Saturday, 1 June 2019

It's Probation Jim, but not as we know it!

Quietly-spoken, but through gritted teeth, at a recent Probation Programme launch event the Deputy Director Probation, Jim Barton, had a stab at trying to explain the reasoning behind the MoJ's recent u-turn in dumping the planned TR2. To an audience of mostly eager potential bidders from the third or voluntary sector, he tried his best to put some positive spin on something he clearly had difficulty with, having of course been an enthusiastic supporter of TR from the start. 

Clearly somewhat uncomfortable having to apologise to an audience that only some eight months previously had sat in the same room listening to an enthusiastic presentation on the prospects on offer with TR2, he said there were principally three reasons why it had been scrapped:-
  • The MoJ could say they'd listened to the consultation. I think even Jim could see the absurdity of such a notion as of course it was just a 'sham' exercise which they fully intended to ignore with the original plans for TR2. 
  • The message that TR had failed was just too strong. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Dame Glenys for providing the final, defining statement that nailed the coffin that TR was 'iredeemably flawed'. Jim didn't agree of course.
  • The contract failures. The MoJ just couldn't stomach the prospect of insolvency practitioners poring over the tattered remains of failed probation companies. In truth I suspect the politicians had a serious fright.
Obviously still smarting from having to admit that the sheer tsunami of negative messages regarding TR proved impossible to hold back, rather than admit any of it might be true, he then rather more enthusiastically launched into what the MoJ were hoping would be delivered as a result of the decision to keep a firm grip on offender management. 

Basically there should be no surprise in a determination to maintain a viable 'mixed market' of keen and eager service providers, but commissioned and kept control of by the local NPS regions. He did not rule out the North West being split as it was the largest after London. He wanted the status of probation raised, but with Brexit shenanigans it would take at least 2 years to legislate for professional certification. 

What was also clear is that 'ministers are absolutely determined to get a grip on sentencing' no doubt by increasing sentencer confidence, legislating on trying to prevent short custodial sentences, or both. Of course quite a mountain to climb for a number of reasons including the fierce independence of the judiciary and the political realities of a Tory government trying to sell the idea to its loyal party members, but absolutely essential for this new plan to work.

In the scheme of things and knowing the eye-watering sums of money that the MoJ have pissed-up the wall on numerous poorly-designed contracts over the last few years, I couldn't help but be amused to hear Jim stressing over and over how the budget was £280 million 'and every penny had to be accounted for to HM Treasury'. The man is clearly deluded.

Despite this, he went on to assure the audience that there was indeed a willingness to 'spend more on probation'. Somewhat alarmingly and especially given the MoJ IT record, he also made it plain that they would be in complete control of all digital platforms with all contractors required to use the NPS system. What could possibly go wrong?

To be perfectly frank I found the whole experience deeply troubling and alarmingly reminiscent of the Cardiff event prior to TR. To be in a room full of people keen and eager to get a slice of the profession and skilled enterprise you hold dear and discussing things using alien commercial language I found quite distressing. I came away even more determined to do my damnedest to make sure those 'transition and mobilisation risks' you mentioned are as high as possible Mr Barton.  


I thought I'd round this off with the following report of the minutes of a meeting of the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs, held on 23 October 2018 in order to put the above into some context:-        

Lord Ramsbotham introduced Jim Barton, Director of the Probation Programme at the Ministry of Justice and thanked him for coming to the meeting.

Jim Barton introduced himself and explained he has eight years’ experience as a probation officer. Jim has spent the last 18 months working with colleagues to look at what can be done in response to the challenges in the Community Rehabilitation Company contracts.

In June of this year the Justice Select Committee published a report of its inquiry into the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. It recommended some short and medium term solutions to address the serious issues that have arisen as a result of these reforms. The Ministry of Justice has decided to terminate the contracts in 2020 before they were due to expire in 2022.

The problems faced by the probation service are fully described in the Justice Committee report and also in the Public Accounts Committee report published in January. Jim referred to some of the problems that were discussed earlier in the meeting and how the reduction in community orders meant the value in those CRC contracts fell by a third within their first year. This created a situation where the commercial providers were being expected to run services at a considerable loss.

The MoJ took steps last summer to renegotiate the contracts in response to those issues, an adjustment worth just over £270 million. At the time the department thought this would achieve the necessary conditions for stability. However the CRC performance in reducing reoffending, particularly the number of times an offender reoffends, meant that providers were facing considerable loss for the remaining life of the contracts and the position became untenable. Hence the decision with Ministers to end the contracts early and replace them with professional arrangements which would incorporate lessons learned.

Jim was clear that the department is very focused on restoring sentencers’ confidence in community sentence. The Secretary of State, David Gauke, has been very vocal about his commitment to reduce the volume of short custodial sentences. After four years of structural upheaval it has been decided not to make significant changes to frontline services. Instead the department will respond to specific issues and problems that have been identified and focus on the basics of good probation delivery in the contractual arrangements. Jim discussed how the TR contracts were publicly described as ‘black box’ contracts where providers were free to choose how to deliver their service. Jim concurred there was a fair amount of leeway for space and innovation around rehabilitation activity but basic standards had often been dropped. Now it is recognised that there needs to be more consistent frameworks as to what constitutes an effective rehabilitation requirements or interventions, so that sentencers have confidence in both the punishment and the rehabilitation elements of a sentence.

Rehabilitation Activity Requirements will be more tightly specified from now on and linked to clear instructions on the form and frequency of supervision by the probation service. In order to stabilise provision in the interim, the department has introduced a requirement that all offenders will be offered at least a month of face to face contact in the first 12 months of an order or licence for the duration of the contracts until they cease in 2020.

Jim was able to confirm that there are now mandated specifications and requirements that all providers will be expected to deliver in order to create a baseline position that sentencers and the department can have confidence in. Jim emphasised that he absolutely agrees that the TR model has created numerous challenges, through implementation rather than by design. Jim acknowledged that others may disagree with this assessment.

Another development is introduction of CRC staff into some courts magistrates courts in particular, to ensure sentencers have effective information at the point of sentence around the interventions available. The CRC staff will be there to answer questions and give a view on why a specific intervention might be appropriate.

More generally Jim said there are numerous things the department can do to integrate provision without going through fundamental structural change. The plan is to do that by bringing the public level service and the commercial level service under a single Probation Service Leader who will oversee the ten proposed regions.

Jim acknowledged that the ten regions are not aligned with the way other parts of the Criminal Justice System are organised. PCCs are lobbying understandably for the department to move to a model of 42. However the department does not believe that is possible within a reasonable span of control. However it does agree that PCCs need to have a stronger voice in the commissioning process for local services that underpin the statutory provision of the NPS and CRCs.

The department recognises that 2020 is quite a way away and that over two years 300,000 offenders will potentially cycle through the system. Everything needs to be done to increase stability. In addition to the requirement for a minimum of face to face contact the department is also investing in Through the Gate provision which the HM Inspector of Probation has rightly raised concerns around. An extra £22 million pounds per year for the next two years has been allocated.

Jim stated that they will also make changes to the Payment by Results mechanism. The reason for doing this is that as things stand the department is holding providers to account for a deterioration of reoffending frequency rates that happened before their watch and therefore are being financially penalised for something that they have no control over. Jim commented that this feels like a perverse thing for the department to do in the context of a system that is not fully funded.

To conclude Jim explained where the department is in process terms. There were 470 responses to the consultation which closed on 21 September 2018 and they are working their way through them and have a series of discussions planned with Ministers and others across Whitehall plus engagement with staff and stakeholders. The public response to the consultation will be published in April 2019.


  1. I'm not sure things will get much better anytime soon.
    Since the reunification of the probation service was announced, many PCCs have publicly announced a desire for a more devolved and localised justice system.
    Whilst I acknowledge there's many different issues faced by different regions, harder to find accommodation for those being released to londen for example then those returning to the North East, wholesale devolution of justice services to regional control under PCCs is itself a fragmentation of services.
    From some of the articles I've read recently I think there's a quite move in this direction.
    This from Manchester yesterday.


    1. A Ministerial visit to court marked the latest stage in strengthening the devolved justice agreement between local government in Greater Manchester and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

      The visit focused on improving justice outcomes and experiences for offenders, victims, witnesses, and the communities and neighbourhoods in which they live.

      Baroness Beverley Hughes, Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for police and crime, alongside court colleagues, welcomed minister Edward Argar to the Manchester Magistrates’ Court Witness Suite today, Friday. They formally recognised the city-region’s partnership with the MoJ, underpinned by a refreshed justice devolution Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

      The MoJ is supporting the city-region’s own justice and rehabilitation priorities. They spent time talking to people who had been through the justice system to understand where improvements can continue to be made.

      The new MoU, building upon the Greater Manchester Devolution Deal agreed in March 2016, prioritises four key areas of justice partnership and reform:

      • Youth Justice Transformation: An integrated offer for Greater Manchester’s young people

      • Smarter Justice: Taking a problem solving approach and using family centred principles

      • Reforming Adult Offender Management: From conviction, to custody to resettlement and rehabilitation

      • Improving the Victim Journey: Streamlining the system to improve the quality of services and the experience

      Baroness Hughes said:

      “The commitments within this MoU are central to our mission of unifying public services for the benefit of the people of Greater Manchester. It is a testament to the partnership that has been forged with the Ministry of Justice that there is a joint ambition to improve outcomes and experiences across all aspects of our justice system, and to embed criminal justice services in our place-based approach across Greater Manchester. The original Justice Devolution Memorandum of Understanding was signed in the summer of 2016 and much has changed since that time. I remain very clear that the joint designing and commissioning of our justice services provides real opportunities for government and Greater Manchester to continue to work closely together to ensure that justice and community services are more effectively integrated – the better aligned our services become, the better the outcomes for the public who come into contact with them.”

      Justice Minister Edward Argar also stressed the importance of the partnership. He said:

      “Strengthening our devolved justice agreement with Greater Manchester will help transform the way the criminal justice and offender management systems interact with local partners in the region. This will allow Greater Manchester to play a more active role in rehabilitating offenders, supporting victims and ultimately reducing the impact of crime.”

      Alongside formally signing the newly-drafted MoU, the Minister and Deputy Mayor met victims and witnesses who have recent experience of the city-region’s justice system.

    2. It maybe worth mentioning that Baroness Hughes was once a probation officer in Merseyside in the 1970s, I think at one time at the Belle Vale Office, later she was for a short time Minister for Probation and Prisons in the Home Office when she was an MP - during the time I worked in a London local prison.

      I recall writing to her, but cannot recall the precise issue, but felt her response was patronising and dimissive.

  2. "In 2012 Jim Barton was Head of Commercial Projects, Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust."

    He was seconded to them from NOMS. Clearly a thoroughbred Probation Practitioner.

    (source - this blog, 2016)

    1. In 2009 it seems Barton was the "Local Delivery Manager, GOWM region"

      He also features highly in all things pro-TR, as this blog identifies.

      Here's a reminder of some pro-TR bollocks - strangely similar to the TR2 bollocks:

  3. They will anything they are told no shame no deviation .

  4. Thank you for your observations Jim. I read with interest your previous blog post where the writer appeared to have a very different vision from that being touted by Jim Barton a man who has been given responsibilities far beyond his meagre talents. Could the MoJ not assemble a team using some of the best talent around to look at a new probation organisation entirely?

    As David Raho (clearly someone whose views you feel are significant enough to republish Jim) has indicated this should definitely not be a civil service organisation as probation officers should never be civil servants. It should also be a locally accountable service though not necessarily wedded to the PCCs as devolved justice. It should also combine the best of what is around in both CRCs and the NPS. We need to support those like David Raho who are talking sense and not keep trotting out negative diatribes and continue to challenge people like Barton who are failures busy squeezing another few years out of an old failed approach prior no doubt to a comfortable retirement.

    This seems eminently sensible to me but I’m just a PO.

    1. Yes just a po alright and none of the spinless majority fought this tr off. Mr raho is no Messiah on future scope he's just looking for what was once great but can't be up front to say put it back as was another Napo lickspittle

    2. You do not give credit where it is due but no matter. Probation cannot be put back as it was. The world has moved on. Even if we had stayed in Trusts then it would be different now as the most influential of those that were in charge wanted them to develop into commissioning bodies. The Trusts were being softened up for privatisation by being run down and starved of resources and bringing in private providers would have been their next stage of development or be privatised entirely. You can see this in London where CP was privatised and this was facilitated by the Trust working with the the MoJ. They were also working on biometric kiosks in order to reduce staff numbers so they did not have to employ so many temps. David Raho realises this and he is right to say we must move forward and try to build something better that combines elements of what exists but also a clearer vision of what might be possible to preserve the probation profession. You do him an injustice to say he cannot bring himself to advocate putting things back as they were as that would be an uncharacteristically glib response to what is a highly complex problem.

    3. This explanation and homage to Mr \Raho just illustrates you have no depth of understanding for the matters.

  5. I wonder whatever happened to this? From a blog post on Friday, 13 October 2017:-

    Something's In The Air 2

    I said I thought something was in the air and lo, while many of us are enjoying the delights of the East Midlands Convention Centre, I gather the following was issued earlier today:-

    Whole System Improvement Programme launches

    A new programme of work has been launched to look at improving how probation services in the community can work together more seamlessly.

    In the past few years there have been huge changes in probation. Since Transforming Rehabilitation, the primary focus of the newly created organisations has been on getting their own systems and processes working internally, embedding new operating models and responding to the various challenges they have faced. Now that the way we all work individually has become clearer, it’s time to look at how we all work together.

    All providers of probation services are dependent on each other to succeed and the performance of the whole system requires the interfaces between providers to be efficient and effective. Sometimes those interfaces are highlighted as a hindrance rather than a help.

    The Whole System Improvement (WSI) programme will focus on identifying incremental steps to improve the delivery of probation services. It will be a collaborative activity, coordinated by HMPPS but with all provider organisations playing an equal part in making change happen.

    The Whole System Improvement Board have identified 4 initial workstream priority areas:

    Rate card
    Workforce strategy
    Strategic System Improvement (Reducing Bureaucracy)
    Transforming Rehabilitation interface processes

    In each of these areas, the programme will find out what works, find quick wins and plan long term solutions to help everything work more smoothly and with the Probation Technology Strategy Group, now part of the Community Interventions Directorate, we will be able to jointly drive ICT improvements as part of the programme.

    Jim Barton, Executive Director of Community Interventions, said:

    “I am determined that we will continually and proactively improve system interfaces, build and share best practice and where necessary, develop new solutions. This is an exciting opportunity to take forward a positive agenda for change and improvement and it is important that everyone involved in delivering services in the community in HMPPS is engaged and is empowered to deliver this vision.”

    There will be regular updates on progress throughout the programme and we are keen for as many people as possible to be involved. The Community Interventions WSI Project Team will shortly be recruiting team members. If you require any further information please contact

    Jim Barton, Executive Director of Community Interventions

    1. Sounds like Jim Barton is not the man if you want to get things done. No vision, no drive, all hot air and no substance. Next

  6. I am reminded of that advert for tyres by Sir Robert Mark that was sent up by the Not the Nine O'clock news team 'I am convinced ....'