisation to free access to employment tribunals.

    7. The Dinosaur word is also misused in fact as (coincidentally) I heard in a broadcast this week.

      I cannot recall exactly what or where BUT the point was made that so far - Dinosaurs are one of the longest ever lived species in the world, surviving far longer than humans who happened to be formed long after dinosaurs.

      I still remember the now Lord Boateng (what ever happened to him) accusing Harry Fletcher and Napo of being dinosaurs at a Napo AGM (possibly LLandudno) soon after the new Labour Government was elected.

      I did not play sufficient heed to what he said and waited expecting good things, but there were very few - maybe MAPPA and Circles of Support and Accountability Trials, but that is about it, as far as criminals were concerned.

      They swallowed Sex Offender registration, rushed through in the dying days of the Major Government even though some of it was impracticable and set up conflicts with existing 1933 Children Act Section 1 notifications, which as a then seconded probation officer in a prison, I was frequently called upon to try to administer - I have forgotten much of the detail - but practitioners were on their own with the muddle.

  2. Huff post responds to the panorama programme.

  3. NO NO NO RAHO No one wants to work under PRIVATE SECTOR probation rewrite that mis-assumption.

    1. Where does it say that?

    2. We all want to work for ethical employers (public or private)

    3. Ethical employers are those employers who are trying to do some good. Your comment is slightly different as your are talking about choosing to work for either the public or private sector and implies that given a free choice they would only choose the public sector. To say some people did not choose to work for a particular employer is blatantly untrue as many people expressed a preference to work for private probation. Whether they now regret that choice is another matter but the fact is people are moving between employers in probation. Most Probation staffs employer is either public or private now but hopefully that will change when there is a change of government. Probation staff are it seems more bothered whether or not their employer is a worse employer than they had before or in comparison to other employers in the same industry. If CRC employers offered more money there would be flow of staff from the NPS and vice versa. The writing referred to was written for both Napo members working in NPS and CRC some of whom work for agencies. There are pros and cons of working for each employer but both are pretty crap. People who work for agencies are are a good example of private sector probation staff who choose to work for the private sector in ether private or public sector probation settings. So Raho is correct in his acknowledgement of a more realistic but fuzzier and more complex picture ie not just a simplistic public=good private=bad way of seeing things.

  4. Plenty of negative coverage for Working Links but let us not forget that they are owned in all but name by the German 'turnaround investment company ' Aurelius. Gothham City hedge fund from New York have plenty of negative things to say and accusations of impropriety at Aurelius HQ. Clearly this was massivw thorn in their side as their shares plummeted by 30% when Gotham City published their findings. They have since rebounded but no doubt GC will be continuing their research into their dodgy dealings and the latest report to be found states 'Aurelius puts Dutch IT provider on the block'. I think we can conclude that Working Links is not being financed by an ethical company and their sole motive is profit. If the buck stops at the top then we need to look all the way up to the lofty heights of Aurelius chief executive financer..oh, but hang on a minute..abit of scratching of heads here as no one seems to know who he/she is! Seems to be one name in theory and another in practice! Given the quick turnaround of Working Links chief executives they are obviously taking their model of leadership from Aurelius. No doubt if they get their way and MOJ continue to take us to the cleaners Working Links will consolidate into one operational empire, the whole of Wales and South West and then start looking at neighbouring CRC's who are viewed as weak to take over. We then see a situation of creeping privatisation into the slippery arms of a few multinational companies. Well done Conservative Polititians..what brilliant have taken us back to 1984 and a fiasco of Orwellian proportions..we even have the 'thought police' ..forcing us to use the term 'our people' and trying to persuade weak willed CRC managers to swear an oath of allegiance to Working Links. Perhaps some of them actually did. Sell your sole and morall compass for the sake of a measley pay cheque and use of a company smart phone. Brilliant!