Thursday, 19 October 2017

News From Nottingham 5

I promise this is the last word from the AGM and conference, but I thought it important to take a look at some of the motions that were up for debate because of course they pretty accurately reflect the mood and urgent concerns within the profession. I say debate, but in fact this is a misnomer because virtually all were passed unanimously, such is the degree of uniform disquiet and anger. 

The list is not comprehensive but rather a reflection of what I took particular notice of and feel has an urgent bearing in conveying what's going wrong in all corners of probation work. The uncontentious nature of this year's crop of motions meant that somewhat unusually conference got around to everything, although in an unfortunate and bizarre twist the very first to be considered, motion 1 A vote of no confidence in those responsible for NPS and E3 fell because those proposing it were clearly taken by surprise and were not present in the hall. It was a most unfortunate and inauspicious start to say the least:-  

A vote of no confidence is required to prevent further destruction of probation services. Poor management decisions, staff being stressed to breaking point, woefully inadequate IT and AT, high caseloads with unfair Workload Measurement Tool scoring, ineffective local and senior management support and senior managers and decision/policy makers seemingly ignoring the rights, welfare and view point of staff. These factors prevent the effective execution of probation duties, leaving staff demoralised, with little time to spend with service users, leading to ineffective rehabilitation and failings in the need to protect the public and prevent reoffending.

The full schedule of motions can be found here. 

Composite A – Motions 10 + 11: Computer Says ??????? / HR privatisation 

This AGM believes that the privatisation of HR posts in the NPS and absorption into "Shared Services" have led the NPS into a quagmire of chaos. AGM expresses its concern over the failure of Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL) to consistently provide accurate HR and payroll support for staff employed by the NPS. SSCL has never been fit for purpose. Since the transfer of staff to the NPS, there have been numerous issues arising from call handlers’ inability to apply the correct legacy policy to queries. The Single Operating Platform introduced in February has exacerbated these issues, to the point where staff aren’t being paid correctly and in some cases aren’t being paid at all. Queries and complaints go unresolved and it has recently emerged that employer pension contributions aren’t being collected correctly. The long term implications for our hard working members could be severe. 

Conference therefore resolves to support the Probation Negotiating Committee – and the Officials through TU Engagement – to hold HMPPS to account for these failures, to ensure that mistakes are rectified at the earliest possible juncture, and for staff to suffer no detriment – financial or otherwise. SSCL is not fit for purpose and this conference therefore, supports a call for the creation of a separate HR system for NPS staff which reflects our needs. Napo will campaign to bring HR back into the NPS at the earliest opportunity.

Composite B – Motions 13 + 14 + 15: PSRs 

This AGM has seen the lowering of standards regarding the quality and accuracy of Pre Sentence Reports since the push to on the day delivery. This AGM expresses its serious concern about the rapid way in which PSRs have been affected by the ‘Simple speedy justice’ agenda and E3 operating model. Arrangements under a “Simple Speedy Justice” initiative have resulted in requirements being agreed with “stakeholders” to produce reports in one hour. 

Such a timescale is unrealistic and unsafe It shows little understanding of the assessment processes for informed judgement and compromises professionalism. To complete an interview, undertake necessary checks, include information from other agencies such as the police and social care, use “diagnostic tools” appropriately and compose an assessment in a rushed environment in the space of an hour, generates considerable and unnecessary pressure that contributes to heightened stress levels and is unconducive to diligent practice necessary for justice. Limited information in a PSR increases the likelihood of unduly lenient or harsh sentences or lack of a relevant accredited programme, particularly with domestic abuse perpetrators. This AGM believes report writers are being de-skilled and placed in untenable situations when they have to produce reports without access to salient information. 

The template is unfit for purpose due to it being poorly designed and unwieldy and not compatible with assistive technology. The character restriction also compromises the author’s ability to fully report on relevant issues. We believe this devalues our professional reputation and places our staff and the public at risk. 

This AGM calls for our National Officers and Officials to:
  • campaign vigorously for on the day reports to be reviewed and a return to quality and accuracy; 
  • gather information from sentencers about the value of the reports currently provided; 
  • gather information from members in the CRC and NPS about cases where there are concerns that short reports have contributed to inappropriate sentences/risk assessments; 
  • challenge guidance contained within the E3 operating model and PI 4/2016 that is not detailed enough in stipulating when full reports should be written and increases the number of oral reports/SFRs; 
  • argue to re-introduce compulsory but meaningful gatekeeping to mitigate against bias in respect of protected characteristics; 
  • raise these concerns urgently with the Ministry of Justice with a view to more sensible and realistic proposals being agreed centrally. 
Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch Seconder: Napo Cymru

6. Outside Contractors 

Since privatisation, Probation and Family Court Services are seeing more ‘outsourcing’ of HR services. The Shared Services in NPS are not fit for purpose. Occupational Health is also not delivering services in accordance with organisational policies and timescales. 

This AGM understands many members bringing grievances are being stymied by organisational senior managers not having any control over ‘so called’ external agencies.

This AGM believes this is unacceptable and more needs to be done to ensure accountability. 

This AGM calls on Napo to bring a test case to show the HMPPS and MoJ we have teeth and they are accountable to our members for the failings of their sub-contractors. 

Proposer: London Branch

7. Woefully Unsatisfactory Attendance Management 

In January 2017 the NPS imposed a new Absence Management policy. Immediate concerns included reduced trigger points, less protection for those with disabilities and removal of exemptions for underlying medical conditions and long term sickness. The policy includes little useful guidance and pressure is being put on managers to issue warnings against their professional judgement. 

The process is vulnerable to potential bias and discrimination. Decisions appear to be made in consultation with HR Business Partners prior to the ‘Unacceptable Attendance’ meeting and therefore before a member has had a chance to answer the charge and be represented. These decisions are not open to scrutiny and issues of accountability are blurred. We are concerned that the most vulnerable in our membership are being given proportionately more warnings. 

This AGM calls on Napo Officials to: 
  • request data from the MOJ about the protected characteristics of staff hitting the trigger and warnings issued to highlight any potential bias and discrimination issues; 
  • continue to voice the concerns of members about the process to bring about a properly negotiated, fair and consistent policy; 
  • if necessary to go into dispute with the employers over issues of bias and discrimination against members. 
Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch

9. Stop the discrimination against disabled staff by Interserve Justice 

March 2017 saw Interserve Justice impose a new Absence Management policy having ignored legitimate concerns raised by the trade unions. The Policy removes protections against discrimination for disabled people and those with other protected characteristics whilst also removing exemptions for long term sickness. The disability provision of the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as an impairment which has a long term and substantial adverse effect on ability to carry out normal day to day activities. Even if the adverse effect ceases, the impairment should be treated as continuing if it is likely to recur. By definition, Interserve Justice’s decision to review long term sickness on a rolling four year basis, targets and discriminates against disabled staff. In addition, the lack of guidance, particularly around discretion, means that in some cases managers are struggling to adopt a consistent and anti-discriminatory approach. This AGM also notes anecdotal evidence of an increase in advisory notices for disabled staff. 

This AGM instructs Napo Officials to work with relevant branches to register a dispute around the implementation of this policy with a view to securing key changes to re-instate the protections for disabled people and those with other protected characteristics within the policy and procedure. 

Proposer: West Yorkshire Branch

16. Abolish TTG and PSS 

Through The Gate provision and the Post Supervision Sentence on licences are the biggest failures in sentencing policy history. This is demonstrated by re-offending rates for short sentences now having increased above the 50% mark. For these schemes to continue would require properly funded programmes to be set up in every discharging prison throughout the country. Realistically,this is unlikely to happen. Therefore, we instruct Napo to campaign for these sentences to be scrapped and for a Napo taskforce to be set up to advocate for a provision fit for purpose that can be presented to the MoJ as a fully funded alternative. This AGM instructs National Officials to lobby forthe sentences to be removed and replaced with a scheme endorsed by Napo. 

Proposer: Campaigning Committee

20. Outside work 

The PI 38/2014 concerning Outside Activities includes political campaigning and trade union activities. We have recently seen members subjected to disciplinary action under this PI which demonstrates enforcement is draconian. Many members are not aware of the existence of this PI or the existence of the Service’s declaration form. 

We call on Napo to run an awareness raising campaign on how members can stay safe whilst undertaking union and other work. 

Proposer: London Branch

21. IT failures increasing workload pressures 

This AGM notes the reports from members working for probation employers, including Interserve Justice and the NPS, of significant workload pressures exacerbated by persistent IT failures. These pressures are disproportionately felt by members who need assistive technology solutions to be able to work. At a time when there are staff shortages, workloads are high and pressures on members are unabating, the continuing failure of employers to provide the basic tools to do the job is unacceptable. 

While the introduction of a new IT system was welcomed by members in Interserve Justice, as is news of a proposed new system for NPS staff, unless they work consistently, no relief from significant pressures are felt. This AGM also notes that previous large scale IT projects have delivered chaos and misery in the short and medium term before any benefits were realised. 

This AGM instructs Napo Officials to survey members to determine the extent of the problem with each employer. 

Where significant workload issues are highlighted by the survey the Officials should work with branches to seek workload relief for members. If this is not forthcoming, a dispute should be raised to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of members is protected. 

Proposer: West Yorkshire Branch

24. Sodexo CRCs – Multiple Failings 

This AGM welcomes the HMIP reports that continue to confirm the fact that Sodexo’s booths are not fit for probation work. We also welcome confirmation that large scale telephone reporting is also roundly condemned. 

AGM congratulates those branches that remain in dispute over Sodexo booths and over unacceptably high workloads. We also note with grave concern the high levels of work based stress and related sickness absence, which far exceed the national average for most employers. 

AGM demands that Sodexo CRCs fulfil their legal duty of care and the legal duty to protect data. AGM supports the actions being taken by Napo branches and Napo HQ to protect members and publicise the abject failings of the Sodexo CRCs.


  1. Again off piste but serious stuff !!

    1. Shares in Interserve have tumbled more than 25 per cent after the company warned it could breach its banking covenants as operating profit in the second half was set to be around 50 per cent lower than previously expected.

      Shares dropped 25.89 per cent to 66.7p at the market open.

      Trading slowed in the third quarter, Interserve said, with a downturn in its UK support services arm caused by employment cost pressures and margin deterioration, which was "driven by a cost base which has not been flexible enough".

      Operating profit in UK construction also deteriorated due to challenging market conditions and cost pressures as well as operational delivery issues.

      The company added it had seen a "slippage" in the completion date for some of its troublesome waste contracts. In addition to the £160m provided in 2016, an additional £35m provision is expected to be required and "significant uncertainty" remains on the timing of commissioning.

      "Taking all of these factors into account, we now believe there is a realistic prospect that we will not meet the net debt to Ebitda [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation] test contained in our financial covenants for 31 December 2017," Interserve said.

      Shares in the company were also hit earlier this week after it admitted it was in talks with its lenders.

      "We have engaged a financial advisor to assist us in these discussions, as well as looking at options to maximise the short and medium term cash generation from the business," Interserve added today.

      In September, around half of Interserve's market value was wiped away after it warned trading in July and August had been "disappointing". At the start of the year, shares were trading at around 340p.

      The company will launch a group-wide performance improvement plan and a contract review across its support services and construction businesses.

      Debbie White, chief executive, said:

      Despite our challenges, Interserve has a strong client base and many strengths as an organisation and I believe there is considerable potential for business improvement across the company.

      My team will focus on improving our margin performance in UK support services and ensuring good contract selection in UK construction, while reducing our cost base across the company.

  2. I think Debbie White is clueless, Manchester CRC is at breaking point, 2 seniors handed in their notices last week. A few more resignations and the whole thing will collapse. The only reason interserve have a strong client base is because it was handed to them by the government. Debbie needs to rethink or perhaps go back to cleaning contracts, that's all they are fit for.

  3. Working links at breaking point too!

  4. Ou no they are not. But the staff are !!

    1. Another PO leaving WL in DDC and so 127 cases to be shared between those remianing.