Tuesday 31 December 2013

New Years Rulin's

It's fairly self-evident that many colleagues involved in probation here in England and Wales are at a low ebb right now as the realities of the TR omnishambles begin to take effect. However, as we approach the eve of a brand New Year, the battle to stop TR goes on and no doubt some of us may be indulging in that tradition of pondering a few New Year resolutions.
I was quite at a loss to know what to write on this topic, so I'm extremely grateful to Mike Guilfoyle for pointing me in the direction of American folk legend Woody Guthrie and his list of 33 resolutions or 'rulin's' found penned in his journal from 1943. I think they can still speak to us all these years down the line and possibly offer some inspiration.
So, here's to wishing all readers a happy and peaceful New Year and I'll leave you with the wise words of Woody Guthrie:-
1.    Work more and better
2.    Work by a schedule
3.    Wash teeth if any
4.    Shave
5.    Take bath
6.    Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7.    Drink very scant if any
8.    Write a song a day
9.    Wear clean clothes 
10.  Shine shoes
11.  Change socks
12.  Change bed clothes often
13.  Read lots good books
14.  Listen to radio a lot
15.  Learn people better
16.  Keep rancho clean
17.  Don't get lonesome
18.  Stay glad
19.  Keep hoping machine running
20.  Dream good
21.  Bank all extra money
22.  Save dough
23.  Have company but don't waste time
24.  Send Mary and kids money
25.  Play and sing good
26.  Dance better
27.  Help win war — beat Fascism
28.  Love Mama
29.  Love Papa
30.  Love Pete
31.  Love everybody
32.  Make up your mind
33.  Wake up and fight


Monday 30 December 2013

Another Leaked Memo!

Another memo from the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice to the Secretary of State has come into my possession, and I thought I'd share it with you:-


As you are aware, with the approach of the festive season and beginning of a New Year, it is customary to provide a report on critical projects within the Department.  Our main focus in the coming year will remain delivering the Transforming Rehabilitation Implementation Programme and therefore this memorandum will deal principally with this policy area.

Again I'm happy to report that basically things are progressing well with only minor glitches being evident and a slightly extended timeframe. I'm assured that we are pretty much on schedule with only one or two Trusts having been somewhat tardy in getting the 'sifting and sorting' out of the way before the year end. All Trusts have now fallen into line, although it was a little surprising that some were willing to 'test the boundaries' to the extent they did. I am however cautiously optimistic that there will be no further difficulties from this quarter.

I agree entirely that the 'leaks' represent an intolerable situation and I can assure you that every effort is being made to locate the sources. Unfortunately I'm advised that there are countless possible individuals who have access to the Risk Assessments and that therefore in a worse case scenario, we may have to accept that the Department remains somewhat 'leaky'. I know this remains a matter of the gravest concern to Ministers, but sadly we may never know who the culprits are. It's a very poor show indeed and may I unreservedly apologise for the very unfortunate reference to the project being likened to 'turning a silk purse into a sow's ear'.  

In the Department we continue to monitor the total probation staff headcount on a regular basis and I'm happy to report that we are well within target in terms of the shedding and natural wastage planned for. Indeed the target has been exceeded to such an extent that it is anticipated all eligible section heads within the Department will have triggered performance related bonus payments by the financial year end.

The reduction in staff overheads has been so successful that I am advised there may well be an overshoot which will require the selective re-employment of some key staff. You will be mindful of the huge success the Department has had recently in re-employing prison officers on fixed-term contracts so as to cover critical understaffing at the London jails. I'm advised that there should be no reason to doubt that probation staff can be encouraged to return on a similar basis.

The Contract Procurement Team continue to report strong interest across all sectors, but it is slightly disappointing that a number of potentially interested parties felt obliged to withdraw, citing issues connected with possible reputational damage. It is also true to say that feedback from potential bidders continues to highlight the higher than expected degree of antipathy and resistance to change being exhibited amongst probation staff, but as you are aware, urgent measures are being adopted to address this issue.

The voluntary sector in particular are being slightly slow in coming forward, however I'm happy to report that, during another recent extremely convivial dinner, Sir Stephen Bubb was able to assure me that nerves have been calmed and that 'charities would definitely be up for it'. As you know, Sir Stephen enjoys access at the highest levels and his assistance, particularly with public relations, has been absolutely key.  

It would seem that the change of emphasis from 'revolution' to a rather less dramatic-sounding 'evolution' is beginning to have the desired effect in calming nerves within the workforce. Undoubtedly the decision to bring forward the announcement of the embryonic Probation Institute has been beneficial, and early indications are that it is assisting in affording the project greater legitimacy generally.

The IT team continue to undertake sterling work, having been bolstered by the temporary secondment of staff from the highly successful Universal Credit Procurement Project. We were indeed extremely fortunate that such high calibre staff became available at such short notice and I'm assured they are already having an effect on the Transforming Rehabilitation IT Harmonisation Programme and that it is both on time and within budget. 

As you are aware, negotiations have now concluded with the Unions and it should be noted what enormous assistance it has been to have had prior serendipitous sight of their position via e-mail. In relation to the blogsite which I know has been causing you some concern, it is true to say there has been a modest increase in activity, but it is still only averaging between 2,500 and 3,000 hits daily. I'm assured there is absolutely no cause for concern. 

In essence I remain confident that the project is completely deliverable and remains robustly on target for full implementation by the summer of 2015 at the absolute latest. 

I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,             

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Probation Christmas

Happy Christmas to all readers and hope to see you back here soon!



Latest From Napo 8

Given the momentous events this year and the continuing TR omnishambles we all find ourselves engaged with, I thought it a good idea to re-publish the latest blog from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence from yesterday:-


I am doubtful whether there has been a more action packed year in Napo's proud history but if so I stand to be corrected. Nevertheless, as we approach the end of 2013 we do so on a high note in terms of our campaign against Transforming Rehabilitation. 

Putting aside the last 12 months for a moment, let's just reflect on where we were this time last week, as the Napo negotiating team left the offices of the conciliation service ACAS after nearly 8 hours of some very difficult contemplations for the three unions and late talks with the PA and MoJ that were anything other than full of festive cheer. The possibility of us entering the winter holiday in good spirits was as fanciful as a visit from Santa Claus in daylight hours. 

By the end of the day we had insisted on being granted an urgent audience with Chris Grayling, which we were repeatedly told was going to be a waste of time, as the best offer from the employers on a Staff Transfer agreement had to be signed on the dotted line there and then. 

Fortunately, we decided not to blink first in the face of such a provocative ultimatum, reckoning that for there to be any chance of this wretchedly misconceived programme actually being implemented then the Secretary of State needed an orderly agreement. More importantly for us, we owed it to our members to secure all the protection that we could against the impact of privatisation if it comes to it.

As things turned out we saw Jeremy Wright last Thursday and in what was a short and sharp but ultimately constructive exchange, we walked away with an improved offer from the one that we had faced just a few days before. The extension of protected continuity of service from 9 months to seven years represents a climb down of major proportions in any analysis, and one that will be written into the commercial contracts that will be offered to bidders (more on them below).
That, among other reasons, is why Napo and Unison are putting the recommendation to accept the framework agreement to our respective Negotiating Committees. We will be issuing a detailed commentary on what it will mean to you if the National Negotiating Council give it the seal of approval, but meanwhile I want to thank all those involved in helping us to get this far. That includes Peter Heywood and John Woods from ACAS, Mark Ormerod, Norma Beechey and Malcolm Fearn from the PA and, at great risk to my grossly unfair reputation as an uncompromising attack dog, Amy Rees and Iain McIntosh from the MoJ, and yes while I am at it, the two Ministers for at last seeing some light amidst the gloom that they have helped to create. 

That said, all should of course be assured that Napo will be re-engaging in vigorous hostilities over the TR programme in 2014 come what may; and that the lifting of local JNC disputes makes not one jot of difference to our industrial action mandate, the ongoing action short of strike action, the myriad grievances submitted by members and the ferocious political campaign which we are waging. 

Famous names come a cropper 

The breakthrough on the staff transfer agreement was welcome but the announcement by Chris Grayling in the same week that G4S and Serco did not make the cut in the first qualifying round of the intended probation sell off, reminded me of the adage that one can wait ages for a bus to then see two of them arrive in tandem. 

The SoS's statement to Parliament makes it crystal clear that following investigations these companies are seriously under manners for tagging the dead and not delivering prisoners to the right place or at the right time, or hey - even at all. 

That we now have a very short, short list, of prospective purchasers who from what I can see know even less about probation than these people, speaks volumes about the farce that has been engineered. It's not even two bidders per CRC which aside from the issue of whether the privateers are fit for purpose or not, raises a serious question or two about the 'competitive' process. 

We will now adjust our approach accordingly as we take our reasoned arguments and briefings to the increasing number of influential politicians who are indicating their misgivings about this 'rehab revolution' which, interestingly, is now being described as an 'evolution' by its beleaguered architect.

Two big cheeses down then but no time to get complacent; there is still all to play for. 

2013 a year of achievement 

We have certainly crammed a lot in these past 12 months and as we use the winter holiday to 'recharge the batteries', we can afford to congratulate ourselves on our capacity to have stuck together in hard times. This includes the willingness to take strike action in defence of your jobs and futures and to launch a political and media campaign against the madness of privatisation that has resonated well beyond the expectations that a union of our size might reasonably have. Make no mistake, you have helped put probation on the map more than ever before and we have also orchestrated a House of Lords defeat for the government on its flawed Offender Rehabilitation Bill and are not done with that either. 

We have rebuilt the Napo team infrastructure and have a new General Secretary, Assistant General Secretary and a Press and Campaigns Official and your Officers and the Chivalry Road team have, just like you have, been working flat out at a time of great uncertainty. 

Take heart from where we are and what we have collectively achieved, and enjoy a great holiday alongside those whom you care most about. 

Monday 23 December 2013

Latest Weather 3

This is the latest weather report from our very own tailgunner, posted over on the Napo Forum:- 

Weather Report Monday 23 December

Finally last week, the National Agreement reached a stage at which all parties (Unions, employers and the MoJ) felt it was now possible to put it forward to the NNC/SCCOG (National Negotiating Council/Standing Committee for Chief Officer Grades) for ratification. For the unions, this will now be progressed through their respective committee structures and then the NNC/SCCOG is likely to be convened in the second half of January for the purpose of ratification. The positive elements of the Agreement and the reasons why an Agreement is beneficial are as reported in last week's Weather Report. Since then there has been an all day meeting with ACAS and a meeting between the unions and the Minister, Jeremy Wright. The latter took place on 18 December. These meetings resulted in an improved offer of additional protection of continuity of employment for staff employed on the 31 March 2014 who transfer between CRCs or from the NPS to a CRC, post share sale from 9 months to 7 years.

Formal notice of the above is contained in an NNC/SCCOG Circular (NNC11/13 & SCCOG 10/13). Napo & UNISON have also issued a joint statement and both are available via local branches.

Discussions continue about pensions and their portability. The latter will largely be dependant on which pension scheme each CRC chooses to adopt - all must have one in place after April 2014 to comply with the requirements of auto-enrolment. Whilst CRCs remain in the public sector ( April until share sale) this will be the LGPS. There is then a guarantee of being able to remain in the LGPS if one voluntarily moves from one CRC to another or from the NPS to a CRC. This is a bit complicated. The extract, on pensions, from the Agreement reads as follows:

Continuing entitlement to membership of the LGPS for any member of staff employed by a Probation Trust on 31 March 2014, in accordance with the principles of Fair Deal

Continuing entitlement to membership of the LGPS for any member of staff employed by a Probation Trust on 31 March 2014 who:

- undertakes a voluntary job move within the employer to which they are transferred on 1 April 2014 - this entitlement to be for the lifetime of the contract in the case of a CRC

- undertakes a voluntary job move from the NPS to a CRC. This entitlement to last for a period of 12 months from the date of share sale of the receiving CRC.

- undertakes a voluntary job move from one CRC to another. This entitlement to last for a period of 12 months from the date of share sale of the releasing CRC

In light of this progress, local disputes initiated by Napo will be suspended pending the next meeting of the NNC. Industrial action associated with the national dispute is not affected and the 'work to rule' continues.

By a curious coincidence, the day agreement was reached over the National Agreement on Staff Transfer and Protections, the employers received authority to make a pay offer for 2013/14. In line with public sector pay policy, it is unlikely to cause huge celebrations at Christmas, but Napo has now sent it out to branches for a vote on whether to accept. If accepted, it is hoped that it will be cleared for payment in February pay packets.
A planned meeting on 'Measures' last week did not take place on account of the intense discussions about the Agreement (above). These meetings will however continue in the New Year and there will be further reports.

Been There : Done That

I'm sure I've said many times before that it's the contributions from readers that makes this blog. There's simply no way I've got enough time or energy to do all the research, scan all the news feeds and think up the ideas. Fortunately we seem to have recruited quite a few news hounds who appear happy to supply endless leads and links. 

In addition to this though, every now and then the comments facility throws up real gems in the form of knowledge or experience that starts a productive discussion thread. The trouble is the blog moves on at the alarming pace of the evolving TR omnishambles itself and much of these rich seams gets left behind, only fleetingly noticed.

It happened recently with a thread that discusses where we've been in order to try and put where we appear to be going into some kind of context. Too good I thought just to sit there in the comments section, so here are some of the best bits and a big thank you to anyone who recognises their contribution:-

I have always felt that the takeover of NOMS by the prison service and the consequent marginalisation of the probation service was both inevitable and ultimately damaging to any progress towards a rehabilitative and positive approach to engaging with offenders. However, there are a couple of interesting 'ironies' and anomalies in the history of NOMS.

Firstly, it should be remembered that the first NOMS model had a single national offender manager and she came from the probation service--Christine Knott, previously Chief of Manchester Probation Service if I am not mistaken. There was a regional structure with 9 regional offender managers, of whom 7 were recruited from the probation service.

In those early days there were a number of organograms published by the Home Office as it was then (2003 when NOMS was first created on the back of Patrick Carter's fag packet) and these variously had the Director General of the Prison Service accountable to the NOM, and almost on a parallel with the national Director of Probation. And then came a gradual transformation to the present situation where the prison service ethos completely dominates NOMS. But even during this period the Chief Executive of NOMS for a year or so was Helen Edwards whose background was with NACRO and as a civil servant with the Active Communities Unit.

The original vision for NOMS actually had probation officers (offender managers) determining the sentence planning and indeed in theory the movement of prisoners through the prison system. As if a governor of an overcrowded prison was going to hold on to probation officer's client for an additional few weeks to complete a literacy course. The simplistic naivety of it all is stunning. There was never any chance that the prison service would be subsumed under the NOMS banner and it was always the case that it would survive intact. And this was because custody would always trump community.

The probation service was understandably nervous and defensive while this was going on especially as it was continually being exhorted to 'outsource' a proportion of its work to the voluntary and private sectors, and there was never a strong professional voice in the probation service (NAPO tried to fill the void but it wasn't really in a position to take on the role previously held by ACOP) to articulate a progressive vision for the service.

There were those in the voluntary sector in particular who were keen to line up alongside the probation service and try to develop a comprehensive community based response to local offending and this might have had a chance of developing a countervailing message to the dominant prison service ethos. However, by this point the probation service had long since defined itself as being a 'law enforcement agency' delivering 'punishment in the community' and talking a managerialist language that was opaque and alienating. Not the least of the difficulties was the heightened prominence of 'risk management' and 'protecting the public'.

With this sort of talk there is only going to be one winner in a cultural battle with the prison service which can always claim (albeit falsely and simplistically) that locking people up is the best way to manage risk and protect the public. The shame of this was that there was terrific work going on in some localities which showed the probation service up in its best light as the human face of the justice system best placed to bring together a range of agencies and individuals to assist offenders and their families to change.

A good potted history of the cultural and organisational changes in probation over the past decade. Of course, probation was relabelled a law enforcement agency by ministerial diktat. What has disappointed about probation has been the failure of the senior leadership to defend and promote core values and principles. In fact what happened was that they embraced the new rhetoric.

However, the fundamental problem is that the UK's penal policy remains too punitive – we imprison too many. And over many years the good folks in probation contributed to the rising prison population through draconian, target-led breach policies.

The deprofessionalisation of probation also helped to create a supine workforce. The prisons did not change but probation acquired an authoritarian mantle and seemed to enjoy wearing it. Probation also became intoxicated with risk methodologies and fell for the early promises that it would place probation 'centre stage' – but that soon ended.

Not sure I have much enjoyed today's doom and gloom spin on probation. What I have learnt over these years is that a healthy separation from politics is good for practice. I mean that a political commentary on probation since the 90's is not a reflection of our practice or what we do behind interview room doors. The recent roll out of Seeds found lots of officers new and old retorting what a nice refresher it was but we were all doing it anyway? All is not lost. And whatever happens values live on in people and outlive hashed excuses for social policy designed to win votes and woo tabloids. Policy repeats repeats fails. But the same work often keeps going on. So take heart. Say I anyway!

It is interesting to note that, throughout the 'changes' that took place in Probation, the offenders didn't change one iota. Their criminogenic needs pre-date the invention of the word 'criminogenic' and their response to the services offered remain the same as they did before we coined the term 'responsivity'. They remain troubled by mental ill health, bereavement, memories of childhood abuse, learning difficulties, hidden disabilities, relationship difficulties, alcohol and substance abuse, emotional vulnerability, homelessness and unemployment. Plus ca change.... The powers that be are still looking for the magic pill where there is only the need for patience and understanding. 25 years of this work and I am still impressed at how willing people are to change when help is offered intelligently and not condescendingly. Ditch the IT and get back to working with what matters: the people we work with.

Does anyone remember SWIP in prisons? I don't mean a variation on SWAT: those dressed to kill in quasi-military attire, if I remember correctly it was an initiative about social work in prison, performed by prison officers. Anyway, it was a failure. Then we had Sentence Management – and that was a failure and the latest has been Offender Management – also a failure in prisons. Probation and prisons have always been silos. Prisons, in general, have always had a dog in a manger attitude to outsiders with a rehabilitative attitude. I am not sure how you get a rehabilitative mindset into the mainstream when we have governments that still insist on emphasising the punitive. This thinking, unfortunately trickles down.

Wow - Netnipper - yes - SWIP - Shared Working In Prisons between prison and probation officers - Jepson and Elliot - bit of Eighties nostalgia. You're right about the rest.

Shared working between Prison and Probation Officers

Journal:Home Office Research and Planning Unit Research Bulletin  Issue:21  Dated:(1986)  Pages:30-33
Author(s):N Jepson ; K Elliot
Date Published:1986
Page Count:4
Country:United Kingdom
Annotation:This paper describes and evaluates various forms of Great Britain's Social Work in Prison (SWIP) scheme aimed at developing a pattern of shared working between prison and probation officers.
Abstract:Following a history of the SWIP plan launched in 1977, the article describes the methodology used in a 1984 survey of four prisons with different types of SWIP programs. The survey revealed certain factors which appeared to influence survival of SWIP schemes: stable regimes, evidence of the probation department's integration in the prison, and the model of SWIP operative in the prison. Analyses of four SWIP models showed the lowest lapse rate for the one where prison officers were attached to prison probation departments full-time for a continuous period varying from 3 months to over 2 years. Assessment of SWIP effectiveness found an overall impression that it did contribute to a much more effective prison regime. Key factors influencing effectiveness were time being made available for prison officers to practice and develop their skills and the commitment of those directly involved being matched by that of key probation and prison personnel. Other shared work projects are discussed. Three references.
To be blunt, prisons have never done rehabilitation in any meaningful way. They just maintain the pretence. There are pockets of good practice but, in the main, it is not on anyone's agenda.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Equality Before the Law?

I'm grateful to a reader for pointing me in the direction of the following little-noticed story concerning one of this blog's mainstays, Serco. In another piece of extraordinary MoJ news management timing, only the day after both Serco and fellow pariah G4S were shamed into announcing their withdrawal from the TR omnishambles bidding process for probation, Serco was rewarded with another lucrative 25 year prison contract in London. Here's a piece in Business Week:-

Serco Group Plc (SRP) won a 120 million-pound ($200 million) contract extension to operate a London prison, a day after the U.K. services provider settled its bill for incorrect invoicing in a Ministry of Justice inquiry. Serco has managed the HMP Thameside prison in East London’s Plumstead district since it opened in March 2012 under a 415 million-pound, 26 1/2-year order. The extension will run for 22 years and includes a 36 million-pound, 18-month construction phase, Serco said in a statement.

“We are delighted to have been awarded this contract expansion to extend the size of the prison at Thameside which will support the MoJ in its program to modernize the U.K. prison estate,” said James Thorburn, Serco’s managing director for home affairs.
Serco rose 6.2 percent yesterday after the company reached a settlement with the U.K. government over claims it overcharged for the electronic tagging of prisoners. Shares were down 0.8 percent at 472.90 pounds as of 1:16 p.m. London time.
The Hook, England-based company agreed to pay 68.5 million pounds to settle the inquiry that has caused the resignation of its chief executive officer and shaved 30 percent off its share price since July. Serco’s settlement and the absence of additional issues are “positive” steps in rebuilding the company’s credibility and “significantly” shrinks the risk of it being barred from future U.K. government work, UBS said in a note today.
So yet again we have a clear example of the disparity between the way corporations are treated who break the law, and individuals. I notice that this theme of 'rehabilitation' and inequality before the law was explored recently in a comment piece over on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website:-

‘Rehabilitation’ is difficult to define when applied to criminal justice. Re-integration, re-settlement or re-entry are often used instead of re-habilitation. Yet all these terms imply that those to be ‘re-habilitated’/’re-integrated’/‘re-settled’ or ‘re-stored’ previously occupied a social state or status to which it is desirable they should return. Not so. Most criminal prisoners have, prior to their imprisonment, usually been so economically and/or socially disadvantaged that they have nothing to which they can be advantageously rehabilitated. They are returned to their place in society, but from that disadvantaged place they are repeatedly returned to prison. 
Rehabilitation programmes have tended to be reserved for poorer prisoners found guilty of crimes against property and for prisoners released after serving long sentences for non-business–related crimes. When poorer citizens break the law their needs are not viewed as deserving of rehabilitative measures by the state, but as risk factors predictive of future lawbreaking. By contrast, many white collar and corporate criminals are too embedded in, and/or too geographically dislocated from, local jurisdictions for prosecution to be possible. When successful prosecution occurs, rehabilitative measures aimed at changing greedy corporate mindsets are not seen as being necessary, desirable or possible. 
Rehabilitation is not seen as being necessary for corporate and other white collar criminals because their punishments seldom de-habilitate them in either material or status terms. Nor is rehabilitation considered to be desirable in terms of turning corporate offenders away from wrongdoing. Corporate lawbreaking is such a celebration of capitalist values that, on those infrequent occasions when offenders are brought to trial, they, unlike poorer criminals, are seldom assessed as criminals whose thinking requires changing. Governments are reluctant to see corporate criminals in court through fear that publicity will fuel calls for more corporate regulation, a destabilising of markets or an exodus of corporate capital to more sympathetic jurisdictions. Finally, rehabilitation is not seen as possible because corporate and other powerful criminals have such access to world-wide communications, global travel and hospitality that bringing them to trial is physically impossible. 
One way to stop thinking of criminal justice as being primarily about the crimes of the poor, might be to rethink crime and its regulation within a new social justice applicable to all classes: a justice seeking pay-back from lawbreakers from all classes to the state in proportion both to the harms committed and the ability to pay; and payback from the state to all those - whether law abiding or law breaking - whom it has failed materially and culturally in terms of ensuring satisfaction of their minimum needs. Outside of an inclusive justice based on equality before the law, rehabilitation policy has no relevance to the richest and most powerful criminals who pose the deadliest risks both locally and globally, and very little relevance to all those other prisoners who have never had anything to be rehabilitated to. 
Just as an aside to the issue of disparity is the seeming power the likes of the Daily Mail and 'public opinion' can have. Following Nigella Lawson's recent admission, whilst giving evidence on oath, of drug taking in the past, the police understandably announced that no further action was likely, as reported on the BBC website:-

TV cook Nigella Lawson will not face an investigation over claims she took cocaine, police have said.
Scotland Yard said it would not look into the allegations at this stage but would review the decision if new evidence came to light. Giving evidence at the trial of two former personal assistants, Ms Lawson said she had previously taken the drug. Sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were cleared of defrauding Ms Lawson and her former husband Charles Saatchi.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Allegations that one of the (alleged) victims was involved in taking Class A drugs have been made during the course of this trial. "At this stage the Metropolitan Police will not be investigating these allegations. Should any evidence, and that includes material from the trial, that could be investigated come to light this decision will be reviewed."
But only a day later it seems that the decision has been reversed by someone, as reported on the BBC website:-

Police are to review TV cook Nigella Lawson's admission as a witness in a court case that she took cocaine.
Scotland Yard had said it would not take action but would review the decision if new evidence came to light. However, in a further statement the Met said a specialist team would "examine all the evidence emerging". Giving evidence at the trial of two former personal assistants, Ms Lawson said she had taken the drug, but was not a habitual user.

This change of mind is somewhat surprising because we all know it's not the taking of an illegal substance that constitutes an offence, but rather the possession beforehand that does.

Having said that though, we must have all come across the very unhappy situation where a person arrested on suspicion of shoplifting proves positive for opiates, thus triggering a mandatory drug treatment appointment, but subsequently the original theft allegation is withdrawn and they then stand to be punished for failing to attend the drug treatment appointment. Quite wrong and bizarre. 

Saturday 21 December 2013

Political Jenga

As often happens, I was struck by a comment left by someone this morning:-

Anyone wanting to play political jenga? The way to remove the last few planks currently holding up the TR agenda is possibly as follows (or so I hear):-

"Prime minister, now that the risk register has identified several potential high risk situations whereby members of the public would be put at risk if the changes to the probation service go ahead, will you give your unequivical support to the Justice Secretary's reforms?"

It got me thinking, especially in the light of the surprise appointment last week of Simon Hugues as a replacement minister at the MoJ for Lord McNally, who's been put out to grass at the Youth Justice Board. According to Gary Gibbon at Channel 4, this is all part of 'operation get up Tory noses' and Chris Grayling is not happy apparently:- 
It’s not the first time Simon Hughes has been offered a job in government. But this time he felt he couldn’t refuse.
Operation “get up the Tory noses” (my title not theirs) kicked off with Norman Baker’s appointment to serve under Theresa May. It gains pace with Simon Hughes joining Chris Grayling’s team at Justice.
Justice minister Chris Grayling is said to have been “taken aback” by the appointment, made possible because the veteran peer, Lord McNally, is to take over at the youth justice board.
Lib Dems want to differentiate themselves more from the Tories, focus on core passions like civil liberties and reassure their target voters that their heart still beats where it did. These two reshuffle appointments are all part of that.
The legal profession have already signalled that they're happy with this mini-reshuffle and are taking Grayling's discomfiture at the appointment of a former barrister as a positive sign. The Guardian reported encouragingly as follows:-
Hughes, a libertarian, will have to work with Chris Grayling, the Eurosceptic Conservative justice secretary. They are likely to clash over the Human Rights Act, legal aid, secret courts and prisoner voting rights.
Hughes is a former barrister, and has so far refused to take ministerial office, preferring to act as link-man between ministers and the party during the coalition. He also undertook a brief review for the coalition on how financial support for students could be improved in the light of the decision to increase tuition fees.
The switch of Lib Dem ministers at the MoJ may reflect grassroots pressure within the party over justice issues. Recent party conferences have condemned the coalition government for its policy on secret courts and cuts to legal aid. There has been an exodus of senior lawyers from the party in protest at the moves.
Hughes said: "It is a privilege and a huge responsibility to be appointed to this important job in government. Issues of justice and civil liberties have been my passions since I was a teenager. Justice and civil liberties are also core issues for every Liberal Democrat in the country.
"I hope that my experience, training and work on human rights from my time at university and in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, as a practising barrister for several years before I was elected to the Commons, will stand me in good stead for this job."
Nick Clegg had this to say:-
"I am delighted to welcome Simon to the Liberal Democrat government team. He has been a passionate voice for the party's principles and values throughout the Liberal Democrats' journey from party of opposition to party of government."
Maybe, like the lawyers, we should be taking comfort from these developments as well? After all, Harry Fletcher tells us via twitter that:- 
Seen 5 Liberals this week. Very encouraging.Today Simon Hughes made Justice Minister. Keep lobbying, it makes a difference.
Plans for probation now on agenda of weekly LIBDEM internal party meetings. Real concerns being expressed. Keep lobbying!
The latest edition of Napo news has a very clear and urgent message:-

Napo is urging ALL members whose MP is a Liberal Democrat to contact them urgently and before the start of the New Year if possible. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill ended its Committee Stage in the Commons on Tuesday 3 December. The latest intelligence is that Report and Third Reading, which are the last stages in the Commons, will occur in early January.

The priority now is to lobby ALL 57 Lib Dem MPs between now and the commencement of the tendering process in the spring of 2014. This campaigning action is crucial.
Write to our email your MP  with the following request for a meeting:-

I would be grateful if we could meet as a matter of urgency to discuss the Coalition’s plans for the future of the Probation Service. As you may be aware the government is planning to contract out up to two-thirds of the Probation Service’s work to the private sector. I and my trade union, Napo, have real concerns about the proposals, which we believe are being pushed through with unnecessary haste and in a way that could compromise public protection. We have many other concerns and I would be most grateful for the opportunity to meet with you to explain these. I look forward to hearing from you.
The issue of the Lib Dems cropped up in Napo's Christmas message only yesterday:-

Members have lobbied MPs with an energy and passion which has been constantly commented on in Parliament.  Every Liberal Democrat we spoke to had been lobbied in their constituencies and now TR is being discussed at their parliamentary meetings.  It’s working. Has it made a difference?  The short, but very big answer is YES.
The time has come when the political cycle just might be coinciding with widespread unease about the TR omnishambles and it might only take one more big push to get the Lib Dems to decide that distancing themselves from this slow train wreck might make electoral sense. And we know Nick Clegg cares passionately about the Probation Service, because he said so in print on the occasion of our centenary! 

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Napo Christmas Message

This was received yesterday from Napo HQ:-

Dear All

As the year draws to a close and many of us enjoy a well-earned break from work, we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude and thanks to members.  2013 has been an exceptionally difficult year: always stressful and uncertain, sometimes completely horrendous, but the collective energy and drive of Napo members means we’ve got through it.

We started the year complaining (quite rightly) that not many people know about Probation.  They do now.  The debates in both Houses of Parliament, the Justice Select Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the media coverage, the signing of public petitions, the motions against TR passed in town halls, the parliamentary lobby, the roasting of government ministers on the news, uncovering of the ugly side of privatisation in London CP, the walk outs, the demos, the strike, we have pressed home our argument and raised our profile. 

Members have lobbied MPs with an energy and passion which has been constantly commented on in Parliament.  Every Liberal Democrat we spoke to had been lobbied in their constituencies and now TR is being discussed at their parliamentary meetings.  It’s working. Has it made a difference?  The short, but very big answer is YES.

We have just emailed about the Framework Agreement.  The government originally said  “no continuous service for your members”.  Knowing the strength of our membership, they capitulated when we demanded 7 years.  Voluntary redundancy- taken off the table on a ministerial whim- is now put firmly back in the agreement.  This doesn’t prohibit our vigorous campaign against TR or mean there aren’t further problems, but we couldn’t achieve that in negotiation without the confidence that members will stand up and take action. 

Of course, a few things have helped along the way.  G4S and Serco are no longer allowed to be main bidders for Probation work and this creates a massive dent in the government’s confidence that privatisation can just be rushed through.  In 2014 we must turn our attention to the other potential bidders.  Sodexo, Capita and many of the rest are just as bad. 

The staff assignment process is an awful experience for everyone although remember when they said this would all be done and dusted last August?  It’s still not over and members filing grievances are making themselves heard by all means available.  The framework agreement will protect all our members in the future (if we lose) and provide immediate relief to those in the gung ho Trusts.

There isn’t anyone who believes the timetable for TR is realistic and, as a wise chap once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Then quit.  No use being a damn fool about it!” 

Given the time of year, we sent the Secretary of State a festive card with a peace dove on the front.  When we’ve completely defeated privatisation, we’ll still respect his belief in rehabilitation and wanting to assist the under 12 months.  As the experts in this work, we’d be more than happy to help.

Of course, Napo is not all about Probation in England and Wales.  We are also conscious that we have not been able to communicate as much as wanted to about probation issues in Northern Ireland and the efforts of our FCS members who have just rejected a pay offer from Cafcass. We will address this in the New Year and would like to thank members in these areas for their forbearance.

With very best wishes
From Tom, Ian and all at Napo HQ

As mentioned above, and in Michael Spurr's uplifting Christmas message yesterday, there has been agreement on various important TR Framework matters and more details can be viewed over on the new ProbationVoice blogsite:-

  NNC CIRCULAR No. 11/2013


We write to confirm that, following a period of intensive negotiations, it has been agreed that the National Agreement on Staff transfer and protections will now be tabled for ratification at a full meeting of the NNC/SCCOG in January 2014.

The Agreement includes an enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme which will remain in operation until 31 March 2015, with the last day of service agreed to be no later than 31 March 2016. Additionally, the commercial contracts will specify that, other than where more beneficial terms exist, where voluntary redundancy is offered, these enhanced terms should apply to any member of staff employed by a Probation Trust on 31 March 2014.

Key provisions of the Agreement are:

     A guarantee of employment for all probation staff, employed by a Probation Trust at 31 March 2014, in either the NPS or appropriate CRC.

     No compulsory redundancy up until 1 June 2015

     Protection of continuity of employment for any member of staff transferring between NPS/CRC up to the point of share sale.

     Additional protection of continuity of employment for staff employed on the 31 March 2014 who transfer between CRCs or from the NPS to a CRC for a period of seven years post share sale, this to be specified in the commercial contract.

    Continuation of Trade Union Recognition.

         Continuation of National Collective Bargaining - national collective bargaining arrangements will be continued with the recognised trade unions.   These arrangements, which will replicate the existing NNC and SCCOG machinery appropriately reconstituted, will be recognised in formal Constitutions agreed by 31 March 2014.

         Maximising career development opportunities and interchange between the ​CRCs and NPS. An Interchange Agreement will be developed and jointly agreed by 31 March 2014.

The employers and the trade unions recognise that the past few months have been very unsettling for staff. The additional protections provided by key elements of the Agreement are designed to provide greater reassurance to staff about their future employment and terms and conditions.

This Agreement will be formally ratified at a full meeting of the NNC and SCCOG in January 2014.  In the meantime, the disputes at local level are suspended by the trade unions and will be withdrawn once the Agreement is ratified. 

Friday 20 December 2013

Spurr's Christmas Message

Sorry to spoil your mad Friday fun, but I thought everyone would like to share the following platitudinous Christmas message from Noms HQ:-

Reflections on 2013 from Michael Spurr, NOMS Chief Executive Officer 

I know that the last 12 months has been very difficult for colleagues across the Probation Service. The Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have created understandable uncertainty and concern both from a professional and personal perspective, and I recognise the impact this has had on individuals. Despite this – colleagues have continued to work incredibly well to deliver a high quality service for the public and I want to pay tribute to the resilience and professionalism of staff across probation trusts which is evident wherever I go. 

The TR programme is now rapidly moving into the implementation phase, and the appointment of deputy directors in the National Probation Service (NPS) and chief executives for the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) will provide clear probation leadership to support the process going forward. We have worked hard to ensure that there are proper protections in place for staff as we implement the change process and I am very pleased that the National Agreement on Staff Transfer and Protections has now been agreed by both employers and trades unions and will be ratified at the National Negotiating Council in January. This is really good news – and hopefully will alleviate many of the understandable concerns colleagues currently have about the process. We are committed to treating staff properly and fairly and the agreement means that we can now move forward together to deliver the change required.

Change of this magnitude is never going to be easy – but as we move to new structures there are real opportunities to develop new ways of working and to improve the service we offer to the public. The extension of supervision to the under 12 month group of prisoners has the potential to make a huge difference to those with the highest rates of reoffending. The freedoms available within CRCs will enable staff to operate with greater flexibility and ability to focus on individual needs – something which colleagues have long yearned for. And in the NPS we will have the opportunity to develop practice as world leaders in public protection and management of high risk offenders. 

The Transforming Rehabilitation reforms will become a reality over the coming months.  We owe it to the public we serve to ensure they are delivered successfully and that we maximise the opportunities they present to improve outcomes for offenders. I and my colleagues on the NOMS Board are absolutely committed to working with you to achieve this. 

I know that colleagues across probation are motivated by a passionate desire to ‘make a difference’. The reforms will provide opportunity for us to work with more offenders to make a bigger difference in reoffending than we have been able to achieve to date. Despite all the concerns and uncertainty – that is a goal worth striving for. 

I know it has not been easy and I want to reassure you that I will do everything possible to work with trades unions and to support staff through the change process over the coming months. 

Thank you for everything you are doing. May I take this opportunity to wish you and your families a happy and peaceful Christmas. 

Michael Spurr 
NOMS Chief Executive Officer 

PS This blog hit a new all-time record yesterday with 4044 hits - thanks everyone!