Tuesday, 17 October 2017

News From Nottingham 4

I've not quite finished with reflections from the weekend, but needed a bit of time to try and make sense of it all before the memory fades and the notes become even more difficult to decipher.

Mention must be made of the fact that we might have seen the last address from the current General Secretary as the post is up for election early next year. Despite the now routine attempts at rousing and posturing, I thought it was a particularly lack-lustre performance with absolutely nothing new to say about our professional predicament. Am I alone in thinking we could have done without the diversion of a commentary on world affairs and politics and rather more on matters closer to home and directly affecting members and clients alike? 

Regular glances along the top table for any hint of reaction confirmed what I can best describe as 'uniform inscrutability'. It must be obvious to all that a new face is required and despite confirmation that the current office holder is willing to serve again, I sincerely hope he can be encouraged to 'read the runes' and an extra miners lamp can be purchased as soon as possible. 

The union might well "not been in a good place" when he took over, but it's sure as hell not in a good place now having lost many hundreds of members through redundancies, early retirement and general disillusionment, leading to the inevitable staggering annual deficit of quarter of a million pounds. It must be fairly clear that only a fresh face, combined with a sensible recovery strategy and effective organisational structure can have any hope of reversing the trend and avoid merger or collapse.

The closest conference came to an examination of these issues was when the time came to debate Motion 2 Napo - the future:-

Napo has existed for over a hundred years and is now the only Trade Union and Professional Association representing the industrial and professional interests of Probation and Family Court staff. In the last few years Napo has faced significant threats, from Transforming Rehabilitation devastating the Probation profession in England and Wales, to the cynical cancellation of check off in the NPS. In addition, the nature of the workforces we represent is changing and the proportion of retired members is increasing. We need to be as relevant, engaging and supportive to new entrants to Probation and Family Courts as we are to existing members. 

This AGM notes: 
  • the reports from the Officers, Officials and the NEC of efforts being made to change the way that Napo operates to better respond to the new world of work that exists across all employers; 
  • endorses the commitment made by the Officers and NEC to work to maintain Napo as an independent Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation and Family Courts;
  • instructs Officers, Officials and NEC to prioritise work which contributes to this commitment and to take account of this in their decision making throughout the year. 
Proposer: Katie Lomas Seconder: Yvonne Pattison  

In my assessment this motion succeeded in flushing out one of the most serious problems Napo has yet to deal with effectively; that of poor communication and ineffective management structures. Contributions from the floor confirmed that many members do not feel involved or engaged with internal decision-making and policy development and are blissfully ignorant regarding the NEC, what it does, how it operates and what decisions it makes. It would seem simple enough to publish the minutes on the Napo website, with suitable redactions for confidential matters.   

None of this should be surprising of course because the NEC has been known to be completely dysfunctional for years with most of its meetings still either inquorate or cancelled. All this became embarrassingly clear at last years AGM and despite promises of reforms, the situation obviously hasn't improved much. This can't go on and must be addressed or the oft-quoted mantra of being a 'member-led' union will sound increasingly hollow and do nothing in assisting the aim of reversing membership losses.

In considering the motion, it was clear that members were uneasy about giving 'carte-blanche' support to something that seemed 'wooly' and was not backed-up by appropriate policy papers. There appeared to be widespread lack of knowledge regarding the 'Pride in Napo' initiative, what its status was, but most concerning of all, discussion drew an astonishing admission from the top table of an assumption that "people know what's going on"

Matters were not assisted in my view by the thorny issue of NEC quoracy having been tabled and voted on the day before:-

CA1. Amending the Quorum of the NEC 

The purpose of this Constitutional Amendment is to amend the Quorum of the NEC. In Clause 16 (g) National Executive Committee: Delete “2/3 rds of” and replace with “15” So the new clause reads as follows: 16 (g) A quorum of the NEC shall consist of 15 voting members. 

Proposer: National Executive Committee

During the course of very limited discussion, the key question of 'what's the current rule regarding quoracy?' met with a hesitant top table response of "two thirds or 17" and that had to be amended the following day to "20 but it's complicated depending on if officials are included or not". 

It all leads to the impression of muddle and confusion, a situation compounded by another NEC motion tabled the day before:-

CA2. Diversity and NEC 

The purpose of this Constitutional Amendment is to better reflect diversity within Napo on the NEC. 

In Clause 16(b) delete ‘two black members’ and replace with ‘three Napo diversity representatives, self-declaring as Black, disabled or LGBT+ ’. 

In Clause 16(c) delete and replace with ‘The Association will elect bi-annually by secret ballot three Napo diversity representatives. The diversity representatives’ seats will be reserved in the following categories. One seat for a Black representative, one seat for a disabled representative and one seat for LGBT+ representative. Each seat shall be filled by a member self-declaring from that relevant category. None may hold the post for more than four years in succession. Candidates for election as a diversity representative to the NEC shall be nominated in writing by branches with the consent of the nominee. Nominations shall be delivered to the General Secretary in accordance with the timetable for NEC elections set out in the Napo Calendar.’ 

In section 16(e) delete ‘black representatives’ and replace with ‘diversity representatives’. 

Proposer: National Executive Committee   

Again the motion was carried after very limited discussion, but resulted in further embarrassing admissions the following day that misleading answers had been given to questions regarding the effect of the changes on the position of women. As a result the decision was reversed, adding further to the unfortunate impression of systemic dysfunctionality. 

I've said it before - several years ago, admittedly - but it's worth repeating I think that the union really would benefit from investing in some expert outside advice concerning its internal organisational and management structures. It's also the point at which to note that I only heard one mention of a very large elephant being present in the room in the shape of staffing costs. Any organisation suffering a catastrophic loss in income for any reason would be expected to look at the payroll as part of cost-cutting exercises. Of course this is only possible if there are effective internal management structures in place, something I suspect many would question.


  1. An excellent analysis Jim!
    Do the senior people in NAPO talk to other trade union leaders? I suspect not. They could learn a lot from them.
    At the TUC the GS speech went down like a lead balloon. His jokes were not appropriate and no one laughed. It was the wrong place and the wrong subject. He needs to learn the importance of gravitas.
    I fear for NAPO. The membership structure has almost collapsed. The democratic structure appears dead. I hear that the NEC rarely meets. Of course you can't count the officers. They are there to receive a mandate. The list is endless

  2. Napo is a small union. For several years now a need to create a structure that reflects the member-led rhetoric has been widely accepted. But nothing much seems to happen.

    It's ironical that the current deficit almost matches the costs associated with the departure of a former general secretary.

    Belatedly some memberships figures – so closely guarded before – are now made public. We can now see how many have left – it would be interesting to know how many are being recruited - whether recruitment is historically low. What percentage of employees are in union and has Napo's share gone up or down?

    I get the sense that Napo is living on borrowed time and it will be over when there is no more family silver to sell and all the proceeds have been spent.

    1. I want to see the membership figures of both organisations. I want to see the grades of the memberships too. It would be better to have the officers group properly direct their time to ensure the disproportion whole NPS officers group is made up in the future of a truly representative fee paying members top table. The CRCs have no real investment in NAPO now. The General secretary effectively sold up any fight for members in privatised contracts. Yet he still takes the massive pay for what. £91,000 pounds a year. With a staff team of less than 20. That is around 500 pounds a day approx. What do we actually get for this? I cannot calculate how many members it takes to Pay that exorbitant salary. Annual leave and all travel paid lunch and expenses account. No wonder he is asking to stand again. Another 5 years to nearly half a million while he helped the privateers shaft us for our payments. NO I say NO its time to go.

    2. It is up to members who gets voted for as new National Officers(ie Probation staff seconded to this p/t role)and members can stand for election themselves when periods of existing Officers expire. Your local Branch membership secretary will have figures for Napo membership but you'd have to ask colleagues in Unison how to know what their national figures are.

  3. Painful but necessary reading. For me, NAPO lost all direction & structure when Ledger held post. Its been downhill eversince, from his own appalling behaviour through to the complicit & bizarre National Agreement regarding transfer to CRCs, the embarassing silence as Sodexo decimated staff, the current GS's woeful performance & excrutiatingly incompetent AGMs.

    1. Yes it is painful and for some agony. We only get what we vote for. He is making sure he is all we get. The issue is now live and we have to insist on a proper election. Any puppet or other candidate will be overwhelmingly voted in to rid Napo of this General Secretary who holds a public role to represent membership, who has a duty to behave act in a mature and responsible way.

  4. Thanks Jim It is a pity and indication of the inability of the Officers group. In post the same characters for the past 4 years and yet none of them appear to have learned to manage the constitutional issues or realise the consequences of any actions as you described. The obvious immaturity in the group not to understand the NEC is a shadow of what it was. A body of merely 17 or 15 how on earth can 3 monitors attend and function. They will monitor 5 Nec members each. This approach reflects the inability of the officers to manage properly issues of diversity. It smacks of the lack of leadership you recognise as dysfunctional and yet remarkable how it has continued without collapse. It is no longer genuinely member led and therefore the accountability has disappeared. The forthcoming election will only be an election if we ensure another candidate and several are properly selected for members choice. With less than 20 on the NEC a small group to be manipulated.

  5. I feel sorry for Ian. He has no background in Probation and seems to struggle with the trade union issues. There's no one obvious at that level who can help him out.

  6. Extraordinary that head table could not answer queries on current(or pre this AGM)quoracy for NEC. Its to be found in our constitution and at every AGM there is a copy of constitution in the annual report available to everyone as follows:
    (e) Except as otherwise provided for in this constitution every member of the NEC shall have
    power to vote at its meetings as follows: the Chair, Vice-Chairs and black representatives
    elected in accordance with clause 16(c) shall each have one vote; each branch representative
    shall have one vote for each 50 full members or part thereof in the branch.
    (f) The NEC shall, with the assent of a quarter of the representatives present, decide any
    question by a card vote. A card vote shall be determined on the basis of one vote for each full
    member of the branch.
    (g) A quorum of the NEC shall consist of 2/3rds of voting members.
    Hence its clear WHO is a voting member(not the paid Officials)and the total depends on the number of branches which I've not bothered to add up but would be given at front of Annual report. In any case anyone putting forward a motion altering any part of the constitution should know what the existing section says and those who Chair the NEC (ie Officers at head table) ought to know as you can't run a meeting till you know it's quorate!

    1. I doubt incompetence can be substituted for extraordinary although by that performance it was extraordinarily incompetent.

  7. 23 branches(including NI and Family Court Section) + 5 Vice Chair Officers(Denise,Tina,Katie,Jay and Keith) + I assume 1 for the Chair( as opposed to 2 as there are 2 Co-chairs)as I guess the co-chairs share role/tasks/vote etc ie 29 plus 2 for the 2 black reps ie 31. 2/3 = 20

  8. Again from Constitution..
    e) Except in special circumstances the other officials shall be present at each General Meeting.
    They may be required to attend particular meetings of the NEC for the purpose of providing
    factual information or technical or professional advice in respect of matters which the NEC
    needs to take into account in carrying out its functions.
    (f) The General Secretary shall have the right to speak on any business at all meetings and
    (g) The officials shall not be entitled to vote.

  9. With a new quoracy of 15 members that means if the Chair and 5 Vice Chairs are there(6 members)and 2 black reps(8 in total) you only need 7 Branch NEC reps to attend to be quorate. If the Chairs have decided to have a vote apuece(constitution doesn't address co-chairing)the Officers constitute half the NEC vote. How does this mean NEC can really hold them to account?

    1. The agenda is clearly a matter of self control in the Officers and officials groups and by-that- the- exclusion of their wage payers the membership. If AGM fails to hold them to account then this year will see no NEC activity and they will busk along whatever they want.

    2. They do that already.

    3. That is why I voted against it the first time round. On the inaccuracies being revealed I voted to rescind the motion but sadly I was very much in the minority. Sometimes I despair.

  10. I can agree based on former attendance at conference that the present GS does not seem to grasp Probation, he seems like a generic Union leader and his rhetoric in that respect shows which on the whole is positive, several pieces of the jigsaw missing though which has been commented on. Having said that I am not sure that another GS would have done much better given the onslaught that TR represented. I do query how slow NAPO was to adapt to the new terrain in Probation. It appeared to me to lose its relevance in CRC land as these businesses acted with disregard to NAPO who were caught NAPOing or were still punch drunk. As a former Probation employee and NAPO member I do hope NAPO survives. I was proud to be a member regardless of the dismay felt by many.

    1. I have been in 3 unions during my working life. I have not come across another union that operates like NAPO. Neither have I come across another GS like this one.
      My experience in other unions has been very welcome when the organisations I worked for were privatised or under enormous political pressure. I continue to be grateful for their support.

  11. anyone heard the rumour that Sth Yorks (I think it was sth) Sodexo have been given till Feb to improve or be re-integrated to NPS? Also Working Links losing a large number of staff??

  12. Don't know about Yorks but Working Links are certainly losing alot of staff. They cut us by 40% to save money, working conditions are a joke. As predicted since the cuts staff are handing in their notice on a weekly basis..PSO's and PO's alike
    Some are going to NPS, some to mental health or other jobs, some retiring and a few just leaving to take time out. Many also looking for other jobs. Situation is critical now.

    1. They cut more than that and still cutting I heard from local Napo.

    2. I always suspected that working links/ Aurelius cut more than the 40% quoted in the stats..It feels more like 60% but more leaving so it could end up 70% down..Unbelievable that MOJ sat back and watched this happen? That is why OM's are carrying caseloads of over 100 in some areas..BBR being run by single member of staff on regular basis. And then there is the matter of the money Aurelius have saved by moving staff into cheaper and shoddy rental space that they share with other services..all of which add up to unsafe working conditions, poor service for offenders and increased risk to the public.

    3. Yet there's still no outrage in parliament.
      - Vauxhall plan to shed jobs, MPs shout & stamp their feet.
      - BAE plan to get rid, National Crisis in industry is declared.
      - Corus close, money is found to underpin communities.

      But when Probation is obliterated by parliament using public money to fund job losses, barely a fucking squeak.

      That's how important Probation is to these fuckers.

    4. Look, there was more press coverage and outrage at the Big Ben refurbishment than Brexit, Universal Credit, Terrorist attacks. When will politicians get real?

    5. Working Links are shedding staff at the moment (not just CRC staff). They haven't won of the DWP Work in Health contracts they were dependent on winning meaning that Justice is the biggest part of the business. I think they are currently coasting on the MoJ handouts. Theres a lot more than 40% gone.

  13. other reflection on the AGM, its been bothering me... did Frances Crook say that HMP Berwyn would have two-bed cells with a toilet between the bunks? I thought I heard her say that, and it is not true. Does anyone else remember this part of her speech?

  14. From CommnityCare, Sept 2005, on plans as revealed by Clarke... NOT Tory grandee Ken Clarke, but Labour's Charles Clarke. Judy McKnight on the ball as ever, but ultimately scuppered by the conversion to Trusts and the 2007 Act which Grayling eventually utilised (with a lot of help from his lawyer friend Jezza, now Attourney General) to fuck everything up:

    "Clarke reiterated the government’s plans for
    organisational change in the prison and probation service through
    the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which was created
    last year.

    He gave firm confirmation that existing probation provision
    would become “contestable” – making public
    providers compete with voluntary and private sector providers to
    run services.

    Clarke denied this would be a “cost-cutting”
    exercise, but insisted it would drive up performance in areas which
    needed improvement.

    Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform,
    predicted the plans would lead to increased privatisation since
    many voluntary organisations “would be unable to
    compete” for regional contracts because of a lack of

    She also predicted the plans would lead to the abolition of the
    probation service, a move that has been the subject of intense
    concern by unions since NOMS was introduced last year.

    Crook likened Clarke’s proposals for NOMs to
    “organising deckchairs on the Titanic”.

    “The government are spending a huge amount reorganising
    management and administration – to the neglect of service
    provision. I predict that in five year’s time, offenders will
    still be in the same situation that they are now and NOMS will not
    make any difference to them.”

    Clarke said he would be publishing a consultation paper on the
    development of the Probation Service.

    Judy McKnight, general secretary of probation union Napo, says:

    “The contestability agenda is continuing to be driven across the
    public sector by 10 Downing Street. It is not clear how much Home
    Office ministers themselves are committed to it.

    “We are still awaiting details of the consultation paper promised,
    and we can take some heart from the fact that powers cannot be
    taken away from probation boards without legislation. The timescale
    is therefore a long one, and we will be in a strong position to
    fight any bill to threaten the powers of boards and effectively
    threaten privatisation of the service in parliament.”

    1. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2005/09/23/analysis-of-charles-clarkes-prison-plans/

      Clear, unambiguous evidence that, whilst the Tories brazenly continue to prove they have no shame, no moral compass & no limits to their greed, the Blue Labour project Run by Tory Bliar was nothing less than treachery.

    2. Very interesting and a path I don't think we've been down before, although we should have because it was all a consequence of the dreadful Carter Review of 2004 when on a whim he said it would be good to intoduce 'a bit of tension into the system'. That just sums up the degree of intellectual justification so typical of political decision-making. Thanks for posting and I'll put a post together at some point.

    3. Wonder if this article underwrites the notion of constructive dismissal for staff who were 'surplus to requirement'? It indicates a pre-meditated intention on the part of the employer to introduce the detestable 'contestability'... which, with the non-negotiable shift to Trust status and then to the CRC/NPS split, has directly led to planned government-sponsored job losses on a significant scale.

    4. Yippee! Another chance to quote Selous from his June 2015 written answer confirming it was a pre-meditated government-sponsored cull:

      "Redundancy funding was allocated pro-rata to CRCs based on their size and estimated future staffing requirements."

  15. This looks of value and worthy of investigation and sharing particularly among politicians and the media.

    I presume UK taxpayers money has contributed to its preparation along with the experience of UK probation practitioners and academics .


  16. Point of information. Only one NEC was cancelled this year because of quoracy problems and it was reconvened. There are bigger problems with the functioning of committees which are effectively sub committees of NEC and rely on lay members. Without healthy committees the NEC falls back on Officers and Officials. Everyone agrees it must be restructured to survive

    1. Thanks Chas - look forward to you contributing more in the futrue and can I remind you that guest blog posts are always welcome.