Monday, 12 February 2018

An Harmonious and Uplifting Song

                          NAPO Cymru Panel Discussion at the Welsh Assembly
L to R  Dean Rogers, Bernie Bowen Thompson, Lisa Robinson, Su McConnel, Anne Fox, Darren Mc Garvey 

“Listen to us, don’t have us at the table as a tick-box gesture.”

A strong consensus was emerging at the NAPO-hosted panel discussion at the Welsh Assembly on Wednesday, considering the question “How do you solve a problem like Probation”. The context of this event is the launch last year of the Commission on Justice in Wales, the first of their terms of reference being: “promoting better outcomes in terms of access to justice, reducing crime and promoting rehabilitation.”

NAPO Cymru invited a range of speakers with different backgrounds and perspectives on rehabilitation, from as far apart as Plymouth, London and Glasgow, and from the Third Sector, Academic Research, and Social Campaigning. The invited audience included Assembly members, members of the Wales Justice Commission, Welsh Government policy staff, County Councillors, and campaigners as well as Probation staff.

The event opened with words from Secretary to the Commission on Justice in Wales Andrew Felton, saying that the call for evidence would be announced in coming weeks, inviting submissions and that they “were not ruling anything out”. Nadine Marshall, who has campaigned for greater transparency in SFO processes for victims following the death of her son Conner, asked from the floor if individuals might submit evidence, and was encouraged to do so.

Dean Rogers NAPO Assistant Gen Secretary, said that TR and the privatisation of probation had been “an unmitigated disaster”. Looking forward, NAPO seeks to build a consensus approach with all stakeholders; an effective plan for the future of rehabilitation services should be built by listening and collaborating. He gave five “key tests”

  • Pragmatic collaborative approach, not driven by any ideology
  • Local service
  • Strong leadership able to withstand government pressures “stand up to Westminster”
  • Unified delivery of service
  • Not for profit: crucial role for 3rd sector
Writer, broadcaster and community activist Darren McGarvey gave a compelling social and health/trauma informed account of crime in the community and the pioneering work of the Scotland Violence Reduction Unit, a community engagement model that is leading the UK in violence reduction. The Scottish perspective is in stark contrast to England and Wales: “probation” is embedded in social services, and “probation officers” are Criminal Justice Social Workers. 

He remarked “you do the work with people, not to them”. He spoke about “class, the elephant in the room” commenting that the correlation between deprivation and crime is hardly controversial, going on to say this is as much a Public Health issue as a criminal justice one. Darren McGarvey also described the “bold and progressive” decision by Scottish Government to move away from short term prison sentences (under 3 months) in favour of community supervision.

During questions and answers, we heard about the investment by Welsh Government into a joined-up police and health approach to violent crime. Janine Roderick, Wales Policy Lead for health and policing, said “There has been significant investment in this. We have a great opportunity in Wales”

Anne Fox, CEO of Clinks, made the - devastating for many probation staff present- observation that “the 3rd Sector supports desistence, in an ethos of mentoring, befriending, and advising: that ethos is not the same in statutory organisations like the MoJ.” 3rd Sector organisations are particularly effective in supporting and working with particular groups, eg BAME, women. She spoke about the devastating effects of TR on her sector, with work and opportunity shrivelling: “TR has been awful…. The rate-card must go”. She envisioned a future probation service working collaboratively with the 3rd sector and had this advice for Probation:

  • Seize the opportunity of devolution (of justice)
  • Define the role: what the statutory duties and expectations of Probation are
  • Understand what people need to desist 
  • Don’t do it without the voluntary/third sector
Dr Jill Annison, Associate Professor at University of Plymouth, has been involved in training Probation Officers, as well as research and publishing in the field of Criminal Justice and Rehabilitation. “After so much fragmentation, I find it hard to describe what Probation as a concept represents now” she opened. The rhetoric of TR was that this was the only way to achieve change, (top down restructure): “the scope for grass roots progressive change was lost”. She described the importance of relationships with individual clients, requiring “critical, skilled, professional, well-trained staff”, who stuck with individuals through their “often sig-zag paths” to pro-social and healthy living: also the importance of collaborative relationships at a community organisational level : “Probation used to be, and should be, the glue that held local partnerships together.” 

A published author on the subject, she went on to comment that the issue of women in the CJS is “one of the most dispiriting aspects of TR”. For this group, there is a particular need for an holistic, sustained, joined-up approach, “time-limited interventions are not the answer”. Her advice for those looking to the future of Probation was “to look hard at the training and Continuous Professional Development” as this had been pushed aside in TR.

Bernie Bowen Thomson CEO of Safer Wales, was the last speaker. She reminded us that “Offenders are ultimately people within our communities” and called on the Justice Commission to look at

  • Women in the CJS
  • A gender-informed approach
  • You must not ignore the lives and environment 
  • Generational impact of CJS
She set her comments in the context of the Well-being and Future Generations Act Wales, “if we get it right for women in the criminal justice system, we get it right for future generations”. Echoing Darren McGarvey’s point, she talked about individuals and communities living in “toxic stress”. She spoke about confusion following TR, in particular in commissioning and funding. “What is required is needs-informed services, and this is not helped by competitive tendering”. 

She called on commissioners to listen, and to look for sustainable collaboration between statutory agencies and the 3rd Sector. Listening and collaboration should happen at all levels; local, regional and national. To Probation, she said, “We want to be there with you” and to the Commission she asked “Listen to us, don’t have us at the table as a tick-box gesture”.

Comments during Q&A sessions included

Probation Officer “Desistence is filtered out of current probation practice, by the structures and systems” …” Commercial Confidentiality shrouds any accountability of CRCs”… “the only accountability is to the budget sheet”.

“Most of the TR money was spent on the change, not on the work”.

Ian Lawrence, NAPO Gen Secretary: “There is climate of innovation in Wales, and appetite to do things right, courage to do them differently, to ask brave questions, and to listen to the answers. The lack of professional standards, and the diminished emphasis on, and investment in qualification and continuous training, is a growing issue. Establishing Professional standards, and a Licence to Practice, is a key NAPO issue. To work out what is to happen next, we must forge alliances.

Anne Fox “The contracts drive out experience… we have lost the sense that we are working with people. Take it (Probation) off the MoJ… The MoJ style of recruitment and selection: we are precluding people with convictions, people who don’t fit a particular mould, we should be pushing the envelope. Resist the building of a Women’s Prison in Wales, we have a wealth of, albeit badly underfunded, women’s centres.

Su McConnel, NAPO Cymru Communications Officer, said “It was so encouraging to see members of the Commission here today, listening to the authentic, varied voices of experience and expertise. It was remarkable how, given the invitation to set out their vision of a future probation service, these varied voices sang an harmonious and uplifting song. NAPO Cymru is very grateful to Jayne Bryant AM, who sponsored this event, and to all the contributors, from the panel and the floor.”


  1. There is no reference to the MOJ funded Probation Institute & they make no reference on their website - were they not consulted?

    1. The PI was just another of Grayling's Frankenstein creations, stitched together from various body parts & brought to life in a flash (of public cash). The PI just makes incoherent noises.

    2. Why would anyone want to involve the PI?

    3. PI - pointless

  2. Both rehabilitation as a concept and third sector as a resource frozen out of probation under TR

  3. Before TR, the third sector was part and parcel of the delivery of statutory probation services, which were managed locally. There was never any resistance to commissioning services and forming partnerships to address the rehabilitative needs. Even before there was a statutory obligation to use a proportion of budgets to commission, the probation service was always open to partnerships with other agencies because it was well-understood that effective probation work needed to work with housing, mental health, drug and alcohol, prisoner support and any other service that had something useful to offer. It was always a mix of statutory and voluntary services.

    Elements in the third sector arguably did themselves harm when they became bid candy, seeing business opportunities rather than any need to wholeheartedly oppose TR. We need probation services with local governance who can then make decisions about commissioning. I don't think probation needs lessons from Clinks about innovative rehabilitation. It's easily forgotten that during its long history the probation service was a grassroots innovator – from the early days of victim support, joint working pre Mappa and innumerable initiatives throughout the country.

    1. There was also local commitment embedded in the historical funding arrangement where the local authority was a 'stakeholder' in the local probation service. This allowed for those pioneering innovations to be tailored to local need as opposed to being imposed by external organisations in order to meet contractual obligations. Its all gone arse-about-face, tail-wags-dog, beancounter-determines-intervention, etc.

    2. Could the 21.C equivalent of historical local authority funding = Council Tax precept & under umbrella of PCC?
      Its a question, not a policy preamble.

  4. Thing that strikes me is that this is all about rehabilitation rather than risk management. Seemed to me all the answers were in the room and all the blocks (brick walls) are in the current structures in both sides of the split.
    Somebody better do some serious planning before these contracts end... or just fall over.

  5. There's strange things afoot between the Government and Interserve.

    1. The 'big four' accountancy firm frozen out of Whitehall over a Brexit row last year has been drafted in by ministers to advise on public sector contracts held by Interserve, the troubled outsourcer.

      Sky News has learnt that Deloitte has been engaged by the Cabinet Office to review the Government's exposure to Interserve, which is engaged in talks with its lenders aimed at providing long-term support to its balance sheet.

      The appointment of Deloitte comes just months after the firm resumed bidding for central Government contracts, and at a time when the 'big four' audit firms are facing intense scrutiny over their work for major outsourcers.

      Last month's collapse of Carillion, the construction group, prompted MPs on two select committees to demand answers from Deloitte and its rivals about their work for the company during the last decade.

      The responses from Deloitte, EY, Carillion's auditor KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers are expected to be published this week.

      Ministers' decision to turn to Deloitte on Interserve, which manages the Ministry of Defence's training base on Salisbury Plain, is likely to attract fresh scrutiny over their reliance on the 'big four' firms.

      Last week, David Lidington, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said he would require "compelling evidence" to add his voice to calls for the quartet to be broken up.

      Interserve works on major construction and renovation projects, and is one of the UK's biggest private sector employers, with an 80,000-strong workforce.

      The company, which also provides support to UK armed forces in Cyprus, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, was plunged into crisis in the autumn when it blamed economic uncertainty and weak Government spending for a massive profit warning.

      EY is already acting for Interserve's lenders, while PwC is advising the company.

      Grant Thornton acts as auditor to Interserve, which has seen its shares slump by more than 75% over the last 12 months, leaving it with a market value of just £109m.

      A Government spokesperson said: "We regularly meet with all of our suppliers to ensure the efficient delivery of public services. We do not believe that any of our strategic suppliers are in a comparable position to Carillion."

      Interserve recently parachuted in a company doctor following talks with banks about a £180m funding lifeline. The company's new chief executive, Debbie White, said the new financing put the company "on a firmer footing".

      "Whilst there is still much to do, Interserve has significant opportunities based upon a strong client base and our dedicated employees," she said.

      "There is considerable potential for business improvement across the group. These short-term committed borrowing facilities, together with the ongoing work to clearly define the strategy and commercial structure for the business going forward, will bring further stability and clarity for our clients, our people and our shareholders."

      Scott Millar, a managing director at AlixPartners, joined Interserve several weeks ago in the role of chief restructuring officer. The Financial Times reported at the weekend that Interserve had met its lending syndicate in recent days to discuss a revised funding plan.

      The Cabinet Office declined to comment on the appointment of Deloitte, which also refused to comment.

    2. If I were a dedicated Interserve employee I would be considering diversifying my business if I were sub contracted, less exposed to their perilous financial position. Or if directly employed considering my options. Surely this is a problem with certain public services being provided this way, If the state does not underwrite the liabilities then the service is not on a sound footing and subject to flight of all kinds with the risk of a service in tatters and adverse consequences for those dependant on those services.

    3. Interserve have a loaf and two fish and got until the 30th of March to make a miracle worth almost £200m, not to get them out of trouble but just to keep them limping on.
      The government can say what the like, but they wouldn't have made the embarrassing move to call in Deloitte if they didn't have grave concerns over the future of Interserve.

  6. If the Government won't comment, & Deloittes won't comment, then I also refuse to comment in this comments box.

  7. If Interswerve collapses what would happen to the CRC's that they are contracted to manage. My hope and prayer would be that we would be handed back to the NPS. Can't wait till March.

  8. 00:06 I couldn't agree more to put us out of our misery of having to endure Interserves " Interchange Model " which insists that we do not see service users on a weekly one to one basis (heaven forbid should we try and actually get to know people ) but put them into groups in order to complete their RAR days.