Friday, 3 May 2019

Only Sensible Option is Reunification

Oh look! Another report highlighting the Probation Omnishambles. This in the Guardian:-

Grayling probation changes 'took unacceptable risks' with public money

Overhaul left sector in worse state than before and taxpayer with £467m bill, MPs report.

Chris Grayling’s widely derided changes to the supervision of a quarter of a million offenders in the community were rushed through at breakneck speed, taking “unacceptable risks” with taxpayers’ money, a spending watchdog has said. In yet another damning report on Grayling’s so-called Transforming Rehabilitation strategy introduced when he was justice secretary, MPs on the public accounts committee (PAC) said the overhaul had left the probation sector in a worse position than before.

The changes failed to achieve expected reductions in reoffending and left services underfunded, fragile and lacking the confidence of the courts, the MPs said in a report. Action taken to tackle the problems will cost £467m, the report said, adding: “Inexcusably, probation services have been left in a worse position than they were in before the ministry embarked on its reforms.”

Probation services deal with more than 250,000 offenders in England and Wales, including those preparing to leave jail, former prisoners living in the community and people serving community or suspended sentences. The sector was overhauled in 2014 by Grayling, who ignored significant warnings from within the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and broke up 35 existing probation trusts, replacing them with a public-sector service dealing with high-risk offenders and 21 privately run community rehabilitation companies (CRC) that manage low- to medium-risk offenders.

The MoJ plans to end the existing CRC contracts early, in December 2020. Under the proposed new system, 10 probation regions would be created in England, with each containing an National Probation Service (NPS) division and a CRC. In Wales, the NPS would assume responsibility for the management of all offenders.

The PAC chairwoman, Meg Hillier, said: 

“Despite warnings from this committee and the National Audit Office over the past three years, the Ministry of Justice has failed to bring about the promised revolution in rehabilitation. Rather than deliver the savings hoped for at the start of the programme, the ministry’s attempts to address the failures in the reforms have cost the taxpayer an additional £467m while failing to achieve the anticipated improvements in reoffending behaviour. Over-optimistic initial forecasts left the Ministry of Justice fighting fires of their own making since the programme’s inception.”

The committee claimed the MoJ failed to conduct adequate pilot schemes or to learn sufficiently from similar programmes elsewhere, accusing the department of suffering from “optimism bias”. The PAC report said: “It is unacceptable that so many unnecessary risks were taken with taxpayers’ money.”

The changes failed to reduce reoffending by as much as expected, continued the report, citing figures that showed the average number of reoffences per offender increased by 22% between 2011 and March 2017. The report also noted that the number of offenders recalled to prison for breaching their licence conditions went up by 47% from January 2015 to September 2018.

While the government says the rise reflects the extension of statutory supervision to offenders sentenced to less than 12 months, the committee said the MoJ “acknowledged that it had not got post-sentence supervision right”. The PAC joins the chief inspector of probation, the cross-party justice committee and the National Association of Probation Officers in heavily criticising Grayling’s changes. 

Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, said: 

“Chris Grayling’s disastrous decision to privatise probation has been a costly failure that has left our communities less safe. The Tories must show that they have learnt the lessons of this failure and drop their ideologically driven plans to sign yet more private probation contracts. Labour has made it clear that in government we will return probation to the public sector, where it can focus on keeping the public safe – not lining the pockets of failing private companies.”


On the day Rory Stewart decided to move on to pastures new and confirms that his hat is in  the ring for Tory Party leader, I hear that Napo have been given a 'heads-up' regarding MoJ thinking in advance of appointment of yet another Prison and Probation minister:-

Napo Official Briefing on Future of Probation as at 2nd May 2019

We have established that the MOJ has informed the market that it is looking at all options for probation going forward. This includes the possibility of rolling out the Wales model everywhere. However, nothing has been decided at this point and we will have to wait for a statement by Ministers and their formal response to the consultation paper that we now expect to be published in the middle of May.

Over the last few days, we have seen some irresponsible and poorly informed communications from one of the largest private providers and we are reliant on members keeping us informed of any statements being sent out by CRCs as the MOJ seemingly has no central [control] over what their contractors say to staff.

We understand from the MOJ that the market has given a mixed response to the various options under consideration (as listed below) including some saying that they are not interested in any future contractual arrangements other than TR Mark 2.

In the meantime, Napo Officers and Officials will continue to engage with CRCs on issues such as pay and operational/ collective bargaining matters on a business as usual basis. We will also be drawing up transition papers to highlight the pros and cons of each potential option for the future provision of services and will be priming our contacts in the press and political circles.

What are the options?

1. TR Mark 2. This would see new contract package areas being drawn up to match the intended 10 divisions of the NPS. These CPAs would then be sold off in a similar way to TR. Our 8 reasons to reunify Probation give you an outline of the key issues that we are asking members to raise with MP’s but also more local concerns. I.e. DTV CRC will not exist if TR Mk2 goes ahead yet it is the only mutual and certainly not the worst performing CRC.

2. Welsh model. Clearly, this would be a massive step in the right direction for our campaign to reunify probation. It is not without its pitfalls such as the so far untested transition risks and could be seen as leaving behind comrades in Interventions and Programmes, but it would at least give us good grounds for pushing our campaign for full reunification, as well as giving us an opportunity to press again for pay parity. It is estimated that between 250-300 staff will move into the NPS Wales from KSS CRC when the transfer of Offender Management work is completed by December this year.

3. Total reunification - private sector. If we get a new Prime Minister and/or Justice Secretary then there is a real risk that they would seek to privatise the whole of Probation. While this is the least likely option, we must factor it into our planning. Our main objective would be to highlight the failure of CRC’s to deliver the most basic of probation services and lobby politicians on the basis that private providers simply cannot be trusted to hold high and very high risk cases.

4. Total reunification - public. Clearly, this is the major objective of our campaign and one we will continue to fight for. The Wales model (if it were to be the preferred option for Government) would give us a real head start, but we can still hold some hope on the possibility of the Minister accepting that a total rethink is the best option. However, any reunification would still require us to push for the NPS to have local accountability and budgets as well as our claim that Probation should be removed from the civil service and given back its former independence.

We had anticipated that a decision would have emerged by now but it is clear that more analysis is being undertaken and yesterday’s announcement that Rory Stewart has been promoted to the Cabinet has obviously also been a factor in the delay. We currently await news of his successor.


  1. Chair's comments

    Commenting on the Public Accounts Committee report, Transforming rehabilitation: progress review, Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, said:

    “This damning report from the Public Accounts Committee backs up the findings of our own inquiry that it is doubtful the Government’s disastrous reforms can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service.

    As well as laying bare the eyewatering cost of terminating contracts which should never have been entered into in the first place, the report also highlights the failure to improve support or reduce reoffending.

    This has a real human impact: more victims of crime and more wasted lives as offenders ricochet in and out of custody.

    We are also seriously concerned about the decline in judge and magistrate confidence in community sentences - even though these sentences generally lead to better outcomes.

    We said back in June last year that the Government should review into the long-term future and sustainability of delivering probation services, including how TR might compare to an alternative system.

    They didn’t start such a review and ten months later we are still waiting for a full response to our report.

    The Ministry needs to sort this mess by setting out a new, clear strategy for the future of probation services, which is rigorously tested and not rushed through, when it announces plans for the next generation of Community Rehabilitation Companies due soon.

    We sincerely hope that the change in responsible Minister will not delay things any further.”


    2. A probation company that did not properly investigate all domestic abuse and child safeguarding issues must do more to protect victims, a report has said.

      Inspectors visited Beds, Northants, Cambs and Herts Community Rehabilitation Company (BeNCH CRC) and rated some services as inadequate. Urgent action to improve was needed, the Inspectorate of Probation said. BeNCH CRC has a "substantial" improvement plan in place, it added.

      The service, which was given an overall rating of "requires improvement", supervises more than 7,000 low-risk and medium-risk offenders who are either in prison, or have been released or are serving community sentences.

      The chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, praised BeNCH's workforce, with staff "motivated to support people to turn away from crime." Case management was found to be poor, however, and a sample of cases revealed staff needed to do more to protect actual and potential victims.

      "In particular, domestic abuse and child safeguarding issues were not always investigated or recorded properly," said Dame Glenys. "Probation services should prioritise both rehabilitation and public safety, so BeNCH CRC needs to give this matter their urgent attention."

      Dame Glenys Stacey said the service's support for former prisoners needed to improve "from start to finish". Meetings with people on probation took place in open booths in the CRC's offices, despite the inspectorate's previous concerns.

      The CRC's work to support people leaving prison, known as Through the Gate, was found to be inadequate for not fully considering personal circumstances or managing potential risks to other people.

      Dame Glenys said: "The quality of Through the Gate work falls short of expectation in so many respects. It needs to improve, from start to finish."

      The inspectorate said BeNCH CRC, one of six probation services run by Sodexo, had started to put a substantial programme in place to improve the standard of its work.

    3. The Times today:-

      Grayling’s probation reform plan was ‘a perfect train crash’

      Reducing re-offending and turning people away from a life of crime was a laudable ambition. Re-offending rates had been broadly stable for some time with around half of those released from jail committing another crime within a year. The figures were even higher for those serving sentences of 12 months or less who received no supervision by probation on release from jail.

      Governments of both colours had recognised the problem. In private, politicians had long harboured doubts about the publicly-run probation service. There was criticism that it was not rigorous enough in dealing with offenders and not open to new ideas. But Chris Grayling’s answer to the problem was in a different league to what had gone before. The partial privatisation of the probation service was a huge undertaking and is now seen as an object lesson in what can go wrong.

      “It was a perfect storm of mistakes”, according to Julian le Vay, former head of finance at the prison service. A forceful and ambitious minister pushing for change. Over optimistic assumptions about what could be achieved by the private sector. A timescale to produce the reforms before an approaching general election which meant there was no proper piloting on whether it could work.

      Contracts were drawn up with untested private sector providers based on Ministry of Justice estimates for offender caseloads that were inaccurate and as a result undermined the finances of the providers. “There were a whole series of man-made mistakes. It was like watching people trying to organise the perfect train crash,” says Mr Le Vay, a former director of finance at the prison service.

      The internal warnings were aplenty. An assessment in 2013 advised that there was a more than 80 per cent risk that the proposals would lead to an “unacceptable drop in operational performance” in probation leading to “delivery failures and reputational damage”. Another talked of a “a complex, large scale change programme to be completed within an aggressive timetable”.

      Probation leaders expressed doubts over the wisdom of splitting the service into a state run organisation supervising serious offenders, with medium and low risk criminals managed by the private sector. It was all to no avail. Despite the doubts among senior figures in the justice ministry, Mr Grayling got his reforms in place. For four years now the justice ministry has been managing the risks that many warned about.

      Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the fiasco is that reducing reoffending is more difficult and complicated than it seems, requiring specific interventions into the complicated and often troubled lives of offenders. That small impacts can be made but that these are difficult to replicate on a large scale and made not result in big falls in reoffending rates. It is a message politicians, subject to a five-year electoral cycle, may not like to hear but would do well to heed.

      Richard Ford

    4. Napo Press Release today:-

      Union says time is right to reunify Probation Services

      Napo, the largest trade union representing Probation staff in England and Wales, today demanded that the Government must bring all rehabilitation services back into public ownership.

      The call follows a report by the Public Accounts Committee that makes a series of highly damning conclusions about the state of probation following the Transforming Rehabilitation restructuring implemented by former Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, in 2015.

      Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence said: “This report provides yet more incontrovertible evidence that the Probation reforms have been an abject disaster. The breakdown of effective service provision can be directly attributed to a combination of political hubris and the involvement of private providers who had no prior experience of probation and whose incompetence has been laid bare”.

      The PAC report, alongside previous findings by the Justice Select Committee inquiry into TR and a series of reports by the Chief Inspector for Probation, is highly critical of the state of operations and the poor value for money that the reforms have provided to the taxpayer.

      Ian Lawrence added: “Only the complete return of Probation work into public ownership and control can fix this mess, and it’s now time for the Secretary of State to make the necessary decision to do just that.”

  2. Is there any information available about what the transfer of staff from KSS to Wales NPS will look like? Will senior managers that have been brought into CRCs post-TR be transferred across to cause havoc in the NPS?

  3. I am surprised at the lack of contribution on this blog by practitioners, one reason probably due to the new staff not knowing any different. There has been a new model thrust upon all CRCs as a result of poor performing CRCs but this has turned offices upside down and, I believe are so serious that an independent inquiry needs to be made. Most in my office on 90 cases, we are knackered and morale is rock bottom, days of mixed caseloads have long gone and half an hr per service user is expected,on top of all queries a caseload of that size generates. Somebody somewhere must know this is not ethical and who us allowing it to continue?? It is outrageous!!

  4. PAC & JSC can puff their chests out all they want, but they never stood in the way of TR. At no time did either committee nail Grayling to the wall - same goes for Spurr or Heaton or Romeo or Brennan, or any other party involved in this fiscal scam. Yet now they're crying "foul!". Too little too late.

    PAC directed MoJ to complete a number of tasks/reports from the earliest days. Those tasks/reports were never completed &... nothing happened. Similarly with JSC. And also HMI Probation, who have been studiously ignored by CRCs & NPS alike in numerous cases. Have these acts of snubbery attracted penalties, sackings or withdrawal of funding/contracts? No.

    Now they can see the train has derailed & is piling into the embankment, they're all claiming they foresaw the tragedy & tried to get the engine driver to change their mind

    1. current Private Eye No.1495, page 37

      "disclosure of internal audits could affect the market share price of CRCs if this leads to an impression of failure... the MOJ's goal is to protect the private firms' share prices"

      And there it is. Careers, lives, the public safety - all sacrificed at the altar of stocks & shares & commercial reputation.

  5. We keep seeing damning reports about TR so what are they going to do about it. Add another bloody target no doubt.

  6. Another Private Probation Provider Under Performing. This time BeNCH CRC Sodexo. Good leaders, outstanding staff usually a recipe for success? What went wrong?