Saturday, 3 August 2013

West Yorkshire Love Match

News reaches me that following a period of speed dating, Sue Hall, the CEO of West Yorkshire Probation Trust and Chair of the PCA, has chosen Prospects as their preferred partner in forming a 'mutual' in order to bid for their own work in the coming dutch auction. In a breathlessly upbeat announcement to staff she says:- 

We’ve recently met with a number of potential partners for our staff mutual, each from very different backgrounds and each having very different strategic objectives for the criminal justice sector.

We embarked on a rigorous selection process which scored all potential partners on the following essential criteria, that:
  • they have a vision for delivery and a bid strategy that reflects our aspirations. This includes the ability for the partnership to be competition ready by the proposed date of announcement 23 August.
  • they have experience in the delivery of public sector contracts with Payment by Results mechanisms such as the Work Programme.
  • they are sufficiently resourced to bring financial and bid development capability to the partnership.
  • they will enhance the reputation of the partnership and both sets of employees will recognise the synergy between each individual partner’s organisational values.

We are confident that we have selected the right partner in an organisation called Prospects. They presented some really exciting ideas and propositions as well as demonstrating understanding in areas in which we lack expertise. They scored highly on each of our criteria and demonstrated their knowledge and experience effectively.

They felt like a safe pair of hands and most importantly I feel that are best placed to allow us to keep the values of West Yorkshire Probation Trust into Transforming Rehabilitation.

We plan to have finalised the partnership arrangements by mid August at the latest. We’ll then start exploring how we work collaboratively in developing a credible and winning bid for the delivery of rehabilitative services in West Yorkshire.

Sue goes on to explain a bit about Prospects, including an enthusiastic statement from it's chairman Ray Auvray:-

Prospects is a mutually-owned, large company, working nationally and internationally in partnership with public, private and voluntary sector organisations, managing and delivering employment, education and training services.
  • Their mission is to inspire success for individuals and organisations.
  • Their values are; delivering excellence, working together, embracing change while valuing staff, equality and diversity.
  • Prospects achieved a turnover of £71.9m in 2011-2012, employs 2,000+ staff in more than 70 local authority areas, from 60+ bases.
Their contracts are mainly in the public sector, with local authorities, Skills Funding Agency, Ofsted, Department for Education, Department for Work & Pensions, other government departments and agencies, non-governmental public bodies, colleges and schools.
  • Prospects’ services and projects are usually output-related and evidence-based, and have annual values from less than £10,000 to several million.

Ray Auvray, Prospects Executive Chairman, says

“I am delighted West Yorkshire Probation Trust has chosen Prospects as a partner. Prospects has extensive experience in working with service users to turn their lives around by preparing them for life after prison with a sustainable job. We are excited at the opportunity to develop innovative ways of delivering successful rehabilitation programmes with colleagues in West Yorkshire. We believe that Prospects’ specialist knowledge of training and employment will be an important ingredient in radical new approaches to supporting those leaving custody.”

For further information on Prospects visit
They’re on You Tube and Twitter @ProspectsGroup if you can access.

I fully endorse this partnership and look forward to seeing it develop. The partnership between the new mutual and Prospects has my full support and I wish it the best of luck.

This sort of courtship ritual must be going on in secret up and down the country. When Sue talks about the royal 'we', I have no idea who she is referring to. It would be interesting to know who was in on the negotiating team. There's no doubt that with the deadline of mid August fast approaching for partnership arrangements to be in place, we're going to see an awful lot of similar strange relationships formed between some unlikely bedfellows.

So, what do we know about Prospects, and are they indeed a 'safe pair of hands?' They started out rather surprisingly as the careers advice service in South London when employees from three London Boroughs joined forces and a staff-owned company was 'spun off' in 1996 under the leadership of former Liberal Democrat councillor Ray Auvray. The official website

Prospects is an employee owned, mutual company, working nationally and internationally in partnership with public, private and voluntary sector organisations, managing and delivering education, employment and training services.  Prospects has thrived through our responsiveness to the needs of our customers and the external environment, as well as being at the forefront of innovation.

The business is owned by a partnership between the employees and Prospects. The employees own 75.1% of the business, giving them a controlling stake. Prospects has a 24.9% share and brings capital and business expertise needed to make the business grow. 

Under Tony Blair's government Prospects won several employability contracts, including New Deal and under the coalition government in 2010 won a £71 million contract to undertake Ofsted's early years inspections. As New Deal was phased out, they were rewarded with becoming the Work Programme 'prime' contractor in the South West worth £50 million. They seem to have grand expansionist plans and here we see Mr Auvray glad-handing the Saudi's last year.

Now as we know, employability programmes, including the Work Programme have not been a huge success, and as this article from the Morning Star makes clear, Prospects have had their little difficulties:- 
But when Ofsted inspected its schemes for the unemployed, it was less enthusiastic.
Ofsted didn't give any of the eight Prospects schemes it inspected a top mark. Two were graded "good," but six got the second-lowest possible mark.
They were marked "satisfactory" - a grade Ofsted now describes as "requires improvement." Two of these originally got the lowest grade, "unsatisfactory."
In 2006 Prospects' "Nextstep" outreach programme for the London unemployed was marked "unsatisfactory."
Inspectors found that "too few clients move into learning and employment following their advice sessions."
It slammed the service, saying: "The overall effectiveness of provision at London North Nextstep is inadequate. Achievements, standards and the quality of provision are inadequate. Leadership and management are inadequate, as is quality improvement."
In 2007 inspectors found Prospects' Somerset New Deal scheme "unsatisfactory."
The firm managed to improve to "satisfactory" by 2008 but inspectors still found "low job outcome rates" and "insufficient programme planning to meet individual participants' needs."
Even "satisfactory" services looked weak. In 2010 inspectors looked at its Nextstep outreach scheme for the unemployed in London.
They gave the scheme the second-lowest mark - "satisfactory" - adding: "The progress outcome rate for gaining employment overall has been consistently low."A reinspection in 2011 found some progress for trainees but "the proportion entering employment remains low."
Despite these poor results, Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling gave Prospects the £50m Work Programme contract for the south-west.
Prospects doesn't have to worry about inspections any more - Grayling also stopped inspectors looking at the scheme.
Prospects now works inside what Grayling calls the "black box." Ministers believe contractors should be allowed to work on trainees without government interference.
They think simple financial incentives will make contractors get the unemployed into jobs.
So ministers don't want to look inside the contractors black box. But, with the lights out, contractors like Prospects Services let the unemployed be treated in dark and dismal ways.
Now it will be appreciated that I do not normally use the Morning Star as a source of published information on this blog, but the reference to 'dark and dismal ways' is a reference to an event that hit the national headlines only last year.
You will recall that it was Diamiond Jubilee year and the press got hold of the 'famously shafted jubilee stewards' story. Suddenly the media was full of harrowing stories of 30 unpaid jobseekers and 50 apprentices who had been dumped in London at 3am and told to sleep under a bridge. Well these people had been bussed up from the West Country and the company responsible was Prospects.
Now despite the negative inspections concerning their Work Programme contract, Prospects were generally upbeat and initially trumpeted the Jubilee wheeze:- 
Prospects says its "employment and training business performed extremely well" by "using innovative methods to tackle worklessness."
At one point Prospects Services was proud of the jubilee trip. It rushed out a press release about its Work Programme trainees "making a trip to London to take up duties as stewarding staff at Buckingham Palace," saying how Prospects was "helping our jobseekers with fantastic job opportunities and for them to be part of these really exciting events. Congratulations to everyone taking part."
So, why did it all go horribly wrong? Basically because in this brave new world of contracts and payment by results, clients have become commodities to be parked, creamed, milked and in some cases traded. Prospects had effectively 'sub-contracted' it's clients to a private security firm, who in turn had a contract to supply so many stewards at the Jubilee. 
We have to go back a bit further to understand the root cause of this shambles and an article from the Guardian in June 2012 explains it perfectly:- 
Indeed, only big firms could afford the cash it costs to make the opening bid. This leads to so-called monocultural situations in which companies spring up who only deal with government contracts (A4e, for instance has had millions of pounds of public money, and it never struck anyone as strange that nobody else wanted to employ it – although A4e claims it has contracts with the private sector, most of its income comes from government contracts). They become the only viable bidder, whose efficacy is rarely tested, and when it is it doesn't matter because they're – this old chestnut – too big to fail. The possibility of corruption, while it looms large, is actually only ancillary. The central problem is that it encourages companies to expand into areas in which they have no expertise and squeeze out smaller, often charitable enterprises already working in that area.
So, for instance, Prospects started off as a south London careers service. It won a £71m contract to do Ofsted's early-years inspections in 2010 (a reminder that outsourcing didn't start with the coalition). Then it got a work programme contract in the south-east worth £50m. Then it subcontracted its "clients", who became those famously shafted Jubilee stewards.
I use this example deliberately: as a firm with no shadow of a misdeed, just a lot of government money, for work it sometimes subcontracts and doesn't have to take responsibility for.
The key phrase seems to me to be "The central problem is that it encourages companies to expand into areas in which they have no expertise and squeeze out smaller, often charitable enterprises already working in that area." 
All over the country outfits similar to Prospects are going to be springing up, keen and eager to bid for 'rehabilitation' services, even though they will know next to nothing about such services. In a neat twist to this whole evolving omnishambles, it's Probation Trusts that now look like the bid candy. 


  1. Don't ever forget whatever contract results it is expected to cost 30% less that Probation is currently costing.

    It is also expected to fund all the costs of supervising every prisoner who is sentenced to less than twelve months for a whole twelve months and also to cover all the enforcement costs that result but presumably NOT the costs of the extra prison that results but the costs of getting a mentor to meet every prisoner at the prison at the moment of their release after having visited them pre release and building up a relationship with the prisoner.

    1. Absolutely. Whether 'mutuals' are going to be any better than other options is a moot point and as you indicate, there will almost certainly have to be redundancies in order to achieve a satisfactory bid. Sue didn't really want to dwell on that aspect did she?

    2. I liked the speed dating analogy. And as Tolkny has already noted, the happy couple will have to make substantial cuts to their household budget and the kids are going suffer. Presumably the Trust ran due dilligence checks on Prospect, so must know about the darker side to its character. But, what the hell, love is blind, though can one speak of love in what looks like a marriage of convenience, or maybe more apt, an arranged marriage, much against the true wishes of one of the betrothed.

    3. It's a bit like a new partner going out with a DV perp; they think it will never happen to them and believe all that the perp has said about it 'not being my fault'.

      It nearly always ends in tears :(

  2. There has been several references to films on this blog recently. Bladerunner and Brazil to be specific. Since childhood I've had a facination with the lord of the rings.
    Dark times are indeed upon us. The black riders have left their Whitehall palace and are busy scouring the shire for those who may side with the enemy. An army of Orcs are being mobilised beneath the dark towers of G4S and Serco, and the evil eye is ever watchful.
    There are Gollums and Worm tounges in abundance. Some speaking of great rewards, and others who can't sleep any more because of moral conflict between right and personal gain. The darkness is coming, and the time has come to find a ring bearer! More then this a fellowship is needed. All realms must unite to fight this dark ideology.
    It's not a war that Napo can win, because the war is not about probation only. It's about core values, the destruction of not just public services, but of a whole society. To stand any chance of stopping the on coming darkness, all unions must come together and stand not for their relative concern but for collective conscience.
    I believe the only way to halt or at least slow down this demonic government neoliberalistic ideology is through national strike action.
    Beware those who side with the dark lord! What will he do when you've served your purpose?

    1. Thanks for another film reference. It's certainly become clear to me that as you say this isn't a fight particularly about probation, it's a much wider one of political ideology. As a previous commentator has said, the public has never been given the opportunity to voice an opinion on the privatisation of public services. I think the time has come for us to demand that we have such a debate.

  3. These fly by night companies succeed by PRETENDING to deliver services. They process forms and tick boxes but the progress of clients remains unchanged. Superficial and ineffective. Ans, to be frank, shameless. They know this is all they offer and yet they remain arrogant. Trouble is, Probation staff spend every working day unpicking bullshit. Why do they think any of us will fall for the spin?

    1. You're right - but remember there was a period not that long ago when we were required to fill in forms and tick boxes - we were in the process of getting shot of that, only to find it's rearing its ugly head by a different route.

  4. A spokes-person for West Yorkshire Probation said today 'it will be like watching a f*cking clown run across a minefield, but hey, my job is safe'

  5. Its all so corrupt and depressing.

  6. Don't be too hard on management - they've mostly risen from probation ranks to become NOMS apparatchiks, blithely doing as they're told ("we were only following orders" - didn't work at Nuremberg and not working now) and now way out of their depth in the big bad private world. Proper CEOs must smile as they're introduced to yet another "CEO " of a provincial backwater of the criminal justice system. Game over I'm afraid.

  7. I would not bank on any job anywhere in Probation to be truly safe in the long term in the way mine was over 28 years from when I started in Merseyside and always gave of my best - except for the afternoon I played truant in 1982 when I learned that my job would go, with the end of the Hindley Neighbourhood Borstal scheme, along with the rest of the Borstals - the following year

    I went and saw Essex play at South Liverpool cricket ground, Aigburth and saw them playing Lancashire - when I got to the ground - I was not the only Merseyside PBN employee there!

    When I looked at the Napo vacancies bulletin a few weeks after and saw the job I went for in Essex I pictured myself going to see late evening play at either Chelmsford or Colchester - the office was in between - I have never been since - because as soon as I got to Essex it was back to long days except my journeys were though the countryside not up & down the Dock Road, Liverpool!

    No - the best days of probation are gone - thanks to the forefathers Rainer, Edridge, Bill Beaumont, Dave Mathieson, Clare Morris(Liverpool is always special to me) and hundreds more - I am sorry I did not do enough to keep the service growing into perpetuity.

  8. Back to a less sombre, albeit real appraisal of things - film analogies - how about my favourite -Assault on Precinct 13 ............the original, with those awful actors - but it was a charming take on the goodies being under siege, only to be assisted/saved by the (so called baddies, from within the besieged police station) - made me think about our Service Users! I think, at the end of the day, it will be our service users who scupper this ideological nonsence, as in the main they are clever, street wise, take no prisoners and unless, positively stroked (in an appropriately therapeutic way) will rise up and bring the whole crock of shite to its knees; a part of me, can't wait.

    Oh! Tolkny - don't beat yourself up about what you did and or could have done, I am absolutely sure you made a significant difference to the lives of those you worked with.

    1. Great - another film analogy - thanks for that. It's an interesting idea that clients will in the end scupper things, but I'm concerned at the price they will pay. One thing is for sure, many new players coming arriving on the scene will be on a very steep learning curve about our client group.

    2. I certainly got the impression at a recent meeting involving a potential new provider (long story, don't ask.....) that they sincerely believe that probationers will be grateful for the new 'all singing, all dancing' services they intend to provide. They clearly have no inkling of the tsunami of resentment heading their way from those prisoners who currently knock out their u12month custody in 1/2 the time, then away, but who will now be subject to a year's supervision! Good luck with that one folks, a tall order even for the most experienced staff. And let's not forget the likely resentment of present colleagues if they are TUPE'd over on reduced salaries/conditions, as I suspect may happen. A recipe for disaster, in my book.
      P S I struggled a bit coming up with a film analogy, but think we might be heading for our very own High Noon, if Napo get its finger out...........!!

  9. I do not 'beat myself up' but do think my generation of probation folk did not nurture the whole profession in the way our predecessors did and that we rather took its continuance for granted.

    I remember at the time of the SNOP, SLOP and STOP nonsense a relief spo in Essex talked about probation being a like a turning wheel and suggesting that the setbacks, as we saw it of the new political top down management, would go away again as the wheel turned - how wrong he was - we just did not challenge events enough especially after Advise, Assist and Befriend went and soon after the training was separated from social work training on the spurious basis that probation was about being tough with criminals not at all like social work, when we all know that individual social workers always had more authority over their clients with them being able to instigate removal of mentally ill people or children, whereas probation officers have only ever been able to instigate the removal of anyone who is already the subject of a judicial order.

    However, as Anonymous says at 18.32 that was then and we cannot turn the clock back - unless there is very real action now or soon, we will have to just hope the clients do bring the TR edifice down, but if it waits for them there will be great hurt and damage en route to good sense.

  10. Having just been looking around the net at Prospects it's board of Directors and other company interests, I'm left with an odd feeling.
    Some of their partenerships are forged with those that I'd consider to be pedeling 'Dr. Feelgood solutions' (one bottle of invented shite cures all), there's an IT company they've bought out that leaving assets aside show a bank ballance of £20, and there's other more conventional relationships.
    There are links to the lib dem party through the MD, and they have links with all Yorkshire prisons through the offender agenda. Obviously that would include the Serco run HMP Doncaster who are part of the governments pilot scheme for PbR !
    The feeling I'm left with is wheather or not the love match between West Yorkshire and Prospects is actually a result of speed dating as Jim mentioned, or is it a result of a quiet and unseen matchmaker?