Sunday, 28 July 2013

Building Up To a Rant

It's Sunday and I'm sitting in front of a blank screen, confused and with no idea what to write. Ever since Chris Grayling's Commons announcement a couple of weeks ago, the words have been flying off the keyboard, but now I find myself just pondering the whole bloody mess in sheer disbelief really. 

Writing this blog has taken me on quite a journey of discovery and increasing enlightenment. When I started I was angry and wanted to explain why I thought things were going wrong with the job. Then I started explaining what the job was about, and now I find myself embroiled in a battle to save the job from what I have come to understand is a neoliberal conspiracy to privatise every goddamn thing. 

Whatever warm words Sadiq Khan may say on behalf of the Labour Party, in reality there's hardly a cig paper that can separate the whole grubby lot of 'em, Tories Lib Dems or Labour regarding the march towards privatising everything. Our sacred NHS is no longer safe and is being privatised, a dodgy US company now owns blood plasma provision, G4S are running childrens homes for goodness sake, and our national defence infrastructure is about to be sold off. Even the Yanks feel that's a step too far and have issued warnings FFS!  

How can all this be happening, I naively ask myself, when we know the public hates the idea of privatising public services, and especially so if it results in shit companies running them? How is it that in a supposed democracy we do not have a political party that is reflective of the public's utter distaste for what is happening?

It strikes me that virtually every aspect of our national life is being marketised and we are sleep-walking towards disaster. It's no longer trite to suggest that our liberty will soon be affected, along with our health. The alarm bells have been ringing for some time concerning the privatised forensic science services and miscarriages of justice, and we know Chris Grayling would like to do the same with court administration. 

This is all incredibly serious stuff and is inexorably changing the nature of our society. If we needed proof it comes in the form of Transparency International's recent worldwide survey that shows 65% of people in the UK feel corruption has increased in the last two years. No great surprise I suppose in the light of MP's fiddling expenses, journalists hacking phones and police officers selling information. 

But it's much wider than all that and becoming utterly pervasive and corrosive. It's David Cameron refusing to acknowledge any connection with his Australian tobacco company adviser Lynton Crosby in No10 and a sudden change in government policy on plain cigarette packaging. It's Peers selling influence for cash and the tardiness of the Police to investigate allegations of historic sexual offending by public figures. 

Then on top of all this we have scandals with hospital care, abuse in residential care and sheer incompetence by the regulator, all connected to the effects of political decisions on targets, cuts, reorganisations, shit wages and piss-poor training. No heads seem to roll, managers get promoted and others get paid off with vast golden goodbyes. No one seems to take responsibility, no ministers resign and enquiries typically kick everything in to the long grass.

If this is the context, what chance have we really got to row against this tide and preserve a sound, professional, ethical and well-performing public service? One thing I'm sure of is that we have a duty to do all we can both for the benefit of the public and our clients in the face of a tsunami of shit that seems to be enveloping our public life.

Taking strike action would be an honourable thing to do in my view, undertaken with a heavy heart of course, but I don't think history will reflect kindly upon us if we don't, however ill-conceived some may feel such action to be, such as ASPT Chair Joe Kuipers.      

While I'm on a roll and before I finish this rant, I want to mention something else that really annoys me about all this and it's the crimes associated with language, whether through political correctness, cynicism, message management or just plain mischievousness. You know the sort of thing, bus fares don't go up, they are 'new fares'. New 'handy size' means smaller packet. Closure of a day centre suddenly facilitates personalised care packages, all this kind of cynical news management bollocks. It strikes me that the language crimes have to go hand in hand with the political actions. 

This whole subject got an airing recently on a BBC blog highlighting the supposed politically correct, but in reality cynical language used in relation to the care of people with learning disability. A classic example being:- 

One of the unit's ideas was that he should have a person-centred plan. He had to create a wish list, and came up with six things:

  • Live at home with Dad
  • Go on holiday to Somerset
  • Have Christmas presents at home
  • See Toy Story 3 at the cinema
  • Have breakfast in the bacon shop
  • Go swimming at Hampton open-air pool
All six wishes were refused because they were not considered to be in his best interests. To me, that's not a person-centred plan, that's a system-centred plan.

Interestingly, according to this Independent article, the subject has been covered by a recent government report that seeks to ban the use of meaningless statements in government pronouncements:- 

 Jargon: What’s out

* Slimming down (processes don’t diet)
* Foster (unless it is children)
* Agenda (unless it is for a meeting)
* Commit/pledge (we’re either doing something or we’re not)
* Deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)
* Deploy (unless it is military or software)
* Dialogue (we speak to people)
* Key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
* Progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)
* Promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)
* Strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
* Tackling (unless it is rugby, football or some other sport)
* Transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)
* Going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)

The astute will have spotted that 'Agenda', 'Deliver', 'Tackling' and 'Transforming' are all now  banned terms, so that rather leaves the Ministry of Justice with a bit of a problem with its 'tackling reoffending and delivering the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda' doesn't it?        


  1. Sunday is a good day for a rant Jim, and an excellent rant it is too.
    Our government are just pirates sailing on the good ship politics, and powerful enough and self interested enough not to give a shite. There is no party you're right to say, that reflects the nations interests or sentiments, they're all grabbing for themselves. There's no real national pride or identity at the top anymore. All that national pride stuff drummed up for the olympics was only to get the thousands of volunteers it needed to function, and get the work done free, and so keeping the G4S shareholders from having to put their hands in their pockets.
    It is all a mess Jim, and it's such a vast one it's hard to see any way it can be fixed.
    Regarding the service though, I too feel the next move must be 'down tools and out'. But like you such a move weighs heavey on me. Any strike of any longitude will have an impact on the service, not least on relationships between those who did strike and those that didn't regardless of what ever the outcome may be.
    Society's broken there are to many divisions, to much wealth taken by far to few, so maybe it's time for a period of all encompassing national strikes. When the captian of good ship politics needs a kick up the arse then it's time for the crew to mutany.

  2. It must surely be getting bad when JB is unable to find something good to share, and for him to go all militant on us - but I am with you all the way! However, I do remember the ill feeling generated when some staff refused to complete pieces of work, as part of NAPO industrial action and had their wages deducted accordingly, only to find others picking up the work and even SPO's doing as to reduce the impact of the industrial action. It is also worthy of note the between 2000 - 2011 or thereabouts, the service actively sought to recruit people into the profession who could follow national standards, tick boxes, pass audits and walk in straight lines; so it is also likely that the NAPO membership, are not the radicals they used to be.

    1. Do you know I'm surprising myself how radical I'm becoming. Jim the 'safe pair of hands' and normally the voice of calm and reason - soon to be on a picket line.

      My explanation is simply that this is different. It's not essentially about pay or conditions, it's about principle. I think the Edmund Burke quote sums it all up for me:-

      "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".

    2. I think holding misgivings about the capacity of the current workforce to take radical action is sensible. Past industrial actions have been undermined by Napo members. It may happen again. We learn from history but must not be hamstrung by it. We have to look ahead and not in the rear view mirror. We have to see if hearts and minds and self-interest can be won over, to the necessity of what is really a fight for survival. We may regret trying, but we will regret it even more if we don't try to defeat TR.

  3. Rather you rant to their cant anyday.

    On the U.S. misgivings about U.K privatisation of military procurement, a bit rich coming from our U.S. cousins: by 2008, the US Department of Defense employed 155,826 private contractors in Iraq – and 152,275 troops - a degree of privatization unprecedented in modern warfare. This outsourcing trend continued in Afghanistan, where there were 94,413 contractors in 2010, compared with 91,600 US troops.

    As to Joe Kuipers who doesn't think strike action is a 'sophisticated' enough response, I wonder where all the sophistication and sophistry has got us so far. To Joe I say: 'Say it ain't so, Joe'. Napo and Unison must stop listening to the wiseacres and listen closely to what the membership are indicating and abandon appeasement which does not work with ideologues.

    1. Yes I can't quite make Joe out - having seemingly been upfront with info and wise words, he's talking in code now, and the blogs seem to have dried up. Maybe he's been nobbled?

  4. Basically jim we are seeing the results of a 60 year conspiracy perpetrated by the top 5% in terms of income. Whilst it is heartening that 65% of uk people feel corruption is on the rise the real point is, what are they prepared to do about it. Sadly the answer is.... Errr nothing. Why? Well Big Brother is back on and well you know, one doesn't like to rock the boat. We have been very successfully pacified since 1945,which would be good in an ideal world as all that violent protest is quite tiresome really, but it has allowed neoliberalism to flourish.

  5. Although 65% of the U.K public feel corruption is on the rise, it's a far bigger percentage then I expect will vote in the next General Election.
    No-one feels their vote can make any difference anymore.
    "They're all the bloody same" , is all you ever hear. And it's true too.
    But something must happen to restore the ballance, or the future looks very bleak indeed.

    1. "But something must happen to restore the ballance" But what? All the political parties are as bad as each other which discourages people from voting. Maybe an outfit like 38 degrees has to turn into a political party and put candidates up? I agree something has to happen or the future is very bleak indeed.

    2. Just been reading another blog Jim.. I read several a day! If you tap in "another angry voice chris grayling" you'll get in to have a mouch about.
      There's probably nothing there you don't already, but I get some comfort and inspiration from the tone and direction of it's political commentry.
      Have a look, we are not alone!

    3. Yes it's a good site and I've come across it before - in fact to my amazement Jim Brown left a comment about a fortnight ago - but then I've slept a few times since then.......



  6. Why don't they just privatise ethic's, morality and responsibility?

    Then we can all just STFU and get back to being the good little drones that they want us to be.

    In regards to strike action, I very much doubt that most people have the stomach for a protracted effort, many for financial reasons, hence my view that one condition of a return to work being a 're-imbursement' of any pay 'lost'. Secondly, there must be an immediate lifting of ANY gag which prevents us from speaking out about this. Dialogue has been a one way street as far as I can tell. We need NAPO (and other Unions) on the TV, on pages 1,2,3 and 4 of the newspapers, on blogs, internet campaigns, gathering support from other political parties. We need this now! We need to show the World (but I'll settle for the UK), that Graylings claims are disingenuous, and bear little resemblance to what actually takes place in the Probation service. We need to CONTINUALLY highlight the failings of any bidders, be they G4S, Serco or similar. In addition, we need to highlight the failings of privatisation (the Work Programme is an open goal in my mind). We cannot do this effectively if we have to do it anonymously, and with fear of censure. FFS it's like China at times!!

    If we do not do this, and more, we will all be working for companies who's sole aim is to make money, albeit at the expense of others.

    I have an old saying; in the cooking pot of life, it's always those at the bottom who get burned.

    *put's soap box away*

    1. Forgive the typo's fat fingers and Iphones are not the best combination!!

    2. "Privatising ethics morality and responsibility" - a neat idea and it reminds me of that saying in politics that basically 'if you can fake sincerity you got it made'. Tony Blair was a genius at that.

      You're right - we need to ramp things up a bit so lets hope Napo read this - I know Joe Kuipers does because he's responded on twitter saying that 'he's away, has not been nobbled and thinks a strike might not work unless staff act for a long period'.

      Cheers for the rant,


  7. Net nipper - like your comments on 'modern warfare' when you say private contractors, should I be reading 'mercenaries' or is that just my interpretation? Whatever it means in warfare, Mr Grayling seems to be adopting a similar pose - looking at the lack of ability, intelligence, dignity, skill, knowledge and integrity and of those people he has lined up to 'take over' what is and always has been a relatively small, relatively, cheap, highly skilled and hugely successful public service. But then, nice people get burned whilst those in power, rub their hands, count their money and have an uncanny way of displacing responsibility when the shit hits the fan...Lets get radical!!

  8. Totally agree Obi Wan. The work programme is an open goal and should be highlighted at every point in the TR argument.
    Unfortunately I don't think the BBC will shout to loudly about TR as they are currently trying trying to keep quiet that they are in discussions with G4S regarding the provision of security across it's estate.
    You ever get the feeling the worlds turning out like one of those 1980s scify movies? G4S school uniforms, national anthem, citizen observation officers, burgers, cars and curfews?

    1. I didn't know about the BBC security contract possibly with G4S - thanks for that!

      As for films, my personal favourite of the genre is Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'.

    2. Tap in "stop G4S" and just scroll down till you see bbc-stop bidding now. Lots of other links around there too

    3. Citizen Observation Officers.

      John Pilger blogged about that recently - as far as postal workers are concerned - they are in process of being sold off with local delivery offices being rationalised!

      What Pilger wrote about was so Orwellian I wondered if he was being literal - but I guess it was - it really is 'beyond belief'

  9. "citizen observation officers"

    Don't even suggest it!!!!

    You know the film Logan's Run. The bit where the computer crashes and explodes at the end when presented with conflicting facts? I wonder if the programmers of that were also responsible for Delius :)

  10. I voted 'yes' in the indicative ballot, will vote 'yes' in a strike ballot, and will be on the picket line if it comes to a walk out. I can't afford to lose a day's pay - but then I certainly won't be able to afford living on G4S wages.

    I am worried, though, that we're too small a group, and too invisible a service, for a strike to work. If the bin men go on strike, you see the rubbish in the streets. If the teachers take industrial action, parents have to stay home with their children. We all know that what we do is important, even life-saving in some cases - but our successes are largely private and failures very public. And we struggle to articulate what we actually do in a comprehensible way - which has allowed Chris Grayling to paint probation work as simply "supporting" people. No mention of challenging people's beliefs week after week after week - no, just meet 'em at the prison gates and get them a job and a flat and all will be well.

    I do think we need to take industrial action, and that it needs to be sorted out quickly given that the third reading of the Bill will be on us very shortly. And I also hope that there is some co-ordination with other justice unions to amplify the message - although we need our very specific cause to be spelled out very clearly.

    Unless (straw-clutching time) Mr Grayling gets another promotion in an autumn Cabinet reshuffle, and whoever comes in decides to review things. I can just imagine him trying to crowbar Payment by Results into the Foreign Office... "Now, President Obama, you've had a couple of years to sort Syria out, but it just hasn't happened, and those nice people over at Sodexho reckon they can do it on the cheap."

  11. Been flicking around amusing myself reading bad press on G4S. I'm shocked really to discover the degree of loathing they attract on a global scale, and even more shocked, that given their reputation, our government even considered them suitable candidates to be involved in the TR agenda.

  12. The one thing apart from an unlikely Parliamentary defeat of Grayling that would cause him, Cameron et al to reverse this utterly stupid policy as far as probation is concerned is if in advance they realise the amount of opprobium they risk when the policy fails and several privately supervised parolees go missing and cause horrific crimes.

    I am sure much else will go wrong with, for example, increased risk of serious disturbances among our client group when they are breached.

    I wonder if Mrs Thatcher had realised how the blind introduction of the poll tax would end her prime ministership and contribute towards the coming of Blair (admittedly delayed unexpectedly by Major's brilliant 1992 election campaign compared with Kinnock's counting of his eggs before they were hatched foolishness) If she would have reversed the policy.

    I think that is one chance we can have if we can get to the Tory MPs and Government leaders like Lord McNally and convince them it really will fail that they might do a reverse.

    It is only on such a basis it is worth approaching my MP, Priti Patel, who is one of Grayling's back bench cheer leaders with soft questions and newspaper articles aimed to demean everything about public probation and trades unions.

    I read in the last 24 hours she is also one of the Tories in favour of encouraging the tobacco manufacturers to go on killing folk with their pretty packet advertising!