South South Western Napo Branch report 21
Dear Napo Members,
The continuing pressure of change under this Working Links way just seems to see staff dissatisfaction soar as members continue to report issues to NAPO. Well-attended branch meetings indicate the drain and strain members are experiencing. Across the region it is becoming clearer we are losing many recognisable probation service values that we used to be part of. More of the tick box culture is embedding while the bean counting and low staffing levels start to reach crisis point. Napo made it clear not to overcut. We are still at significant and continuing odds with Aurelius Working Links an organisation retaining just a few of the much needed Probation officers that once made us a key public service.
Since our last report about the ACAS meeting and the HMIP report on Aurelius Working Links, they continue to drive on with their risky model. They remain oblivious to the facts that in Dorset the whole county only has a dearth of qualified probation officers propped up on the frontline with agency POs we understand. Sadly many POs having now seen the way things are, and looking at developing trends, have made arrangements to be leaving shortly. Coupled with the fact that many PO staff are opting to join the NPS at great personal pay line loss to themselves. Pensions have part to play but too many PO grade would rather leave the CRCs for the NPS than continue in the decline of their role under Aurelius Working Links. Fortunately they remain our NAPO members and we respect their clear choices and wish them well in their professional career choice.
This creaking story will continue as we also learned that the NPS is signalling open recruitment to its posts and that the Whole System Improvement team WSI are doing a one off CRC detailed staff projections calculation. That will be an interesting document to see once they work out what is happening on the ground. To add to the mix our General Secretary, Ian Lawrence, is writing to the minister shortly about the low level of probation officers in the Aurelius Working Links contract areas. That concern will look at the minimum standards required to remain able to fulfil contractual and professional obligations. The General Secretary is keeping us posted.
On Pay increases the long overdue and much awaited miserly 1% pay increase found its way to the staff in November. Nothing much to cheer about. The overall picture looks even more bleak. Members will have received several national e mail circulars from the General Secretary Ian Lawrence on pay issues for the NPS and how this plays out for the CRCs. The news that NPS may well start offering additional pay points to recruit experienced staff to join the NPS and that leapfrogging may well occur. If this happens it will reduce morale for existing staff held on the pay spine while new employees could well be lifted to encourage recruitment. We wait to see what happens. From NPS spending the cash it has been reported that Aurelius Working links continue to snatch any pennies back suggesting work diary provision is to cease. If that is the case, we can read what we might into the situation. If it is about money and cost cutting for more profit it signals another loss towards staff care it illustrates more decline from Aurelius Working Links. We know e diaries are limited than that to which we have on our person. No need to log in and take ages to get through secure gateways searching wifi signals then to find access delayed due to outage or something else.
Napo members had been informed in Branch report 20 that we would be providing a SSW NAPO branch submission to that inquiry and this has been done. Taking a line from the General Secretary, Ian Lawrence, I am not able to publish it until after the important questions in that document hopefully find their way to the committee for their use. It was just over the word limit and we could not find anything positive to report, not since the private contract holders took up the reigns. I doubt this could change on current performance. They continue to drive a flawed working model which sees PO grades leaving and the roles below constantly facing higher responsibilities, more cases, no workload timings or weightings, and no proper accounting for your health and safety. I am sure Aurelius Working links spokesperson will find some spin to gloss over issues for parliamentary inquiries, I doubt any words will have integrity given what we have experienced from them so far. Readers will appreciate our point of view as many contributed to the issues raised. Thank you NAPO members for the input. It will be reproduced in a branch report once the committee publish their outcomes or as soon as we can. I am informed that several other colleagues have submitted their own reports individually and will rely on the protection encouraged and afforded by the committee for their statements. I am aware the Unison presentation spans more than 20 plus pages and is a thoroughly expansive and detailed document. Of course that document alongside National Napo’s submission will be important new year’s reading. We will keep you posted.
Zero Hour contracts versus agency staff
As if the recent BBC spotlight and media coverage of the naked Dorset unpaid worker on community punishment wasn’t enough (viewable here in case you missed it).
Expensive agency workers who, we understand in this case, were not properly trained or experienced for such work. Hardly appropriate for the difficulties of the role to which placed. It takes particular skilled staff set to manage the wide difficulties of external placements in CP. Something those of us experienced in probation would recognise the complexities. Yet we see a further decline as the prospect of Aurelius Working Links exploring zero hours contracts for a bank of staffing. We find this almost impossible to believe but when there are no standards to making money we ask what is next in this decline line? To date we have not seen anything that could be described as innovative or bringing any enhancements to what we were supposed to do in probation. NOTHING. If there are any, please let us know so things can be shared in balance. We do understand there will be some minimum training including Health and Safety but probably only because of the awful scrapes that besiege Aurelius Working Links from media and our NAPO General Secretary Ian Lawrence who has been inundated with interest for articles. Some more media criticism items yet to come.
Meeting with the General Secretary Ian Lawrence PCC & joint unions
It was a cold day in Bodmin Cornwall and it started very early with the General Secretary arriving for a series meetings scheduled with the PCC and Union heads. The conversation was productive and that we had sight of the PCC Parliamentary submission with many promising prospects for the changes required for the future, indicating much common purpose. There are some real gaps in operational credibility with current arrangements and yet it will take major changes to shift the situation from being locked in the mess of the contracts many of us endure. Nonetheless, the exchange has led to another meeting being called shortly to see how we can collaborate further to develop plans that serve the public properly better and who quite rightly should demand the best provision of services for their protection.
Ian then attended a BBC radio broadcast again about the local contract holder Aurelius Working Links. Ian found nothing positive to say as we understand things. Aurelius Working Links as ever had nothing to contribute despite being approached by the broadcaster.
No longer cold as joined the branch executive and members for a really warm welcome attending the Branch meeting on an industrial estate in an office shared with local services. Flanked by a Cornish pasty factory and an industrial cement works. It is a million miles away from the sorts of conditions enjoyed by most other NPS offices. Especially stark differences from those enjoying the MOJ buildings in the centre of London for example. Like many locations, a minimum quality level is anticipated. However, the sharp contrast to the buildings that we once had in the public service estate are also being abandoned at speed by Aurelius Working Links. Hell bent on extracting Probation staff from well-established easy client accessible locations. It does make you look on in despair. Many of the new buildings are in fact poorer with substandard conditions that the staff have been transferred into. More than obvious overcrowding open plan singular large hall. Amid claims the old buildings not being fit for purpose. What then is the apparent difference? The new Aurelius Working Links provision is far worse in our opinion. Some of our members now have a new desk which is in fact is a kitchen work-top shared as a stationary and mailings station. No health assessments and not properly purposed. Despite the charade there is no substance to this emperor’s new clothes. Staff corralled into Aurelius Working Links own sites, we are clear it is more to do with cost profits than anything to do with innovation encouragement and abilities. The new supposedly fit for purpose sites and one especially is anything but suitable. The list is easily documented, but we all know lack of confidentiality, no windows, noise levels, desk facilities, lighting, escape routes, fire practices, health and safety assessment on safe building numbers, just a total shocking state of unfit accommodation showing they learnt nothing from the mess they made in Dorset with the alleged rat infestation in the planned rehousing of staff there. Of course there will be some writing of letters and other complaints shortly but let us not forget our experience of the Aurelius Working Links way , is they never formally reply never put anything writing to address these serious concerns. We will keep you posted
Ian Lawrence, NAPO’s General Secretary, had made a reference to the quality and conditions of the places he visited last week in the South and West. Ian also went on to visiting the Weston Super Mare and Bristol offices to see the impact of Aurelius Working Links on the membership. His blog “the disgraceful way in which staff are being treated by this employer and the dreadful and dangerous things that are going on in terms of interventions and Unpaid Work services.”
The General Secretary openly shook his head in despair at some of the graphic descriptions of service provisions that he heard directly from the SSW branch membership. It was an incredibly powerful testament from those members. Service provision in decline. What lifted spirits was that Ian tapped into real common purpose. Members have reported back described just how empowering the General Secretaries support had felt. It was a worthwhile engagement. Members have been encouraged to see the General Secretary engage and rally the branch. Ian gave genuine commitments to Napo members supporting, encouraging, and offered some well understood tactical ways in which we are to strengthen real rejections of the ongoing failings of the Aurelius Working Links way. Ian made pledges to be a full part of that change in the direction of our combined areas dispute. Ian left Cornwall for the next leg of his getting around the dispute area and was scheduled into western branch at the end of the week. A whistle stop tour then, some much respected directions from the General who has continued to help direct and manage the dispute over its lengthy process. He will most certainly continue with us on the journey as things remain as they are.
From dangerous to the ridiculous, we have reports of bizarre appraisal targets being attempted to be set by some whereby absence on sickness becomes zero target in staff appraisal performance. Oddly the other is to contribute to identifying business opportunities from staff members. I guess we are all financial talent scouts now then while the Aurelius working Links continue to pare down staff for the money .
It is a stark reality how misunderstood the collective consciousness of probation folk has been. There is an incredibly strong sense of unjust treatment and consequence to wider social needs than anything the contract holder either wants or appears to engage in. Certainly not in delivering better services as a measure. There seems no genuine connection between the claims of doing a great job in the midst of the constant whining and bleating about no money. They claim they need but then sky rocket the 4.2 million quid contract adjustment last summer and now sit around waiting to pounce the next government money tree bail out to private ventures. That money will teleport itself perversely as a clear profit out of the UK. It should have been redirected back to offender services need.
Personally, having been working in probation for over 34 years you learn a thing or two. In all of my time I have been fortunate to meet and work with many people of all grades and roles. Incredibly diverse ranges of people that probation attracts as its strength is diluted and getting lost under the TR fiasco. It is these cash figures that attract business interests to make large money easily and fast
- 21 Community rehabilitation companies (CRCs)
- in England and Wales 8 number of different providers across the 21 CRCs
- £3.7bn total lifetime contract value for all 21 CRCs
- £889 million forecast total probation costs for 2015-16, including costs of CRC contracts, the National Probation Service, and operational and contract assurance activity
Our professional grades being devalued. Reducing status of the professional structures which in fact need to be protected. Middle managers at PO level holding crisis level risk cases. These are well above safe practice levels and could not have been allowed had we been remained as a proper probation trust.
The SSW branch executive have renewed energies and optimism which comes in the form of the Annual Report from HMIP.
None of it makes a cheery read for the future of the privatisation agenda and the continued break of our once great probation public service. We hope things are about to start us all on the much needed pathway to change. I doubt it will ever put things right, re-nationalisation has to form part of that debate? That pledge already made by the labour party. We will see.
Reducing identity developing within Probation with new language pervading all we do. Save Money! save printing! Save this and that, save anything. Also what can be sold should be could be. They seek to buy a business, make business and the worst reference to dealing with the needs of offenders is to call it “The business need”. Oh really? Nothing in there about people need.
Our thanks and respects to colleagues who openly refrain from using these terms. They know who they are. Thanks Ian Lawrence we are positive and helped by his encouragement. Ian deserves recognition and gratitude. To those special friends of SSW branch for your support. The advisory matters, the guidance, the late calls and of course we could not keep this up without you!!!
Thank you all branch membership for turning out and supporting the meetings illustrating our fantastic solidarity!
Executive of the Branch the most supportive band of activists who have done so much under the poorest of circumstances. Still pushing the dispute my warmest appreciation for your encouragement. The JNC rep friends and colleagues in the also beleaguered NPS.
In all it has been a difficult year and worse still to come for next but the TR clock is ticking.
On ticking clocks 2018 is an important year in electoral terms for NAPO. In addition to the election of the General Secretary, we come to the end of term for the post of National Chair/s.
We can work together in an organised, unified direction with CRCs and NPS central equal in this struggle. Whilst the implementation of TR has presented NAPO with serious challenges, the future holds a possible change of scene with the potential of being favourable providing we address them in a strong and competent way. This is a time where we must be clear about our expectations from the leadership of our union. We deserve a leadership that represents the best interests of the membership and will fight for recognition and survival.
Our General Secretary Election will be a serious matter that many members will want to show their commitment to supporting Napo and voting should a ballot be called. I will be writing more on these issues as the elections timetable is announced. The next few years is going to make real difference in what our collective futures become. We will be looking to ensure all is done to see how we can contribute to turn services around with the best in leadership for your future.
We hope to be around long enough to close the door on privatisation as whatever government takes power they have to call time on the CRCs failures. As things we continue on your behalf Napo members supported by our friends in Unison. Together we are stronger and continue to protect your terms against the Aurelius Working Links way. It is just a matter of time now! Let’s hope they leave much earlier than later.
As you all look forward to some well earned and deserved time off at Christmas our best wishes to you. If you read this and not a union member then Join Napo now please. All take part with us and to help us protect our futures. What we have experienced to date has to be arrested through collectivism. Getting less while working harder with more downgrading and more losses to terms yet to be argued over.
Whatever you do enjoy your time off in this festive season and enjoy the new year’s celebrations with some fresh optimism together we are stronger.
Dino Peros NAPO SSW Branch Chair