Saturday 31 August 2013

Omnishambles Update 17

Well we now know that Serco is in yet more trouble, this time concerning the Prisoner Escort and Custodial Services contract and evidence that staff have been fiddling the data. Chris Grayling huffed and puffed again about Serco possibly not getting any more government contracts, but that's just so much hot air, not least because the company are a vital part of the Nation's defence, for example the Fylingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station. Just look at what other bits of the military they run here. The news didn't impress the stock market though, with their shares falling 17% on Thursday. 

Possibly of more immediate relevance to us in probation is the news that Serco are in trouble with their Unpaid Work contract in London. As soon as the contract commenced they made 200 staff redundant, but Chris Grayling has continued to praise the fact that they are cheaper and cite the London contract as grounds for dismantling the whole probation service. But it turns out that Serco are in chaos and finding it impossible to keep accurate and timely records of UPW hours undertaken, of course a core task in being able to confidently supervise court orders.

Cheeky Serco are requesting assistance from staff at London Probation Trust to help them update the Delius record system, which has led to London Napo and Unison issuing the following statement:-  

It has come to the attention of the unions that LPT are asking staff to carry out overtime on a voluntary basis in order to assist SERCO in clearing their backlog of CP DELIUS contact entries that should have been cleared by them by the 30/08 in accordance with their Business continuity plan.   

The unions are advising members not to volunteer to do this work for SERCO at this time for the following reasons: 

- SERCO have chosen to prioritise profit over service delivery and the unions do not consider that SERCO should now be afforded the facility to call upon LPT staff to assist them to fulfil their contract obligations, ie., different rates of pay for what is exactly the same work- during unsociable hours- which should in any case attract a premium payment at market rates, and this situation is not acceptable. 

The situation regarding the contract variations that each Trust Board are being asked to consider rumbles on. The key matter involves each Trust agreeing to the MoJ request to reduce the contract notice period. Joe Kuipers, Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, has written further on the subject and in particular raises a number of key questions that each Trust Board might wish to consider:-

  • Will the Board have a formal minuted Board meeting to consider the contract variations?
  • Will this meeting be an open or closed session?
  • Will the CEO (a Board member) and the Board Chair (or other Board members) sign a declaration that their considerations are unfettered by any potential conflicts of interest (that, for example, the CEO has an interest in applying for posts in either the NPS or CRC or a Board Chair aspires to become part of a future governance structure)?
  • Will the Board have specialist contract legal advice available to assist the discussions?
  • Will the Board have specialist HR advice available to understand if any of the contract variations have implications for the Board as the employer?

Friday 30 August 2013

The Devil is in the Detail

Following on from yesterday's post and emerging details of the negotiations between the main unions, including Napo and employers/MoJ, I notice that some branches have decided to start circulating the confidential papers ahead of today's NNC and Monday's NEC.

It's also becoming clear that there is widespread unease amongst the ranks about the policy, process, content and timescale of it all. I suspect the following, circulated to members within one branch whilst attaching the documents, might not be untypical:-

We are concerned in the way National NAPO appear too relaxed and write in a way that is not balanced on what else we can be doing and should be resisting the employer proposals. 

This soft acceptance from National NAPO gives us an impression they may be too close to the drafting team and lost much of their ability to be fully critical of the plans which ultimately offer members very little.  What we perceive, being generous to our national colleagues, is at best possibly a delay tactic to see what the members say and at worst a support of these proposals to influence members to sign off their own demise. The  Language used to support that view "this is the best we can achieve" suggests there will be no proper fight, no overall action and really very little support for your jobs in the longer term.  No proper protection of roles and security.

As has already been mentioned, members will have just two weeks in which to absorb the complicated content of the draft agreement, discuss it amongst themselves and voice an opinion through their branch officials before the NEC considers the matter on September 17th.

Officially, not only are the details not supposed to be circulated amongst the membership yet, but crucially details of two key elements of the draft agreement are as yet unkown until the conclusion of today's NNC:- 

Appendix B gives details of the Staff Transfer Framework. It is the subject of further negotiations on the 30th August and hence it is not available in advance. It will include an element of assignment of staff – e.g. where there is a distinct operational function, an element of expression of interest for some staff and the application of sifting criteria that are objective and measurable and finally an appeals process.

This is probably the most contentious part of this agreement and it is unlikely ever to meet everyone’s hope and expectations. This is an unhappy process and we can only seek to make it as fair and equitable as possible.  However, as with this entire agreement, and indeed the package as a whole, it is for members to accept or reject.

      Appendix C is an enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme associated with the TR Programme.  It will apply in all cases of voluntary redundancy arising as a direct result of the programme. The structure of the scheme is fairly standard and modelled upon that which was applied in 2001 when a number of Probation Boards (as they then were) were merged. This Appendix should be available on 2nd September for perusal. We await two significant elements. Firstly, how long the scheme will remain in operation. The initial offer from MoJ/NOMS is until September 2015 and our initial claim is until 2024 (likely end date of contracts with new providers). The likelihood is a date somewhere in between. Secondly, the maximum number of weeks pay that will be applied (and this is offered at actual rates of pay rather than the statutory maximum). Here, the initial offer is 66 weeks and we have claimed 104. These matters should be subject to further discussion on the 30th August.

No wonder there is widespread anger and unease, not only at Chris Grayling's absurd and wrecklessly-imposed deadline, but also the suspicion of a 'sell-out' by Napo officials. In the end it will be for members to decide, but it's hard to avoid the unpleasant conclusion that they are being 'bounced' into making a vital decision whilst under duress and within an absurdly short timeframe. It's to be hoped the full details are published as soon as possible after the NEC on Monday or there will be real trouble in the ranks.  

As an aside, I understand that such is the turmoil down at MoJ/NOMS HQ with officials trying to make sense of the whole omnishambles, the 'split' between CRC's and NPP is now likely to be 50/50! It really is a case of not having a clue and in the end it might be decided either by tossing a coin or that other well-known scientific method of plucking a figure from thin air. If it were not so serious it would be quite funny.     

Thursday 29 August 2013

Decision Day Approaches

Regular readers of this blog, and you now number in excess of 1,300 per day, will be aware that I've been highly critical of Napo in recent weeks for the apparent lack of any evidence that we were involved in a fight for survival. 

Well, we now know the reason because all the energy has been put into dancing to the MoJ/NOMS tune in the form of negotiations concerning the 'human resource implications' of TR. Call me simple, but I fail to see how you can be fully engaged in a campaign of opposition, at the very same time as you are negotiating the terms of surrender?

All Napo members received an e-mail yesterday 28th August informing them as follows:-

 Current Negotiations

As in our last update message, members will know that we have been in negotiations with the PA (probation employers) and Ministry of Justice officials over the human resource implications of the government’s plans for privatisation.  Engaging in this is an essential (albeit unpleasant) part of our work as a trade union.  It means we can attempt to secure the best deal for members in the worst case scenario.  All of this takes place against a backdrop of vigorous campaigning against the sell off and is therefore something of a tightrope walk.  It is important to remember that nothing is yet agreed.  A draft document of broad principles, in which we are aiming to enshrine a commitment to national collective bargaining, no compulsory redundancy, protection of terms and conditions etc, is ready to be put to Napo’s National Executive Committee for agreement or otherwise.  A proposal on the “staff split” is still subject to negotiations.

Your NEC Representatives and the Probation Negotiating Committee have been invited to attend a special forum to discuss all the issues on 2nd September 2013.  The vote on whether to accept or reject any proposals from the employers will take place at the scheduled NEC meeting on 17th September 2013.  NEC Reps will receive a briefing paper on this and we have written separately to Chairs and Secretaries of branches to help facilitate local discussions.  The timetable is extraordinarily reckless and we continue to make those representations to the government.  Despite that, we have successfully managed to extend the deadline from the end of August 2013 to allow for our own democratic structures.

Basically Napo have taken the pragmatic view that it was preferable to negotiate rather than have terms dictated by MoJ/NOMS. I've seen the documents outlining what has been tentatively agreed so far because someone has kindly sent them to me. 

The argument will be one very familiar to members 'it is the best that can be achieved in the circumstances'. The circumstances being a membership that has no appetite for a serious fight and a union leadership unable or unwilling to lead a serious fight. A meaningless Indicative Ballot because we are not allowed to know the turnout. And please, lets not re-rehearse the arguments about how we got here and it's all the fault of apathetic members. Been there, done that and it doesn't progress matters.

We will never know what might have happened had Napo decided not to negotiate and instead put all their time and effort into a spirited campaign that actively engaged the membership and wider public. Extraordinarily, their actions have in fact disengaged much of the membership who have abandoned the Napo forum pages and instead expressed frustration and irritation here. 

The timetable for the membership to be consulted and the NEC to make a decision is just too daft for words - two weeks - but as the e-mail to members says:- "we have successfully managed to extend the deadline from the end of August 2013 to allow for our own democratic structures."

At least one person has speculated on the likely attendance at an NEC to be held on a Monday that involves for many the start of the new school year for their children. Is it really feasible for branches to organise meetings and gauge the opinion of members in just a fortnight on a subject so important, complicated and fundamental to their futures? 

No doubt this is a topic to which I will return in the coming days and pick over in detail exactly what the deal is that members are being asked to sign up to. As ever, readers comments and contributions will be most welcome.       

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Hold to Account

This post follows on from yesterday's that discussed the fact that individual Trust Boards are being invited to voluntarily agree to variations in the terms of their contracts with the Ministry of Justice/NOMS. According to Joe Kuipers, the Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, one of the variations concerns the notice period required in order to terminate the contract with the MoJ. I'm not 100% sure, but I assume it's 12 months. 

Clearly, so that the omnishambles timetable can be completed before the next General Election, the Ministry of Justice can't afford to give the required period of notice, hence the invitation to each Trust Board to voluntarily accept a reduction in the period of notice required under the terms of their contract. As Joe Kuipers confirms, such a decision must be made by each Board and I assume authority cannot be delegated to the Chair.

I remain utterly astonished that in a mature democracy like ours, during this whole period of turmoil, there has hardly been a peep out of any Trust Board with the notable and honourable exception of Joe Kuipers of ASPT and subsequently, John Steele of Surrey and Sussex PT. 

This is an absolutely key decision for each Trust Board to make and I'm clear they have a duty and responsibility as Independent Boards to consider the best interests of their communities and wider public, as well as their loyal employees. It will be an utter disgrace if individually they capitulate to government demands and merely rubber stamp these contract variations.

In a democracy, the public and employees have a right to know what is being asked of each Trust Board, and be offered the opportunity of voicing an opinion. I thought the key reason for Independent Boards was so that community opinion could be reflected. In my view, in order to demonstrate worthiness of holding public office, each Board member ought to reflect long and hard before taking the extraordinary step of agreeing to the MoJ demand that the contract notice period be reduced. 

In the extraordinary situation we find ourselves in, I feel it is appropriate to publicly call each Trust Board to account. Should people wish to do this either individually or collectively, I have compiled a list of all Chairs of Boards in England and Wales below. I apologise in advance if any of the information is incorrect, but some Trust websites are absolutely crap.      

Avon and Somerset - Joe Kuipers
Bedfordshire - John Ruddick
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough - Kevin Ellis
Cheshire - Leslie Robinson
Cumbria - Chris Armstrong
Derbyshire - Gillian Wilmot
Devon and Cornwall - Alan Wooderson
Dorset - Tim Skelton
Durham Tees Valley - Sebert Cox OBE  
Essex - Alan Hubbard
Gloucestershire - Tony FitzSimons
Greater Manchester - Dr Hilary Tucker
Hampshire - Mike Fisher
Hertfordshire - Delbert Sandiford
Humberside - Philip Jackson
Kent - Janardan Sofat
Lancashire - Roy Male CBE 
Leicestershire - Jane Wilson 
Lincolnshire - Chris Cook
London - Caroline Corby
Merseyside - Elizabeth Barnett
Norfolk and Suffolk - Gill Lewis
Nottinghamshire - Christine Goldstraw
Northamptonshire - Tansi Harper
Northumbria - Lesley Bessant
South Yorkshire - Mervyn Thomas
Staffordshire and West Midlands - Dr Alan Harrison
Surrey and Sussex - John Steele
Thames Valley - Malcolm Fearn
Wales - Sue Fox
Warwickshire - Robin Verso
West Mercia - James Kelly
West Yorkshire - Stan Hardy
Wiltshire - Paul Aviss
York and North Yorkshire - Ken Bellamy

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Situation Critical

I don't know about you, but I have a real sense that almost everything that could be said about this whole bloody omnishambles, has been said. There is a danger of us all just endlessly repeating ourselves, but possibly a recap wouldn't go amiss. In this regard I'd like to kick off by quoting a contribution by netnipper from yesterday:- 

The blueprint for what's likely to befall probation staff is surely what happened when community service in London was outsourced to Serco. Out of 550 posts pre-privatisation 200 posts were axed by Serco. 

With TR all grades of staff will be affected and it would appear there is some consensus that the most vulnerable group will be support staff. 

As with Serco, I expect that Napo's efforts will be in seeking to achieve voluntary – above statutory minimum redundancy pay levels - rather than compulsory redundancies. For many the difference will be in jumping before being pushed into unemployment. I imagine if there is a deal struck on voluntary redundancies this will cut the ground under any possibility for industrial action, as the threat will be: if there is a strike there will be no VR agreement. 

I only see Napo's strategy as redundancy focused. In light of what happened in London with community service, there could have been great emphasis placed on the imminence of unemployment for many staff, whereas the debate has hovered more around who will be selected for the public service and who will be outsourced. This is a false dichotomy because many of the selected will in fact be axed. 

Maybe it would have concentrated the minds of staff. It would not have been a scare tactics, nor dishonest to have built opinion around the likelihood that they were facing unemployment in droves, that there was no guarantee they would still be in work next year. Perhaps under those circumstances a view may have prevailed that while industrial action may not succeed they had nothing to lose because the spectre of unemployment was the true certainty. This, I think, would have put TR under some real rank and file pressure. Instead we get top table negotiations between the unions and government.

In essence and despite the rhetoric, or absence of it from Napo, there is no 'fight to save probation', that opportunity was missed ages ago. For whatever reason, Napo failed to pick a serious fight over the UPW privatisation in London and that sent a powerful signal to MoJ/NOMS. There will be significant redundancies in both NPS and the CRC's and Napo is left merely negotiating the best possible terms from a very weak position. 

Concerning the indicative ballot, this from Ian Lawrence on his blog is complete cobblers and must have raised a chuckle rather than ruffle any feathers at MoJ/NOMS HQ:- 

I never doubted this, (and word is that the outcome - without us telling Ministers what the healthy turnout was, has ruffled some feathers) but it's important in any campaign of this nature to feel the pulse and examine where our messages are getting through more strongly to some members than others, and for us to take steps to address the gaps.

Netnipper is absolutely right, PO colleagues have been lulled into a false sense of security by assuming they are going to be selected for the NPS and will be ok. The fact is nobody can be sure of being ok because NPS will be so small and will have a much reduced budget. There will also be a massive cull of head office, management and support staff as economies are made. This is not scare-mongering, it's just bloody obvious when back-office functions are rationalised and based on evidence from the London UPW experience where savings had to be made. 

Meanwhile there is loads of anecdotal evidence that colleagues of all positions and grades remain either in blissful ignorance or complete denial of the impending revolution that's about to hit their life. I am utterly bemused to understand at what point the penny will finally drop that this really is serious?

In his most recent blog post, Joe Kuipers, Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, confirms that the PA and PCA have pretty much ceased functioning and there appear to be no behind the scenes meetings taking place. Of enormous significance he also states that all Board Chairs have until August 31st to voluntarily sign away any chance of delaying TR by agreeing to vary the notice period contained in each Trust's contract with the MoJ:- 
The matter of contract termination for Trusts has been raised in a blog by another author. This element of the contract variation is marked 'Restricted', and arrived separately from other variation requests. Currently the termination period for Trust contracts is 12 months, but to meet NOMS "confirmed timetable" for TR, amendments to this period are proposed by way of a contract variation. Signing this is a matter for Trust Chairs.

With hindsight, wouldn't it have been a rather useful exercise to have lobbied each Trust Board Chair? Shouldn't they have been reminded in no uncertain terms that, as independent Boards, they just might have a wider remit of responsibility to the public, as opposed to just following government orders?  

Saturday 24 August 2013

Designed to Fail

So it looks like the end really is nigh with Probation Trusts apparently having been sent their winding-up instructions. They will all cease to exist by 31st March 2014, just 7 months away. Even the Chief of West Mercia, David Chantler, an enthusiastic supporter of TR, strikes a sad note in his blog, which I think is a bit rich as he seems to me to be one of the architects for our demise:- 

Look, I have used the term PbR with no negative connotations, in fact our willingness to engage with many of the elements of Transforming Rehabilitation have brought some interesting comment in the twittersphere about the extent to which we are colluding in our own demise. I'll go further than that; we have had positive comment from unlikely sources including the Institute for Government, from CLINKS, from NCVO etc. about our inclusive commissioning model.

And yet we have now had the communication kicking off the close down process. Like any bad thing that you knew was going happen it's not a surprise at one level, we have never underestimated the intention to make Transforming Rehabilitation happen, but when it actually comes, and you open the email to read the details, it's still a bit like seeing the disappointing exam results in black and white for the first time, perhaps not an experience that many of you reading this share but hopefully you get my drift.

Already many colleagues are reporting unease and rumours concerning the 'paper' split of staff between the 'top offender managers' and the rest. As far as I know, it's not supposed to involve named individuals but rather posts instead, but that strikes me as a bit of an optimistic proposition that ignores human nature. As many have already observed, there's going to be an almighty row if selection is going to be attempted without a competitive interview process, not least in order to satisfy employment legislation. Lots of grievances guys!

As I've already mentioned, the MoJ will begin the commissioning process for new probation providers in the middle of next month, and Ian Lawrence, Napo's General Secretary, seems to be telling members that their interests are being looked after by lots of behind the scenes negotiations:-

It's the job of any responsible Trade Union to promote and protect the interests of its members in all eventualities, and everyone knows that despite the progress of our campaign and the prospect of industrial action, Napo must prepare for the grim prospect that Graylings 'grand guignol' farce might get onto the statute books and be implemented by the next election. 

If it does then our members won't thank us for not having done all in our power to have tried to secure the best possible arrangements for those who may want to leave and those who have to remain. That's why your negotiating team of Tom Rendon, Mike McClelland and myself have been heavily engaged (it seems like forever) in discussions with the MoJ, Ministers and the NNC to try and secure a framework agreement that guarantees the protections that we know you would want to see in place. 

I'm sure that will reassure members, not, but in the middle of all this, where a casual outside observer might feel that the government knew what it was doing and things were likely to get better as a result of this whole TR saga - because you only institute change on this level to make things better don't you - up pops a blog post that says it's actually all designed to make things worse.

Mathew Taylor of the RSA makes some very interesting points regarding the failings of Payment by Results, the almost total lack of any evidence that shows it works and in fact is quite likely to make things worse instead. He suggests that far from being a sign of complete incompetence, it could all be part of a cunning plan:- 

This could be seen as mere incompetence but there may be a more subtle explanation of the Government’s apparent insouciance about the likelihood of its scheme delivering better outcomes. After all, a similar an attitude is visible in its relaxed response to underwhelming performance of the Work Programme.

Consider four points:
(1) For perfectly intellectually respectable reasons, many Conservatives are sceptical of the state’s ability to spend money wisely and achieve social improvement.
(2) Even defenders of state provision recognise that much public spending goes on ‘dead weight costs’; things which would have happened sooner or later without  state intervention. For example, many released prisoners would not re-offend even if left entirely to their own devices, many unemployed people would get jobs without employment services.
(3) We continue to face a major squeeze on public spending, one which is worsened by the long list of cuts considered to be off the table because of their potential political toxicity.
(4) Nevertheless, it is hard, in the face of social problems, for ministers to defend a ‘there’s nothing I can do’ position without looking complacent or ineffectual (one reason why the state grows even under Tory Governments).
The medium term outcome of delivering services through payment by results while also cutting per capita spending on those services may be to highlight that public spending at the levels the taxpayer is willing to fund is simply not efficacious.
Thus if PbR fails to deliver better outcomes, gradually, ministers may find it easier to  divest themselves of various public policy responsibilities. To those who argue that such an approach is an abnegation of responsibility, the Government can point to the continuing existence of low performing PbR schemes and invite critics such as charities to put their money where their mouth is by becoming a provider themselves.
Opponents of outsourcing focus on the transfer of public funding and assets to the private and not for profit sectors. Critics of PbR worry that it may not lead to improvements in outcomes. But perhaps both are missing the point. The longer term, deeper impact of introducing payment by results in a context of austerity may be to provide a rationale for an unprecedented narrowing of the social outcomes for which Government accepts responsibility.    

Friday 23 August 2013

Democracy Under Threat

I sometimes wonder if the political class in this country think the Electorate are basically thick, because there really can't be any other explanation for the content of the draft Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill.

Described by the TUC as "an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship"  a press release explains:-

The Bill makes three changes to the regulation of campaigning by non-party organisation in the 12 months before a general election. Breaching these will become a criminal offence. The three changes are:

* Changing the definition of what counts as campaigning. At present only activities designed with the intent of influencing an election result are regulated. The Bill will instead regulate activity that may affect the result of an election. As any criticism of government policy could affect how people vote, this will severely limit any organisation's ability to criticise government policies in the run up to an election - not just unions, but charities, NGOs and local campaign groups too.

* Reducing the spending limit for third party campaigners to £390,000. The amount that third party campaign groups can spend in the year before an election is reduced by more than half to £390,000.

* Including staff time and office costs in expenditure limits. Presently only the costs of election directed materials and activities such as leaflets and advertisements are regulated.

The Bill proposes that staff time and other costs should now be included in the limit. 

As the costs of all organisations involved in an event are added together and this total counts against the limit for each group involved, the TUC's 2014 Congress, or a national demonstration, would not just take the TUC over the annual limit but each member union. While the TUC's Congress will be regulated, political party conferences are given an exemption in election spending limits.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's an open secret at Westminster that this rushed Bill has nothing to do with cleaning up lobbying or getting big money out of politics. Instead it is a crude and politically partisan attack on trade unions, particularly those who affiliate to the Labour Party.  

"But it has been drawn so widely that its chilling effect will be to shut down dissent for the year before an election.  No organisation that criticises a government policy will be able to overdraw their limited ration of dissent without fearing a visit from the police.

The Bill was published as Parliament broke up for the summer, and is to be debated as soon as MPs return with a second reading on 3 September. The Committee stage will take place on the floor of the House the week after - the same time as the TUC's 2013 Congress.

The government has broken pledges that the lobbying bill would be published in draft form and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Select Committee.  Even though the restrictions on third party campaigning make the Bill a constitutional measure, there has been no consultation process or cross-party talks.

It's not just the TUC that smell a rat in this shabby bill. 38 Degrees, the brilliantly successful campaigning group, think the bill is aimed at reigning in their activities as well:-

The government’s rushing through a new law which, if it passes, will stop us running the type of campaigns which have made us who we are. The campaigns which have saved our forests, fought privatisation in the NHS, and defeated the snoopers' charter. The campaigns which have seen 1.7 million of us act together, locally and nationally, for over four years. In fact, if the new law passes, and we continue campaigning as we do now, the office team could even risk being sent to jail

The law's called the 'Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill'. And if it goes through without any changes, it’ll wipe out our campaigning by slashing what we can spend during the year before elections. Not just general elections, either. Local elections, European elections and referendums, too.

People power is at the heart of 38 Degrees. We don't spend too much, but our campaigns do cost money. Without being able to spend - employing staff, buying billboards, or printing leaflets about where politicians stand on local issues - we just won’t be able to make the issues which matter to us all, like the NHS and fair taxation, top of the agenda at the next election.

The three main political parties have a combined membership of around 433,000. There are 1.7 million of us. Per member, the parties would be able to spend over £130 - 38 Degrees would be able to spend around 23p. Put simply, this will make it hard to influence the next election, and every one after that.

It’s not clear whether this law is just badly written, or if the government is simply fed up of being criticised - but it’s a huge threat. And it doesn’t only affect us: from big charities to tiny single-issue campaigns, the sector is scared and furious.

The government’s trying to slip this through with as little fuss as possible. Not only did they introduce it on the day before MPs knocked off for the summer, they also tied it into a whole raft of other new rules on lobbying. And some of the new rules, like the register of lobbyists, are things we’ve been pushing for, although they’re not yet strong enough. We still hope to campaign for tighter controls on dodgy lobbying - but before that, we have to fight to make sure we're not silenced during elections.

I'm pretty clear that the political class are rattled by the power of the internet and organisations like 38 Degrees ability to mount campaigns. The old political party system is waning and politicians of all persuasions don't like it. If we'd have woken up to the changes in democratic processes earlier, I think we might have been able to stop the privatisation of probation. 

We didn't though and there was too little time for a campaign to gain traction involving a little-known and understood public service, in stark contrast to the reaction over possible privatisation of the Fire Service. Too late for us, but lets make sure it's not too late for other campaigns. Join 38 Degrees or write to the minister involved, Chloe Smith MP. A comprehensive list of other great campaigns can be found here. 

PS As reported in Civil Society today, major charities are concerned and have written to the minister through NCVO.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Omnishambles Update 16

Since the last update we've had the debate triggered by John Steele, Chair of Surrey and Sussex Probation Trust, basically telling us that we all had to jolly well stop fighting the omnishambles and just get on with the government's wishes. It strikes me that if this is the typical view of so-called independent Probation Trusts, then they were a pretty useless feature if they see their function as to merely do what any government wants.

Ok there always has to be the exception to the rule and before Joe Kuipers, Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, presses the tweet button, I'd better confirm that he and his Trust do indeed seem to be ploughing a rather different furrow. As regular readers will be aware, Joe Kuipers has been conspicuously taking an individualistic approach to the whole unfolding omnishambles and regularly publishes via his blog as much information as I guess he dares.

It also transpires that it would seem the Freedom of Information request concerning the secret MoJ TR Risk Register originates from his Trust Board and I'm pleased to say that an appeal against the refusal to publish has now been lodged. I'm no lawyer, but the precedent quoted indicates to me that it has a good chance of success. I have to say that it's extremely sad to see only one Trust taking such robust action, all the others including John Steele's having seemingly caved in and now in the process of just 'following orders'.

To be honest I'd have rather have seen Napo taking such action, but no such luck. You really do begin to wonder what the hell is going on at Napo HQ and I know for a fact that many active members are getting fractious with the leadership about, well, a lack of leadership!

If something doesn't happen soon, the AGM at Llandudno is going to be an even more unpleasant experience than I was envisaging, post the shenanigans earlier this year. I've seen a memo from Chivalry Road that talks of "negotiations being frenetic and fast moving". I thought Napo was supposed to be fighting all this, not 'negotiating' it, or have I got that wrong? Sadly members seem to have given up using the forum with nothing posted since August 15th.    

For some time Prof Senior has been saying that he felt the biggest winners from probation privatisation would be the mostly anonymous facilities management outsourcing companies, like Interserve and Mitie. Here's what Interserve's boss was saying recently to City AM about his expansion plans:- 

Another part of the spending review that could have big implications for Interserve is the possibility of cuts at the Ministry of Justice.

Interserve has already been at the sharp end of such savings drives, as one of several firms applying to take over Durham Prison when the MoJ took bids last year. The government opted to keep the jail when it became clear the project would not deliver the cost cuts and upgrades it hoped for.
“The way we’ve chosen to look at it is while it’s frustrating, it’s given us the opportunity to build a team, get known, develop some competency and to have a couple of more years of learning before we go for the big one.
“So, am I trying to put a polish on a disappointment? Yeah, probably I am. We would have loved to have got some business out of that experience. The fact that nobody did makes it a slightly less bitter pill to swallow.”
He is now in discussions about taking on some of the probation service, which the MoJ aims to privatise in autumn 2014.
Ringrose is also weighing up options for “between £150m and £200m of firepower to develop the business”, funded from the leftover windfall from selling PFI assets as well as debt facilities. Even more money could be found if the deal was compelling.

This is what a commentator said recently on this blog about such companies:-

"Be sure that they're certainly there to make a profit. But also be sure that the only ones that will profit are the huge outsourcing companies. I'm sure that many employed in the public sector for any period of time, however savvy they may be, have no idea how savage, corrupt, and unethical outsourcing has become. And I mean no offence by that, but however bad you may perceive it to be, it's worse. Unfortunately, I think anyone entering the private sector from probation who has any moral substance are going to be both shocked and appalled."
According to Leicestershire Napo, it looks like Mitie are getting into bed with Leicestershire and Rutland Probation Trust to form a mutual called Momentis. I seem to remember Mitie were really crap at organising a probation property management contract in the past, but clearly they now think they can make a better job of running the whole show instead. According to the Financial Times:-

Mitie, which is this week providing catering services at the Chelsea Flower Show, also provides facilities management services for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service in the south of England. It is now planning bids for the justice department’s new facilities management contracts in prisons, as well as £500m of probation services that are expected to come up for tender later this year.

According to this MoJ press release, LRPT were one of a number of trusts selected to share £500,000 of government money to set up mutuals, along with Cumbria, Lancashire and Merseyside, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, West Mercia and Warwickshire, Kent and Sussex and Surrey, Essex and finally London. We also know West Yorkshire are setting up a mutual.  
On the subject of mutuals, it seems as if Gloucestershire PT have persuaded 90% of the staff to go for a mutual, but I'm very unclear as to the degree and nature of staff consultation both here and elsewhere. In fact this whole issue has attracted the attention of the TUC as reported here on Civil Society:- 
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: “Increasing numbers of employees are leaving the public sector through the government’s mutualisation programme, often against their will.

“The mutuals that are being formed often don’t meet the democratic and open criteria of genuine co-operatives. In fact, many are simply privatised services under the cover of mutuals.

“These new entities will give controlling stakes to investors rather than workers and allow important public institutions to be taken over by large for-profit providers.

There are those of course who believe that mutuals are just Trojan horses enabling the big boys to gain control a bit further down the line, should any gain contracts that is.

Finally, it looks like Capita are likely to be the major winners in the new electronic tagging contracts. Now aren't they the outfit that are currently doing a brilliant job providing interpreting services to HMCTS?  

PS - Here's an interesting article in today's Independent suggesting that G4S and Serco are running rings round the MoJ mandarins. 

PPS  - The omnishambles competition will be launched officially during the second half of September.  

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Resistance is Futile!

Sorry, but I just couldn't resist the title - 'resistance is futile!' It helps keep our film analogies going, and it also got a mention at the Brighton Napo public meeting last week by Professor Paul Senior. Oh, and we know it's what Probation Board Trust members think because John Steele told us recently. They also think it down at MoJ/NOMS HQ, so all very good reasons to completely ignore the instruction, take inspiration from Captain Kirk and, keep the shields up and boldly go!

There's no doubt in my mind that Paul Senior is rapidly becoming the significant and authoritative voice of dissent on behalf of the Probation Service. His speech at the Brighton public meeting can be viewed here and although only 24 minutes in length, it's a tour de force. He says it all and why this really is a dangerous omnishambles that has to be resisted by all available means.

He pours scorn on the lack of evidence, the ignoring of all reasoned and united professional opinion and the reckless speed of TR's introduction, despite an 80% risk of failure and possible harm to victims and the public. The boundaries of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies bear no relation to any other, nor do the six arbitrary English sectors of the new National Probation Service. This latter Service will be so small and stretched that 'Local Delivery Units' may well have to cover whole counties FFS! 

Prof Senior reminded us that of course we've been here before. Despite the MoJ press release saying that Mike Maiden was the first Director of the NPS, he is in fact the fourth because we were nationalised in 2001 when Ethnie Wallis was appointed the first Director. Ok that might be splitting hairs because we were then de-nationalised when the present independent trusts were set up, but it does serve to remind everyone just how much the politicians have pissed us about.

In less than 13 years we've been nationalised, bureaucratised, regionalised, marginalised, de-nationalised, localised, and shortly to be split in two, abolished, part-privatised and nationalised for the second time. It's crazy, scandalous and an utter omnishambles! No wonder everything feels to be going wrong and many of us have started reflecting on just how the hell we ended up in this mess?

It's a long and complicated story with many players, and I suspect like so much in politics, elements of chance, personal prejudice and poor judgement have played their part. Prof Senior reminded us what Ethnie Wallis said to Home Secretary David Blunket the first time the NPS was set up and she unwisely signalled an ultra-passive stance:- 'we're here to do what ever you want'.  

As I find myself cataloguing and commenting on the destruction of a job and profession I feel passionately about, I naturally dwell quite a bit on how and why its all gone wrong. It's so unfair and illogical, but it's happening. Is it cock-up or conspiracy? Is it deliberate or accidental? Is it structural or personal?

As part of the search for the answers I've read quite a few academic explanations and been made all-too-painfully aware of the political neoliberal context, but it still doesn't really help explain it, until that is some colour is added, and that colour comes from the individuals involved of course, like the Ethnie Wallis David Blunkett anecdote. I recall the apocryphal story of another arse of a Home Secretary Jack Straw going ape upon discovering a copy of Radical Non-intervention by Edwin M. Schur on a hapless PO's bookcase. He used that apparently as evidence as to why we needed reigning-in. 

I well remember we were all horrified when, as a result of the shot-gun marriage between the Probation and Prison Service in order to create NOMS, we discovered that virtually all the top key management positions went to former Prison Service staff. Of course it was ludicrous to force two such differing cultures together, or possibly deliberate? But the effect was that 'nice' probation management stood no chance against that from the hard-nosed prison service.

It now transpires, through gossip that I gather was conducted in that very strange male bonding opportunity provided by the need to visit the gents, that the then Director-General Phil Wheatley was happy to confide that all the probation managers were basically 'wankers' and would only get top positions 'if they were up to it'. We never had any hope did we, once we'd been swallowed up into NOMS and put at the mercy of the Prison Service?

It's funny, but the urinal moment has happened to me once in my career when I found myself stood next to a particularly charmless and none-too-bright Chief who proffered the observation that 'role boundaries between PO's and PSO's were outdated and it was all going to change'. Of course the arse went on to prosper and rumour has it he's still influencing things at a high level.   

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Voices From the Front

Two recent contributions to the Prisoners Families Voices website caught my eye, and I hope the authors don't mind me quoting one in full, and the first part of a second. By the way PFV, congratulations on passing the one millionth visitor!

When my fella was in prison for 7 years, I found it impossible to communicate with his probation officer. He was passed from pillar to post to a different probation every 6 months or so. All I know was when I rang probation on behalf of my fella, I was passed over to some probation officer who didn't know a thing about him. No offence, because there is none intended personally to anyone who is a probation officer, but how on earth does swapping and changing probation officers contribute to rehabilitation? It doesn't because even though they have a piece of paper with details about the offender in front of them, that does not mean that they actually know that person and their capabilities and strengths to set them on the right path after they are released from prison. I must say that I think probation has gone worse. Personally I really do not see the point of having them and I say this because I have been with my fella to probation and quite honestly it is a waste of travel money to get there, Probation appointments are not productive at all and it is basically a place offenders go to sign on like people sign on at the dole queue. There is little time spent with the offender so what really is the whole point of this service?

To the Editor. I know it has probably said umpteen times, but I would like to voice my opinion on Probation. I am an ex offender and I have turned my life around no thanks to them. I did get on with my probation officer, but that's all I did, exchanging pleasantries, because what choice do you have but to shut up, put up and maintain your liberty. I never missed a probation appointment and always made sure I was on time. I too saw different probation officers time over and they did not have a clue who I was and what I was all about. Nor did they ever ask me what my intentions were concerning employment. Many a time I wanted to ask my assigned probation officer exactly what his job was because all I saw was mountains of paperwork and files. I could see he was snowed under so I kept my opinions to myself. As I said, I didn't hold anything against him, he was doing his job and was a decent bloke when all is said and done.

Regular readers will know that these sentiments have been voiced many times before on the PFV website and all seasoned PO's will know only too well that they have a distinctive ring of truth about them. I've responded in the past and tried to explain what some of the reasons might be, not least because many of us share the same frustrations being voiced. As it happens, the following is a recent contribution from a PO to this blog and gives some insight into what's going on across the other side of the desk:-

"management working hard to ensure staff are being treated as fairly as possible?" 
After 27 years service I was put on competence procedures yesterday. 84 clients to supervise and encourage to do their best by the courts their victims their communities and themselves and desist from the harm they do to each of those sections in society. Entrenched alcohol and drug users, domestic violence and safeguarding children cases, mental health and in some cases extreme violence in their history. But warned that if I don't stop doing one to one work and start producing eight layer 3 oasys reports a week and keep up to date with the 84 inputting into the n delius tracking system (cheaper than tagging I suppose) I will be sacked for being incompetent. What's fair about that? Meanwhile those staff that are being encouraged to form mutuals are doing just that without the bother of the moral minority trying to uphold this once great service's values and beliefs, we are far too busy with our workloads and distracted by the competence procedure to see how far on they are in feathering their own nests.

The really sad truth of the matter is that the job has become increasingly impossible under the suffocating requirements of shit computer systems such as OASys and now Delius. I would have added National Standards, but although now relaxed thank goodness, the legacy 'tick box' culture and micro-management remains, together with intolerable caseloads due to colleagues 'jumping ship' before the TR omnishambles hits us. But on top of all this we now seemingly also have some management feeling the need to make an impact, improve their prospects as TR approaches and demonstrate 'effectiveness'.

Two further recent PO contributions on the subject of middle management indicate how 
fractious things are getting as the omnishambles rumbles on:-

I agree re dumbing down of SPO's - it reflects the target driven ethic, where ticking the boxes is all that matters. Many PO's are more able than their SPO, its just that they cannot bring themselves to do the mindnumbing corporate thingy + lose client contact. In my experience over 20 + years the best SPO's led by example, working longer and harder than the team and putting the interests of the client, and in turn wider society at the centre of considerations. This did not ignore risk and public protection issues. It was always about the relationship with clients as a base from which to promote change. Sadly these days we are too busy ticking the boxes with far too many "cases" to stand a chance of developing meaningful work. This said I'm sure there are some colleagues who are able to do good work sometimes in spite of the often meaningless target/tick box constraints.

Yes, and some SPO's, willing to climb the greasy pole, but not shrewd, or bright enough to follow Mr Grayling's maniacal mission, for fear they would be found out....are now looking to extend their CV's in other ways - surprisingly some SPO's are asking to do SDR's, not to lighten the load, but as a flat rate report; thereby, improving their future prospects, leeching onto those who know how to write such documents, asking for advice and then, as if by magic being in two places at once - i.e. being paid to write a PSR at HMP local, whilst being paid for being the only available SPO available to an entire office. I've said it before, no brains, no dignity, no integrity and no bottle. For all their detached disdain for the Probation Service, those managers going upward in this new world, are likely to be the really ruthless and ambitious one's, who from experience are the most dangerous. 

Monday 19 August 2013

More Bubb

I love Bubb's Blog and find it the perfect amusing antidote to normal blogs. Bubb obviously feels that the purpose is to record his thoughts for posterity and reader contributions are most unwelcome. The comments section is superfluous as he never reads or responds, so virtually no one ever bothers. Apart that is for the now infamous post 'Shawcross brings sector into disrepute' in response to the new Charity Commission's Chairman having a go at charity CEO's and their high salaries. 

Bubb's defence of charity CEO's high salaries included the oft-repeated statement that 'donors aren't bothered about the issue', which sort of belies the numerous negative comments that were left by disgruntled donors on that post. Of course in typical arrogant fashion Bubb's response was to delete the whole thing, together with all comments. He's made no further reference to its disappearance, so we must assume that either he now feels it was a little misjudged, or his members do. There's certainly been a few charities that have found donors walking as a result.

Anyway, Bubb has clearly been pleasantly surprised with the increased readership of his blog, and the media continue to take a keen interest in his tireless activities on behalf of his members. I notice that the Independent picked up on the Open Democracy revelations concerning Bubb's enthusiastic lobbying of the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in order to make sure there are lots more privatisation opportunities for his charity members. 

The charity and voluntary sector make up over a third of the UK private healthcare sector, and according to Sir Stephen Bubb represent a ‘bigger player’ than people think. Bubb told a 2010 voluntary sector conference "The third sector could grow by £2bn a year by 2015, just through increased involvement in offender rehabilitation and public health."

Shortly after coming into power the government met with the CBI to discuss privatisation strategy. Leaked minutes revealed that Francis Maude told the group that transferring services at least initially to “charities, social enterprises and mutuals” would be more “palatable” and carry less “political risk” than “wholesale outsourcing to the private sector”. However in reality charities cannot compete against the financial muscle of the private sector. Research conducted by campaign organisation the NHS Support Foundation shows that since April 1st this year 100 clinical services worth £1.5 billion have largely gone to commercial companies. Last month the Bain Consultancy revealed how private sector companies are now engaged in an ‘arms race’ to win £5bn of National Health Service contracts. Third sector advocates should learn from the experience of Surrey Central Health, where a much lauded transfer of NHS services to a “social enterprise” led within a couple of years to a takeover by Virgin, who were better able to raise bond finance.

Recent failings from private companies such as Serco fiddling data for their out of hours service, or G4S overcharging on their contracts, has done nothing to diminish the speed with which outsourcing is taking place. However, as the list of private outsourcing failures grows, the government will increasingly appreciate being able to emphasise the 3rd sector as a more palatable alternative, even if their involvement is not sustainable. In fact, David Cameron has already turned towards the voluntary sector in his hour of need. When asked by Ed Miliband who supported the government’s legislation he cited Bubb’s ACEVO.
Does Bubb’s vociferous support for privatisation benefit the 1,500 ACEVO membership of charity leaders (the members of whom are currently hidden from public view)? Or does it ultimately benefit the members of the NHS Partners Network, whose membership includes Virgin Care, United Health UK or Care UK?
I thought it misguided for the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph to dwell on Bubb's Labour roots because in reality he's simply an arch opportunist just as happy cuddling up to the Tories as any other party. Wikipedia has this to say:-
From March 2011 to June 2011 Bubb was seconded to the Department of Health, as part of the team leading Andrew Lansley's National Health Service (NHS) "listening exercise".
Bubb is regarded as close to the UK government led by David Cameron, with his longstanding advocacy of charities replacing public services chiming with their policy of promoting competition and privatisation in areas such as healthcare. He has described criticisms of privatisation as belonging in the "last century". Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh has described Bubb's role in the NHS listening exercise as that of a "Trojan horse" whilst Anthony Barnett, of Open Democracy, has accused him of providing "charitable astroturfing for government policies" 
For those interested, here is Bubb campaigning again on his blog trying to make sure that his members get a big slice of probation work as part of the Rehabilitation Revolution Omnishambles. I wonder which party will end up giving Bubb his hard-won Peerage? 

Finally, thanks to Mike for pointing out that Hugh Muir of the Guardian is following the Bubb saga:-

Brotherly love is sometimes hard to find in the charity world and with the rivalry between the chief executives of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) one moves into Cain and Abel territory. But it's round two to the NCVO's Sir Stuart Etherington who seems to have got the upper hand over Sir Stephen Bubb of ACEVO. Bubb has been making waves saying charity hot shots should be paid the going rate, meaning £100,000 plus. In front of a Commons committee last year he and Etherington were involved in a public spat, with NCVO taking the prudent line. Now Etherington has set up an inquiry with the Charity Commission to draw up guidelines on senior pay. It seems likely to conclude that big money is unnecessary and Bubb is wrong. Still, things could be worse: ministers could start asking why the voluntary orgs need two membership organisations both led by well-paid knights, especially now that they share the same offices. One prays they won't.