Thursday, 20 June 2013


Yesterday's post was based on a stark analysis by an insider of exactly how potential bidders for our work will 'run their rule over' it and ruthlessly make sure they get the business by proposing massive cost efficiencies. Just in case there is anyone out there that's still not clear what that means, TUPE'd or not, it's redundancies and worse terms and conditions for all.

At the stakeholder event I attended earlier in the year, the ex probation officer from Crime Reduction Initiative who was sat at my round table put it rather more bluntly - "ex probation staff would be got rid of as quickly as possible." Dreadful as it sounds and a view that will upset the sensibilities of many, as one commentator to this blog asked yesterday, "what does it take for people to wake up to what's happening and stop sleepwalking towards oblivion?" 

Napo have just conducted an election for a new General Secretary and the turnout was a derisory 20%. Conversations on twitter indicate that significant numbers of staff have their heads buried firmly in the sand, whilst others appear to have accepted that it's all a 'done deal' and nothing can be done. Some are leaving and joining other unions and some, mindful of other criminal justice union activities, are demanding to know when there is to be a ballot on industrial action?

The discussion forum has at last generated some activity and there has been much comment concerning TUPE arrangements, together with a belief in the sanctity of national terms and conditions, and hence negotiations. Staff are urged not to be tempted to enter into any local discussions, whilst others point to the alacrity with which many Trusts have already enthusiastically built up a track record on a whole range of policy changes embracing travel, working conditions and sickness management. 

Despite warm words in certain quarters, there is widespread disarray in the ranks of both union and management. Ian Lawrence, the new Napo General Secretary has got to get a grip and quickly, but he also needs support from the membership. He needs some indication that people really have grasped what this is all about. It's not a 'Rehabilitation Revolution' at all, that's just so much smoke and mirrors, spin doctor's sophistry or bollocks even to try and cover the fact that it's actually a wholesale decommissioning exercise - effectively the outsourcing of redundancies. 

If you're still not sure what it's really all about, here we have an article written by John Hannan of the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Action and following on from that highlighted yesterday by Richard Johnson of Buying Quality Performance. I quote selectively from this excellent GMCVA analysis, again from the point of view of organisation's considering whether to bid or not for parts of our work. The whole article is well worth reading, suggesting as it does that many voluntary organisations might wish to consider not getting involved at all. 

"The market for the delivery of public services has certainly become more competitive with more expected for less and often contracts being aggregated in order to reduce administrative costs. But there is a fundamental change in addition to this. In many cases the purpose of commissioning has itself altered.
As the market for public services grew over the last decade many voluntary organisations were able to engage in the delivery of services based on their quality and the impact they generated. As new spending emerged, organisations competed more on the basis of outcomes achieved than absolute costs.
This is less the case now. We are seeing fewer instances where contract specifications seek to generate increased quality but more often seek to squeeze costs out of the system or transfer risk. Last year I wrote about “toxic opportunities” and the increasing number of short-term contracts from the public sector that contained high decommissioning costs. In the forthcoming government spending review we are likely to see the biggest squeeze on public spending in the post-war period with both the 2015 and 2020 General Elections likely to be portrayed as austerity elections. Some short term contracts with significant TUPE liabilities might better be described as an outsourcing of redundancy than an outsourcing of delivery as many of those services are unlikely to last. Recent work from NLGN suggests by 2018 public sector bodies will have 50% of the purchasing power they have now.
And then we come to the latest large scale “payment by results” scheme which will really throw sharp definition on this fundamental change – the Transforming Rehabilitation programme which will outsource probation services.
From my own conversations with potential prime contractors and informed reports elsewhere we are likely to see outsourcing of these services linked to cuts of approximately 30% of costs.There may be opportunities for voluntary organisations to play a role in delivering services in this area but this isn’t a contract to drive innovation – it’s a decommissioning contract. Any successful prime will have to strip costs from out of the system and push efficiency. Primes will be paid in arrears and may have a significant up front capital cost as they cover redundancy payments and re-organise the existing estate and delivery systems. They will contract out but will seek competitive prices with a real squeeze on costs and an element of shared risk."
Guys, it really is time to wake up, stop sleepwalking and get active! 


  1. I can't see the sleepwalking ending. At a critical point in probation history less than 20% of union members bothered to vote in a leadership election. Look at the numbers who have signed the petition – no outpouring of protest discernible there. I think Napo and all the other CJS unions are irrelevant.

    All you hear from Napo is Recruit, Recruit, Recruit... Why? Will more apathetic members turn Napo into a fighting force? I don't think so. Napo can come out of this with its assets and Chivalry Road jobs intact. It will work with the new providers. I don't blame Napo and I salute all union stalwarts, but if a union cannot mobilise, then it's not really a trade union, more a staff association and maybe Napo will finally transcend it's historic ambivalence and tilt decisively to staff association. I think if Napo had the demographics of twenty years ago and probation management had backbone, there may have been much stronger opposition to the current disembowelling, but in the main we have a docile workforce who get hot flushes at mention of politics or making or taking a stand.

    1. I have been a trade union member all of my working life and as a Napo activist I have to say that I agree with you. It grieves me to say that I think Napo's days are numbered, unfortunately. Our Trust is looking to set up a mutual and I've been doing some calculations. Even if all the staff that transfer over are Napo members, it will still require a portion of the private co's staff to join Napo to have the o/o required to go for formal recognition, so effectively a non runner. The company in question don't appear to recognise any TU's at present; they encourage staff reps to the board - always a weaker alternative, in my view. If asked, I will be suggesting to colleagues that they transfer to UNISON, who are much better organised at providing long arm support via their informative website and paid Reps. (Napo has been woefully neglectful of its Branch Reps - it took them yonks to get any kind of handbook out for them, and have we the resources to provide FT trained Reps - I think not). Those that remain, once they are redesignated as civil servants will be much better off with PCS. The end of an era, but not in a good way.

    2. Yes sadly I think you're right and it's difficult to argue with the analysis regarding the best course of action for staff finding themselves either with a mutual or Tupe'd to a private contractor.

      I suspect this years Napo AGM is going to be particularly difficult for a whole range of reasons and could well prove to be the swansong. A very sad time indeed.

  2. Just picking up on union voter turnout. The Royal Mail is threatened with privatisation. As a sweetner all staff have been promised £1500 in shares. In contemplation of industrial action the CWU held a consultaive ballot. On a turnout of 74%, a resounding 96% voted in favour of action. In consequence all the papers report an overwhelming vote against privatisation by postal workers. I dread to think what the turnout would be if Napo and other unions held a vote.

  3. yes feels like probation staff have given up already. Just sit back and take it. Not good. There is still plenty to do and fight this thing. Its not a done deal. Failing grayling is banking on apathy. Probation staff are used to challenging people who are wrong, why not the government.

  4. Its the same with the Police Federation. On the whole they are trying their best to be reasonable, but its only seen as a sign of weakness by the government.

    At the end of the day, the Federation leadership and the majority of police officers are also sleepwalking to oblivion.

    I don't know why all the CJS unions and staff associations can't come up with some kind of joint strategy and mutually support each-other to attempt some kind of fightback.

  5. I am rather looking forward to a more uncertain future. Who's to say working for a private sector company will necessarily be a bad thing? My experience of working in the private sector is that it is a lot more challenging, but a lot more open to good ideas and good people. I see some of my more experienced colleagues moaning on and talking about the good old days - but after a while I really do start to think that they were probably never happy in the job, and they will simply not survive in a world where they have to achieve results. I am not saying they are lazy - just complacent and rather too inclined to believe they know best.

    Some will say I am being naïve, and I am not looking forward to all the unpleasantness of the transition and the redundancies that will follow. But don’t assume that all probation staff are anti-private sector or apathetic. Some of us will step up and make this work. It will be an opportunity to strip out some of the public sector bloat that gets in the way of doing the job.

    Some will say I am being nieve

    1. You are not naive, in thrall to the private sector perhaps and inclined to dismiss the results and performance achieved by the probation service in recent years. But we all have blind sides and dogmatic positions at times. Good luck to all the private sector pioneers, but I hope you never fall ill and I hope you can get by on your zero hours contract.

    2. Thanks for that reply - you pretty much said what I was thinking but in more measured tones! "Rather looking forward to an uncertain future" - mmmm - if I was very cynical I'd say it could be more evidence of fifth columnists amongst us?

      As for "more experienced colleagues moaning on and talking about the good old days" - I'm clearly in that camp and was very happy in the job thankyou. We moan because many things were indeed better and things have become shite. I give you OASys. Can you imagine how much time you would have to do real work with clients if you didn't have that shite to contend with?

    3. Jim
      As I hear it, the new privateers won't have to use OAsys. So that's 20% of the 30% already saved. Or were you thinking you could use the time to work with short sentence prisoners?

    4. Well yes the privateers will have all the extra work from the under 12 month people, plus the 70% low and medium work transferred from probation and do it all for about 30% less than being currently paid to probation.

      The numbers are huge and many of the under 12 month people will be a nightmare to supervise and be very unco-operative. They will say that they've 'done their time' and you 'can stick all that supervision crap up your arse'. Mass recall could result, thus defeating the whole point of this utterly ill-thought out policy. It won't help either because after release they go back to the beginning and start all over again.

  6. I could point you at the 30% of staff that I would show the door to. And quite a few of those are well past their sell by date. But I guess the over 55's are going to be a bit too expensive to get rid of. Still by then Jim will have his Guardian column, so he'll be ok

    1. How the world would be perfect if we could all get rid of 30% of the other. And how sad that age is associated with decrepitude and not wisdom.

    2. Yes, I could happily draw up a list of those I'd show the door to, but in my experience they are not limited to those 'well past their sell by date'. Sadly quite a few slipped through the recruitment net in more recent time and were never suited to the work at all. But that's life as they say.

      Don't worry about me. I've had a good innings and have been fortunate enough to have seen the tail end of a brilliant vocation. Money has never been my prime motivation and thankfully this kind of blogging, blissfully devoid as it is of anything so vulgar as lucre or editorial influence, is far more rewarding than any newspaper column in my humble opinion.

      Besides, I'm not good enough, but thanks for the compliment!

  7. I see it like this. There used to be probation officers. University, good social ethic and committment to the service.
    Then came NOMS that created offender managers. With the 'manager' tag came the attitudes of self importance and committment to personal advancement. University? No. Good social ethic? No. Car phone warehouse and tescos morelike and trying to suck up to the boss.
    Any old timers ever get sick of the line ,
    "I've done five recalls this week".
    Like thats some kink of success. It's a damned bad failing in my book. So when your rubbing your hands about your uncertain future (that may lead you back to car phone warehouse", and pondering if the service would be better with the old timers out the door just remember the service is now a totally different job and at the very least the old timers had to go to school first before they were allowed in.

    1. Some lovely 'typos' here! So for the old timers success is kinky (presumably failure is normal then), and despite going to school you still don't know the difference between your and you're!

      The world changes, jobs change and experienced staff have to adapt. When I joined probation I was regularly told I was unqualified. In reality I had a couple of degrees, and many years of life experience, including working in different aspects of criminal justice, drugs rehabilitation, and welfare advice. I had some excellent very experienced colleagues who were enthusiastic and skilled. I also had other colleagues of similar vintage who were badly organised, bitter, inflexible and apparently not that bright and not exactly mature either. Age is not the defining factor (I am hardly in the first flush of youth myself).

    2. I think your sweeping statements about experienced colleagues suggests that you are less dedicated to the probation ethos' of valuing diversity and not discriminating which may give some insight into why you feel you may thrive outside of the service.

      Also "naïve" was spelt differently twice in the earlier comment. Just saying.

      Personally, I think if we are enabled to complete our work to assist in rehabilitating people effectively and protecting the public in a way that we are valued and treated as people, be that within or outside of the service, then that is fine.

      In my experience working alongside private sector colleagues, I can't imagine that splicing and privatising the service will achieve this. It would be great if our management would stop snuggling up to private companies to protect themselves and if unions would put up a bit more of a fight.

    3. Maybe too many people called anonymous here.
      I am not sure what you mean by my ‘sweeping statements about experienced colleagues’. What I actually said was age and experience is not the defining factor .

      I think that we agree with each other.

      You are maybe are replying to an earlier post? My first paragraph was actually intended to be a humorous response to what I thought was an ill-tempered reply to an earlier contributor. And it was that tone that reminded me of my early experiences when I joined the probation service. As I said there were some excellent older experienced staff, but I also found there were quite a few who were not. With hind sight I can see that they were no doubt threatened by what they saw as the de-professionalisation of probation by employing ‘unqualified staff’ to do jobs that had previously been done by qualified POs. Or perhaps it was just personal! 

      In any event I no longer work for probation, and I like to think that I am already thriving outside the probation service thanks.

      p.s I can’t see transforming rehabilitation working out either.

    4. You are right - many of us 'old-timers' were indeed extremely concerned about unqualified colleagues undertaking work previously done by probation officers.

      I wrote about this subject extensively in the early days of the blog and I think a sensible debate ensued at the time. It touched raw nerves and it still does, but the phenomenon is not peculiar to our profession as the process has and is going on all around us.

      The fact of the matter as far as I'm concerned is that many jobs in society are now being undertaken by less experienced and less qualified staff and although 'cheaper' are not being undertaken as well.

      It's a value judgement of course, but I've seen it in the police, CPS, health, law and probation. It makes people like me sigh, especially as a nation we've been encouraging ever larger numbers of people to go to university, but at the same time have been de-professionalising ever more jobs!

      It sort of makes some of us a bit grumpy.

  8. Ouch! Friends, let's not add sniping at each other to our list of woes in probation. I for one ignore typos and grammatical errors in blogs etc - I don't think they necessarily reveal anything about the author, apart from maybe (like me) a struggle with size 8 font, failing eyesight, and random defaut word selections made by my tablet!

  9. In my experience, twenty-first century typos are about iphone/touchscreen frustrations rather than spelling. My interface puts apostrophes on a different screen to letters and typing them gets frustrating over a long post. Spellcecking requires 3 diplomas in computer science!

    1. Guys,

      Just got back from a day at the seaside to find there's been a rare old spat raging - I agree entirely about typos or indeed even grammar - in the scheme of things it doesn't matter a great deal as long as the message is clear. Modern devices with predictive text etc appear to be a nightmare and I realise don't make things easy.

      However, in my experience when exchanges become pointed or heated for any reason, typos or inaccuracies assume a rather different perspective. In essence if you are intending to have a 'go' for any reason, the spelling and accuracy does come in for a bit more scrutiny and in the process the message may be lost.

      So, my take on this is don't have a 'go', remain civil and think before pressing the 'send' button. Most of my posts are reviewed 24 hours after the first draft and as a result are often heavily edited and toned-down.



  10. We know have a speech from The Labour Justice Spokesperson Sadiq Khan to help us assess how they will deal with Probation and Criminal Justice.

  11. Tolkny,

    Thanks for all your recent comments, helpful links and not adding to the confusion by being anonymous!

    Your link will take readers to a transcript of Sadiq's speech, but as Joe Public points out subsequently on the Napo discussion forum, it's all a bit late to repent when it was Labour that pretty much got the ball rolling.

    I've taken the liberty of copying Joe's contribution here:-

    "Well, all is fine then: Labour backs a publicly run probation service. So, are we to judge Labour by its words or its actions? Wasn't it under Labour that we all choked on 'contestability'? The Offender Management Bill was all Labour's doing. Tough talking, pragmatic Labour. Grayling is going to force these changes through and there will be no rowing back if the next government is Labour. And Labour would not renege of any existing private sector contracts, not least as they would not wish to upset their former colleagues who sit on the boards of the conglomerates. Labour has already committed itself to Tories spending plans and so the mantra will be we would like to do this or that, but, alas, the money ain't there. But comforting to know that Labour' s heart is in the right place and it backs a publicly run probation service as that was far from the case when they were in government and actually had the power to keep it public. You need a lot of gullibility to trust a politician."