"Rumour mill currently in overdrive suggesting early re-tendering of CRCs"There's definitely something going on because at the JSC hearing on Tuesday we heard of something called the 'National Probation Leaders Forum' - I wonder what is being 'cooked-up' in secret here? Meanwhile, I also notice Napo has provided Bob Neill with further evidence:-
Written evidence from NAPO (TRH0105)
Many thanks for your letter of 5 th February. I very much welcomed the opportunity alongside Ben Priestley of UNISON to address the Committee. The subsequent feedback from Napo members indicates that there was a good deal of appreciation for the line of questioning from Committee members, which gave us the necessary space to expose the many issues around NPS and CRC funding arrangements , operational delivery, staffing and the deprofessionalisation of the Probation service.
I am also grateful for the excellent support that your Administrative team has offered the unions both in preparing for the oral session and afterwards,
You have asked me to provide further views or information and I am happy to do so as follows:
- Pay spines for Probation staff: These are attached and they have not been the subject of revalorisation since 2008. As I explained at the oral session, the public sector pay freeze has meant that pay progression for our members has seriously suffered. Somewhere between 25-35% of our membership are at the maximum of their pay scales and have seen no real terms pay increase for over seven years while other members fall further behind their expectation of moving through to the top of their the pay spines.
- Staffing estimates: In respect of my answer to your Question 15 and our estimates of the staff split, I do apologise. The current estimate should have of course been expressed as 54% for the NPS and 46% for the CRC estate. My erroneous statement probably reflected some wishful thinking on my part!
- A Probation Workforce Strategy: We have identified the following key areas that we believe should be the key components of a workforce strategy if such a development occurred:
Probation staff across the NPS and CRC have faced a serious diminution in their pay since what was, at the time, a ground-breaking settlement across the then unified service in 2008.
The growing disparity in pay between staff in the NPS and some CRCs where pay settlements for 2017/18 have been (or are about to be) agreed has created the conditions for a “pay turf war” between the two arms of the service. Whilst Napo has serious issues over the recent CRC funding arrangements and our analysis of these as a “bail out”, we are particularly concerned that none of this money has been invested in extra staffing within the CRCs. While we acknowledge that some CRCs (e.g. London and Thames Valley) would maintain that they are using the additional funding to strengthen staffing, we would argue that examination of these claims would show they are merely filling pre-existing vacancies. Our view is that some ring fencing should have taken place for this purpose to ensure that service delivery does not collapse entirely.
Within the NPS, Napo has encountered what can only be described as a farcical series of protracted exchanges over 2017-18 pay eventually resulting in no additional money being offered by Michael Spurr on top of the contractual 1% increase that was made available to NPS staff below their pay band maximum last April. The situation has been compounded by a distinct lack of progress on opening up discussions on longer-term pay reform.
Essentially, our members are the direct victims of the serious incompetence by senior HMPPS leaders in managing the department’s finances and what is a palpable lack of trust between the Treasury and the MoJ because of previous overspending on the pay bill, which caused a qualification of the 2016 MoJ accounts.
Add to this the unacceptable service provision by the SSCL shared services division which, as we highlighted in our written evidence, has caused pay and pension and taxation problems for around 1 in 5 of NPS staff and you have a situation which in itself has caused a huge lowering of morale.
Common terms and conditions
Whilst all probation staff who were in post at June 2014 have the protection of the legacy staff transfer arrangements between the then Secretary of State and the trade unions, there have been difficulties enforcing common terms and conditions which has not been helped by the arbitrary withdrawal of the NPS from the National Negotiating Council.
Whilst talks are underway to create a replacement bargaining model in the NPS and across the CRC’s, Napo’s stated policy is that we wish to see a return to National Collective bargaining. This is necessary in order to ensure that both arms of the service recruit, retain, and motivate their employees to be able to deliver high quality services and best value to the taxpayer for whichever arm of the probation service they happen to work in and not find themselves in a race to the bottom.
Napo is increasingly aware of the need for additional investment in staffing across both the CRCs and the NPS – especially regarding the management capacity across the service, which is acutely evident in the NPS. This has been highlighted by the HR processing failures in the SSCL. Managers are exhausted by the strain this places on them, particularly given that first line managers typically have direct responsibility for between 12 and 14 staff. These are managers that before TR would have had discreet locally employed HR teams to call on for support – these have now been removed with far greater day-to-day management responsibility and bureaucracy falling on first line managers, as well as the traditional responsibility for case management, coaching and mentoring and practice supervision. Added to this is an increase in staff absence and recognised staff shortages. This isn’t sustainable and is a key fault line in the NPS plans for service improvement and change – to a large degree mirrored in CRCs.
In addition, Napo is aware of a new further wave of SSCL failings. The agreement to contact staff before collecting pension contributions relating to the 2017 system breakdown has seemingly been over-ridden by the SSCL, particularly where staff are on maternity leave or long-term sickness – the most vulnerable staff impacted.
Your Committee will also be interested in the on-going scandal where all staff calling their HR support (i.e. the SSCL) are being charged at a premium rate. This is acute in offices (such as NPS HQ in Petty France) where all staff now operate from mobile numbers and landlines have been removed to facilitate ‘hot-desking’. We have been informed that the earliest the contract can be changed is 2020 and that the NPS isn’t able to put a cost on this as to do so, they’d need to ask the SSCL and would be charged extra to do so! This is offensive and demoralising to staff as both public servants and taxpayers.
Serious further offences
It is clear that there is a pressing need to restore trust and confidence in what has sadly become a fragmented service with hugely disparate levels of service delivery. Worryingly, and as stated at the oral hearing, Napo is especially concerned at the recorded increase in the last available figures for 2016 of Further Serious Offences (SFOs).
We have stated previously and elsewhere that we welcome the proposal to transfer management of Serious Further Offences to the offices of the Probation Inspectorate, providing genuine independence. We would like to this to happen as soon as is possible – especially as we believe there has been a spike in immediate suspensions of members involved in the management of SFO cases, since the Panorama broadcast in Autumn 2017. We believe that this undermines the effectiveness and integrity of the SFO investigations and leaves members, who are often entirely blameless in the SFO, feeling like an additional victim, thus further undermining professional confidence, security and morale.
We also believe that emerging SFO evidence suggests that SFOs which occur under CRC supervision are highlighting weaknesses in information and intelligence sharing between the NPS and CRC when the case is allocated and transferred to the CRC.
This in our view, amplifies the need to reunify core service delivery across local areas as well as the need for independent SFO investigation.
Our members have lost confidence in the capacity of a centralised and highly bureaucratic NPS and an under resourced CRC estate to deliver the required levels of transparency and public accountability. For whilst it seems unlikely that any of the 21 CRC contracts will be terminated before 2022, we believe that there is scope to start introducing unified service delivery in areas where there is a clear crisis in provision.
Due to poor contract planning we are increasingly aware that CRC contracts are being managed against unsustainably tight financial margins. Against this backdrop the commissioning model in place under the contracts, where CRCs have a monopoly on local commissioning, presents the CRCs with an obvious, perverse incentive to offer services solely for purchase by the NPS or ‘buy from itself’ to maximise return. This is limiting opportunities for charities and other partner organisations; and is inefficient and poor value for the taxpayer. Napo believes therefore that commissioning needs to be freed up.
As we look towards an alternative model, we are arguing for independent local commissioning of services, devolved to locally accountable public sector bodies, for example the Welsh Assembly, Regional Mayors or potentially Police and Crime Commissioners. Such a model could also support reunifying the core delivery of services and re-open opportunities for innovative partnering with, for example, local charities.
Licence to Practice
Finally, I would reiterate that we believe it is fundamental that a workforce strategy must include a Licence to Practice. Such an initiative, together with common standards of training and recruitment will safeguard staff, clients and the public.
Napo stands ready to perform an administrative role in such a scheme and hopes that the Committee may consider recommending our involvement in the architecture and delivery of a national standard for Probation.
We would of course welcome an opportunity to discuss these ideas in more detail with you.