Monday, 12 March 2018

News Roundup 17

Here's something from the new Prison and Probation minister Rory Stewart, although it may be some time before we hear him talk about the probation bit of his job:-


I became the Minister for Prisons six weeks ago. When I first visited prisons – teaching briefly in Oxford prison – in the early 1990s, there were 45,000 prisoners in Britain. Today, there are 85,000. This is not because crime has increased – the national crime survey suggests that there was four times as much crime, twenty years ago, than today. It is because we are imprisoning more people for longer sentences – far more than the Scandinavians or the Dutch. (Although far fewer that in the United States).

The MP for Darlington analysed the backgrounds of our prisoners in a speech in parliament this week:

“27% have been taken into care, compared with 2% of the general population; 49% have been excluded from school, compared with 2%; numeracy and literary levels of an 11-year-old or below at 65% and 48% respectively; 72% of men and 70% of women with two or more mental disorders; 83% of men with a history of hazardous drinking; drug misuse at 66%.”

The vast majority of prisoners are there for violent crimes or sex offences, which carry a sentence of longer than four years. Violence against other prisoners, and against prison staff is at a record high, and so are incidents of self-harm – partly because the prisons are awash with new psychotropic drugs. Half of people convicted reoffend within a year – imposing great cost and suffering on the public. And this level of reoffending has remained constant for decades, almost regardless of the resources invested in the prisons, the efforts of charities and reformers, the philosophy of prison management, or whether the government has been Labour or Conservative.

For many prison reformers the key is to have far shorter prison sentences, and to keep far fewer people in jail. But at the same time, there is continual pressure – often from victims – for longer sentences as punishment for crime. (At the moment, for example, you could be sentenced for five years for causing a death by overtaking on the A66; but on Wednesday this week, I heard from MPs who have been campaigning to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to a life sentence). Many critics seem to question whether it is even possible to fundamentally reform the prison system. And having spent a decade of my life trying to disillusion new Ministers who were trying to turn around Afghanistan, I sympathise with their sceptical attitude to a new Minister – and their detailed predictions of how almost everything I suggest has been tried before, and will either prove futile or counter-productive.

But I still believe something worthwhile can be done, and relatively quickly. First, for example, as I have tried to argue in some recent articles, we can clean up our prisons. The inspectors found mounds of garbage rotting in the yards of Liverpool prison. I found almost every window of every cell broken in a single wing. But when I visited Alt Course prison, a mile and a half away – a similar size prison, of the same category, drawing from the same population – I found a clean space, a sense of dignity and purposefulness, and a good preparation for return to the community – centred on impressive metal welding workshops. Alt Course was a newer building, but this did not explain all the differences. Liverpool is comparatively well-staffed, and as the excellent new Liverpool Governor, Pia, has shown in a few weeks, it is possibly to clean up the prison yards simply by increasing the number of prisoners on yard-cleaning duty from three to eighteen.

Again, I disagree with the conventional wisdom that stopping drugs entering prison is a doomed game of ‘whack-a-mole’ (if I stop people carrying them in, they will find another route – in letters impregnated with narcotics, or carried by drones); and that the only way of reducing drugs is to reduce demand. I am confident that by increasing the number of body-scanners and dogs, by fixing the windows (which prevents prisoners reaching out to take drugs off the drones), we can achieve a significant reduction. Hold me to account – look at the drugs testing rates in the worst thirty prisons today, and compare them with the rates in twelve months time. And I believe that if we can reduce the flow of drugs this will have a positive effect on debt and violence in prison, and on the rehabilitation of prisoners.

In order to help these things happen (and increase the quality of education in prison, and linking released prisoners to housing – homelessness among prisoners leads to a very high rate of reoffending), we are recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers. But in the end, success will be about leadership. No minister should pretend to micro-manage 140 separate prisons. The best prison governors already show how to succeed despite all overwhelming problems in our prisons. We need to invest ever more in the training and development of our prison staff, (and consider establishing a staff college for governors). This is only the beginning – there are hundreds of other things that will have to be done over decades – to keep society safe from crime, and reduce reoffending. But my instinct is that with focus and pragmatism, we can make much difference to our prisons than we fear.

Rory Stewart


The Public Accounts Committee didn't mince its words regarding the failure of Learndirect:-

Learndirect case highlights 'too big to fail' concerns in Government contracting

Learndirect performance on apprenticeships in steep decline since 2013

With the collapse of Carillion, questions are rightly being asked about how Government manages companies who deliver our public services. The failure of Learndirect in delivering quality training to apprentices whilst receiving millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money—£121 million in the 2016/17 academic year alone—is another stark example of a poorly performing contractor and poor oversight by Government and its regulators. And another contractor with contracts across several Government Departments.

Learndirect Ltd’s performance on apprenticeships has been in steep decline since 2013. Learndirect failed to address its under-performance, and has failed to act in the best interests of learners.

Ofsted rated Learndirect 'inadequate'

Ofsted had concerns about Learndirect Ltd in spring 2015, but despite the company’s 75,000 learners making it the UK’s largest commercial further education provider, Ofsted decided not to inspect until November 2016. Even then, Ofsted accepted the potential sale of part of the company as a reason to postpone its inspection, and only finally inspected in March 2017.

When Learndirect Ltd found that it had been rated as ‘inadequate’, it launched a legal challenge which delayed publication of the inspection report. The judge ruled fully in Ofsted’s favour, and the report was finally published in August 2017.

Too big, and too important to be allowed to fail?

The Department for Education would normally cancel an ‘inadequate’ provider’s contract and withdraw its funding almost immediately. But Learndirect Ltd threatened that such a course of action would harm its learners and jeopardise its ability to deliver other key government contracts.

The company continues to function, and expects to receive over £105 million of funding from its main government contracts in 2017/18. This apparent special treatment clearly begs the question of whether Learndirect Ltd was too big, and too important to government, to be allowed to fail. The Government needs to learn lessons from the failure of its contractors and, particularly where a company holds contracts across several Departments, ensure it has a grip on how these companies are performing.

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"Outsourcing is an abiding interest for our Committee but recent events have brought concerns about Government’s relationship with its contractors into sharp focus. In the case of Learndirect, thousands of learners have been let down amid poor oversight by Government and at significant public expense. There has been disruptive legal action and, finally, a scathing Ofsted report. Yet still Learndirect appears to hold the whip hand.

It expects to receive over £105 million of funding from its main government contracts for this year, a consequence of assessments made about the risk to public services should Learndirect’s funding be terminated. It cannot be right that individual contractors should command such large sums of public money regardless of their performance. No commercial provider should be allowed to become so essential to the delivery of services that it cannot be allowed to fail. Government has a duty to manage taxpayers’ exposure to risk diligently and we urge it to act on the recommendations set out in our Report."


Civil Service World reported on the use of zero hour contracts by the MoJ:-

Ministry of Justice has ‘employed hundreds on zero-hours contracts’

The Ministry of Justice has admitted to having employed hundreds of people on zero hours contracts, despite widespread political criticism of their use. The department revealed that since 2011, more than 570 people have worked under contracts with no guaranteed hours.

According to its figures the MoJ has been gradually cutting its use of casual contracts since it recorded a peak of 172 zero-hours workers at the department in a snapshot from December 2011. There were 21 people working on a casual basis in January 2017.

In response to a written question from Labour MP Chris Ruane, the government confirmed those currently on casual contracts at the MoJ are scheduled court ushers working at HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

The data comes amid government plans to boost the rights of casual and zero-hours workers, including extending holiday and sick-pay entitlements. Although ministers stopped short of calling for a ban, a review into modern working practices late last year found “too many employers and businesses" rely on flexible contracts.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Telegraph: “While zero hours contracts can offer flexibility, use of zero hours contracts has decreased since 2011, and we will continue to work across the department to cut this number even further. We only use these contracts in exceptional circumstances, with less than 0.1% of the civil service workforce on such arrangements.”


Finally, a charity solicitor ponders on the future for the sector post-Carillion:-

Carillion: Will the bells now ring out for social enterprises?

As UK public procurement failures multiply, lawyer David Hunter believes now is the time for social enterprises to demonstrate they can deliver on budget and with a true commitment to social benefit.

The name Carillion is a corruption of the word carillon, meaning a peal of bells, and that company’s collapse has been accompanied by the metaphoric ringing of alarm bells in many quarters lately. In the febrile aftermath of Carillion’s demise, there are familiar opportunities and threats for the social enterprise movement to be aware of and act upon.

The opportunity centres on the fact that there is an enduring alignment of purpose between public bodies and charities and social enterprises built around their shared commitment to achieving social outcomes. This is in contrast to the purpose driving Carillion (and the other private contractors and funders in public markets),which is to optimise investor returns from public contracts.

The threat is equally familiar: the tendency for the public debate to default to the binary and present a straight choice between private or public provision. The threat is potentially exacerbated in this case, as Carillion (and the PFI contracts which formed the core of its business) are predominantly about public infrastructure not public services and, to a large extent, that infrastructure may continue to be something that private contractors are best placed to provide (albeit by a different contractual mechanism than PFI, or its poor relation PF2).

This is a distinction that has often been overlooked in the public debate, but it is an important one for social enterprises to highlight. Public services rather than infrastructure is where social enterprises' strengths are in delivering social impact; it is where, in many respects, public authorities are ultimately judged; and it is where private providers’ weaknesses are increasingly being exposed, as illustrated by two other current examples.

The offender management debacle

The first is the debacle of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Another public procurement exercise suffering from giantism, it led inexorably to multi-million pound contracts being awarded to the likes of Interserve and Sodexo, corporates with, in some cases, almost no expertise in offender management, but with track records in managing large contracts and cutting costs. Established specialist providers were squeezed out or offered crumbs through onerous supply chain contracts. Unsurprisingly, the programme has failed in social terms, as evidenced by the Chief Probation Inspector in her review published in December 2017 describing a general deterioration in services and outcomes. It has also failed in financial terms, with the TR contractors receiving a £277m bailout from the Ministry of Justice to keep the contracts going. Thus, service users are failed, social and financial costs for society continue to accumulate and there is not even the anticipated short term financial benefit.

The second is the academisation process, by which education is handed to independent providers, technically charities, but – as demonstrated by the "asset-stripping" the failed Wakefield City Academies Trust has been accused of and the spiralling salaries of academy chief executives – the policy has created opportunities to extract private benefit from public assets and service delivery which many have been quick to exploit.

Part of the post-Carillion debate has rightly focused on questions of corporate governance. This coincides with ongoing and growing advocacy for purpose or mission to become embedded in how businesses operate. The same can be said of public bodies: it would be helpful to be explicit about what they believe they exist to accomplish and for this to be a permanent reference point for their activities. Whilst there is scope for variation in the detail, a reasonable general assumption is that at the highest level it is to optimise delivery of social value – not as something that is a minor line item in a procurement exercise, but as the overarching purpose of the public body.

A reasonable assumption is that the overarching purpose of a public body is to optimise delivery of social value
That leads directly into the commissioning function, so that activities are strategically driven around optimising social outcomes within a budget, with money as a mechanism to enable those outcomes to be delivered, rather than the object of the exercise being not to spend so much. Building commissioning practice around purpose will more likely lead to improved outcomes (in turn, over time, reducing pressures on budgets).

These are changes which I propose for the benefit of public bodies and their constituents, not for the social enterprise sector. However, if implemented, they should create more opportunity for social enterprises to win and deliver public services in meaningful ways for the mutual benefit of the commissioning authorities, the enterprises themselves and their service users. The alignment of purpose between commissioners and delivery bodies can enable more relational and genuinely partnership-based approaches to change and challenges as they arise during delivery, rather than presenting more opportunities to extract income from the public purse. This represents a potential shift in contract management enabled to both partners being on the same side.

Proposing such changes should not be seen as radical, though implementing them would feel so and could have radical consequences. Even if introduced, there is still a massive exercise for the sector to ensure public authorities understand and value both the opportunities that alignment of purpose provides and the practical qualities social enterprises can bring.

The best successfully combine the public benefit ethos at the heart of the public sector with the commercial acumen regarded as an attribute of the private sector. This is very different both to grant-dependent voluntary organisations and to private providers with sophisticated CSR arms. We know that, but must assume hard-pressed commissioners do not. The examples not only of Carillion, but of TR and academisation, demonstrate the risks of working with private providers driven by profit maximisation. Equally, commissioners need to be persuaded not to default to the familiar and take services back in-house by demonstrating social enterprise offers the best, rather than the worst, of both public and private worlds.

If the sector can achieve that, it will have its own, positive carillon moment.

David is a consultant solicitor at Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP. He works with charities and social enterprises, social investors and responsible businesses, finding effective and innovative ways to deliver greater social impact, policy change and practice in communities


  1. From BBC website:-

    Two maintenance workers were sacked for raising concerns about health and safety at troubled Liverpool Prison, the BBC has learned. John Bromilow and Harry Wildman, who worked at the jail for more than 20 years, were fired by Amey, who had the contract for prison repairs.

    Amey claimed they brought the firm into disrepute by discussing new working practices with the prison governor.
    But an employment tribunal ruled that the men were unfairly dismissed. The tribunal, in Liverpool on Friday, said Mr Bromilow, 66, and Mr Wildman, 64, had acted in good faith.

    Employment judge Jonathan Holbrook, who headed the three-person panel, added he thought it was "extraordinary" that Amey had not taken into account the men's 45 years of collective service and their unblemished disciplinary record.

    Mr Wildman, an electrician, said the ruling was a "vindication" of what he had been fighting for since his dismissal in November 2016. "The whole thing has been a nightmare," he told BBC Radio 4's File on 4.

    The company had taken over maintenance at Liverpool Prison in June 2015 as part of a government contract to provide facilities management in 60 jails. Under the changes, staff were required to carry out most jobs alone, rather than in pairs, as had been the practice for many years. The two men thought it was a safety risk because tools and equipment could be snatched by prisoners.

    "I see it as a bag of tools, somebody else will see it as a bag of weapons," said Mr Bromilow, a painter-decorator. After unsuccessfully trying to reverse the measures through an internal grievance procedure, the two colleagues met the prison governor to inform him they were calling in the Health and Safety Executive. However, after two meetings with the governor, Amey suspended, then sacked, the men.

    Statements from Amey officials, submitted to the tribunal, claimed Mr Bromilow and Mr Wildman had been "intent on making things difficult" for the company, alleging their actions had "the potential to be incredibly damaging" to its reputation.

    Jon Heath, the solicitor who represented the pair, said it was a "scandalous" case. "To dismiss them for having explicitly raised those concerns is one of the more startling examples of an unfair dismissal that I have come across," he said.

    Responding to the tribunal decision, Amey said: "Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees, and we have a robust whistleblowing policy in place which provides a number of channels for our employees to escalate concerns about their health and safety. We encourage all employees to follow these protocols so we can address their concerns in the most thorough and efficient way possible."

    The tribunal will consider if the men can return to their jobs and the compensation they are entitled to at a hearing in June.

    1. BBCR4 file on four, tues 8pm

    2. I haven't heard the R4 programme but, beyond the scandalous treatment of the two men, concern might be that this is endemic in the privatisation model such that private sector practices & policies are being implemented in prisons around England & Wales whilst HMPPS/MoJ are either unaware or complicit in such dangerous practices - practices that would NOT be tolerated if they were 'in-house'.

      If it wasn't for the brave actions of Messrs Bromilow & Wildman, who would have raised this? Seems like Amey had a free hand to work within the prison using whatever procedures they wanted. Was this with Governor approval? No1 Governor is responsible for their prison. Are they being kept out of the loop by HMPPS/MoJ contract management teams? Asks BIGGER questions of the duty of care (or otherwise) by HMPPS/MoJ towards prisoners & prison staff. Opens several cans of wriggly things when it comes to approval & oversight of private sector contracts. It MUST have implications for financial imperatives being prioritised over matters of health & safety.

      The incompetent Spurr & his ramshackle crew of Tory stooges must surely be out of a job now?

      Come on JSC, PAC - time to hold these idiots to account...

      They have wasted untold £Billions of public money with innumerable failed projects & procurement (Courts, IT, etc), they have put peoples' lives at risk with dangerous prisons, they have destroyed an entire profession with TR. And all the while they have feathered their own nests with bonuses & pension top-ups.

      Do not just let them slide away with bags full of goodies & gongs - sack them for their pisspoor performance.

  2. Well done to those men

  3. Leadership is what Mr Stewart cites.... where is that in any CRC or The NPS... one name.. just one sniff of leadership... anywhere..... answers on a postcard please....

  4. TWEETED by Ian Lawrence in last half-hour

    "#Napo Live on Victoria Derbyshire BBC 2 9:45 our members important role in the CJS"

    NOTE even Napo omits the PROBATION word - presumably it will be Offenders and Rehabilitation with not even a nod to social work and Justice and choice and clients.

    But I am sour and have almost given up now.

    1. The item on Warboys got cursory coverage and abviously slipped down the running order in terms of importance. In my view, probably as well because Ian Lawrence is simply not the best qualified person to be speaking about probation practice issues - his garbled responses about Approved Premises and failing to explain that it's a hostel merely serves to illustrate why Napo should field a qualified practitioner.

    2. I was beginning to think that from just hearing the last comment alone from him.

      It is not entirely Lawrence's fault, he was after all reappointed after his ability was known.

      I feel some sympathy for him, and have no idea who else Napo could have called on at short notice for a quick interview, at wherever it was.

    3. Hear hear Jim(10:44)

    4. To be fair Andrew (8:20)Napo represents Family Court staff as well so the strapline for Napo is quite a mouthful!

    5. I voted against the change of name to Napo & long ago believed we needed to clearly say union of probation and family court workers or something similarly inclusive

      - however my comment was not in respect of the ridiculous name but that in the advance publicity he did not mention probation.

  5. Going off topic here. Are there any articles coming out about the dire state of the IT systems within Interserve CRC’s? Unsure if other CRC’s are having similar issues? Stress levels are going through the roof as we’re still under pressure to hit targets although we can’t consistently work due to the systems constantly being down. It’s been going on for months now! What are others thoughts on this?