Monday, 22 July 2013

Omnishambles Update 10

As MP's start packing their bags and jetting off to foreign climes no doubt, we learn that David Cameron has decided to postpone the widely-expected Cabinet reshuffle until they return. He didn't want to ruin anyone's holiday apparently, but I think all of us in probation rather hope that Chris Grayling has a really miserable time watching his BlackBerry for omnishambles updates.

He's due an uncomfortable time on Tuesday apparently when he addresses the Centre for Social Justice event on Transforming Rehabilitation and the Voluntary Sector. Along with all the usual suspects salivating at the chance to get a piece of the probation action, I'm told the audience will include Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence, together with Greater London Branch Chair Pat Waterman, so some lively discussion is highly likely.

Of course the CJS is the creation of Chris Grayling's friend and fellow Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, currently in the process of making many of our client's lives hell with his welfare 'reforms'. I suppose the ever self-serving Sir Stephen Bubb will be present as cheer-leader for the voluntary sector chiefs, but never the trustees of course, for whom he largely has contempt.

Despite being charities, some seem indistinguishable from commercial concerns and quite a few have started throwing their hats enthusiastically into the probation ring. Shaw Trust is a good examplehaving been involved in the Work Programme. They recently merged with another charity, Careers Development Group, a former New Deal provider in East London. The enlarged outfit has clear expansion plans and are keen to be a prime contractor for probation business. I still can't quite see how such charities can reconcile the appeals for donations when they are clearly a commercial venture intent on bidding for our work. Their TR submission can be viewed here.

Another prominent charity after our work is reported here in this Inside Housing report:- 

"Stonham is planning a bid for at least one of the contracts to become a prime regional provider.

Rachael Byrne, executive director for care and support at Home Group, said: ‘Stonham has always worked with offenders, so it’s a natural progression for us. We already have bail contracts, and this is really just a way of extending that work.
‘It is a challenging step, and a new step, but not a step to be fearful of. It is about providing housing and support to vulnerable people, which is a core part of our mission statement.’
She added that Stonham has operations in all 21 regions, and would consider bidding for any of them."

With big boys G4S and Serco currently disgraced and out of the running for quite some time, I was pondering which of the second division would now become likely to try and take advantage of the temporary vacuum thus created. Sodexo springs to mind and it should be remembered that they've had their own 'reputational' difficulties such as the horse meat scandal. Formerly 'Kaylx', the French caterer wants to expand it's criminal justice work and already boasts 120 prisons worldwide, including four here in the UK. 

Another one to watch is Interserve who are known for 'keeping their head down' and quietly snatching work from their bigger and more troubled competitors. Referring to the Welfare to Work scheme at the DWP, according to the ConDem Nation blog:-

"When the initiative was launched by the then employment minister Chris Grayling, he name checked a 'voluntary sector organisation' called Rehab Jobfit whose involvement was a 'massive boost for the big society'. But Rehab Jobfit is in fact a joint venture between an Irish Charity called Rehab and Interserve, a distinctly non-voluntary sector PFI specialist, chaired by the conservative peer Lord Blackwell. 

Interserve has three 'prime' Work Programme contracts in Wales and the South West - but its public sector work is, alas, nothing to boast about. In 2009 the Office of Fair Trading fined it £11.6m for rigging the price of public sector building contracts after it and other builders carved up supposedly competitive bids on big public contracts such as hospitals. The fines followed an investigation into 'cover pricing', whereby companies put in artificially high bids to ensure another firm in the scam wins the deal.  

Interserve likes Work Programme contracts so much that last year it bought some more, taking over Business Employment Services and Training Ltd (BEST), which runs the Work Programme in West Yorkshire. Rehab Jobfit and BEST, now renamed Interserve Working Futures, receive at least £22m a year between them from Work Programme contracts." 

Interserve's criminal justice team is headed by Yvonne Thomas, just one of the small army of senior civil servants formerly at NOMS/MoJ HQ who have feathered their own nest by jumping ship and in order to make sure their bids stand a good chance of being successful.

"Yvonne will lead a formidable team which allies operational and strategic prisons expertise from both the public and private sectors. Adding operational expertise to its existing knowledge and experience, Interserve now has a complete end-to-end capability to develop innovative solutions in the delivery of custodial and community services."

Finally, it seems things are going to get a little bit worse for G4S as the National Audit Office prepare to investigate their asylum housing contract, as reported in the Observer:-

Claims that vulnerable asylum seekers have been evicted from their homes after failures by contractors working for G4S, the world's biggest private security firm, are to be investigated by a parliamentary watchdog.

At least three women are alleged to have been expelled from properties because of rent arrears that had arisen because G4S subcontractors had not paid landlords.
The allegations have been forwarded to public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO), which now plans to look into arrangements for asylum accommodation.
Last year G4S, which had no previous experience of providing social housing, was awarded a £324m slice of a seven-year £620m UK Border Agency contract to provide housing for asylum seekers.
However, concerns that a security company rather than a social housing association had secured the contract prompted warnings that the firm would be ill-equipped to handle it.
A letter from Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, seen by the Observer, admits that the Home Office "is aware of general concerns around the contracts in operation" and that a review into asylum accommodation by the NAO will form part of a wider look at the delivery of public services by private sector contractors, including G4S.


  1. Jim, don't forget Interserve also signed a partnership agreement of some sort with Durham Tees Valley probation to work together. I think they bid to run a prison together, the one where the governor kicked out the probation staff on the grounds that they were now his competion! Haven't really heard much since then mind. Of course that was the old TR model when some chiefs thought they were going to build empires...

    1. I'd completely forgotten that and I do vaguely remember writing about it - in fact here it is!

      I wonder if that partnership still has legs?

      Thanks for that,



    2. A lot of small contractors in the work programme went hand in hand with chaitable organisations. I"ve seen it first hand. The reality is that such relationships provide signifigant advantage for private enterprise and many tax loopholes become available to use or abuse.
      I'm not sure if readers of this blog fully understand the levels of abuse and the amount of tax payers money snatched from government coffers by greedy industries. It is after all a probation blog.
      However, it is the exact same model PbR that is being applied to the privatisation of probation and those greedy companies are all waiting in the wings for more free cherries for their cake. It is simply a national disgrace.

    3. P.S to above comment.

      As an example google Bob Croxton and Criminal Information Bureau Liverpool.
      Many of Graylings current ideas were taken from here. He made several visits to this limited company. They also got £3/4 of a million pounds to assist ex cons back into work. This is one tiny company in one tiny aera. How many nationally.
      Just have a makes interesting reading

    4. I could not find any references to Grayling and Croxton via Google and I suppose any contacts probably relate to when Grayling was at Employment. I could not find recent references to CIB and no sign of a website, so maybe they are no longer with us.

      From the Liverpool Echo (3/10/11): "A FORMER drug dealer who secured a lucrative EU contract to get ex-offenders back to work is today revealed as owing thousands of pounds in unpaid wages.

      Prisoner-turned-entrepreneur Bob Croxton is yet to pay a penny to 10 staff at his Wood Street firm Criminal Information Bureau Limited (CIB) – all of whom have won employment tribunals against his company.

      And the ECHO can reveal that he is still receiving public money for his latest business venture.

      Today the 48-year-old’s former employees grouped together to demand the cash they are owed, which, including compensation ordered by tribunal judges, amounts to more than £30,000.

      Other former staff are still in the process of trying to obtain further judgements.

      CIB, funded through the European Social Fund, via employment firm Working Links, was set up in November 2009 to help return ex-cons to working life.

      But Working Links terminated the contract with CIB on February 26, 2011 and the organisation cut its ties to Mr Croxton. A spokesman said the decision was taken “as a result of CIB’s under-performance”.
      CIB had been paid an advance of £26,000 each month, with the potential to earn up to £500,000 of European Social Fund money over 18 months depending on its success.

      But as business faltered last autumn, staff were suspended on unproven allegations of misconduct and their wages unpaid.

      A former manager sent home on gardening leave, and owed some £3,300, was ordered to stop her “constant badgering” before being tersely told in an email asking when she would be paid: “As soon as we get paid after your f*** up with the invoices you useless b******.”

      Other employees accused of failing the business were described as “gangrene” and “growths” needing to be rid from CIB."

    5. CIB no longer exist and you are right their relationship with Grayling was through the work programme.
      However, as part of company practice they had a ' meet and greet' programme where newly released prisoners were met at the gate and ferried around to all immediate appointments. Job centre, Probation, employment agencies etc. Sound familiar?
      They also had a mentoring programme where the newly released prisoner had 24 access to a specifically named mentor. Usually the person who had collected them at the gate. Sounding more familiar?
      The theoretical framework was a noble one even if it had no real longterm success.
      However once money enters the areana noble attitudes go out the window. The focus changes from qualiative concern to a quantative profit generated machine.
      I only used CIB as one of the many limited companies engaged with the work programme that recieved large amounts of money for no real return. I'm concerned that if the same model is applied to probation then many more companies will profit signifigantly for failing to deliver. It's our clients that stand to suffer most at the hands of these profit driven desperados and as a consequence I feel if vurrent plans of privatisation are to go ahead then Grayling must publish an approved list of not only contractors but also subcontractors that cannot be deviated from.
      He wont do this of course because if we all knew who some of them were, there would be serious questions to answer.


      Bob Croxton now owns a company called BaseTec training.
      The CIB disaster was basically covered up as a lot of top people within Merseyside JCP would be embarrassed. I know that Merseyside Probation Trust will have nothing to do with Bob.

  2. Our management encourages us not to see private companies as "the enemy". Don't they want to make the many of us poorer so that the few of them may be richer ? Ok yes I'll go along with that.

  3. Private companies are not the enemy. They are what they are. Focused soley on the creation of wealth. Its the things money cant buy or solve thats the real issue here.
    Grayling (and the rest of his gang) know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

    1. Private companies per se are not the enemy, but it is increasing difficult to see them as the friend of employees. There was a laissez faire time when private companies ruthlessly exploited their workers, indifferent to their employees need for a safe workplace and a decent standard of living. Later, for various reasons, the behaviour of employers improved and there was a social contract between worker and employer in place, so there was a better sharing of the wealth created. And of course the state postwar became a large scale employer. All in all standards of living rose, there was increased job security and following a career spent in the public services, or with the major employers in the private sector, there was a prospect of a decent pension for many, albeit not gold- plated. However, with neoliberalism the social contract has been torn up and for ideological reasons, the private sector must now be the preferred provider of all services.

      I think it is quite logical to see the private sector as the enemy of many employees and you could equally say the same about public employers, because unless you are near or at the top of the tree, all we have seen in recent history is a gradual erosion in wages and conditions of employment, with some of the worst features of Victorian times making a comeback, such a zero hours contracts, lack of protection if you fall ill and enveloping fear of unemployment and poverty. None of this has been caused by the banking crisis and the ensuing austerity, though it has provided good political cover for what is an ideological shift rightwards – shared by ALL the political parties. There is no counterbalance because the trade unions are weak and relatively ineffective.

      So yes, the private sector continues to generate wealth, but it's a wealth that goes to the modern-day robber barons. We are going backwards in terms of prosperity for the many. These forces are now working their way through the probation service. I don't know how the delivery of such services will look in, say, five years, but one thing I think is certain is that those delivering the services will be economically poorer than their predecessors – except of course those who occupy the elite positions, because they must be rewarded for their ruthlessness and indifference to those they marshal and dominate, using fear as the primary incentive in fractured and atomised workplaces.

    2. As Marx said capitalism will one day eat itself up. I agree with your comments totally.
      They bring to mind an old client I used to have. He was well in his 80s, black and came from Liverpool which once thrived on the slave trade.
      He used to chuckle and liked to point out that during those dark days of slavery he would have been of more importance then me because at least he would have had a monetry value. Its a very sad thought but probably true.
      It doesn't escape my thinking process that privatisation of the service will mean that offenders will (for private enterprise anyway) also have a monetry value attached.
      When I think back to my old client of whom I was quite fond of, I wonder how far the world has really moved on.

    3. "They are what they are. Focussed solely on the creation of wealth" Thats right, great wealth for the few, and poverty wages for the many.

    4. Brilliantly put guys - in fact I'm sure some of these comments are going to turn up in subsequent posts - I just wish I could credit you individually - but I guess you know who you are.

      I'm really touched by the obvious time and effort people are putting in to the comments - it makes me more determined than ever to try and keep the impetus going.

      This blog started out as a bit of a moan and self-indulgent canter down memory lane, but it's turning into a cross between a campaign and a socio-political thesis and debate. I didn't work this hard for my degree!

      Again, thanks everyone.


  4. Criticism for the private sector is pointless in terms of what they do. They are businesses. The flaw is in Whitehall mandarins who know nothing about the issues briefing ministers who know nothing about the issues who instruct commissioners who know nothing about the issues to issue contracts to businesses who know nothing about the issues and whose own advice is compromised by the naked ambition of those who they have 'on board' telling them what they want to hear. It is like watching a slow motion train crash.

    1. Yes it reminds me of the apocryphal First World War story from the trenches. The whispered message passed down the line 'send reinforcements we're going to advance' - by the time it got to HQ it was a request to 'send three and four pence we're going to a dance'.

    2. Maybe Grayling would be prepared to field a football team on no-mans-land on christmas day!!

    3. Rob. As a NAPO member myself I often read your comments on their website. What is 'our' (and by that I mean Probation Staff/NAPO members) stance on commenting on social media given the recent gagging order from NOMS/MoJ?

    4. I beg to differ: criticism of the private sector is not pointless. Pointed criticisms of companies like G4S and ATOS for example can make a difference. The 'mandarins' are the civil service and it's not their fault either. It wasn't the mandarins who sexed up the dodgy Iraq dossier.

      They do what they are told to do by the politicians who in turn are listening to their political advisors, rightwing thinktanks and other lobbyists and maybe inspired with dreams of being a future darling of the right. There may well be a so-called capability gap on drawing up contracts but that is a secondary point.

  5. Oh no...I hear ATOS have been given their marching orders, for a variety of reportedly, poor practices; but do not worry, whilst the DWP have gone all out to demonstrate they respond to criticism and will not waste public money - they are not doing anything about this sorry state of affairs until next anyone, who is depending on these people to assess their capacity/capability to work, will just have to suck it doesn't matter that the 'professionals' doing the assessments have effectively been 'outed' as useless.

    1. It looks like extra contractors will brought in to work alongside useless Atos - Serco and G4S possibly? Guardian article here:-

    2. Maybe ATHOS will now become a major bidder in TR. They are after all one of Graylings successes within the work programme!

    3. Well this is an omnishambles!

    4. The work programme was a total shambles. It cost a fortune snd the only thing it really achieved was to make many shylocks richer. I note unemployment is higher now then before the programme was introduced.
      This ATHOS saga is the final nail in that programme.....and not before time.
      Can the government really now defend a decision to apply the same model to probation?
      Anyone from NAPO got an answer to that?

  6. The Work Programme - WORSE THAN DOING NOTHING! Why are they even considering this model?

  7. When Ministers say charities, it's not what the person in the street would understand as a charity. Conservative think tanks, such as The Policy Exchange, are ‘charities’ believe it or not!

    These organisations receive funding from big business, including G4S, and advocate privatisation of most public services. The charity status of these think tanks allow those donating big sums (quiet) access to the Tory Party without actually having to donate to them directly, therefore avoiding claims that they are buying policy (which in reality is what they are doing). They can do all this and avoid accusations of lobbying – and press scrutiny - while at the same time claiming their nice little tax perks for donating to charity. It’s a win win situation.

    How politically motivated, business advocating, organisations like these can be deemed as charitable is beyond me as they are effectively big business lobbyists.

    I’ve looked into this in some detail and sent in some specific FOI requests. It’s unbelievable the amount of discussion between government and these Think Tanks. Some of my FOI’s have been denied and I've appealed. The authority denying the requests have been at Minister level, which tells you all you need to know about their political influence.

    1. A very good point. As you say, it's astonishing that overtly political think tanks can be charitable, especially so when the status has been denied to some religious groups such as the Plymouth Brethren I believe. It makes a mockery of the government's recent document on ethics and standards in public life, the subject of today's post.

      Good luck with your FOI requests - keep us posted and thanks for commenting.



  8. Remember, one of the criteria to become a bidding charity is, if I am not wrong, the ability/capacity to loose a significant amount of money - most Charities that come to mind, can barely make ends meet, let alone, squander or gamble money - should things go pear shaped.
    So, it always has been a fraud, playing to the public sense of altruism and the greater good...when in fact, it is in support of vested is all becoming so depressing....

  9. This is fascinating stuff.

    To be effective we need to do more than record and gripe, we need to take political action that influences Members of Parliament including in The House of Lords.

    Napo is probably the best "vehicle" at present but are its members really actively engaged with a strategy to ensure the well being of public probation work, provided by employees including its members - whose Napo's first duty seems to me to be to protect them individually?

    I don't know the answer I am just a retired (probation officer) keyboard basher, with nothing personal to gain or lose - unless the UK's public finances fail and my Local Government Scheme pension fails (as I think is/has happened in some European countries)

    On the subject of pensions, maybe an early downgrading of 'our' terms and conditions was when it was no longer compulsory to be in the Local Government Pension Scheme to work for a Probation Service Employer.

    Had that change have happened ten years earlier, I probably would have left the scheme, as then I was struggling to support my young family on my income, and actually wrote to my then employer (Merseyside Probation Service) in about 1976 trying to get out of it.

    I had a very understanding courteous reply from the Chief Admin Officer - who left to become an Anglican Priest - and I tried to get extra income - working as a part time private hire(unlicensed mini-cab driver)

    I spent most of what I earned keeping a beat up Mark II Ford Cortina - on the road - and learnt about criminal justice from a different angle! - Eventually my wife was able to get part-time work (no maternity/paternity leave/child care support - of any significance then) and ultimately by about 1995/6 our income was enough to sustain our mortgage etc. without increasing our debt and when I broke down in the job and was retired early - the pension was/is enough to provide for us both - sadly that will not be available to many younger folk who do not voluntarily tie themselves into a pension scheme from a young age (before they have paid off student loans)

    I have rambled, but that is what dyslexic and dyspraxic folk do, and I no longer feel shame for my disability, even though it was not understood by my employer - who preferred to pension me off than provide the 'reasonable adjustments' I needed - someone to type and administer for me (like happened from 1975 to 1997)

    Thank goodness for Napo - I was very sick and without their support I probably would have had worse health crises and an untimely death, years ago. Such are the problems of unrecognised disabilities - that many folk try to compensate for - without even knowing they are neurologically disabled.

    1. Andrew,

      Yes you are right - what is required is action on a whole range of fronts - everyone can play a part and this blog is my contribution to try and raise awareness before it's all too late.

      Thanks for all your efforts, especially on twitter which to be honest I find mostly irritating - each to their own though!



    2. Jim (if I may call you that?) - You are giving great service - I especially like that you are passing on stuff being sent to you and linking to a vast array of information.

      Maybe you will be keen to blog about how folk can get together to produce some really incisive action, that gets real publicity.

      I have in mind us - (whoever *us is) - promoting a candidate for a Parliamentary Election or perhaps even a by-election - rather like that Doctor did on behalf of his local NHS hospital a while back - and he actually got elected - might Harry Fletcher be up for a candidature - he certainly would have a head start as a parliamentary tactician who has majorly influenced legislation over the last couple of decades and I think (quietly) continues so to do - I suspect his pen was involved with Lord Ramsbotham's House of Lords amendment that crept through and means the House of Commons must now hold a full debate on Probation privatisation - it is around that debate we should target our lobbying of local MPs - but we may only have a few days notice of when it will be.

      Twitter probably suits an addict like me - some of us have a capacity to do repetitive things.

      Twitter would be useless without being backed up with deeper thoughts.

      Please always Tweet a link to your Blog and to maximise attention I suggest always using #tag #Probation and whenever possible #TransformingRehabilitation as well(that is a lot of characters to get into a 140 character post - but it was started by - guess who - those PR whizz kids at - you've guessed - I am sure - The Ministry of Justice!)

      I see that Harry Fletcher has been using #probationselloff (or something similar) whilst others use versions of #saveprobation.

      However, in my opinion #Probation on it its own is simple and not so value laden and therefore likely to be more widely read - I stress I am no PR student and could be wrong!

      Then others prefer facebook, but I really struggle with that and refuse all requests to be friended - or whatever the term is - as I want to protect the confidentiality of messages between folks - which seems a contradiction to my attitude with Twitter - but I guess I am as complex as most other folk!