Monday 30 September 2013

Why it Won't Work

As I write this, we are almost clear of the party political conference season with just the Tories to go. We've had the grubby deal stitched up between them and the Lib Dems, whereby in the middle of swingeing benefit cuts for the poor, the relatively well-off middle classes get free primary school lunches and tax rebates if they're married and both spouses are paying tax.

At a time of supposed austerity, it's surely an obscenity to be handing out such sums of taxpayers money as election 'sweeteners', especially where it isn't needed. This is seriously being proposed during a period of unprecedented welfare 'reform' that see the disabled committing suicide, claimants setting fire to dole offices, the low-paid increasingly queueing at food banks and people becoming ill with fear and worry.

At least Labour say they intend to abolish the Bedroom Tax if elected, but even they seem to have taken leave of their senses for promising to legislate away energy price rises for 20 months. It's madness and merely a ham-fisted attempt at buying votes.

I mention all this because the whole TR omnishambles hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of working simply because the government have ensured that the climate for encouraging rehabilitation has never been worse. Every one of the so-called welfare reforms that have been introduced impinges significantly on the very group that Chris Grayling feels will be encouraged to remain offending-free by a myriad of contractors incentivised by Payment by Results.

The government seem incapable of realising that the task is being made ever more impossible as a direct result of their ever more punitive policy decisions. Just look at what Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has in mind as a vote winner on top of the Bedroom Tax - a regime of punishment cynically called 'Help to Work' being introduced as part of his 'welfare war':-

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the Chancellor will unveil the full requirements of a £300m-a-year Help to Work programme starting next April. It will impose the most stringent conditions ever on the long-term unemployed as Mr Osborne pledges to end the option of “signing on as usual”. Instead, 200,000 people a year who have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for three years will lose benefits unless they take up one of three options after two years on the Work Programme:

Thirty hours a week for six months of community work such as making meals for the elderly, cleaning up litter and graffiti or charity work, plus 10 hours of “job search activity”.

Daily attendance at a jobcentre  to search for work instead of a  brief interview once a fortnight.

A mandatory intensive regime for claimants with underlying problems such as mental health, drug addiction or illiteracy.

People who refuse to take part will lose four weeks’ worth of benefit for their first breach of the rules and three months’ worth for a second offence.

It would seem that the Tories have decided that reverting to being the 'nasty' party might actually be a vote winner. I attended the AGM of a housing association recently and was told by their chief executive that the Tories say their Bedroom Tax is their most popular policy, so we have a clear indication of what's coming, and it's not pretty. The tone and language is already becoming alarming. Here we have Michael Gove saying it's people's own fault for having to resort to food banks as a result of poor budgeting and Eric Pickles telling an angry sexual abuse victim to 'adjust her medication'.  

As the experience from the Work Programme shows, no matter how much you offer in the way of financial incentives, if jobs aren't there and people are pretty much unemployable for a variety of reasons, fiddling the figures and cooking the books is what actually happens, and please note it's the staff on the front line who end up in court. 

Incredibly the government carries on believing that PbR is the answer, despite all the evidence to the contrary. In classic head in the sand denial mode, their answer is to punish the 'under-performing' providers and reward the others with more work. It all strikes me as reminiscent of the surreal world of doublespeak we now seem to inhabit where failing schools get less money, sick people are thrown off benefit as a way of ensuring 'they're not condemned to a life on benefit' and the unemployed are punished for not getting a job.  

The government seem to genuinely believe that contractors will be able to do the impossible, find people employment, accommodation, drug treatment, provide benefit and debt advice, counselling, health care and a hundred and one other things, all on less than the budget being spent at the moment, but with the increased numbers from the under 12 month custody people, and at the same time as squeezing benefits and imposing a punitive regime of tagging, drug testing and 'supervision'. 

Any organisation thinking of bidding for probation work ought to be fully aware that despite all the rhetoric and spin, every government policy from now till the next General Election will be designed to make the task of Transforming Rehabilitation as difficult as possible, and that's why it's an omnishambles of truly epic proportions in the making.                          

Monday 23 September 2013

A Break

I thought I'd just pen a few words and explain why I'm taking a break. One reason is that I'm tired and depressed - who wouldn't be with what's going on? I've also said a lot and there's always a danger of repeating myself endlessly. I can't be upbeat, because I'm not and I suspect being endlessly negative becomes wearing for both reader and author alike. 

The whole TR omnishambles is shit from beginning to end whatever gloss and upbeat spin the likes of Russell Webster put on it, and if there are still doubters out there, just have a look at the opening paragraphs of the Target Operating Model published last week by the MoJ:-

This Target Operating Model describes a system which will deliver a step change in the 
way we rehabilitate offenders, and which will lead to year-on-year reductions in 
reoffending. This system will implement the vision which the Secretary of State described 
in “Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform”.

The reformed system is designed to deliver more effective rehabilitation to more 
offenders, while ensuring that sentences of the court are carried out, the public is 
protected and taxpayers’ money is put to best use. It is a system in which innovation will 
be encouraged and success in reducing reoffending will be rewarded.

When I read cloud cuckoo land stuff like this I'm reminded of that famous Labour Party manifesto put together by poor old Michael Foot and described as the 'longest suicide note in history'. When it all falls apart and history comes to reflect on the great Grayling TR disaster, there will be this document that will bear testimony to the whole folly and no doubt form a considerable part of his political obituary.

Last Thursday 19th September was undoubtedly a high point for this blog with 2480 hits in 24 hours, powerfully demonstrating people's concern and worry and I feel tremendously honoured that so many people drop by to read my thoughts and views. I will continue to write, but only when I feel there is something essentially new to say, and hopefully when a more positive frame of mind has returned.

Sadly we've lost 'Save Probation', but there's a new kid on the block 'PoOfficer' and I would encourage people to follow them. Joe Kuipers continues to keep us up to date with valuable information from the inside and there's always Russell with the endless tweeting........   

Friday 20 September 2013

A Sad Day for Probation

Without doubt yesterday,19th September 2013, was a very sad day for probation because the minister responsible, Chris Grayling, advertised most of it for sale. Not just sad, but bizarre with the BBC 5 Live team thinking that Ben Gunn was the most appropriate person to invite to speak in defence of probation. 

Regular readers of his blog and endless tweeting will be fully aware that he is at best ambivalent about the Service and it's practitioners, and only last year was enthusiastically boasting about the likes of G4S courting his company.

I really begin to wonder about the standard of some BBC journalism. The topic was soon knocked off the rolling news agenda and yet again it didn't make it onto BBC Question Time last night. I despair to know what it takes to get the attention of the media and wider public to our plight.  

Anyway, the gun has been fired and the spin has got underway:-

A competition was launched today with more than 700 organisations from across the world looking to turn offenders’ lives around, as part of an annual £450 million package of rehabilitation contracts across England and Wales.
This includes hundreds of British organisations, employing many thousands of people, who are ready to get to work tackling our stubbornly high reoffending rates, that see almost half of all offenders leaving prison going onto reoffend within a year.
Voluntary sector organisations will play a big role in our plans, with 399 having expressed interest. Many Small and Medium Enterprises are also ready to link-up with other organisations to deliver our reforms. They sit alongside around 30 potential larger organisations ready to partner with smaller organisations to help break the cycle of reoffending.

Of course the reality is somewhat different with many organisations, particularly SME's wondering if it's worth the risk getting involved. People have long memories and some are still smarting from that other fiasco Grayling was involved in over at the DWP. Clive Martin CEO of Clinks writing in the Guardian explains:-

One outcome of the Work Programme that we surely all want to avoid is the detrimental effect on the hundreds of voluntary services dedicated to this essential work. Unsung, and perhaps even unknown by the public, the services provided by charities, community groups and social enterprises have been helping offenders desist from crime for decades. This is despite scarce resources which, as my charity Clinks found when we surveyed the sector in May, are growing ever scarcer.
The government says it is a core part of their vision that the prime providers will subcontract with voluntary services – and so we would expect from the architects of the "big society". But, as the fate of some Work Programme providers showed, small, not-for-profit organisations, like small businesses, simply cannot afford to carry the same risk of not being paid as large companies can – or the significant delays that PbR can entail.
Lets not forget that even those who support this whole TR omnishambles have grave doubts about the Payment by Result method of remuneration. Here is a comment from the former managing director of Serco Welfare to Work on the Social Market Foundation website:-  

The contracts, as currently proposed, will not incentivise investment in the extension/transformation of services to reduce reoffending. At best, they will maintain current levels – assuming it can be decided what measure of reoffending to apply, based on what geographies, tracked in what way. 
If a contractor takes over a probation area that is currently very successful, how can they be rewarded for performance improvement, when compared with a contractor taking over an area that is currently failing?
I do not believe contractors will cynically plan for an increase in recidivism, but they will not perceive these contracts as a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ – they are simply about the outsourcing of probation, with an emphasis on price competition. If there is any ‘value for money’ in the contracts, it will be derived from short-term savings at the risk of long-term rises in reoffending (and all the costs associated with that).
Of course this whole omnishambles is driven by ideology rather than evidence, and Chris Grayling confirmed this by choosing the Conservative Home blogsite to explain his reasoning and make the announcement ahead of the official MoJ press release:-
Today marks a major milestone in the development of our plans. There’s been enormous interest from both the private sector and the voluntary sector over the last few months. We’re now inviting them to state a clear interest in being part of our tendering process. And we’re setting out in much more detail how the new system will work. 
The Conservative Party will always take a tough line on crime. If we are not the party of law and order, we are nothing. But in the interests of our society and the victims of crime, we also need to understand the reoffending problem, and take real strides to solve it. That’s what these reforms are all about. 

Actually there are considerable risks involved to the public as all the unions, including Napo, explain in this article in the Independent. 

Amazingly, and by sheer coincidence on the same day the contracts were advertised, the MoJ also published a 'summary of evidence on reducing reoffending'. I must be honest and say that I haven't read it but I see Rob Allen has and he noticed it had this to say about Graylings oft-repeated plan for released prisoners to be met at the prison gate by 'old lags':-

It reveals that the effectiveness of mentoring – the apparent cornerstone of Grayling’s rehabilitative philosophy - is “mixed/promising”- not exactly a ringing endorsement.

This latest blog post by Rob Allen not only goes on to highlight the inherent dangers with Grayling trying to implement these fundamental changes without proper Parliamentary scrutiny, it also raises other spectres:- 
But what of the Major Projects Authority set up by the Coalition in the Cabinet office at the behest of the Public Accounts Committee to blow the whistle on such risks? Has it given the plans the green light and in particular had the chance to consider the impact of a policy which could give multi million pound contracts to companies being investigated for alleged fraudulent behaviour and potential overcharging on existing criminal justice programmes? What are the odds on the hapless Permanent Secretary of the MoJ being hauled over the coals by Margaret Hodge long after Grayling has moved on to answer for the wastefulness emerging from this  rushed and grandiose scheme.
Continuing with the theme of possible legal problems, I see that the shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has written to Chris Grayling in extremely forthright terms:-
Avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny could, I believe, have catastrophic consequences. By avoiding scrutiny, you risk risk implementing a set of proposals which have been insulated from the important transparency of the parliamentary process - debated, refined and improved with the support of outside expert advice. However, if you and your officials believe the 2007 Act does provide the necessary powers, then I call upon you to publish as a matter of urgency any legal advice that supports your decision. Any failure to do so will be interpreted as a snub to Parliament, an insult to due process and an abuse of parliamentary power. 
Finally, lets end this with a couple of heartfelt pieces from people on the frontline and their thoughts on the sad sorry saga, The first is an open letter to Chris Grayling from a regular tweeting probation officer, and one rather more charitable than myself. It begins thus:-

Dear Mr Grayling,
This blog is not going to be full of hate, it wont seek to discredit you at every opportunity but I just wanted to say a few things before you dismantle a service which has not only given me a career, it has also saved lives.
I truly hope you understand the gravity of the changes you seek to make and those that you assess as suitable candidate to take over our work, are up for the challenge. Those who work for Probation now do a fine job, in fact the Ministry of Justice say all Probation Trusts are either ranked good or excellent. We are not failing. This service relies on is the goodwill of staff who, on the whole, go above and beyond because this is the type of people that Probation attracts. I have witnessed staff coming into work the day before major surgery to make sure a parole report is finished, I have seen them give up their lunch for a hungry client. I have also seen them get into trouble with their manager for missing deadlines, all because they go above and beyond for the men and women we work with.
The other is a quote from a comment left yesterday on this blog:-
Well done Mr Grayling - the handiwork of your many predecessors (some of whom have since recanted & spoken out in favour of humanitarian intervention for the less fortunate in our society) has finally been brought to its natural conclusion and the last bastion of reasonableness in our society has been breached. Irrespective of the dodginess of the credentials of those bidding, you've finally managed to crush the last gasping breaths of humanity out of criminal justice system.
You've divided the probation staff of England & Wales into those who will work for a publicly funded service & those who will work for a variety of unknown quantities.
You've divided a cohesive & experienced staff group into those who will be at the mercy of whoever holds political power & those who will be at the mercy of unknown shareholders.
You've placed the futures of the vast majority of our most damaged and vulnerable population in the hands of the most ruthless and selfish, i.e. the shareholders of private enterprise.
You've placed the futures of our most dangerous population in the hands of political pawns, i.e the public 'servants' whose sole desire is to please their masters &/or further their own political careers.
You've devastated a profession that has been primarily vulnerable because of its innate honesty and honour; a profession that has never been focused upon meeting artificial targets or political ends; that has never been motivated by financial reward; that has never been desperate to be in the limelight. It was, until politicians got their grubby hands on it, a vocational profession wherein those who chose to join & practice did so for "good" rather than for "profit" or "gain".

Postscript - I nearly forgot, according to Simon Israel of Channel 4 news, both G4S and Serco are indeed being allowed to bid for some of the work, despite all the on-going investigations. This article provides a very helpful list of all the contracts being investigated worth a billion pounds in total. 

Thursday 19 September 2013

Dirty Tricks at the MoJ?

An interesting story has been brought to my attention concerning the Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust. On Tuesday this week the BBC news website carried an item headed Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust : 'improvements needed' :-

Concerns have been raised about the way offenders are managed in Devon and Cornwall following an inspection of the Probation Trust.

A report found the trust had worked well to protect the public and prevent reoffending but said further improvements needed to be made in assessment and planning.
It also said there was a lack of help for offenders with alcohol problems.
The inspection aims to assess if court sentences are delivered effectively.
It was the third of six inspections in which inspectors focus on the quality of work with violent offenders and whether this protects the public, reduces the likelihood of reoffending and provides a high quality service to courts and victims.
'Insufficient quality'Liz Calderbank, chief inspector of probation, said the Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust - which works with about 4,000 offenders each year - had worked "effectively" with other agencies in delivering offending-related work.
But she added: "There remains a need for further improvements in risk of harm assessments and planning."
Inspectors said they were concerned to find that:
  • The quality of initial sentence plans was not always sufficient - some were not sufficiently informed by the assessments about an individual's likelihood of reoffending or risk of harm
  • Alcohol misuse was usually recognised in the initial assessment, but interventions to address the problem should have been provided in more cases
  • An initial risk of serious harm screening was missing or not completed sufficiently well in a number of cases
  • Too many risk management plans were either not completed or were completed to an insufficient quality
Now the article goes on to highlight some positive aspects to the report, but by the time the average member of the public got to that bit, they could be forgiven for thinking that this was a pretty damning report by the Inspectorate. But the official DCPT website paints a rather different picture:-  
An Inspection of Adult Offending work in Devon and Cornwall, by Her Majesty's' Inspectorate of Probation, cites significant improvements in the work of Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust. The report highlights that public protection and reoffending work has improved significantly, with victim contact work done well and significant management of the risk of harm to victims and the safety of children promoted.
Said Rob Menary, Chief Executive of Devon and  Cornwall Probation Trust:-
"We are on a journey to continually improve quality, and this report reinforces the continuing progress that we are making. Most importantly, we have continued to reduce levels of reoffending, making Devon and Cornwall one of the safest places to live. We are not complacent, there are still a number of things we need to do better, and positive action to tackle inconsistency of practice in certain areas is a focus for our continuing improvement work.
Rob continues:-
This inspection focused on our management of violent offenders. In nearly nine out of ten cases, alcohol was a significant contributory factor and we are pleased that the inspectors commented on our work and the range of services for this group - many delivered in partnership with other community organisations. Our work with Children's Services and Safeguarding Boards to raise awareness of child protection / need issues, was positively commented on, and we were pleased that the confidence of staff to exchange data and work with social care cases was highlighted as a significant improvement. Public protection and reducing reoffending remain our key priorities. I would like to personally thank my staff for the hard work they are doing in these challenging times, and assure the public that we continue to do everything we can, along with others such as the police, to help keep them safe.
Many of these HMI reports are pretty much of a muchness, including this one 'great work has been done - but room for a few improvements', so the question we need to ask is, who was responsible for the briefing and spin that some hapless BBC hack was encouraged to put on this non-story?

Of course we have another recent example of negative spin on a story about probation - last weeks brouhaha about lifers being released without proper assessments. A careful examination of the joint HMI report shows that it was almost entirely about Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) where prison officers acting as 'offender supervisors' were primarily responsible for completing poor OASys assessments, and Prison Governors making the decisions. 

So again we have to ask, who was responsible for the comprehensive briefings to the media that turned it into negative copy for the probation service, rather than the prison service? I sense a dirty tricks campaign at the MoJ. 

Of course it could be said that the whole bloody Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles is a piece of dishonest spin because the justification always given is the high level of reoffending by short-term offenders - the under 12 month custody clients for whom probation has no statutory responsibility or funding for. 

Am I naive, or just paranoid?   

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Trouble at t' Mill

So here we are on the eve of the great probation sell off and understandably things are getting fractious. People send me stuff all the time because they want to do something to try and stop this whole disgraceful break-up of a proud, well-performing public service, and I'm enormously grateful because it informs, galvanises and helps to fill the empty pages. 

For fairly obvious reasons I have to be careful in deciding what to publish. Confidences are always respected, but I'm not the BBC and in the middle of a battle for survival, I don't feel the need to be balanced. In fact I'm quite partisan and utterly determined to try and win this battle, or at the very least be part of what future historians might conclude was a decent bloody attempt at trying to save the job, ethos and profession I love.

Despite the news that yesterday's Napo NEC 'endorsed the industrial action strategy', many people have voiced their concern at the stance taken by Napo in conducting negotiations with the PCA and MoJ/Noms and what they perceive as a lack of a decent fight to stop the whole Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles. The latest blog post by the General Secretary gives a hint of tensions brewing:-

I have seen a couple of e-mails coming in to Chivalry Road complaining about Napo not being in the national news every day. It's a great notion but sorry, it does not reflect the real world or fact that every day we are up against a host of other competing stories. 

Since May the 9th we have exploited a whole number of national media opportunities on press radio and TV, but just because you don't happen to see us when we are on, it does not mean that it has not happened! 

Working flat out 

Finally, and because I think it's worth saying just before we ramp up our response to the Government over TR and enter what will be an extremely hostile and testing environment. I want to make it clear that my National Officials and the Chivalry Road team are putting in a huge shift in defence of our members interests, often well over and above the normal call of duty. I am pleased to have them working with me, I am proud of their efforts and I have absolute faith in their ability. 

To summarise, whatever the content of the draft agreement, many, many people feel that entering into negotiations in the first place was a big mistake. I would not usually publish private e-mails, but such is the feeling amongst significant numbers of contributors to this blog that I feel it's appropriate in this instance. 

The following is a very recent e-mail exchange between a branch official and Napo General Secretary, but has now been circulated to all members of the branch in question. Readers must make up their own mind as to the validity of the points raised, together with the content and tone of the reply:- 

Hi Ian & Tom, 

Having read the TR negotiations & consultations dated 11/9/13, I feel compelled to express my concerns regarding the latest developments and instructions to local reps and branches. This contains a mixed message of negotiating on a national level whilst fundamentally passing the responsibility back to local representatives. It is our members who pay their membership rates to employ you for national collective bargaining with the appropriate expertise defending the terms of employment, as we currently know them. At this most crucial time our union needs to demonstrate the will to call for strike action in its own defence and survival. The change agenda, ignoring the history of our Service, seeks to divide and conquer. 
It appears to many who write within our branch that Napo represents a failure to recognise the true meaning of the collective bargaining and negotiation processes through devolving down to local branches the consultation process. Further, this exposes those branch officers who may not have had the required level of expertise essential for these employment related technical matters. It will therefore most likely leave members in all Trusts differentially exposed, creating  vulnerabilities that are different across the country at such a critical time. 

It is clear from what is presented that consultative processes and negotiation routes can never deliver a satisfactory outcome for our members. Fundamentally you are asking and expecting us to do a U-turn by engaging in consultations that effectively seek to privatise our jobs. On this point alone we should have been balloting for industrial action as the reality bites. You appear out of touch with members of the branches I speak with. From the indicative ballot it was a mistake to hide the turn out rate, those should have been used to illustrate to members the need to take action. Had Napo national got link officers and officials out to discover the fundamental ground swell of opinion and the desire from the membership to see real leadership from Napo and take the agenda forward for a proper ballot for action and have a real fight with the Government. You could be leading this fight and properly challenging this failing Grayling agenda. 

At the point when national negotiations started failing and no proper or legitimate mandate to allow for any agreement with employers which countenance privatisation in any form, the next step should be consideration to ballot for industrial action, thus seeking the views and a mandate from membership. Not to mention the potentials for arbitration later on. The juxtaposition that we now face is because things appear too fraught for you to properly manage.

Local reps, are now charged to take up the mantle with local management who are intent to deliver on the TR agenda and will use their authority and resources to drive it through. It is my view, and that of my branch, that national collective bargaining remains with both Napo and Unison to act to prevent the need to have this privatisation foisted onto local branches. If indeed this round of discussion fails what will be the national negotiating position?  
The next step should not be the passing of agreements or otherwise to local reps as this fails the need to have a national recognition arrangement.  As a JNCC representative of the only area to register a formal dispute over TR and failure to agree over practices of senior management and our local Board, Napo has done nothing I can see to ensure the rest of the country register further failures with local trusts over TR. 

I find myself asking why Napo appears weak and complacent raising more concern! To combat, this branches raise motions to galvanise and encourage action. I am further alarmed to discover from our branch NEC representative, that there has been no circulation to NEC reps and branches of an emergency motion. I am told it was at HQ in time for national mail out and it is an accepted motion within the constitutional rules. Yet it was not distributed, thus reducing member awareness to the important issues. It appears to me to confirm Napo are taking action to stifle circulation that calls for a fight and issues to be taken to the AGM,  we need to prevent the furtherance of the Grayling agenda by forwarding decisions to the more democratic platform of the AGM, not stifling member involvement. 

I have taken action to link with reps from our bid lot areas to ensure that we take a more localised and assertive approach and hopefully prevent a divide and rule outcome in xxxx, xxxxxx and xxxxx. I expect such an approach will need be thought of and replicated across other bid areas but there has been no central guidance/instruction to require this.

I hear daily from local members who are becoming disheartened with the way the process is being dealt with on a national level and we cannot be quiet whilst at the same time be expected to fight in isolation, which is what your proposals fundamentally mean. Napo need to say what it is really doing and get a mandate from members to do something more than hoping this might go away just from government incompetence and dishonest privateer companies. 
We need to meet it head on to ensure we kill the plans not try and cuddle them to death or we will be facing the death of our current Service and careers.


If you had awaited the outcome of the NEC today and its decisions which are entirely different to the position that you suggest we are taking, then you might not have needed to write this e-mail. By the way your Branch helpfully withdrew its Emergency Motion as being overtaken by events. 

NEC reps have been invited to obtain the results of the indicative ballot and discuss these with Branches but the Officers and I are confident that it was the right decision not to make this public. 

I see that your Trust is in the news today too...........  

By all means come back to me after you have seen the next Branch memo about the consultation process and our position. Meanwhile you will not be surprised to hear that I fundamentally disagree with your criticism, but won't be taking it personally! 

Best wishes and yours in solidarity


A few other matters have come to my attention. Firstly, the very sad and sobering news that it would appear the person responsible for the 'Save Probation' twitter account and blog has lost their job as a direct result of campaigning, and secondly, our old friend Sir Stephen Bubb continues to be a complete arse:-

I’m hot footing it from Glasgow to No 10 for a private meeting on the tender arrangements for the probation and rehabilitation reforms. I've been impressed with the care and skill that the Cabinet Office and MoJ have taken to listen to the issues that the third sector have raised and the support being given to ensure we can compete. But, as always, the proof of the probation pudding will be in the eating!  

Finally, a recent poll by 'We Own It' shows that 58% of the great British Public feel that G4S and Serco should be banned from public service bids. 

Tuesday 17 September 2013

The Deal that isn't a Deal, Deal

I can't put this off any longer. I've got to try and make sense of what is supposed to be happening during the 'consultation' period that starts on Thursday, the day we're all being encouraged to be 'out at lunch' apparently as General Secretary Ian Lawrence explains in his latest blog post:-

"Next week is a huge one for the Napo campaign (Campaign Bulletins, Weekly updates and latest BR memos to bring you up to speed with what's going on) We expect that Chris Grayling will signal the great probation sell off and that's why we are asking Napo members to show their anger by way of lunchtime demonstrations that day. It's not a strike but it represents an opportunity to mark this highly provocative move by the Secretary of State to push on with his agenda despite failing to provide the workforce with guarantees about their pensions, security of employment and terms and conditions and before the small matter of two more at least Parliamentary debates about his shambolic plans." 

Thursday 19th September is of course the day the government has chosen to publicly advertise the vast majority of probation work for competitive tender.

Just to set the context, the relevant unions including Napo have been conducting negotiations with the employers and MoJ through the National Negotiating Council for months, but these have 'stalled' and there is a draft agreement only. Unison explain it thus:- 

Talks took place at the NNC on Friday 30 August and Tuesday 4 August with a view to finalising proposals for the above agreement, in time for the trade unions to consult members prior to a meeting of the full NNC on 18 September. Negotiations were conducted in good faith, but it was not possible for the negotiators to conclude discussions in time to hit this timetable. This was acknowledged by both sides of the NNC.

In light of this, the following has been agreed:

NNC talks will continue with the aim of producing completed proposals in time for these to be considered by UNISON’s National Probation Committee and Napo’s NEC,  both of which are meeting on 17 September

·         On 18 September a special meeting of the NNC will meet to review the outcome of the negotiations and any draft agreement, as well as reflecting on the response of UNISON’s National Probation Committee and Napo’s NEC to the outcome of the talks
·         From 19 September, a 28 day consultation will commence to put the final draft agreement to UNISON and Napo members

UNISON’s National Probation Committee will come to its own view on the final proposals and will communicate this to members as part of the 28 day consultation.

In light of these developments, it will not now be possible for UNISON Probation branches and activists to consult members on the draft transfer agreement next week as planned, simply because negotiations on the draft agreement have not been concluded.

I apologise for any inconvenience that this postponement of member consultation causes, and recognise that branches and activists will have put in place arrangements for the week commencing 9 September, which will now need to be cancelled. Further information on the rescheduled consultation process, proposed for later this month, will be provided to branches and activists as soon as possible.

If I've understood correctly, as things stand at the moment, members are going to be consulted on this draft, but advised under no circumstances to discuss this with individual Trust employers from Thursday when invited to meet them. To try and avoid the inevitable confusion, Napo and Unison have issued a joint statement and each branch has communicated with members along the following lines:-

This morning I have received joint UNISON / NAPO guidance from our national UNISON officer regarding how activists and officials and members should interact with Probation Trusts during the 28 day consultation on the national transfer of staff to the new NPS / CRCs and associated protections which is due to start on the 19th of September. 

There may be a certain amount of conflicting information circulating in relation to the consultation. UNISON will be making the following points clear to trust management in order to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding during the consultation: 
  • During the 28 day consultation period, Napo and UNISON will be consulting members on the latest version of a draft National Agreement on Staff Transfer and Protections. This is currently under negotiation at the National Negotiating Council (NNC).
  • It is not the final version and members have an opportunity in the 28 day consultation period decreed by the Justice Secretary to comment on the draft agreement and let us know what they would like changed, or improved.
  • Napo and UNISON will then take members’ views back into the NNC negotiations which will have to resume following the 28 consultation period.

In light of these points UNISON / NAPO have issued the following advice to all members: 
  • During the same 28 consultation period, the Justice Secretary has asked Probation Trusts to consult with their staff, via the recognised trade unions, in anticipation of the transfer of staff to either the NPS or CRCs. There is a danger that this consultation will stray into the application of the draft national agreement to real people and real posts. This must not happen.
  • Napo and UNISON are very clear that until we have agreed the National Agreement on Staff Transfer and Protections, which will not happen before the end of the 28 day consultation period, it is not possible for Trusts to have any detailed conversations with unions, or staff, locally on the split of staff into NPS or CRCs, because the methodology for the split will not have been agreed.
  • Members should not enter into any one-to-one discussions with their Probation Trust in relation to the impact of the workforce split on their own circumstances during the 28 day consultation period, or give any undertakings to their employer in relation to the proposed split of the workforce This is simply because, until the split process and protections have been agreed at the NNC, neither employer, nor employee, will have the full information on which to base an individual discussion.

All Napo/UNISON engagement in these consultations/negotiations is without prejudice to our total ongoing opposition to the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation proposals. 

If you are approached to discuss anything in relation to staffing,  transfers or your personal circumstances with the Trust management, please contact me straight away.

So, that's how things appear to be at the moment, in a mess, but that's par for the course of an omnishambles. Word is that MoJ/Noms are not going to budge and the draft will be 'take it or leave it'. Be prepared folks for the union line to be 'it's the best we can get'.

Things could change of course and readers are advised to remain on high alert during these dark and difficult days. Just as an aside, I commented the other day that it seemed to me that many Trusts had begun preparing for TR 18 months or so ago, for instance by splitting teams into high and low risk with PO's and PSO's conveniently split in readiness. Am I correct in this regard, and if so, was it a case of Napo just not noticing?    

Monday 16 September 2013

Grayling in a Corner

According to Alan Travis writing in the Guardian yesterday:-  

The justice secretary is to allow two security companies to bid for Ministry of Justice contracts despite both facing alleged fraud investigations over existing deals.
Chris Grayling has not ruled Serco and G4S out of the running for new MoJ contracts, which include the £800m privatisation of most probation services.
But he has for the first time assured his Labour counterpart Sadiq Khan that no new contracts will be awarded to either company until a series of official "forensic audits" has given them a clean bill of health.
The official publication of invitations to bid for the privatisation of the bulk of the probation service is due soon. Both companies are leading contenders for the payment-by-results contracts under which 235,000 offenders are to be supervised each year. City analysts see few other large-scale players able or willing to bid for the work if Serco and G4S are excluded.
It's becoming ever more clear to the MoJ/Noms implementation team that there simply aren't going to be enough bidders for the probation contracts being advertised this week, and as a result peace is breaking out between the minister and naughty Serco and G4S. Grayling has finally realised what everyone else has known for ages, that he desperately needs these large companies in order to save his bacon and have any chance of making the Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles work.  
Such is the level of confusion, mistrust and disinterest amongst potential bidders that there is even talk of the big boys being allowed to sweep up more than three Contract Package Areas. But Grayling has boxed himself into a corner as the Guardian article goes on to explain:-
Grayling told Khan last week: "I am strongly of the view that we should not award new contracts for the two companies until we have established the facts about both their performance and their corporate behaviour. That is why I have requested an audit of every contract that MoJ holds with G4S and Serco.
"It is important to note that MoJ will not award new contracts to the companies unless this audit work is completed to our satisfaction. However, I do not intend to prejudge the outcome of this process at this stage by excluding the two companies from participating in the current competitions." Grayling said a decision will be taken only once the audits have been completed.
Now if you were of a cynical persuasion you could be forgiven for thinking what the outcome of these forensic audits and investigations might be. Both Serco and G4S are desperately important to the government and hold vital strategic contracts. When Grayling upset the apple cart by launching his House of Commons tirade a few weeks back alleging fraud by these huge companies, there must have been a sigh of disbelief at No10 and the Ministry of Defence.
As this Sunday Times article makes clear, there is a vast MOD procurement contract on offer and Grayling's ill-thought-out vendetta against Serco and G4S is not only in danger of scuppering his own TR plans, but also those of a major bidder for the MOD contract:-
SERCO faces being excluded from a huge defence outsourcing deal after becoming caught up in two fraud investigations.
The FTSE 100 company is embroiled in two government probes into claims that it overcharged the Ministry of Justice for tagging criminals and falsified prisoner transfer documents.
The allegations have infuriated ministers and, in effect, left the outsourcer frozen out of bids for government work until the investigations are completed.
Serco is part of a consortium, led by CH2M Hill, the American engineering consultancy, that wants to run Defence, Equipment & Support (DE&S). This is the agency responsible for buying fighter jets, tanks and warships for the Ministry of Defence.

Postscript - Thanks to a reader for pointing out this story from the Irish Republic - because of the allegations against Serco, the Irish Government decided last week not to proceed with awarding a large contract to them.  

Sunday 15 September 2013

The Emperor's Clothing

Two posts on a Sunday can only mean one thing - the situation is dire. The coming week is probably destined to be the most important and significant in probation's entire history, and there are signs everywhere of confusion, anger, dismay and despair. So thank goodness Joe Kuipers has produced another barn-storming blog post that helps shed much-needed light and insight on the whole bloody mess we find ourselves in.    

As Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, Joe Kuipers is in an unrivalled position to know what is really going on with the Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles, but most importantly, he is the only person in authority willing to break rank and share the information with us. 

Following on from my blog post on Saturday 'Probation in Crisis', and highlighting the feelings of staff on the front line collated by tweeter and blogger PoOfficer, Joe Kuipers in essence confirms what is being said and that in his view all Trusts are going to have the greatest difficulty in maintaining 'business as usual' (BAU) over the next six months:- 

But, concerns about the future of probation are starting to take their toll and whilst I am not a worrier and I am starting to feel more than a little uncomfortable about how on earth we are going to get through the next 6 months, delivering 'business as usual'. I am picking up personal stories reflecting anxiety, not least around what people are seeing as their own potential failures to do their work up to their own and my expectations.

Whilst critical damage to service delivery and wider responsibilities have not happened yet I find it hard to envisage our primary functions being met 'well enough' as the months pass, staff leave, sickness increases, and going the extra mile becomes just a jog too far. We will consult with our NOMS Community leads so we develop a sensible approach to coping with the increasing demands created by TR as well as doing the day job. TR demands are escalating, and will rise further - I might have to restrict the TR work of some key corporate services staff to one day a week so it does not swamp all their thinking and potentially damage 'business as usual'.

It is interesting to reflect on the increasing separation between those in NOMS responsible for overseeing probation performance (Michael Spurr as CEO of NOMS -  and this responsibility will continue as part of the future arrangements), and those in NOMS / MoJ responsible for implementing the TR programme. Who within NOMS will be the 'child in the crowd'  to say the risk to BAU is unacceptable? If all goes according to plan our Trust Board will relinquish all responsibility from next April, yes, 6 months away.

Lets be clear about this. Despite the earnest wishes, exhortations and warm words of Michael Spurr, the Chief Executive Officer of NOMS, the responsibility for any shit that happens in the coming months rests firmly at the feet of the minister Chris Grayling. It is he after all that is insisting on destroying a well-performing public service and on Thursday this week, 19th September, the vast majority of it will be put up for sale to anyone interested. 

Joe Kuipers quotes from the CEO's recent briefing to all staff:-  

"I know staff will understandably have questions and concerns as we enter a period of significant change – but I also know they share a common goal to reduce reoffending. If we implement these reforms well (and I am determined that we will do so) we will continue to deliver our responsibility to protect the public and drive a long term change in levels of reoffending. That is a prize we all want – and one that working together we can achieve.
We need to take staff with us and there are some key messages which they need to hear to help them through the uncertainty of what is undoubtedly a complex change process. I have attempted to set some of these out in the attached briefing pack but in essence I think it’s really important for colleagues that:

  • The driving force and objective of the reform programme is to reduce reoffending. It is not about short term financial savings but about achieving a step-change in reoffending.
  • The Probation Budget is being protected, relative to other areas, broadly maintained at around £800m. This is necessary in order to extend services to the under 12 month group.
  • Restructuring how Probation delivers its work is necessary in order to deliver the extension to the under 12 month group and achieve the payment by results outcome focus to drive innovation and change.
  • These reforms will open up delivery of probation services to a wide range of potential providers. We are clear that we are keen to see partnerships between VCS and private organisations coming forward and drawing upon the expertise that exists amongst current probation staff.
  • New structures will be introduced by April 2014. The process to move staff to the new structures is covered by the Cabinet Office Statement of Practice (COSOP) arrangements. This provides protections for staff on transfer.
  • NOMS will take direct responsibility for the new National Probation Service and for the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies from April 2014, and we have been working hard with Programme colleagues and with Trades Unions to ensure that processes for transfer are fair and that staff are properly protected and looked after.

We are committed to working closely and positively with Trades Unions and with staff to ensure a smooth transition to the new delivery arrangements when the 21 CRCs move to new providers in the autumn 2014.

As you know Trusts will be wound up by April and for that reason the work to begin the transition must begin now. The progress we have made with Trades Unions to develop a national framework for transfers has been positive, and I am confident that the package on which you will consult with staff for 19th September will be the best deal we can offer – with proper protection in place for pensions, voluntary exit packages etc. NOMS is a good, responsible employer and, as CEO, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that staff are treated properly, fairly and consistently throughout the process.

Although there is uncertainty at present there will be plenty of new opportunities for staff once we move to the new arrangements in April, both in terms of professional/career development and in terms of developing innovative new ways of working. Both the NPS and the CRCs are vital if we are to deliver our objectives and there will be genuinely new and exciting opportunities for colleagues in both sectors going forward."

What is becoming ever more clear is that Avon and Somerset PT and their Chairperson is becoming a significant thorn in the side of those down in London at MoJ/Noms HQ. He keeps asking really good questions, continually highlights problems and won't stop sharing information. This is what he says on the subject of those pesky contract variations:-

In my last post I alerted colleagues to our Board discussions about the mandatory Contract variations. We had our meeting on the 11th as planned and were excellently briefed by relevant senior staff about some of the contract variations that were more material than just 'administrative tidying up'. There were no conflicts of interest to report - my position is clear, I have no ambitions to be part of future governance arrangements of the CRCs (I doubt I will be invited to have much to do with the NPS). Now, also I don't expect my ambitions to change in the future, but who knows what the future will actually turn out to be and one phrase that always comes to mind is 'never say never'. This is what I told our Area Management Group.

In relation to the actual Board discussions, assisted by a contracts lawyer, the Board indicated that I should not sign the variations, and we have written to our NOMS Community lead asking for clarifications on a number of matters. As well as having a great executive leadership team we are fortunate to have such a focused and assiduous group of Board colleagues.

The anticipated variation concerning terminating the contract remains awaited. In other correspondence I have alerted senior NOMS colleagues about the difficulty of proposals to enable a very quick termination. And, credit where credit is due, I commended the CEO of PA for his excellent letter to NOMS / MoJ addressing the PA's concerns about the termination proposals. Amongst all the other things happening next week a final version of the contract termination variation is expected, and again I expect this will be a mandatory variation. The very first part of our contract says:

"The Authority (NOMS) and the Trust shall act as stated in this Contract and in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation."

I regret to say that too often we are not trusted with important information (such as the legal advice underpinning TR requirements, and the TR Risk register) and in general the experience is one of one-way traffic - just do it. On the TR Risk Register, the deadline for NOMS response to our request is also next week - the 18th.

In this latest and extremely important blog post, Joe Kuipers goes on to discuss possible legal consequences that might flow from the advertising of senior positions in the CRC's, the numerous issues that concern transfers of staff, some thorny questions that mutuals will have to consider, together with an idea:-

Now, I do offer a solution. We in ASPT are very solution focused. If NOMS / MoJ want to ensure that this unevidenced TR programme can be implemented with reduced risks then let staff remain employed by Trusts until a safe share transfer can be achieved. It is starting to look as if a primary driver is the ending of Trusts by April 2014? This solves the problem of contract terminations - just stick with the normal 12 months and tell Trusts that notice of termination is given on October 1st. It solves the second transfer issue for the majority of staff as there will then just be one transfer? It allows for a much more orderly set of transitions? It allows the estates strategy to catch up, as a key bit of the jigsaw, like where will staff be based, appears to be heading into the 'too difficult pile'. It allows me as an employer to help plan for staff futures for longer than a 6 month period - I have to consider the longer term. 

What is wrong with this proposal? Simple. New owners of the CRCs will not be able to make the staff savings that the second transfer enables? As an aside, do those mutuals in joint ventures with private sector providers recognise that one of their first tasks might be making the savings required to operate?

All in all, this week is going to be crunch week. And, as a reminder, our Board's concerns are about sustainable and safe service delivery in the first instance.  That is our first priority, and it is as part of that that staff can be offered some security. We are not being protectionist, or dinosaurs, just pragmatic realists with genuine concerns and real questions - perhaps a bit like the child in the crowd?

This post is a must read for all probation staff!