Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Doing the Ministry's Bidding

The Ministry of Justice is absolutely desperate to give it's TR omnishambles planned for probation some semblance of credibility by making sure that not all the 'prime' contracts are awarded to the questionable big boys like G4S, Serco, A4E or Interserve. As mentioned in a previous post, they have resorted to begging:-  

The government’s rehabilitation reforms will not have been a success if no voluntary sector organisations win contracts to become prime providers, a senior civil servant said yesterday.
Speaking at the Third Sector Impact Measurement conference in London yesterday, Antonia Romeo, director of the criminal justice group at the Ministry of Justice, said: "We hope there are really creditable bids from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to win tier-one contracts.
"We think that if we don’t have any VCSE providers at tier one, this project will not have been a success."
Romeo said the government had introduced a number of measures to support voluntary sector organisations working with prisoners and to make it easier for sector organisations to win contracts.
"Voluntary sector organisations are absolutely essential to what we’re trying to do," she said. "Opening up the market is the key purpose of these reforms.
"Think about what partnerships you can form, formal or informal, including consortia, in order to deliver services."
Well, step forward Sarah Billiald, former CEO of Kent Probation Trust and former spokesperson for the PCA. She stood aside some months ago in order to lead one of the 8 probation 'mutuals' formed from 13 probation trusts and today's full page puff in the Guardian confirms that she intends to win the prime contract in her contract package area:-
Sarah Billiald is leading efforts to create a staff mutual to run rehabilitation services in one of the biggest probation areas in England and Wales. The former chief executive of Kent probation heads a  small team working across most of south-east England – Kent, Surrey and Sussex – which aims to bid in partnership with the private sector to take over the community rehabilitation company (CRC) responsible from next year for the management and supervision of low- to medium-risk offenders in the three counties. The contract is said to be worth up to £28m.
"The idea of the mutual is that it will deliver a range of services that would include probation and rehabilitation services, but not only them," says Billiald. "It is about taking the skill set we have about people being reintegrated back into local communities and saying it can apply to all sorts of vulnerable groups: people with mental health issues; with disabilities. It could be elderly people."
She says the idea of the mutual – which is called Co:here because it is about "co-producing strong communities" – is not just "to do things to service users" but also to work with them to say, 'Well, how are you going to stop offending?' That's the consistent model and, however the service would be, we would design it with our service users."
Usually mutuals are staff-owned but Co:here will have three types of member – the staff, the service users (in this case offenders) and the community. The structure is hardwired into its constitution with the governing body made up of staff, service users and volunteers from the community elected by the members and with the power to appoint and remove non-executive directors.
Billiald says that the probation competition is about reducing reoffending. The much smaller national probation service will take responsibility for public protection and high-risk offenders, allowing the CRCs, which will take over from the probation trusts, to focus more strongly on rehabilitation.
It's very disappointing indeed to hear a former CEO talking like this, effectively helping the MoJ in its aim of breaking up the probation service. But it shouldn't come as any great surprise because Sarah Billiald isn't a probation officer, and never has been. She's an accountant and therefore perfectly qualified to help usher in this brave new idiotic TR ominshambles:- 
Career July 2013 to present: lead promoter, Co:here mutual; 2008 toJuly 2013: chief executive, Kent Probation; 2006-08: deputy director of home affairs, Prime Minister's National Delivery Unit; 1997-2005: various roles including audit manager, audit principal, audit senior and audit trainee, National Audit Office; 1996-97: volunteer, Bede House (east London community development charity).
In this Guardian piece there is absolutely no hint that in order to win the contract it actually has to be about saving money, less staff, more work, worse terms and conditions. The staff know this of course, even if Sarah chooses not to raise the issue, and carrying them is not going to be easy:-  
But first, the mutual has to be sure that the staff are with them. "We will go to staff and say: 'Here is a choice. We can either do nothing and this competition will happen and whoever wins will win – it could be G4S or Capita and they will own the company and you will work for them," says Billiald. "Or we can fund a joint venture and we will own 51% and have considerable influence. But that joint venture is a private company with shareholders and we will be going into partnership with them.
"That is the choice we're going to put to staff, because if staff say, 'I want no part of this, not in my name', then what sort of mutual is it? But if staff say 'We would rather have some influence than no influence', we would rather go for it."
She says it helps that the competition is being launched against a background where the "current delivery model" isn't regarded as broken. "The current staff know exactly which bits work and which don't. They have never had the flexibility – because we have been part of the public sector – to deliver in a more creative way to focus on rehabilitation."
By way of illustration that all the warm words and soft soap about community involvement, offender engagement and doing 'good work' misses the real point of TR, here is a stark reminder of what is to come from Turning Point, another outfit, a charity, keen to pick up probation work. They sacked all their staff and put them on worse terms and conditions in order to remain 'competitive':-
Turning Point has broken all links with external organisations that had an influence on employee pay levels, and established a “Turning Point-owned approach to annual pay reviews”.
Just as pay within the voluntary sector is coming under intense scrutiny from MPs and parts of the press, Turning Point has revealed in its latest accounts that it has “delinked” from organisations including the National Joint Council for local government and Agenda for Change, the NHS system that allocates posts to set pay bands. 
The decision to take unilateral control of its pay review process is one of several changes the charity made to its terms and conditions of employment when it sacked all its staff earlier this year and rehired them on new contracts.
Three hundred staff have lodged a claim with the Employment Tribunal but Unite the union told yesterday that it was still waiting for a hearing date.
The charity’s annual report went into some detail about Project Swan, the changes described by Turning Point as essential to “remain competitive and continue delivering value for money”.
It said the downturn in the economy had created a difficult trading environment for all voluntary sector health and social care providers, and public sector funding cuts have “hit much harder and more quickly than we anticipated”.
In response, in November 2012 the charity kicked off negotiations with Unite the union on a set of proposals to change the terms and conditions of employment for staff.  An invitation to employees to provide feedback elicited 448 separate responses including 151 suggestions for how the charity could alter the proposals or make other savings.
After the consultation with Unite, Turning Point terminated contracts for all employees and re-engaged them on new contracts which also featured the following elements:
  • No longer paying enhancement to hourly rates for most ‘unsocial’ hours worked, except for four bank holidays
  • No more overtime rates
  • New rates for ‘out of hours’ management
  • Reducing redundancy terms to statutory entitlement for all employees
  • Offering casual workers new zero-hours contracts
I think this astonishingly-naive proposal from Sarah Billiald in the Guardian will have a number of effects. It should help to crystallise many people's thinking on the whole omnishambles. It will encourage union membership, and that of the local government pension scheme. It will shake more people out of apathy and assist them in deciding whether to take industrial action when the time comes. Doing nothing really isn't an option.

I'll end on this comment from a regular reader which sums it up nicely I think:-

Notice that SB has full page spread in today's Guardian - Society section on benefits of mutuals in the new probation landscape.... a tiresome litany of putative gains trotted out - clearly not someone who has been at the front-line of practice & not a smidgeon of self -doubt or corporate concern at the vexed legal/governance/public safety issues highlighted above.. just a bland roll over (not that mutuals, if uncorrupted by predatory privateers, themselves are w/o some virtue!) & follow the MoJ line..... 


  1. It's a nailed-on certainty that a 'mutual' will win in at least one CPA because the MoJ need it as window dressing to divert attention when G4S, Serco et al pitch up after their mysteriously quickly-obtained clean bills of health come through. But highly unlikely that it'll be in one of the major metropolitan areas, as they'll be too big a prize for the corporate bids. Wouldn't be surprised if Kent, Surrey and Sussex (sorry, Co:here) has already been given a quiet wink and nod.

    1. Of course - and Sarah is oh so perfectly qualified to deliver it. I still find it breathtaking she was the official PCA spokesperson only a few months ago - and what a stupid contrived bloody name Co:here

  2. Under the plans, all offenders sent to prison would undergo a 12-month period of compulsory supervision after they have been released.Sarah Billiald, from the Probation Chiefs Association, accused Mr Grayling of "dismantling" a "high performing system" on BBC Radio 4's Today programme."Our message is to ask really, why, when you have such a high performing service... it has met all its targets... why would you not build on that success rather than dismantling it later?"Labour claimed that the government have "failed to deliver" on prisoner rehabilitation and are pursuing "untried and untested" plans.

    From may 9th this year.

  3. Similar contradiction from Nick Clegg was highlighted yesterday on Twitter - when he spoke at NACRO a few months ago - he and another Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman said around the time of the centenary exactly the opposite to the justifications he has given for TR this year.

    Of course we expect no difference from Clegg - he is fairly safe in his constituency in Sheffield - but clearly many LibDem MPs are not safe in their constituencies.

    How can the 'common man' get a grip our parliamentary processes?

    We have had an announcement that the Grangemouth petrochemical plant is too close due to the workers not accepting worse terms!!! - just months after the same thing happened at Coryton in Essex - yet do we still need petrol? The market cannot manage everything we need - simple fact - we need another way - NOW.

    Andrew Hatton

  4. An interesting few paragraphs found in the guardian politics section today. It's actually within an article about the immigration vans? But just to affirm that people are watching whats going on, here it is.....

    Definitely a worrying time for private-sector juggernaut Serco, with government-inspired investigations under way into fraud allegations. The Financial Times reminds us that we are already halfway through the three-month deadline imposed by justice secretary Chris Grayling for the troubled contractor to sort itself out. Can it do so? Anything is possible. But it's a tough one, according to the experts. Prof Andre Spicer of the Cass Business School tells the FT that nine out of 10 of such "change programmes" in companies fail. There is much to think about, for it's known that fallible employees will do all sorts of things when the atmosphere isn't quite right. And that could lead to mistakes, such as a single offender serving three concurrent sentences ending up as three separate bills to government. It's that sort of concern that makes a secretary of state shake his fist.

    1. My thinking may be askew, yet I can't help feel that there is some relationship between the Sarah Billiald press release an the FT reporting that Sercos chances of bidding for TR contracts are actually pretty slim as indicated in the above article cut from the Guardian.
      The MoJ must by now be up to speed with any developments at Serco. Maybe they even know that Serco won't be allowed to bid already. A big blow to Grayling if it is the case.
      However, if contracts to be the prime provider are given to other agencies such as co:whatever, then the prime could contract work out to the likes of serco, just to keep them in the frame, give them long enough to tidy things up and for fraud alligations to fade, and then offer them the oppertunity of taking over contracts later on when providers (and many will for various reasons) drop out.
      If I was a betting man I'd go for Serco being unable to bid.

  5. Tweet from MoJ Press Office

    ‏@MoJPress 18 Oct 2013

    We have more than enough space in our prisons to hold those sent by the courts – suggestions otherwise are utter rubbish

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    I suggest we mark this date!

    There is also this about Resettlement Prisons from Russell Webster - in which he barely scratches the surface with the problems that seem so far ignored by this 'transparent government!'

    Have you seen the list of women's resettlement prisons promised 'later in the summer' on 13th August 2013 - I may well have missed it?

    Also can you or a commenter describe precisely what activity is involved in 'scoping'? - Thanks.

    Andrew Hatton

    1. "We have also been scoping how young adults (18-20 years) are managed and accommodated in custody."

      Urban Dictionary: "looking at someone, thinking about how fit they are and thinking about being with them, checking them out basicaly." Or perhaps "Looking at through a telescopic sight" - either way, sounds illegal in the context of a YOI.

    2. In the Army, when we scoped someone, they'd be dead five seconds later. Presumably this isn't what they mean by "scoping young adults".

  6. Bit worrying that the managers are feathering their nests. Not surprising though. Co:lude indeed

  7. mutual most likely to succeed ? Try Northumberland or Durham Trusts, both plans well advanced with request to staff that they can only proceed with their support but oh dear we are unable to tell you anything about the mutual we are asking you to support, no terms no conditions just the threat that it is better than nothing....

    1. Mutuals can't give information regarding terms and conditions for staff. They don't know themselves what sort of deal they may get, who their partners may be or anything else for that matter.
      They are leaping in with both feet and ultimately hoping that their assistance to implement TR will be recognised by the MoJ.

  8. "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which"

  9. A contributor's comments on Radio 4 PM this afternoon referred to the fact that we live in "a global world". Eddie Mair could hardly contain himself.
    And the point is?
    Ineos at Grangemouth - soon-to-be Ineos at somewhere else. Its a 'global world', and those who straddle that 'global world' are being assisted by neo-liberal governments so they can pick and choose what they want, where they want - at the expense of local populations.
    My heart goes out to the 800 who lost their jobs today - not least because probation staff may soon be putting themselves on a similar line. Well, 46% will - some might say the remaining 54% are hedging their bets and weakening the integrity of the union. Wright has already publicly boasted about "well prepared contingencies" for strike action.

    The language of Ineos has that frighteningly familiar ring to it:
    * We believe INEOS is a refreshing place to work and we are prepared to embrace new approaches to business.
    * Leveraging existing resources to expand sales
    * Achievement of cost savings
    * Extracting the full benefits of a vertically integrated business
    * Encouragement of innovation, entrepreneurship and reward for achievement
    * Empowerment of employees to create real value for our customers and ourselves

    Currently on R4, but will be repeated & available online:
    Morality and the Bottom Line - Is the social responsibility of business just to increase profits? Very interesting

  10. Her article is open for comment on the guardian. Go there and make these comments.

    Mystic Pangolin

  11. It seemed like a good idea at the time - so I have submitted a FOI - and no idea if I will be in bother - but given the way I am feeling of late - made all the more acute by what is going on at Ineos - in Grangemouth, I couldn't give the proverbial rat's arse....FOI for all to see...Like many others I am soon to receive a letter from my current
    employer asking me to chose who I prefer to work for as of April
    2014; with a very short due date. Unfortunately, there seems to be
    little known about the two options, although I am assured the MOJ
    have a clear understanding, and therefore I would ask for
    clarification as to exactly what the Probation Officer's role/job
    description will be within the NPS and the CRC's; including terms
    and conditions of service. A swift response would be helpful, so as
    to make an informed choice.

    Heard Mr Crotty on BBC news this am - if ever a name suited its incumbent, and its all shite, just like Bubb and his cronies!!!!