Friday, 17 August 2018

Cultural Reflections 2

I notice that in parallel with yesterday's discussion there was some similar introspection over on Facebook:-  

Someone close to me was explaining about a friend who had got into trouble and was sent to prison. How was her Probation Officer I asked? She said ‘the lady at Court was nice’ and then ‘her Probation Officer is about 21 and awful’. So - stereotypes of any type are odious. This is not about age per se, this is not about anyone individually, but I think this reflects a new cultural attitude, a pride (as in lack of humility), a lack of awareness of privilege, a lack of curiosity, a lack of wonder about people. There are too many frankly unkind and slap dash POs coming through. There is a culture that rewards this. Someone said to me once (probably when I was young and they could see a certain arrogance in me) - ‘you have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life’. It’s true, you do. If you don’t bother with this, you become ‘awful’ - which not a good look.

Nicely said. ‘‘Twas ever thus.

Oh you mean that The Probation Service does NOT reflect our communities and is filled with university educated and upwardly mobile, young, white females? Surely not?

Perhaps this is a manifestation of the culture of probation practice. However, I know some young POs who are considerate and caring and go above and beyond in their work with those serving sentences. Maybe she was unlucky as there are always bad apples!

Is this about making younger or inexperienced officers feel bad? There are POs of all ages and experience who are not very good at their jobs. I know a huge raft of younger officers who are doing an incredible job in challenging circumstances. Also some of our clients often take a dislike to their officer because they are actually doing a good job! Sometimes it can take weeks or months of mutual relationship building to reach a good understanding of the purpose of the whole thing, and having to carry out tasks such as enforcement can impact on this, but it doesn't always mean that the person is doing a bad job.

No I was at pains to say it’s not about age it’s about the relationship between professional experience/culture of the organisation. And the relationship between maturity and professionalism. I want to know if something has changed in the organisation as many have observed it - I’m not the only one who sees it. But how to go beyond sense and into evidence I don’t know. User voice is no more in London.

I was a PO for over 10 years. Temping for the last 4 years. I had my temp contract terminated because an offender I had inherited from a female PO put in an official complaint about me for being intimidating and the SPO terminated my contract without an investigation! The offender in question is a sex offender who was annoyed at me because I didn't change his appointment because he wanted to go on a date! I had already changed his appointment due to his employment. He said his previous PO would have allowed him to go on his date and I was being unreasonable. He missed his appointment so I sent him a warning letter. He showed up to his next appointment and then refused to engage in the supervision session, didn't wanna take his sun glasses off, refused to answer any questions. He was on licence and was refusing to engage in the ARMS assessment. I reminded him of his licence conditions and the part about recall. Then he claimed I was intimidating him had upset him so much he was going to go home and get drunk and do drugs. Btw, I was his first male officer! The SPO said that I should have been more understanding. Understanding of what? I reminded her of his licence conditions and the possibility of an SFO because no ARMS had been done before and the previous PO had never enforced any missed appointments or enforced his licence.

I had only been 21 for 2 months when I started in the Probation service in 2014, and I found it tough with some older male service users, as they took one look at me and judged my ability and knowledge as they had children older than me. Now I’m 25 and I still regularly get asked how old I am, which is very frustrating when you are trying to be taken seriously. However, sometimes it is professionals in Probation and other services that seem to judge my ability more than the offenders. This job has taught me not to judge a book by its cover, and I would hope that my colleagues do not judge me by my age, but by my practice.

Absolutely it’s all about the practice and that is what I care about. I really didn’t mean to offend and just want to encourage all new POs who care and are doing a great job. I remember well being a new trainee and it was very stressful and very rewarding, it’s an extraordinary job.

No offence taken, just wanted to highlight how this job can be extra tough on young PO’s! 

Very very true!

I think the process of how we no longer look for the welfare aspects reflects how people are trained. I don’t think age comes into it if you really do care and want to make a difference. I think as individuals our lives shape us and as such some youngsters coming through have some real life experiences. So your right age is not the factor it’s about the care of what happens inside and outside of probation. If this could be on the training agenda then I think we’d have some pretty good officers to keep the service going forward.

Just spoken to a new PQIP recruit who explained the new NPS selection process and he said it’s resulted in a far more diverse intake. Great! But I still don’t see the absolute need for a degree.

I was having a discussion about this very thing this week. Sadly, I think with the split, many amazing experienced officers have gone and have been replaced with new who can then be moulded into the new way of working, hitting targets, paperwork takes priority, 10 minutes per service user, call centres and not understanding the relationship between NPS and CRC or between the service users across the board. You can quite easily have a person on NPS now and never know that their cousin, brother in-law and partner may all be on CRC. I think it's a sad reflection of how the Government have broken this amazing service.

Great discussion. I agree that there are good and bad officers of all ages. I think that the managers are an important part of the Equation.

A manager who does not meet probationers face to face tends to see issues in terms of enforcement and this rubs off on younger officers. Also we have some managers who appear to have put themselves up for the SPO role because they do not want to work with our client group. It worries me that some senior staff lose sight of the fact that a good quality relationship with a probationer is the most effective tool we have!

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Cultural Reflections

Increasingly we seem to be focusing on the cultural distinctiveness of probation being under threat and in that context I was particularly struck by these three contributions from yesterday:-   

No, I don't think it is a storm in a teacup. I was proud to work for a service that was prepared, subject to the obvious limitations, to "put its money where it's mouth was". I benefited from an organisation that was prepared to be open minded and not dismiss my application out of hand because of a criminal conviction. I committed that offence over 30 years ago. I disclosed it, of course. It has never held me back or prevented me from doing my job. I hope well. I have not been civil service or Visor vetted since TR. My Visor vetting needs renewing next year. Theoretically, I should have nothing to worry about as presumably once cleared and assuming no change in circumstances the vetting should be a straightforward decision. I will let you know!

I think this is really interesting debate. I was taught to be a reflective practitioner. Is it any wonder we are met with 'resistance' from those we work with to our conditions and stipulations? They would say obstacles and downright jump, do as I say or else, hoop jumping punitive sanctions. And I would say that is where the art of Probation lies, managing those poles within a range of contesting demands, in a responsible and empathetic way. For me that is why Probation deserves its professional status and high regard. A difficult task but not an impossible one. I empathise with all those Probation staff who are now faced with their pasts being resurrected on the alter of 'past performance as a stable predictor of future performance.' Spare a thought.

What feels like a million years ago (how the time flies when your country and its moral backbone is being dismantled) a rather clever advisor to Probation Management said something along the lines of... this may not be verbatim but it made a huge impression on me at the time... 

"You are a terrific organisation. You have enormous assets, in the main your staff and reputation, and deliver great value. You punch way above your weight. Your one weakness is that your corporate strategy appears to be to jump through every hoop that is presented to you. Without a strong and clearly articulated statement of your identity, purpose and values, you will have nothing to fall back on, to defend your organisation, and will be diminished by every hoop through which you jump. With a clearly articulated statement of your purpose and identity, good leadership would be able to embrace some demands, and refuse others, and every time this happened, the purpose and identity of your organisation would be strengthened."

My Trust paid a lot for that advice, and it was spot on, but not heeded. But still good advice.


Continuing this theme, twitter threw up the following piece published on the Medium platform and which rather neatly summarises my thoughts about being a probation officer and my growing irritation with managerialism :-

Ambition, humility, confidence and change

I have made no secret of the fact that this has been one of the most difficult years I have had in a work context. I have always struggled a bit, both professionally and personally with confidence — people meeting me may not realise it, but it’s the constant inner critical voice telling me I’m faking it and can make people think I’m competent and it’s all a facade which is going to be pulled away at any moment.

The year was difficult because it came off the back of having a deeply dysfunctional relationship with a previous line manager. I have now settled down to having a new manager who couldn’t be more different and with whom I not only get on well with but I genuinely like as a person, it has given me more time to reflect on management skills, styles and professional development.

But aside from that, it has made me think a lot about the importance of self-confidence in professional growth. I am not, I don’t think, an ambitious character. I don’t crave advancement. I have been in my current job for nearly six years and it has offered me incredible opportunities to learn and develop vast swathes of knowledge in the field of mental health particularly, when I came from having worked in a particular narrow field and for that I am very grateful. However, my lack of ambition has been interpreted as a lack of desire to advance or grow professionally. I have been told this repeatedly.

I have constantly remarked, to anyone who will pause to listen to me for a couple of minutes, that lack of interest in hierarchy and particularly a lack of professional ambition, shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of interest in development but increasingly I see it to be the case. I look at the language around fast-track social work training which pushes the idea of leadership early on even when training and seems to imply the lack of desire to lead is somehow something to look down on. Leadership is all. Leadership is where the dynamism goes. You need to be a Leader — here, have some training so you can call yourself a Leader. Lead, Inspire, Put up a Wallchart telling people who come into your office what a good Leader you are. Nowhere does there seem to be space to learn about the importance of humility and yet, it is through humility that we both grow and learn — not just to listen but to change on the basis of what we have heard.

While I have never had much interest in management, I have constantly had a strong interest in professional growth. I don’t want career advancement based on a hierarchical model of climbing a structure and reaching a career ‘peak’ with a stream of underlings and a raft of powers. I have though, always sought and been ambitious to grow professionally within the role I have. I want to learn. I want to be the best I can possibly be in the current role I have because by being more knowledgeable, more understanding and more effective, I can make more of a difference — it might not be able influencing strategic directions of large organisations, but on a micro level it might make a difference to one or two people who might, in turn, go on to make a difference to others.

But this is not recognised as growth too often within organisations which are built on traditional power structures. We push people into feeling that they have little value if they do not constantly seek advancement through the structures that are in place professionally. We create leadership development courses and talent management programmes which define people by their ambition within organisations. And yet (while this isn’t the case for me), rely on those having the confidence to apply and put themselves forward for these courses or opportunities which filters out the potential talent that may not have the supportive line manager or self-confidence to challenge or push themselves into these roles. This means that those who have the necessary personal skills including humility, may not have the same opportunities to develop or grow.

Fundamentally the substantial changes which will come and are needed in this sector come by engaging with people who use the services which are provided or which are potentially provided and listening with humility in order to make changes. As staff, we are conditioned within the organisations and systems which train us. People who have gone from university into graduate training programmes can’t bring the changes if they don’t know what needs to change. Change projects which are internally focused at staff who are involved in them risk losing the purpose of why we are making these changes if they are not, from the start, co-produced with those who have experienced services which do not work, which exclude with too much vigour, which come from a position of arrogance of ‘me empowering you to give me feedback’.

So moving on from thinking about the way organisations value staff, to looking at the way the service-user/patient and carer voice is used in all changes which happen particularly around the development of strategic changes, we come back to the value of humility in leadership. I don’t want any manager of mine to flaut inspirational quotes or posters. I don’t want an inspirational leader. I want a manager who listens. I want a leader who has the humility to listen — not on the basis of hierarchical structures to those around them, but to those who are most affected by the direction of the organisation they lead. And I mostly want them to have the humility to push a change in direction based on this feedback.


Wednesday, 15 August 2018

ViSOR Special

It's quite clear that all is far from well in NPS and the vexed issue of vetting and ViSOR is rapidly becoming the catalyst that highlights why probation should never be part of HMPPS and the civil service command and control ethos. We've covered it several times before and the subject formed a large part of yesterday's blog by Ian Lawrence, no doubt because Napo is getting quite a lot of grief from the membership. 

The latest Napo briefing document published two weeks ago can be found here and there's been much discussion on Facebook:-

Does anyone have a view, advice re latest visor business ie let the police investigate your life before you get permission to access visor!!!!! Form includes asking for details re your lifestyle, personal details, financial circumstances (do you have debt and susceptibility to bribes), details of your partner, family members and children umm don’t think I’ve forgotten anything oh yes all information will be treated confidentially now sign and you have 14 days to complete it!

It sounds like you might need government Secure Clearance level to access it now - I’m secure cleared and that sounds like the sort of thing I was asked. Have you been turned down for credit in the past 7 years was one of the questions on my form and I was like “I can’t remember what I was doing last week let alone 7 years ago...”

The form is very similar to the one I filled in for a job with them, but my form was for a CTC level check. It's interesting that they put microscopes in places you never know you possessed!

From the submission by Napo Cymru to the Wales Justice Commission: (the whole thing is online here.

"With developing work, particularly in MAPPA and Prolific Offenders (IOM: Integrated Offender Management) there is increasing risk of Probation’s identity and role being subsumed and diluted. There is high concern amongst Probation practitioners regarding the vetting processes required for Probation Staff to be given access to the Police Visor database. This process is opaque - the criteria, who makes the judgement regarding acceptability, whether the information disclosed is stored, the existence of an appeals process are unknowns. It is likely to further exclude those with “lived experience” of crime and the CJS from probation practice, whose contribution can be significant – and lead towards an homogeneity of the workforce"

Yes I questioned it and was basically told we have no choice. I’ve done it but not happy about it. The Napo advice was useful.

Scream it. Probation has its own identity and values, and its leaders need to have the confidence and commitment to champion that. The Visor vetting is deeply dubious, and questionable both ethically and legally, in my view. Our top brass need to put the foot down, say it is not in the interests or ethic of our organisation to oblige its staff to submit to this, and at a bottom line, agree to a very limited number of VOLUNTEER staff to jump through these dodgy hoops.

I know. We have had the stuffing knocked out of us, TR was properly traumatic, financially and emotionally. Good people have gone. We were advised to "get over it" but injustice is a thing that burns. And finding the energy (even the troopers) for more is a big ask. I am searching my soul.

Totally agree! One of my colleagues was asked by her manager “what have you got to hide?” leaving my colleague feeling embarrassed, intimidated and angry! I feel there will be little to no support from management and that saddens me though doesn’t shock me..which is even more sad!

"If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear" is the standard trope of the totalitarian. Very very creepy.

It’s the intrusiveness, the insinuation that if you’re in debt you are susceptible to bribes, the nosing into your family...who may have done something wrong...that you don’t know about, the putting of staff against staff again, the suspicion!!! It stinks!!!

God I am so glad I am out. This sounds like the Stasi. 1984 here we come.

Do people not need to give consent to their details being disclosed? If I'm being forced to disclose other people's information without their consent as I don't actually know what or where else the info is going or to be used for, could I be breaching some sort of privacy regulations?

If you or your close ones refuse to give consent from what I have read they will do it anyway!! So I guess they are asking for consent out of.....courtesy??? 

I'm a PO that will 100% fail vetting due to having a past conviction 40 years ago. I know others that have failed because of past convictions of self and family, previous dismissal from employment, bad credit and CCJ’s. I also know one person who failed and was not told why. Rightly Napo are finally addressing this. PO’s do not need to use Visor, it’s a system we’ve never needed. How are the police getting away with forcing us to use their system and then dictating who is eligible!

Imagine if Probation demanded all PC’s and DiCk’s must use NDelius and any that had ever had a disciplinary, a student loan or were ever on benefits can no longer work on the frontline! To use this useless system means submitting my life history via an admin (who will tell everyone) to be vetted and failed by local police. No thanks!

On failing vetting I’ll be sent to work in Courts, and EVERYONE will know why. There’ll never be a chance of promotion or role change. Very unfair! If I refuse to fill in the form that’ll ruin my career I’m threatened with disciplinary. It’s not a “reasonable instruction”, it’s extremely unfair!

Don't fill in the form make them direct you but I doubt they will. The problem is they will oust you from role anyway claiming you did not fill it in. There is a post in Napo by the said perspective VC come national chair that was largely in agreement with the Vetting. All right for some then eh? The change in our work now determined by a further police check when we all know what they are about is just a deeper mire. Most staff know it will only ruin a few colleagues lives and they wont hold any solidarity for that. Nor will Napo.

I have 10k credit card debt. Am I likely to fail?

Maybe not if your credit rating is okay. Most people with have some debt. I think CCJ’s are a definite failure, and bad credit rating and associated debt a possible failure.

Yes it was Katie Lomas that told us that forcing Vetting on staff against their will, and shifting Vetting failures into alternative positions against their will, is acceptable. There are many staff really worried about Vetting and imagine how it must be for those that expect to fail it - the condemned waiting for an execution date. You’re right, there’ll be no solidarity as the majority of staff are of the “what have you got to hide” mentality. When it came up in our team meeting the manager told us how clean her background was and how she passed Vetting with flying colours. Not a care for others in the room that were very quiet, or the brave one that announced they expected to fail.

It’s not a “reasonable instruction” if there are no reasonable procedures in place to deal with vetting failure, including how the NPS will apply Vetting Plus exemptions or alternative adjustments to keep staff in post. I suspect there’s been more failures than expected already and NPS are struggling to keep staff at the mo. Napo could easily fight this and kick Vetting into the long grass.Reply

Probation has its own identity and values, and its leaders need to have the confidence and commitment to champion that. The Visor vetting is deeply dubious, and questionable both ethically and legally, in my view. Our top brass need to put the foot down, say it is not in the interests or ethic of our organisation to oblige its staff to submit to this, and at a bottom line, agree to a very limited number of VOLUNTEER staff to jump through these dodgy hoops.

I have commented on this previously, if VISOR is such a precious inner sanctum it seems daft to open it to thousands of supposedly clean slates. Create a passageway with guards and access protocols. If there is a reason that this is not a sensible option then please explain why.

Visor is an excuse. The real reason is Vetting brings us in line with prison staff who are Vetted. Then probation staff can easily be moved between probation and prisons.

Man down t’ pub says probation management should be completing a Vetting Plus form at point of Vetting application of every staff member expecting to fail. Vetting Plus allows those that’d normally fail get clearance, and is renewed on an annual basis. How else do you think ex-offenders go into prisons as mentors.

Probation managers can also override vetting failure with Director approval and allow them to remain in post.

I'd like to know how many have failed Vetting already, how many have been moved in to new roles and how many were dismissed or left after failing.

And how many cases did Napo take on, win and return staff to original posts?

The answer is zero because Katie Lomas & Co think moving staff to other roles is an acceptable solution. It is not.

I think there would grounds for Constructive Dismissal if an individual failed and was subsequently told they could not continue in the role. Would NAPO support them at an Employment Tribunal? I think not, given they have been complicit in the implementation of this new diktat. About [time] NAPO was replaced by a union that has it's members rights as it's priority. Where is our pay progression due in April? What will they take away this time as part of a pay deal that they probably won't honour next year, as in the case of the last pay reform?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Malicious gossip around vetting has led to shameful and serious levels of bullying (staff on staff) by individuals seeking to protect their own position and damage the reputations of others. Some very experienced staff have behaved appallingly.

"Divide & Rule" - one of the favourite bullying strategies of Spurr's Noms/HMPPS. Introduce divisive, discriminatory, so-called 'elitist' practices which enables management to scapegoat staff, and which encourages staff to develop cliques & alienate those who are deemed 'less than' in order to secure their own positions.

This should have been a blog post. There’s ongoing discussion on fb around this. The more it’s exposed the better. It’s not right that any probation colleague with years of experience should be moved to the court team or forced out of employment because of bad credit, a past conviction or dismissal, or the conviction of a partner or family member. Will Napo tell us the figures of how many have failed Vetting, how many moved to other posts against their will, how many NPS overrides have been applied, how many have Napo fought to keep in post? - Answers on a postcard to Katie Lomas and Ian Lawrence.

Do CRC staff get vetted ?

No. They just use the DBS system.

I think it was definitely Napo who wanted vetting in the NPS - I mean 100% must have been, because NPS imposed it so Napo must have wanted it. I'd also heard the moon is made of cheese. Wonder if Napo did that too.

Some of us were moved to CRC's nothing to do with vetting. Some NPS staff think they are better than CRC staff. If they can move a huge number of staff into the private sector they are not going to worry about moving staff who fail the vetting. The MoJ has walked all over us and continue to do so. We've been given poor advice from the start of this shambles. Here we go again with more shit and more money wasted.

How and why the police are now involved in deciding who is eligible for frontline probation work is beyond me. The NPS / HMPPS is using Visor vetting to bully and control. This is their little stick or power at the moment at last Napo is working to smack it’s hand and take it away.

“the only concession they are willing to make is to ensure that their communications to Divisional Leadership teams include the requirement to support staff who are suffering the intense distress and indignity of this process.”

This shows how bad the NPS really is, and that it doesn’t care about staff issues at all. No different from the hangman agreeing to use a clean rope.

Sounds like Probation has succumbed to the same fate as many once-effective public services (NHS, DSS/DWP, etc) i.e. they are self-soothing narcissists who are ignoring/failing their raison d'etre. This is the inevitability of the obsessive target-driven culture which has overshadowed, overwhelmed & stifled any indigenous culture of professional practice. Visor, E3, OMiC - none are necessary for effective probation practice but, hiding behind the kevlar shield of Risk Management, they allow hierarchical managerialist bullies to flex their departmental muscle, demonstrate power & control, show who's in charge. Yet in a bid to be regarded as 'ok' those same organisational opportunists try to claim ownership of the very culture & values they are erasing. I recall seeing a senior NPS person on social media saying she is "passionate about Probation values". The dissonance is writ large, but no-one is calling it out.

More importantly, none of this bullshit assists those who are made subject to supervision by Probation staff.

They could have given us more staffing, increased resources, better quality training, and housing, jobs and support for those on probation, but instead we get Visor and Vetting that helps who exactly???

I have Visor clearance but it is due for renewal next year. The process is opaque so; whilst I have been cleared with my and my extended family's "lived experience", as it is termed, fully disclosed, am I assured clearance on the re-check? A rhetorical question but as there have been no changes in my circumstances, the answer should be "yes". We will see.

NAPO should have started fighting this last year. Too little too late really. I have been under pressure with this since last year. Failed Visor and given the opportunity to appeal. Police provided details of my fail due to life experiences and they dug up all sorts of info about me. All very stressful and so intrusive as much of this happened 25 - 30 odd years ago and I have been in probation now for 15 years. The Police are now requesting more info and a response from me in relation to my past for an appeal. I have not taken this route yet. If I could get out of the service now I would. There is very little respect/support for staff in relation to this and a lot of pressure from senior management to comply with vetting. Why has there been so little opposition to this up to now? Allowing the police to play such a major part in who can work in probation? I am ashamed of the service I work for.

"Whilst it is essential to have enough staff to meet with the mandatory ViSOR requirements, it is important that you only train, and therefore obtain security clearance for, those staff who have agreed to the vetting process and are identified as having a need and a purpose in accessing the ViSOR database."

Why are they being allowed to deviate from this??

I penned a guest blog 'Whitewashing the Probation Service' on this in October 2017 and the situation has only worsened. C’mon Napo - pull your finger out!

Probation Instruction PI03/14 can be found here.

June 2015 - Mike McClelland briefing GLNapo

"6. Security Vetting

This is currently covered by Probation Instruction 3/14. At the Probation Consultative Forum (PCF) in April, Napo expressed its concerns about this PI. In places it is felt that it is difficult to follow and that it has not been satisfactorily transposed from the Prison Service policy upon which it was based. It was not the subject of full consultation with the unions prior to publication. At the PCF, it was agreed that (retrospective) consultation would be sought with a view to improving the quality of the PI. We await an invitation to consult."

May 2016 - E3 Implementation Agreement

1. This document sets out the terms of a proposal for an agreement between the NPS and its recognised Trade Unions as to how the operational changes resulting from the E3 Programme will be implemented.

2. The Agreement is based on four principles that underpin our approach to implementation:

a. Openness and Transparency. NPS will share with staff the information they need to make informed choices.
b. Fairness. NPS will ensure that all staff are treated fairly.
c. Equality. NPS is committed to ensuring that the implementation of E3 complies with the highest standards in relation to equality considerations.
d. Minimise disruption – NPS will balance the need to minimise the disruption to staff with the need to minimise disruption to the provision of probation services. NPS will make every effort to minimise the impact on staff and where reasonable take into account personal circumstances, in line with our policies and the provisions set out below.

2017 - HMPPS/NPS response to NAPO can be found here.

2017 - Ian Lawrence's blog  'VISOR vetting - some clarification about what is going on'

2017 - Napo Briefing

"The employers have accepted that the additional vetting required for ViSOR use is likely to create additional stress for some staff. The NPS has repeated the reassurance that no one will lose their employment simply because of a vetting issue, unless the information uncovered is so serious that the code of conduct is breached."

Jan 2018 - Ian Lawrence

"During the consultation on the extending of ViSOR use, Napo raised a number of concerns about the impact of vetting as well as practice and workload issues. We received some assurances from the employers"

Aug 2018 - Katie Lomas

"The introduction of this wider use of ViSOR was part of the E3 phase 2 programme. At the time of the consultation on phase 2 Napo made representations about the mechanism for vetting"

So it seems there's been 4 years of Spurr saying "This is what will happen" & Napo saying "Ah, but, erm, well, erm...". It's the same inaction & passive complicity that allowed TR to proceed, that allowed the CRC clearances & that has allowed HMPPS to ride roughshod over NPS staff.

“The NPS has repeated the reassurance that no one will lose their employment simply because of a vetting issue”. This is simply not true if ‘vetting failures’ are being shoe-horned into alternative roles against their will. And what happens when there’s no positions in Courts, will ACO, SPO, PO, PSO ‘vetting failures’ be forced into Admin roles? For PO’s and PSO’s more likely forced out of the service!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

ViSOR and Probation Culture

At last there are signs of a fight starting for the values, ethics and culture of probation and with the likelihood of Wales shortly seeing reunification under civil service control, it looks as if ViSOR vetting is rapidly becoming a major issue there. Thanks go to the reader for forwarding this:-

Ian Barrow 
Director, National Probation Service Wales

Dear Ian,

(cc: Members of Napo Cymru)

Re: VISOR Vetting

I am writing on behalf of the executive to raise the matter of VISOR vetting.

For some time now the practice has been that a small number of Probation Officers and other staff, administrators and managers for example, have submitted information and been vetted for VISOR. We understand that until now the established practice is for one or two officers in a site to be approved for VISOR access.

This has its problems, which Napo nationally has been involved in, and we recognise the immediate logistical attraction of blanket vetting for all staff to be vetted and for VISOR access to be an expectation of the role of staff.

However, we now have an instruction from you that all Probation Officers and some other staff, should submit their information in order to be vetted for VISOR access, to a short and apparently urgent deadline. We have been inundated with calls from members concerned about the implications. These are:

  • Those staff who “fail” the vetting process will be disadvantaged. You have undertaken that staff who “fail” the process will be redeployed. We expect higher numbers than can be easily accommodated within alternative deployment to “fail”. 
  • Those staff who “fail” will have their careers limited and compromised by exclusion from VISOR access and the work that will then align with it 
  • Members are required to submit information regarding their nearest and dearest. Some members report that they have been advised that their nearest and dearest do not wish their information to be given, which places them in a stressful and compromised situation. 
Napo Cymru is concerned that there is an increasing risk of Probation’s identity and role being subsumed and diluted. This process is opaque: the criteria; who makes the judgement regarding acceptability; whether the information disclosed is stored; the existence of an appeals process; are all unknown. It is likely to further exclude those with “lived experience” of crime and the CJS from probation practice, whose contribution can be significant – and lead towards an homogeneity of the workforce.

At the bottom line, this is a significant change to the values and culture of probation. It requires the leaders of Probation to make decisions taking regard of their role as leaders of an organisation and culture. It could be argued that acquiescence to a dictate from another organisation calls into question the leadership within our organisation.

This matter is to be raised at the next JCC and we ask you to:
  • Negotiate for a small minimum of staff to be required to undergo vetting and the arrangements for working with our MAPPA cases that this will require 
  • Engage further with staff and explain the proposed requirements for VISOR vetting and the details around appeal, data collection, and protection 
  • Justify these in relation to Probation Values Ethics and Culture 
  • Allow time for this to be properly negotiated and considered 
  • Meet with staff to elucidate your understanding of what Probation is, (especially in light of the recent announcement) it’s Values, Mission and Purpose 
I look forward to hearing from you,

Lisa Robinson
Joint Chair Napo Cymru


This from Napo News last Friday:-

Update for Members – ViSOR Vetting

Members will be aware that Napo have been in discussion with the employers about the extension of ViSOR use (and therefore Police vetting) in the NPS since the E3 consultation. Our latest update gives the history and context as well as outlining the many concerns that members have about the vetting. An emergency meeting was held with the employers yesterday (9th August) to try to get some clarification in some issues and to seek some resolution which would mitigate the potentially significant impact of failure of this level of vetting. We are as frustrated as members about the lack of progress in this and the collective view was made clear yesterday. What was also made clear was the employers view that what they are doing is entirely reasonable and while they accept that this is causing high levels of stress the only concession they are willing to make is to ensure that their communications to Divisional Leadership teams include the requirement to support staff who are suffering the intense distress and indignity of this process.

Napo’s leadership group are due to meet next week and will discuss this and give consideration to all possible courses of action that are available to us at this point, including an industrial strategy and campaign. We are also consulting with Unison Leaders on a joint strategy.

Monday, 13 August 2018

The Government and Homelessness

With regard to today's much-trumpeted announcement that the government intends to eradicate street homelessness by 2027, those of us with long memories will recall how things were very different when the government once had in place quite a spohisticated network of services for this group. They were the DHSS 'spikes', direct descendents of the dreaded Victorian Workhouse, but swept away by political correctness in the 1980's. This reprint from the Sunday Times September 15th 1985:-   

Last days of the spike

By the time George Orwell was writing about homelessness in London, “the spike” had become the common name for a shelter of last resort. The original, and by far the biggest, was the great Victorian Institution in Camberwell, which this week closes after more than a century of service. Brian Deer looks back over its history.

When in 1850 the first steam engines came chugging through south London on the new Chatham and Dover Railway, the noise, the grime and the curiosity were all too much for the nuns of Nazareth House. Confronted with the disturbance of the industrial revolution, they packed their bibles, sold their land, and on the site of their convent up sprang perhaps Britain’s greatest single landmark of Christian charity.

The site was first refurbished as the Camberwell workhouse, taking whole families from the newly-emerging urban underclass of homeless, jobless poor. The demand was overwhelming and soon the Guardians of Camberwell erected two vast grey-brick buildings either side of the nuns’ simple chapel. And so was born the place where a million men have slept, and which to its users has ever since been simply known as The Spike.

Nobody is certain about the origins of the nickname. One view is that the spike in question was the means by which those too drunk to stand were held in an upright posture. Another is that it was the implement with which residents broke rocks for their keep. But whatever the origin of the label, it became known throughout Britain and Ireland as the place where you could always get a bed for the night and not have too much bother.

On a winter night in its heyday, some 15 years ago, the Spike, now the Department of Health and Social Security’s Camberwell Resettlement Unit, packed in 1,100 bedraggled men. Each had a narrow bunkspace, a thin mattress and a blanket. Most were chronically alcoholic, many had fleas or lice, and considerably more than a handful would wet their bed at night.

They slept in eight noisy, dirty and often dangerous dormitories, each over 30 yards long, in two hospital-like wings. One wing housed the long-stay guests, or “residents”, who were allowed to remain all day on the premises if they performed some useful chore. The other was for “casuals”, who each afternoon lined up outside the gates to register, shower and eat.

Even 10 years ago, Dr John Hewetson, Camberwell’s medical officer, recorded an alarming level of sickness among the unit’s users. Nearly half had a history of mental illness. 34% were handicapped, 14% suffered from epilepsy and 13% had tuberculosis. “Schizophrenics, demented old men, the brain-damaged, rigid abrasive characters are all accepted at Camberwell,” Hewetson noted.

In the past decade, the numbers admitted to the unit have been run down, and this week the few who remain will be bussed away to psychiatric hospitals and the Spike will finally close. Smaller hostels are to take the strain of the homeless, and only the acrid smell of a century of filth recalls Camberwell’s easily-forgettable past.

The closure is part of a national plan to shut 24 resettlement units in major cities and hand over their functions to local government and voluntary bodies. “This provision, which is largely a relic of the poor law workhouses, has come to seem increasingly anomalous,” Tony Newton, the minister for social security, told parliament earlier this year.

From Newton’s standpoint, the closures of the units will be happy events – lifting the dead hand of the DHSS bureaucrats from the department’s only direct services for the homeless. There is no rationale for government-run centres that have no links with the local community.

But there has been a sadness at the Spike in recent weeks that may seem at first hard to comprehend. “This is the best place of them all. I don’t want to leave here,” explains Albert Mills, aged 70, who has stalked the unit’s corridors since 1972. “Nobody worries you here. You can do more or less what you want to.”

Like nearly all the Spike’s residents, Mills has given smaller hostels a try, attempted life in lodgings and spent years living rough. Today, he sits aimlessly watching daytime television and remembering his youthful years. “I was never any good on my own,” he concludes. “I’d just be pissed all the time.”

The paradox of the Spike is that, for all its poor conditions, people like Mills much prefer the life in a big institution and will find it hard to struggle-on elsewhere. Before its run-down, 90% of those resettled by Camberwell were back within six months and, for them, pools of urine in the dormitories are of less importance than the right to be left alone.

“In the smaller hostels they are seen more and probably kept on their toes a bit more than they are at Camberwell; and some of them don’t like that,” says Frank Woodhead, who as the Spike’s current manager is supervising its closure. “It’s just their way of living, you see. If they’ve been wandering round the country for years, it doesn’t go down very well.”

The impeccable Victorian structure stands all but silent now, the gates finally closed on the destitute men who have walked from all over England to the shelter of Camberwell. This weekend, a few late stragglers will appear – to be sent on somewhere else. And even those who are found new homes find it hard to stay away. They come wandering back along the railway track for a last goodbye to the Spike.


Hansard 29th October 1979

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will give the name, location and capacity of the reception and resettlement centres administered by the Supplementary Benefits Commission for homeless single (a) men and (b) women; if he considers the number of places to be sufficient; and what steps he is taking to increase the number.


Alvaston Derby 104
Brighton Sussex 38
Crown Quay Lodge Sittingbourne, Kent 76
Fazakerley Liverpool 61
Glasgow Bishopbriggs, Glasgow 63
Leeds Leeds 96
Leicester Wigston, Leicester 100
Newbury Berkshire 68
Plawsworth Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham 112
Southampton Southampton 80
South Wales Bridgend, Mid-Glamorgan 64
Walkden Worsley, Manchester 84
West Midlands Stourbridge, Worcestershire 123
Winterbourne Bristol 112
Woodhouse Sheffield 96


Camberwell Peckham, SE15 550
Camden Birkenhead Street, WC1 35*
Cedars Lodge Cedars Road, SW4 30* 70
Bridge House Kingsdown Close, W10 120
Hither Green Ennersdale Road, SE13 150
Pound Lodge Pound Lane, NW10 80
Lancelot Andrewes House Great Guildford Street, Southwark, SE1 60
West End House Dean Street, Soho, W1 80

Total 2,452  

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Responses to Demise of TR 4

Thanks go to the reader for forwarding the following:- 

Napo Briefing Paper 1 Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence 


As soon as it was possible to get out of Parliament without having to answer questions about it, the Government published their long awaiting Probation System’s Review, in the form of an 8 week consultation when Minister’s will be on holiday!

It is difficult not to be sceptical about how genuine a consultation this is, especially given the reputation of Governments around “consultations” generally and their ignoring all the warnings about the risks in TR. With some of the disastrous Transforming Rehabilitation Revolution’s Chief Engineers still in key position (e.g. Michael Spurr as Supreme Head of HMPPS; Contracts and Costing Chief Iain Poree; Grayling’s Chief Communicator Amy Rees back in Wales) this scepticism is re-enforced.


However, it is also difficult not to see the critical importance of this next stage in the transformation probation and community rehabilitation services in England in Wales. Napo, along with most experts and probation stakeholders, predicted long before any TR contracts were exchanged, that Grayling’s model was unsustainable. In particular:

1. Artificially splitting service delivery at local level between the nationalised NPS and the outsourced CRCs is irrational and dangerous. It creates unnecessary bureaucratic, trust and information barriers between local professionals. It means offender managers in the NPS are overloaded and prone to burn out with only high-risk cases, whilst former colleagues in CRCs have fewer opportunities to learn and develop when working on only low and medium risk cases. It creates an artificial market for staff, especially in areas where recruitment and retention are already difficult, such as London and the South-East.

Can you imagine any other service being treated like this? What politician would suggest dividing the local fire service into two with the nationalised service only responding to serious fires and where there is an immediate risk to life and a privatised fire service only responding to low risk call outs? Why is such insanity allowed in probation? Addressing this insanity must be everyone’s first priority in this review.

The consultation talks about new models being explored and almost piloted, particularly in Wales, where core probation services are being brought back together. It states, “We will then consider whether the learning from these new arrangements is applicable to the system in England” (pg7). Confirming how serious the Government are about learning will be a big test of the consultation.

2. The TR revolution has been undermined by shocking financial planning and incompetent contract management from the start. This needs to be recognised and addressed in any plans to move forward.

Much has been made and said about the constant need to adjust, top-up or bail-out the existing CRC contracts. The excuses offered by Minister’s recently are enlightening in that they shed some light on the continuing weakness of the contracts – e.g. Gauke recently telling Parliament that some contractors are still being paid less than the cost of providing the service as if this was a good thing. In reality, giving this critical work to companies to run against ridiculous margins is dangerous.

Napo believe that the current contracts are founded upon fiction, guesswork and hope – Grayling’s team desperately trying to stimulate a non-existent and sceptical market with false and over-optimistic promises. It is inevitable that some owners want to walk away early. Others will want to sue the Government for mis-selling. Simply terminating the contracts and starting again would inevitably cost.

We believe the “early termination of the contracts” is a cover for a final bail-out – those who want to walk being allowed to cut their losses and those who want to stay being squared up to the end of the original contracts so their shareholders are at least not out of pocket and wanting to sue the MoJ. A key signpost to if we are right will be the length of the new contracts – something the consultation is silent about.

However, very little public debate has focussed upon the relative costs of the NPS – also being met by the taxpayer and managed incompetently by the MoJ. Prior to TR, Napo asked what the anticipated budget for the NPS was and were met by an indignant and angry response that it was, “None of our business”. We doubt there ever was an original NPS budget – none has ever been published to our knowledge.

We do know that as the number and type of case being passed to CRC’s were less than expected there was a corresponding increase in the anticipated number of cases arriving in the NPS. By 2020, there will be several thousand more offender managers in the NPS than was planned in 2014.

The financial strain on all parts of the service has had a constant impact operationally – including upon staff morale. In the NPS this has been amplified by constant payroll and pension issues, as a consequence of forcing it into inappropriate HR systems to meet the TR timetable. Workloads have risen - in CRCs because of staff cuts due to budget problems and in the NPS because they can’t recruit enough staff quickly enough. Sickness absence is still high across probation.

Whatever happens next, Parliament’s first question should be, “How much is all of this actually going to cost us?” Napo members, probation’s clients, victims and the public can only hope this time probation gets a financial settlement more worthy of its true value.

3. The consultation also talks about wanting to “Develop a workforce strategy which ensures providers can recruit and develop staff they need to deliver quality probation services and support staff to build careers” (page 7).

Even recognising this as an aspiration is welcomed given the experience of Napo members across the NPS and CRCs since TR. The artificial split has been one factor that has prevented any significant progress in terms of developing a clear professional career path from entry level (as a PSO or working in an AP) into senior leadership training and development for probation managers. Napo have long argued for a license to practice for all Offender Managers and, whilst encouraged by this being potentially in the scope of the consultation, we note the limited progress as the NPS had been unwilling to “impose on” private contractors.

Developing a more coherent professional strategy should start by removing the split between providers of core probation services in communities.

The next step is then strategically addressing probation pay reform across the whole service.

Pay reform was identified as a priority before TR. A sensible and sustainable pay system will be fair and measurably equitable, consistent, stable and transparent. Probation’s is utterly opaque, rooted in unfairness and increasingly inconsistent even locally. Whatever operating model the Government settles for it will not be stable or sustainable whilst experienced offender managers doing exactly the same work in the same offices for the same employers earn several thousand more or less than their each other just because of different start dates. At an ET case in 2016, NPS officials admitted to recognising age discrimination risks. Since then no formal negotiations have been allowed to address these even in the NPS.

This additional cost and financial instability generated by TR has prevented the Treasury releasing funds for probation pay reform. For the last two years, Napo have been told addressing this is Spurr’s “top strategic priority”. In the meantime, the MoJ has been a dysfunctional parent, failing to get its accounts signed off and is now effectively being run by its Treasury auditors – like a near bankrupt business. Since 2016, Probation have seen the HMPPS favourite child, aka the Prison service, get two pay rises whilst probation staff have received literally nothing. In CRC’s, some of the more stable have offered at least something to staff but all are struggling and fear pay reform in the NPS leading to an exodus of experienced staff to their local competitor.

If Ministers are genuine about valuing staff then finding the resources for pay reform must be built into the costs of the next phase with employers and unions given the space to seriously negotiate a sustainable pay model for the future.


Napo members have been waiting for the Probation Services Review for a long time and will inevitably be reading between the lines. Our first impressions is that this consultation doesn’t give many clear answers or even a clear direction. Right down to how and when it was released, it reflects a Government that’s confused and chaotic - reacting tactically on a day by day basis rather than thinking strategically.

This presents us with a huge opportunity. Like many consultation papers the best starting point is not the questions they ask but identifying the questions they don’t ask, exploring these and asking what the gap means. The big questions that the paper doesn’t ask but needs an answer to are: 

  • Will the Government have the sense and courage to reunite core probation services locally and if so, how and when can this be done? 
  • Will the Government recognise the true value of a professional, trained, locally accountable probation service and how much is it willing to invest to meet this aspiration? 
  • Will this really extend to staff this time, with their response to Napo’s demands for pay reform being a critical early signpost?
Dean Rogers
Assistant General Secretary 

Friday, 10 August 2018

Run It Up the Flagpole and See Who Salutes

It's Friday and I sense another lull in respect of the probation world, which is just as well because I've been encouraged to wander 'off piste' with this that appeared over night:- 
Off topic. I imagine it is not just me who has noticed the divisive and hateful bigotry that is being freely traded on social media these days. Boris Johnson's, the [former] Foreign Secretary, words have noticeably increased that content. It's distressing. What is equally evident is that there is no significant repudiation from those who would once have considered his comments incendiary. Have we become immune to this, a new narrative becoming normalised? If you find a gap I would appreciate one of your 'off piste' focus blogs. Having said that, once upon a time, Probation values would not have had this as 'off piste.'
It's been bothering me as well, hence my making this observation yesterday:-
I suspect that in the current age of post truth and fake news, well argued cases, evidence, truth even counts for nowt - what matters nowadays is winning the emotional argument. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage learnt this lesson ages ago.
If truth be known I've been waiting to use this from the Irish Times since I came across it in June. Politicians, especially former journalists like Boris Johnson, don't make 'mistakes' with their political posturing and I can't help feeling there are some very uncomfortable parallels here:-   

Trial runs for fascism are in full flow

Babies in cages were no ‘mistake’ by Trump but test-marketing for barbarism

To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

Moral boundaries

But when you’ve done all this, there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages. I wonder how it will go down with Rupert Murdoch.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”. And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

‘Devious’ infants

And the results are quite satisfactory. There is good news on two fronts. First, Rupert Murdoch is happy with it – his Fox News mouthpieces outdid themselves in barbaric crassness: making animal noises at the mention of a Down syndrome child, describing crying children as actors. They went the whole swinish hog: even the brown babies are liars. Those sobs of anguish are typical of the manipulative behaviour of the strangers coming to infest us – should we not fear a race whose very infants can be so devious? Second, the hardcore fans loved it: 58 per cent of Republicans are in favour of this brutality. Trump’s overall approval ratings are up to 42.5 per cent.

This is greatly encouraging for the pre-fascist agenda. The blooding process has begun within the democratic world. The muscles that the propaganda machines need for defending the indefensible are being toned up. Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable. So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality. They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.

Fintan O’Toole

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Of Public Services and Private Profit

I was a late and somewhat reluctant convert to Twitter, but to be honest this blog would not now be possible without recourse to it. Although I find it pretty useless for meaningful discussion, in voyeuristic fashion it provides valuable insight and information and is a brilliant recruiting sergeant for the blog. I saw this yesterday:-  
"The problem is now that probation is provided for profit, CRCs will effectively be making a sales pitch. They want – and probably need – more customers from the courts. And to the extent that they get them, so their shareholders will benefit." Frances Crook quoting Rob Allen
With the MoJ intent on forcing through another round of private sector contracting for probation services, despite a mountain of evidence that it will be an abject failure, this tweet resulted in us being pointed in the direction of an extract from Kittens are Evil : Little Heresies in Public Policy:-


Saying that ‘payment by results’ is fundamentally flawed is like saying kittens are evil. It’s heresy. 

The official consensus around payment by results is that it’s a no-brainer, and if there are problems with it in practice, it’s your fault: you’re not doing it right. Coercive and simplistic thinking informs a whole range of practices aimed at improving public services, so good people try hard to make bad initiatives, based on bad theory, work. Teething troubles, poor governance, bad apples and unintended consequences are cited as reasons for high-profile failures, such as disability assessments, Universal Credit and the Troubled Families initiative. 

This book argues that best efforts and poor excuses aren’t good enough. The authors describe how a bad system beats well-meaning individuals every time. They argue that no amount of tinkering, re-branding or good governance can compensate for the serious and widespread harm inflicted by a fundamentally flawed set of beliefs. George Monbiot succinctly described these beliefs and their consequences in The Guardian (April 2016): 
We respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly? 
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. 

The authors of this book challenge manifestations of neoliberal assumptions in public services – through family intervention, personalisation, numerical targets, marketisation, league tables, economies of scale, inspection and payment by results. 

At the heart of neoliberalism is a belief about people. Individuals are perfectible: anyone can (and should) be successful, to ‘make something of themselves’, if they only try hard enough. If they are unsuccessful, they should be forced to compete harder. (Try watching Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake.) If only we ate less, exercised more, stopped getting older, were more enterprising, ticked the right boxes, remembered our unique customer reference number, were digital by default and frankly were more service-shaped. Wouldn’t that make the government’s job easier? 

A systems view has a very different starting point. This book argues that it is the system itself that is troubled, not families or individuals. As in finance, neoliberal ‘quick wins’ all too often turn into long-term disaster, and it is the same in the public sector that has internalised its thinking.

The system is where we need to intervene. Attending to systems and their consequences for people is the only sustainable route to better lives and a better society. 

This book isn’t a conscious attempt to design a new system, although in places it makes a start. It does, however, provide strong evidence for public sector professionals, academics and policy makers to see neoliberalism for what it is – not a neutral or inevitable force, but a set of intentional and man-made political beliefs. By seeing it, we can help politicians who believe in something different, to create a new orthodoxy. 

Charlotte Pell, Visiting Fellow, KITE, University of Newcastle Business School 
Simon Caulkin, Writer and editor


Here is Kathy Evans, CEO of Children England, writing in Chapter 2: Public Service Markets Aren't Working for the Public Good... or as markets:-

With business terminology and comparisons now so deeply embedded across public and charitable services, it is perhaps illustrative to look at the most basic rudimentary tenets and ‘rules’ in successful commercial business. If public service market proponents were right in their belief that all types and sectors of organisation are best run according to the disciplines and incentives of commercial business management, it should be the case that the keys to business success would apply equally to public service provision. But they don’t. 

In commercial business demand is always a good thing. Increasing the volume of customers who want to buy your product is the first and most important objective of successful business for any entrepreneur – an objective which also underpins the entire advertising and marketing industry. In public or charitable services, however, demand is not straightforwardly positive. Up to a certain point knowing that people want and appreciate the service you offer is a ‘good thing’. Given the often sensitive personal and social problems that such services are there to meet, however, their need for help is nothing to celebrate or exploit, and an increasing volume of demand may be a cause for real concern, both as a service and as a society. ChildLine, for example, has reported that the numbers of children calling them to seek help for their suicidal feelings has substantially increased, year on year. As a service, the fact that they are available to respond to such distressing demand is a testament to the value of their service and the trust children have in them; the cause and implications of that rising demand, however, are clearly something about which to be deeply alarmed. 

In commercial business repeat custom is brilliant; indeed it has become prevalent to see customer loyalty reward schemes and ‘product obsolescence’ as strategies to promote repeat custom. In charitable and public services, if the same people are returning for your help over and over again then you need to consider the possibility that you are doing something very wrong!

In commercial business demand is your source of income. If demand is higher than you can supply you can still capitalise on it, either by raising the price (and rationing over-demand) or by investing in increased capacity to meet greater demand. The feasibility and repayment of loan finance in order to capitalise on high demand can be calculated by the projected income that will automatically be generated by being able to meet it. In public and charitable services, however, the person demanding your help does not bring with them the additional income that might help you to meet it. Whether your service is funded by taxes, donations or grants the capacity you have is finite unless or until anyone agrees to contribute more funds. A loan to invest in increased service capacity cannot easily be premised on any assumption that higher demand will generate any more income with which to repay it.

In commercial business, price is a reasonable gauge for value. When a customer decides that the price asked or negotiated for a commercial product is both affordable and reflective of its value to them, the sale can take place to the mutual satisfaction of both the customer and the seller. In general, in commercial markets, customer willingness to pay higher prices compared with others can be taken as a reasonable reflection of the relative value they place on that product. In charitable and public services the client rarely if ever pays or negotiates a price to be paid from their own pocket, and they may be inherently and completely oblivious to the costs of meeting their needs (e.g. an infant child needing expensive health care). Those who do fund the service, be they public commissioners or charitable donors, are not the consumers of it. The price of a service may, therefore, be completely unrelated to the value people place on receiving it, making ‘market competition’ on the basis of price comparisons an irrelevance in determining value. This disconnection between price and value can work both ways – a very expensive service could still have low satisfaction among its service users, just as a relatively low-cost, volunteer run service may be viewed as priceless and irreplaceable by the people who rely on it.

When the fundamental tenets of good business are so different from the similarly fundamental features and dynamics of public service delivery, it should be beyond doubt that ‘market forces’ cannot work in the same way in both sectors either. American economist, Professor Edgar Cahn, in an open letter to the non-profit community (2007) powerfully expressed an even more fundamental reason for the incompatibility of market mechanisms with the delivery of social benefits and support. The ‘core economy’ to which he refers in his quote below is a term used to describe the networks of relationships within family, friendship and community, through which people support each other at no monetary charge: 

Markets driven by monetary exchanges cannot put supply and demand together to rebuild the Core Economy because of the way that market value defines value. If quantity is scarce compared to demand, then market value is high. The opposite applies: if supply is abundant, then value goes down. We say something is dirt cheap or worthless if it is abundant.

That definition of value devalues those very universal capacities that enabled our species to survive and evolve: our ability to care for each other, to come to each other’s rescue, to learn from each other, to stand up for what’s right and to oppose what is wrong. In market terms, those capacities, if abundant, are worthless. In terms of rebuilding the core economy, those values are literally price-less.”


Whilst the ever-so-smug civil servants now running NPS continue to revel in policies, procedures, acronyms and a command and control environment that takes them ever-further from the true probation ethos, it's fascinating to learn that the Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC are reverting to pre-privatisation post titles of Chief Probation Officer and Assistant Chief Probation Officer:-

"Manjinder takes up the role of chief probation officer on 1 November 2018 and will report directly to KSS CRC chief executive officer, Suki Binning. In the coming weeks, KSS CRC will also reintroduce the roles of deputy chief probation officer, assistant chief probation officer and assistant chief officer to reflect the service’s probation identity, values and tradition."  

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Latest From Napo 177

Here we have the latest blog post from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence:- 

Inside the 'Marketisation' Event 

The report of how Napo managed to lobby the participants prior to one of last week’s ‘Probation Marketisation’ events, sets out clearly what we think of the whole exercise. Anyone who believes that the announcement of an eight-week consultation period on the ‘Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence’ blueprint is going to be taken notice of by this Government will be disappointed.

If there were any lingering doubts about the Government’s intention to continue with their ideologically driven privatisation programme they would have been easily dispelled by the proceedings.

Fantasy land

I have to give it to the Tories in one respect, and that’s their capacity to carry on day by day in Government without so much as an occasional acknowledgement of the litany of failures they have presided over when it comes to opening services up to the market. Rail Franchises, Carillion, and PFI projects in schools and hospitals that our grandkids and their children will still be paying for by the next century.

That, as well as avoiding a Parliamentary debate into the lack of a structured response to the Justice Select Committee report into the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, means that they could swan off into the summer hoping that nobody would notice the fact that half a billion pounds has been spent on a failed social experiment known as Transforming Rehabilitation.

‘Warming the Market’

The event convinced me that the decision to sell off new probation contracts had already been made and that the consultation on whether this is the right thing to do will be a sham. The full implications of what we are facing soon became very clear as a posse of MoJ and HMPPS officials set out their stall to entice the assembled audience of privateers and Third Sector representatives to seriously consider bids for the proposed new 5-7 year contracts that will be on offer post 2020.

Use of terms such as ‘Warming the Market’ in response to how bidders were to be encouraged to come forward was quite frankly insidious to listen to, and gave the impression that every colour of carpet will be laid out for the private sector to get their noses into the trough. Perhaps someone on the organiser’s side might reflect on the fact that it is people’s jobs and careers that are going to be impacted upon, yet sadly there was little sign that this was fully appreciated by those engaged in this circus.

Suffice to say it was not a pleasant experience. Firstly, it was quite surreal to see so many people almost gleefully talk about ‘learning the lessons’ and how they were listening to the criticisms and were moving swiftly to make things right this time. Presumably, the representatives from G4S and SERCO would have lapped this up given that they have used up more lives than my Cat in terms of their scandalous history of running outsourced contracts.

It was a more positive experience to speak with a number of Third Sector representatives, the majority of whom were equally unimpressed with what TR had not delivered for them and who remained sceptical that things would be much different post 2020. They did however have a real inclination to contribute positively to reform, and in that respect I found their company altogether more pleasant than some others I rubbed shoulders with. This link reflects much of the sectors hoped for direction of travel:

Anyway, the upshot to the afternoon went something like this: Probation spending has undershot which is why its’ been possible to waive the penalties on CRC shortcomings, shove more money into failure and throw in another £22m a year to improve ‘Through the Gate’ services, and rebadge all this in a glossy brochure marked ‘Strengthening Probation and Building Confidence.’

It was not one of those occasions where I had an opportunity to make a withering critique of what has gone on and what is being proposed next, but I was able to find out that the next generation outsourced contracts will be of 5-7 years duration and that nobody quite has a clue exactly what a Professional Register will do and who will run it.

Two things struck me most about this event. Firstly the complete denial as to the shambles that has taken place, and secondly the fact that quite a few people there seemed oblivious to the reality that any new contracts will need to take into account the outcome of a an NPS pay reform settlement that we all hope will flow from the negotiations which start in a couple of weeks.

Those contracts will have to be of sufficient size financially to make any prospective bidder bother to complete the application. That remains to be seen, but as far as Napo is concerned I did make it clear to all assembled that a Probation underspend means there is obviously money out there to treat properly with staff who have not only had the indignity of TR to contend with but who have not had a salary rise in seven years.