Tuesday 31 May 2016

Guest Blog 55 - Follow Up

Following on from the recent guest blog by former HMCI Andrew Bridges, he has indicated a willingness to respond and debate further, which I have to say is heartening, particularly as facilitating intelligent discussion has been one of my aims for the blog all along. At my suggestion, I have republished some of the comments to the original blog post, followed by Andrew's responses (in italics):-

“I would have preferred to have read your views on practice and the current state of probation. Maybe something around the impact of the ongoing deprofessionalisation of probation officers, the NPS strategy to replace us with non-qualified staff and tick-box style Pre Sentence Reports, or the CRC strategy of heavily cutting staff and replacing interview rooms with American diner style areas.”

Naturally I’m sorry that my topic was not what some people wanted to read. Whereas I can understand that some may want this site to be solely about repeatedly letting off steam about the current very unsatisfactory arrangements (which indeed they are), I thought I’d offer a change from that – sorry to disappoint.

“Instead we get the badly worded “Three Purposes of Probation” and an analysis of what I recall as a pointless discussion about enforcement. Considering TR and the recent Offender Management Act which did away with “supervision” as we knew it, maybe it would have been better to analyse whether Grayling and Gove have a view on what the purposes of probation should be, or maybe the probation chief officers that helped them do away with probation as we knew it. I've always found the HMIP idealistic about what probation practice should be, and blinkered to the climate it is practiced in. In reality, the “Three Purposes of Probation” have been displaced by TR and made impossible by the CRC drive for profits and the NPS drive for “more for less”. Now the distorted purpose and culture that is forced into us is 1. Meet targets, 2. Meet targets, 3. JFDI. 

And as I said in detail in Guest Blog 52, the probation qualification and professionalism has been slowly eroded over the past two decades. This is what the HMIP, the Probation Institute and every other “expert” seems to ignore! As I heard an academic recently say, the only solution for a probation service and “Work” (to truly rehabilitate) is to sever the MoJ control, to reduce the extent of privatisation and to absorb the probation officer training back into social work.”

I note that the Inspectorate’s focus on quality of Probation practice is described here as “idealistic” – I would certainly loudly and proudly claim this description, provided that it’s recognised that in our idealism we specifically did not look for perfection; instead we looked for “Sufficiency” in the quality of practice, according to the needs and circumstances of the case. Whereas I’m very keen indeed on developing and accrediting skills in this job I take a very different view about the traditional “probation qualification” which perpetuates a rigid two-tier workforce and a barrier to many of the talented newcomers who want to build their career in-service. However, the point this contributor makes about targets is important – see more below.

“Thank you, a good read. However, as a practitioner I have never had any problem with negotiating and compromise, but I think what is becoming a huge problem is the lack of autonomy to make such decisions v dictates which feed the monster – target driven practice. I never really had any problem when targets promoted best practice, for worker and client, but the worst kind of target are those rigidly organisational or financially driven targets! CRCs are in a no win situation, they have no time to develop the kind of relationship that promotes compliance, and I must say it, positive change in people! Their employers demand staff provide a facade of respectability and integrity but their financial targets trump those of integrity and decency, so colleagues are in a no win situation and our clients confused and disenfranchised by the targets!”

Targets is a whole new topic, and one of critical importance. Some of the current ones are shockingly bad – some of us knew in the 1980s that ‘successful completions’ was no measure of anything. The contributors are right to criticise them strongly. The knack is to set the right ones and also to promote the right ethos in how the organisation works towards them – surprise, surprise I have written about this. Anyone who worked with me in Berkshire 1998-2001 will tell you what they think about whether or not we got our targets broadly right, by ensuring that they were congruent with good quality Probation practice. Because the ‘right’ targets are difficult to measure, policymakers keep repeating the mistake of instead employing proxy [“near enough”] target measures which are easier to monitor but in their effect on practice are worse than useless, as many of the contributors have rightly reported.

“An interesting blog but very simplistic and doesn't account for what's happening in probation now. Those of us who endeavour to work to the aims are severely disabled by managerialism. Also can't see the purpose of the prescriptive monthly minimum especially after 2 years supervision it can become counter productive.”

‘Simple’, yes, but not easy, though I believe it can still be done. And even as a main-grade PO with 60+ cases and 12 SIRs a month in the 1970s I never thought it acceptable to require a meeting at less than once a month – it was a Court Order after all.

“The 'imperfections' of TR cannot be compared to previous imperfections. There is a massive difference between something being fundamentally wrong and the negatives arising out of that, and something being fundamentally cohesive with problems that can be worked on and resolved. TR creates its own unique problems which push good practice way down the list of priorities. My priorities now are carrying out insane IT tasks in order to meet targets, while the associated work which requires those old fashioned notions of thought, reflection and decision making gets neglected resulting in a rushed, poor quality outcome. OMs don't seem to have the discretion to manage their own cases resulting in Judges asking 'what does the case manager really think?' It's a pile of shit and it's those who go around telling us it isn't that seem really creepy, as if they don't have their own minds any more.”


“He does not like TR. Yet in considering the previous arrangement, the bar is immediately raised and we are told they were not 'perfect'. Fairer to say that the previous arrangements were better, open to improvements and preferable to TR. But when not 'taking sides' you need a clever verbal formula to stay above the fray. If not taking sides you have to try and be even-handed.”


"There is a saying I can't recall verbatim but is along the lines of 'for evil to triumph, it does not require evil men to do evil but good men to do nothing'. The trouble with 'reasoned' debates on Probation practice under TR, they fail to acknowledge the starting point which is that the profit motive in Probation and other forms of social services undermines the very purpose of those services and compromises all forms of intervention in favour of profit or the minimisation of loss.

It is suggested here that my position is a case of doing nothing and therefore allowing “evil to triumph” as per Edmund Burke (the very conservative politician who may not have envisaged a British Government enacting its own policy as the kind of evil he was thinking of.) For my part I had said my piece in September 2014 about TR being the “most gung-ho reorganisation that Probation has ever faced”, and was quoted accordingly on Radio Five. For the record, I think that while the various previous arrangements were “not perfect either” they were certainly less bad, though also nothing to idealise.

But our constitutionally elected Government had made a decision and was acting on it accordingly – you have to be a heroic optimist to believe that this will fundamentally change in the next five years. So I focus on the ‘making it work anyway’ option. Since we have started bandying quotes: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails” (William Arthur Ward). It is a matter for each of us to choose whether thereafter we want to talk about how to make practice work well (despite the changes) or just carry on repeatedly letting off steam. 


“I agree: the underlying motive is fundamental and if making a profit is fundamental then this will be secondary to the public good. And if they cannot make a profit, they will, as we have have seen in other sectors, walk away.” 

“This is the problem. 'Independence' is available to the highest bidder. Whilst the Government colludes with this and, equally important, whilst the media do not hold these Ministers to account, the practice of self funded advocacy will remain a corrupt force with which the money-makers will be able to justify their actions. If one remains opposed to the fundamental profit motive in CJ, the debate rages on. If we accept that 'we are where we are', the debate is ended and the dysfunction remains in place.”

“A few years ago Mr Grayling said something like, 'I don't want to pay for a service, I want to pay for results.' On the surface this sounds appealing. The author of this guest blog on his website / advertisement states something akin to, 'I don't care who does the job as long as they do it well.' Again this risks sounding appealing. For example, do you really care who comes out to the fire if your house is ablaze as long as they arrive in the prescribed time and put the fire out. You might say, 'well I suppose not.'”

One of the curious oddities of probation work is that while by necessity it requires an ability to see more than one side of a story, and arguably believe both in rational analysis and that everyone has a ‘better side’ to their nature, many of its practitioners appear to claim exclusive moral high grounds to their own beliefs while assuming a morally corrupt position in anyone who disagrees with them. If you are making the assumption that my independence is simply venal you might also consider the possibility that that assumption is wrong.

I see no intrinsic virtue in having a binary view of the world, and have always found that “Truth has more than one face”. My personal emotional attachment to public service is very strong, but I’ve seen enough over the years to know that it doesn’t have a monopoly on virtue, and could sometimes benefit from learning from the private sector. There is an irony that whereas I spent much of the 1990s repeatedly arguing with policymakers that there was no inherent benefit in purchasing a service from an external contractor (if you can do it yourself better and cheaper), I’ve also had to spend much of the time since then arguing that there’s nothing inherently wicked about it either – you have to judge it by how it is worked in practice. I found over the last 15 years that poor commissioning, especially poor targetsetting, (together with shockingly poor IT) was much the greater cause of problems than the profit motive itself. The “risk” of assessing a service by how well it is actually delivered, rather than simply by ‘who delivers it’, could perhaps be seen not as a “risk” but as a benefit, a sign of a rational approach rather than one driven solely by ideology.

I would like to believe that many of the contributors who let off steam on this website have nevertheless managed to do some good quality work – despite all the difficulties. Would anyone want to write a short description of a recent piece of Probation practice that you’re particularly pleased with, perhaps achieved against all the odds?....

Andrew Bridges

Monday 30 May 2016

Guest Blog 57

After a near 15 years in the Probation Service, my decision to resign
from the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) that I work for as a
Probation Officer may on the surface have appeared sudden but it has
been in the making for several years. However, more recently the sense
that I need to move on has increased.

The Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) revolution that fractured the
Probation Services has played a significant part in my thinking but not
the whole of it. Like many, given the seat I was sat in at the time, I
had no option but to accept that I would be working in the CRC. I
consoled myself with the idea that being in either the National
Probation Service (NPS) or CRC was at the outset of their creations an
unknown and with my own preference for working with people maybe the
CRC might turn out to be the better of the two for me. It has to be
said that before TR that the ability to work with people was
diminishing, ever increasing workloads then lessening our ability to
actually work with people but ever more so now. I remember nearly two
years ago expressing to a line manager that it was bizarre to see
everybody sat feverishly feeding their computers for the vast part of
their working day and that it made no sense. Ever more I have found
that the volume of work I am expected to complete and the fear of
falling behind or missing a target has driven more frenzied work such
that I can tell my work and life balance is plainly out of kilter and
my well – being as a result adversely effected.

I have enjoyed a good career overall, moving to different assignments
every 3 – 4 years. I now find that my career possibilities are vastly
diminished. The thought of being desk bound in front of a computer
trying to manage in excess of 70 cases (a nod here to my Probation
Service Officer (PSO) colleagues some of whom have over 90 cases) is
not only unappealing but a cause of considerable angst for me. I am
grateful to my managers for doing their best to work as sensitively as
they can with us given this back drop. For me personally though I
cannot condone the idea that I might aspire to be a manager in this
untenable climate, I am witnessing too many of my colleagues including
managers being made to suffer with the burden that is placed upon them
and often in a way from which they are struggling to recover; yet this
seems to be my only option for a variation in my career where once they
were plentiful. I once heard a senior type education figure say of
teachers, in a TV interview, we need people who can do volume and get
results with the inference that if they could not deliver then maybe
they should think about moving on. I fear that given the circumstances
that I am presented with that is exactly what I have decided to do
which is a shame because I have developed a great skill set for working
with people around their learning and with that change.

TR has undoubtedly been a huge cataclysm for the Probation Services and
the people who work within it. On a daily basis I can see examples of
the way my work is being made more difficult in a way that often
beggars belief. What of the people we are primarily tasked to work
with? Indeed, what of them, with such high case numbers for individual
workers and a very limited scope to get to know those cases in a
meaningful way, what of them?

I think that sets out the main reasons why have decided to leave. It
is not a very positive valediction, times have been better I would say
and it is these times, experiences and the people I have met that makes
leaving harder. In all the frenzy and further changes to come, I hope
you all remember to be kind to yourselves and each other.


Saturday 28 May 2016

Something Different for the Weekend

It's Bank Holiday weekend and I'd like to go 'off piste' again and say something about this extraordinary EU referendum campaign we're in the middle of and 'Project Fear' in particular. As I write there seems to be some evidence that the penny has finally dropped that the Electorate has indeed been scared witless, but it could all be hugely counter-productive by confirming that a) politicians lie for a living, b) statistics are just plucked from the air with no evidence to back them up and c) the sky probably won't fall in if we vote to leave on June 23rd.

I don't normally watch BBC1's Question Time any more because it just irritates me so much, but I did catch the one a week or two back when former BBC and Ch4 journalist Paul Mason was on. He confirmed my suspicion that all the so-called facts and figures being quoted, especially by the 'stay' campaign, can't be trusted as in his long experience of being an economic and political commentator, they're basically just made up. Who'd have thought that eh? 

If memory serves me correctly, he then went on to outline how the EU was completely undemocratic, was hugely wasteful and bureaucratic, incapable of reform, run entirely by faceless unknown men and Britain was better off out than in. I think he pointed out that the much-vaunted European Free Trade area was in decline and how if ratified, the proposed US-EU TTIP agreement would further the cause of privatisation on institutions such as the NHS. But he then took everyone by surprise by stating that in all probability he'd be voting to stay in, albeit reluctantly. How come? Basically because he feared what a Tory government would do in the future if unfettered by EU restraint. He went on to say that in his view the Referendum must be followed by a General Election, but this didn't seem in prospect sadly. 

I have to say his contribution to the EU debate was one of the most sensible I've heard, not least because I decided some time ago to discount all the crap about immigration, migration and economics. So that just leaves emotional and political issues to ponder on and I definitely do not want to see a Tory government given any more legitimacy to wreak further havoc on our society, but what realistic chance is there of an election any time soon and in order to take advantage of their internal turmoil and disarray? 

Well, step forward journalist Michael Crick, late of BBC2's Newsnight and now Ch4 news. In typical nerdy fashion he's been beavering away over the last several months examining the election expense returns from the General Election last year and thinks he's discovered that lots of Tory candidates may have submitted false figures and if true, have committed serious criminal offences that would mean multiple by-elections. This is something serious to ponder on because the Tories only have a majority of 12 in the House of Commons. 

This from the Financial Times website on 13th May:-

Tory MPs fear election spending row could lead to jail

Conservatives are fearful that a simmering row over alleged breaches of election spending rules by up to 30 MPs at the last election could lead to some losing their seats or even being sent to jail. The involvement of the police has elevated an apparently technical issue over whether the Tories correctly recorded their election expenses into a matter of great concern among the parliamentary party.

The claims are that between 20 and 30 Conservative MPs had help from “battle buses” that brought in hundreds of volunteers to fight local seats. Police are starting to investigate whether this spending should have been declared locally. If it should, the cost would have smashed election expenses rules. David Cameron has argued it was right to include the buses as part of the national campaign’s expenses.

Breaching spending limits in a local constituency is a criminal offence for which the candidate and agent are liable, with the possibility of fines or imprisonment. There would also be demands for a by-election. “There are quite a few of us who are very worried,” said one Tory MP. “We did everything we could to stay within the rules, but this is very unsettling.” The MP said Conservative HQ told him that the battle bus operation would count as national spending but added: “If they are wrong, then I’m the one who is legally responsible.” Another Conservative MP said: “You could go to prison.”

But business minister Anna Soubry on Friday defended her party, saying on Twitter that “we’ve done nothing wrong” and claiming the Tory battle bus was “perfectly legal national spend”. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats had used similar campaign tactics during the election, she said.

This week Gloucestershire Police announced it had launched an investigation into electoral fraud “in relation to the 2015 general election” but did not give details. That force is one of ten in England looking into the issue. While the police are responsible for investigating allegations of electoral fraud by candidates, the Electoral Commission has opened a separate probe into the way the Conservatives accounted for their campaign at a national level. On Thursday, the party produced documents about its general election spending after the commission — which is investigating allegations relating to accommodation costs for activists on the battle bus — took court action.

The Conservatives have already acknowledged that an “administrative error” led to the fact that some hotel costs had not been properly registered, following an investigation by Channel 4. Tory MPs admit they needed the support of flying squads of party activists from around the country to help win their seats because some local parties are not up to the task. The battle bus operation was deemed by Conservative headquarters to be part of the national campaign and its costs would therefore not breach national election spending limits.

The Liberal Democrats, who lost seats in the south and the south-west to the Conservatives, feel particularly aggrieved. Adrian Sanders, the former Lib Dem MP for Torbay, said: “The point we are testing is whether it is in order for parties to funnel money into a few marginal seats and distort what should be a level playing field. “Whether it affected the results across the 30 or so affected seats is for others to judge. If it is proven that the criminal law was broken, the victims of such a crime are the 60m citizens of the UK.”

Labour has been noticeably quiet on the subject and the party argues that it does not need to get involved. But one Tory MP said: “Everyone knows that election expenses are a work of fiction. Labour know theirs are as bad as ours. You can drive a coach and horses through the loophole.” A Labour spokeswoman said: “The Tories need to come up with the evidence rather than making claims. Labour’s spending is within the law.”


This on the Channel 4 News website:-

New expenses scandal emerges as Tories fight police in court

As the Conservatives go to court to prevent police investigating its South Thanet election expenses, Channel 4 News reveals fresh evidence of undeclared expenses there, and the scale of the operation. Detailed new evidence from inside a Conservative campaign office in the key South Thanet constituency reveals the huge resources provided to this campaign.

Other documents and social media postings further reveal how staff from Conservative party headquarters were parachuted in to the constituency to help their candidate beat Farage, with many related costs not declared locally. Channel 4 News understands that there are 18 police forces up and down the country that have been given or are seeking an extension to the time limit relating to election expenses. The Conservative party is currently only attempting to block in South Thanet an extension to the legal time limit that the local police force has to investigate election returns.

Today, new evidence obtained by Channel 4 News reveals that an important battlebus visit on election day to South Thanet, up to a dozen promotional videos made for the local candidate, and a conference room used by a minister to campaign on local issues for the candidate appear to have never been declared. The Conservative Party told Channel 4 News: "The Party always took the view that our national Battlebus, a highly-publicised campaign activity, was part of the National Return, and declared it as such. All spending has been correctly recorded in accordance with the law."

Beat Farage

In the South Thanet contest, UKIP Nigel Farage was defeated by the now Conservative MP Craig Mackinley - by 2,800 votes. He was assisted by tens of thousands of pounds of spending that appears to have been used to help local campaigning - enough to take him beyond the £15,000 cap. The new revelations come as the Conservative Party take the unprecedented step of trying to oppose a court extension to the police investigation into whether it correctly declared the money they spent in South Thanet. That hearing itself was in a closed court session not open to the public or press. The Conservative Party bought in James Laddie QC, one of the country's top lawyers, to attend the closed session at Folkestone Magistrates Court on Tuesday May 24.
Battlebus - final stop

Channel 4 News understands that on 7 May - election day itself - was the biggest campaigning day for the Mackinlay campaign. Staff and activists on the bus appear to have taken part in local campaigning to get out the vote for Craig Mackinlay. He tweeted: "Thanks to @MrMark Clarke and his @roadtrip2015 #battlebus2015 -- 60 people on the way to lead charge in #SouthThanet." We can reveal that none of the £400 costs incurred by this Battlebus visit appear to have been declared.

Team 2015

Channel 4 News has also obtained evidence of repeated visits by bus loads of Team 2015 activists who appear to have campaigned for Craig Mackinlay MP. These include visits on 4 April, 9 April, April 11 and 12, and 26 April. We have obtained video footage of the Team 2015 visit on 9 April which shows the then-party's chairman Grant Shapps encouraging the activists to campaign for the local candidate Craig Mackinlay, who thanks the activists for supporting him.

None of the costs incurred on these Team 2015 visits appear to be on Mr Mackinlay's candidate spending return, despite clear guidance from the Electoral Commission that the costs of campaigning for the candidate must be declared by them in order to promote fairness.

Links to Conservative party headquarters

In the Broadstairs campaign office - the campaign schedule was photographed by Emily Ashton, from Buzzfeed. It stated that on the 9 April, the Transport Minister John Hayes MP visited Manston Airport which was at the time considered a major local issue in South Thanet. It was not a matter considered to be of national significance.

Channel 4 News has obtained evidence that a conference room was booked at the airport Holiday Inn hotel for a Conservative Party event on April 9. The booking was made in the name of CCHQ staffer Marion Little OBE. None of the costs associated with this event appear to have been declared in the South Thanet election spending return. Nor does it appear to have been declared nationally. This appears to fit into a pattern of apparently undeclared spending involving senior figures at CCHQ that has been identified by Channel 4 News in previous investigations.

The Electoral Commission is already investigating three by-elections in 2014, which took place in a "regulated period" when all spending should have been declared. In those by-elections and in South Thanet, Channel 4 News obtained hotel receipts in Newark, Clacton, Rochester totalling some 770 nights of accommodation which were booked under Marion Little's name and home address.

We have also identified some £4,000 of bookings made by Ms Little at the Premier Inn in Margate. The law says any money spent promoting the local candidate must be declared by the candidate and their agent on their local spending return. Failure to declare is a criminal offence. The hearing on whether Kent Police will be given a time extension - already granted to 18 police forces up and down the country - is due to take place on Wednesday next week.


This from the Guardian:-

Corbyn orders review to ready Labour for potential snap election

Jeremy Corbyn has asked Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, to carry out a review of Labour’s internal structures as part of a package of measures aimed at putting the party on a war footing in case of an early general election. Kerslake is expected to report within weeks on the relationships between Corbyn’s office, the shadow cabinet and the party at large, with a view to making Labour’s machinery work more smoothly.

Andrew Fisher, the leader’s leftwing adviser, will become director of policy as part of the shift, which will be seen as a consolidation of the grip of the party’s far-left on senior jobs. Simon Fletcher, the veteran party operator and close ally of Ken Livingstone, has been given the task of readying Labour to fight elections as director of campaigns and planning.

One senior Corbyn ally said: “The threat of a challenge has receded; Jeremy is stronger, so we can now focus on what we should be doing, which is preparing for a general election, whenever that may be.” Some Labour MPs have become increasingly alarmed at the prospect of a snap general election if the Conservatives are destabilised by party divisions over the EU referendum.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act should mean no general election until 2020; but it can be overturned by a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons. The promotion of Fisher will infuriate Corbyn’s critics within the party, some of whom reacted angrily when the firebrand adviser accompanied Corbyn to a meeting earlier this week.

Fisher joined Corbyn on Wednesday night at a meeting of the chairs of Labour’s backbench policy committees, who are elected by MPs and include former frontbenchers Chris Leslie, Tristram Hunt and Emma Reynolds. One MP asked Corbyn whether it was disrespectful for Fisher to attend, after he referred to Labour’s pre-general election shadow cabinet– several of whom were present – as “the most abject collection of complete shite”.

According to three of those present, Corbyn brushed off the criticism, insisting Fisher was a member of his staff and should be allowed to remain. The leader was asked a series of questions about party policies, including on Trident, the Heathrow third runway decision, deficit reduction and the future of education. Some MPs were disappointed at Corbyn’s answers, including that he had not yet decided the party’s stance should the government call an early vote on the future of the nuclear deterrent. “It was like questioning a teenager sitting outside the headmaster’s office,” said one Labour member.


This from the London Green Left Blog:-

There could be a General Election this Year

The Guardian reports that the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has ordered an internal party review to make sure that Labour is ready for a snap general election this year. Corbyn has asked a former head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, to look at the party’s machinery to make sure it operates as smoothly possible. A report is expected to be written in next few weeks.

This is the back drop to the European Union (EU) referendum campaign, the result of which could trigger a political crisis in the UK, and lead to a general election in the autumn. This is because of the effect the campaign is having on the ruling Conservative government, which is pretty much split down the middle on the issue of whether we leave or remain in the EU.

If the UK votes to leave, then the Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be forced to resign by his party’s MPs, and he would have lost all authority since he is so closely associated with remain campaign. I think he would be gone within a matter a days, whatever he is saying in public now.

If the referendum result is to remain in the EU, by a smallish margin, I still think he will be forced out by his MPs, perhaps half of whom support leaving the EU, because they dislike the way Cameron has campaigned to remain and are increasingly unhappy with his premiership. It only takes 50 Tory MPs to write letters to trigger a vote of no confidence in the party leader, which I think he will struggle to win.

In the event that the remain campaign wins big, he will be on safer ground, but all of the emotions that this issue has stirred up can’t be easily contained now, in a party has a history of division on matters European. I think a challenge could still come in these circumstances, and Cameron may not survive it.

If Cameron is forced out, that in itself doesn’t mean that we will have a general election, whoever takes over as Prime minister could just serve until 2020. We have seen this happen before, John Major after Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown after Tony Blair, where if the opinion polls are poor for the governing party, the urge is to hang on, hoping things will improve. In these two examples they didn’t appear to, and the governing party carried for as long as possible. Brown of course lost in 2010, but Major did win in 1992.

The Brown example, after his infamous ‘bottling’ of calling an election when Blair stood down in 2007, has made an impression on the next leadership hopefuls in the Tory party, and they don’t want to make the same mistake. Brown would have probably won narrowly in 2007 and this would have given him his own mandate, and the likes of Boris Johnson may decide this is best course of action.

We do now have the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which only allows general elections every five years, unless a two thirds majority of MPs vote for it. This is possible I think in the scenarios outlined above, but will need the backing of over a hundred Tory MPs, and all of the opposition parties. The other option might be to abolish the Fixed Term Act, but that is a tricky route to take with the Tories only having a small majority, it could be blocked by a handful of Tory MPs.

It is certainly hard to see the Tories re-uniting after this referendum, whatever the result is. A vote to leave the EU will cause a constitutional crisis as well as political one. The Scots will certainly demand another independence referendum, as they will argue, quite rightly in my view, that the UK they voted to stay in, has changed fundamentally, so a huge upheaval is pretty much guaranteed, and a general election could be part of that.

But I wouldn’t bet against a general election even if we vote to remain. Boris Johnson’s decision to join the leave campaign is a naked grab for the Prime Minister’s job, more than anything to do with the EU itself. Perhaps the Green Party should be thinking about readying ourselves for the fall out from this referendum too?


This is how rattled Tory HQ is - the Electoral Commission had to go to the High Court in order to force disclosure of key documents. Here's a press release from 12th May:-

Electoral Commission statement on application to the High Court for the Conservative and Unionist Party to disclose documents and information

The Electoral Commission has today (12 May) announced that as part of its investigation launched on 18 February 2016 into Conservative Party campaign spending returns, it has made an application to the High Court for a document and information disclosure order. The application, which names the Conservative and Unionist Party as the Respondent, is made under paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 19B to the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000.

Why the Commission is taking this action

Using its powers under PPERA, and in line with its Enforcement Policy, the Electoral Commission may issue a statutory notice requiring any person, including a registered party, to provide us with specific documents and/or information as part of an investigation. This places the recipient under a legal obligation to provide the required material. However, if the recipient does not comply with this statutory notice, the Commission may apply to the High Court for a disclosure order which if granted would be the court compelling the Respondent to release the required documents and information to the Commission.

The Commission issued the Conservative and Unionist Party with two statutory notices requiring the provision of material relevant to its investigation. However, the Party has only provided limited disclosure of material in response to the first notice (issued on 18 February 2016) and no material in response to the second notice (issued on 23 March 2016). That follows the Commission granting extensions of time to comply.

Bob Posner, Director of Party and Election Finance & Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission said:
“If parties under investigation do not comply with our requirements for the disclosure of relevant material in reasonable time and after sufficient opportunity to do so, the Commission can seek recourse through the courts. We are today asking the court to require the Party to fully disclose the documents and information we regard as necessary to effectively progress our investigation into the Party’s campaign spending returns.”

Friday 27 May 2016

Latest From Napo 107

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that an impending Bank Holiday sees a bumper communication from Napo HQ. Here's a highly edited version of the General Secretary's blog, followed by a general mailout sent this afternoon:-

HMI Probation pull no punches

Dame Glenys Stacey, the new HMIP supremo has wasted no time in stamping her forensically impressive style on her new department’s activities.

While I have always been impressed by the work of her predecessors, this week’s fifth post-Transforming Rehabilitation report from the inspectorate provided a particularly clear and well-constructed critique of the many continuing issues that we have been raising with politicians and stakeholders within the criminal justice system.

Essentially, Dame Glenys and her team have found that whilst there has been some progress in the interface between the National Probation Service (NPS) and the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) there are continuing deficiencies in the areas of risk management, court reports, non-application of breaches and the woeful provision of “Through the Gate” rehabilitation services by a number of the 21 CRCs.

Not exactly ground breaking news in itself some may say, which is probably why the media largely ignored the issue in favour of more and more on the Euro referendum, and Jose Mourinho's image rights, but it provides us with plenty of material to take into our meeting with Michael Gove next month and before that senior NOMS and CRC Managers.

While anyone can say 'we told you so' about TR, its solutions we need and fast; but anyone who thinks we have given up the ghost on the idea of seeing underperforming CRC contractors placed under the responsibility of local Police and Crime Commissioners, or better still being stripped of their contract for non-delivery has not really been listening.

As always we will pick up these findings along with those from the recent NAO report and maintain pressure wherever we can. It is also important that we use the local conduit of NPS Divisional JNCC's and contact with senior CRC management to ask uncomfortable questions.

E3 statement from Napo

We have today issued as comprehensive a statement as possible about the up to date position on E3. It’s going out to the email boxes of all NPS and CRC members but here it is if you want a preview. https://www.napo.org.uk/news/e3-what-and-what-not-agreed


This statement is being sent to all Napo members working within the NPS and CRCs. It provides you with up to date news and factual information about the work that Napo is undertaking on your behalf and the latest position in the ongoing negotiations that are taking place between the probation unions and senior NOMS management on the E3 project within NPS.

Napo secure important assurances for NPS members

Branches were recently issued with news (see here) about the agreement that Napo recently reached with NOMS about the process for implementing their objectives contained in the E3 operational change programme for the National Probation Service.

This should not be mistaken as an agreement about the various aspects of E3, many of which Napo are either implacably opposed to, or that we have serious reservations about regarding operational feasibility.

It is the primary function of any trade union to do all it can to protect the security of employment of its members. In the above Branch Circular we outlined the work we have undertaken to ensure no compulsory redundancies, pay protection and future placements in the pay protected band. Even as this statement goes to press your union is seeking further improvements to the E3 implementation agreement which we hope to have more news about next week.

Understandably, our members have continued to raise a host of questions about how E3 will impact upon them personally. Where we are not able to provide a clear answer, we are forwarding these on to the E3 team so that they can start to answer them, and you are encouraged to keep these coming into us ideally through your Napo Branch.

What is still under negotiation?

Napo is adopting a robust position in respect of a number of issues that feature in the programme and below we summarise what we have done so far and what we hope to achieve.

Napo are collectively involved in three distinct pieces of work relating to E3. Firstly we have been vigorously challenging the outcome of the E3 job evaluation process for Victim Liaison Officers and Approved Premises staff. It is our view that this process was flawed and important elements of some roles were missed out or misinterpreted leading to anomalous outcomes. We also have unanswered questions about some of the other outcomes, including those in relation to SPOs.

At the last meeting of the National Negotiating Council (NNC) it was agreed to call a pause to the appeals process which would have resulted in hundreds of members having to lodge individual appeals in respect of the outcomes.

Instead, a new moderation process was agreed which has allowed the unions to gather the views of members from all of the grades involved, and resubmit revised Job descriptions and questionnaires which better reflect the actuality of the work that is undertaken.

Napo members from those groups have provided invaluable support in helping us draw up our challenge to the earlier exercise. We will be discussing the situation with NOMS at our next meeting with them as well as the logistical challenges that have arisen due to their intention to convene new JE panels over the course of late June and early July.

Again, we will issue definitive news about this as soon as it becomes available. We fully appreciate that the long gaps between us being in a position to provide more news adds to the uncertainty that members are facing, but JE is one of several equally important areas of negotiation that we are involved in, and we need to ensure that we properly manage the conflicting demands and do all we can to flesh out the detail and secure our aims, before we can report the outcomes of our discussions.

Meanwhile, and to be absolutely clear, Napo does not (and has not) agreed to the notion that anyone’s pay and terms and conditions should be reduced as a result of E3, and this is why we have secured the various protections that are mentioned above.

The other strand of E3 work is the consultation on the overall proposed operating model. To clarify the process, this was issued to the trade unions at the same time as all staff in the NPS at the start of a period of consultation. That consultation closed recently and now we await a formal response from the employers to our submission (see here - Napo Feedback on NPS Operating Model ) and further discussions with NOMS about the future direction of E3.

VLOs and AP Staff

There are two particularly controversial issues that we are engaged with right now. Firstly the position of Victim Liaison Officers where the original outcome of the E3 Job Evaluation scored the role at Band 3. We are in no doubt that our VLO members are seriously angry about this, and we have taken the various representations on board in our engagement with the employer. We have made it clear that we do not accept the JE result and the notion that people should be asked to undertake a role that other staff are paid at a higher rate for. Napo is pressing for a JE reassessment that confirms our view that this work is worthy of band 4 remuneration.

Secondly, in respect of the proposed changes to AP duty rotas, and the use of private contractors on night supervision, (where Napo has made it absolutely clear that we are totally opposed to NOMS proposals), we are currently considering the most effective means of consulting with our AP based members and this may involve workplace meetings and/or an indicative ballot.

Engagement with members

Obviously, many elements of the E3 operating model are of major concern to all our members and nobody here is able to say that we have all the answers to them at this time given the magnitude of the E3 change programme. As you would expect, we are prioritising these in terms of potential threats to your terms and conditions as well as the key professional issues that are before us. All this represents a substantial piece of work which we are trying to deal with alongside the continually challenging issues that are arising within the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies.

Napo Link Officers and Officials will be pleased to try and help Branches organise members meetings which we will do our best to attend but please ask your branch representatives to make contact with Chivalry Road as soon as possible.

HMIP report vindicates Napo's continuing concerns

You may already have seen the Napo press release (see here) in response to this week’s HMI Probation report. This vindicates many of the concerns that members have expressed in terms of risk management and service delivery across CRCs and the NPS.

In CRCs it is helpful to have an independent verification of the significant concerns around not being able to appropriately enforce. We know that Napo members fear the potential consequences of this approach in terms of public safety and we will use the additional evidence of the scale of the problem to increase the pressure on the MoJ to take real action about it. Napo branches may also wish to use this in local consultation and negotiation meetings. It is also helpful to see a critique of the much vaunted 'Through the Gate' (TTG) regime, which we know, from member feedback, is not necessarily providing any meaningful additional support for individuals leaving custody.

The HMIP report also confirms that we have been correct in our assertion that there are serious public interest concerns with regard to the E3 proposals for the production of pre-sentence reports; HMIP again highlights the major issues about public safety that we have continually been raising with politicians and stakeholders within the criminal justice system, especially over the increasing use of short format pre-sentence reports, coupled with the blurring of role boundaries linked to this work.

A recent meeting between Napo and the Magistrates’ Association revealed that the MOJ missive for all non-High Risk PSR's to be undertaken as standalone reports has hardly filled the judiciary with confidence.

In our submission to the E3 consultation it can be seen that there are already concerns among experienced court based members that their views about the appropriate type of PSR required to assess the risks posed by a defendant are being overridden by the drive to achieve unrealistic delivery targets.

During the E3 discussions we have tried to maintain a line which says that the same protections should be offered to PSOs working in Court as those working in Community Supervision Teams, and that staff should only undertake assessments on cases which are reserved to POs in the tiering model if they are appropriately qualified and remunerated as a PO.

We have also made it clear that PSOs and POs must only undertake work that they are trained to do and that what the department is trying to do to save costs is simply unsafe. This is an issue that we have already flagged up with the Secretary of State in advance of our meeting with him next month and in light of media coverage over the last day or so it will again be raised urgently with senior NOMS management.

NPS terms and conditions

We are aware that members are eagerly awaiting news of progress towards adopting some of the more favourable civil service terms and conditions including maternity/shared parental leave.

We are working with the employers on these along with other policies. These national negotiations have been stalled for some time through no fault of Napo and we have pressed NOMS to get things moving. But it will come as no surprise that the employers have prioritised those policies which they perceive to save them money over those which will incur additional costs to.

Please be assured that we will continue to use the agreed processes to make the case for our members. In Napo this means following the strategy devised by our Probation Negotiating Committee (PNC) and agreed by the NEC to get the right agreement for members via negotiations. Once we have firm proposals from the employers we will share these with members. If the proposals from the employers vary significantly from the agreed PNC/NEC strategy we would seek approval from members via consultation with Napo branches.

Sticking with Napo

The work that Napo undertakes for its members and the protections that we have secured under E3 impact on all NPS staff. In the 21 CRCs your union faces a huge negotiating agenda along with the continuing threat to hundreds of jobs. This is why it is increasingly important for staff in the probation service to belong to Napo as their union of choice. If you agree with these sentiments and are working alongside colleagues who you know are not Napo members then please feel free to share this report with them and encourage them to join us!

Please look out for further updates from Napo on E3 and a range of other issues as soon as it is available.


Ian Lawrence     
       Chris Winters             Yvonne Pattison
General Secretary     National Co-Chair     National Co-Chair

Responses to Inspection Report

Let's not forget that this report is based on pre-arranged inspections, NOT random unannounced visits. It therefore beggars belief that despite being in a position to polish their turds, neither CRC nor NPS could produce anything like acceptable results. How can 25% or 33% failure to meet standards be even vaguely acceptable, let alone "more than two-thirds"? This is the impact of TR on what was previously a gold-standard public service.

Yes, it is all true and as a CRC PO I am told to do all I can to avoid breach and go to huge efforts to get offenders through the door. I have no problem with that but being asked to alter a decision on a record from unacceptable absence to acceptable is something I will not do. Remember that as CRC staff we carry some of the riskiest and unpredictable cases, namely domestic violence, accountable for majority of murders in UK. Ok, if they do it they go to NPS but we are holding the risk before it happens. I refuse to massage the figures like G4S and will breach if I feel I need to as a matter of public protection. Do not forget fellow officers that if the shit hits the fan it is your name that will go up in lights and when you look back, there is no one there to support you. You will be on your own in the spotlight! So stick to your guns and breach if you have real concerns.

Fuck me! Probation in the headlines. What will we do to capitalise on some public awareness of the TR scandal that we already know all about? Not much if past form is anything to go by. On another note, maybe some bright journalist reading this blog might pick up on this story too. Its a good one. Here's your free headline. "Grayling's Reforms Cause Prison Drug Crisis". I am reliably informed that HMPS have identified a worrying new trend where people on PSS are deliberately breaching in order to get a two week lie down in their Cat B local. Back in with a couple of ounces of gear in a condom up your arse equals a highly lucrative payout. Perhaps Grayling would approve of this example of the entrepreneurial spirit or maybe the CRC's will use it as an excuse for not breaching? Great to see someone else is making money out of TR though, isn't it?

60% staff gone in CRC Training Team through EVR or resignations since split. Several recommendations regarding insufficient training. Am one of 40% still in post and really concerned about future staff training and development. Focus however on impact of TR on operational staff.

The BBC news item was welcome. I am a PO in a CRC and I am certain that with increasing regularity that breaches and recalls are not being made because of the contract. I know that when this happens people go on to reoffend when they otherwise might not have, a very few will reoffend in a way that grabs the headlines although some who are not breached and recalled when they previously would have been will do neither, but this is not the real story with TR. 

Rehabilitation for many of the people we work with, those revolving in and out of the Courts, cannot be done on the cheap and quick, certainly not the quick and I would say not on the cheap. The models the profiteers are working to want everything ticked off in the first 3 months of a community sentence or licenced supervision period with tokenistic interventions. For some cases this may appear to work but for the remainder, the people caught in the system more regularly, these are people who are usually faced with multiple problems, substance misuse, unemployment, homelessness, mental health, emotional affects from an abusive childhood or adult relationships, problematic peer associations, anti-social attitudes and much more. 

In these cases, all cases, a good starting point for effective and efficient work is a good initial professional assessment and then professionals who can develop a good working relationship to support people to bring about self-directed or guided changes in their lives. This can take quite some time, perseverance and effort and is aided by well trained, experienced and skilled professionals. Sodexo et al did not sign up to this vision and when they figure out that a profit cannot  be squeezed in the way that they had anticipated they will be gone, either that or Probation work will be?

Could morale be any lower in CRCs? Every evening I get home (late of course) and contemplate resignation but at my age (50 ish) I would struggle to get another job and still have a mortgage to pay. I work in a resettlement team where stress related illness is rife and we are struggling just to do the basic custody screening (target of 95%) let alone any meaningful work arising from this. We try and focus on the most pressing need of soon to be released prisoners - housing, but have very few meaningful resources to achieve the target of 90% of 'sustained accommodation' (clients remaining in that accommodation for at least 3 months following release). 

We are struggling, to put it mildly, but face the wrath of managers and prison governors when we fail to deliver. Indeed, we are regularly held to account for the shockingly poor results of the pathways we are supposed to be addressing and we are constantly reminded that prison did resettlement so much better when it was in-house. Colleagues in the field also apply the pressure with 'well it's your job to find him somewhere to live.' Impossible with many of our medium risk revolving door clients who have fouled up with every housing provider in a 60 mile radius. Not sure where CRCs can go with TTG apart from to admit failure and push it back to governors.

I'm sorry. I'm one of the people on the receiving end of the awfulness of Basic Custody Screening. It achieves nothing. I usually know the person being screened and have yet to see one that is true. It is a total waste of time and effort and you guys must be knocking yourselves silly trying to achieve the target. For the first time ever I have heard two people in one week talk about trying to get back inside so they can make a bit of money. It's totally and utterly fucked up.

I was paid off by CRC last year on a non-EVR rate. I found myself between a rock & a hard place so chose to jump with a basic parachute rather than being thrown out without one. Within 24 hours I was cold contacted by two agencies offering me generous rates & "guaranteed" 6 month contracts, the higher offer being £34/hour as a private limited company or £25/hour as a PAYE staffer. They also offered to link me in with "a consortium" of independents who share the legal & accountancy costs... I gained the impression it was a tightly organised arrangement where everyone was in clover.

I refused & am quite happy pottering around doing gardens, painting sheds, occasional labouring to keep the mortgage company happy. The stress-free lifestyle is blissful. Its painful reading about the pernicious, divisive & abusive murky depths into which the probation landscape has been plunged.

I'm agency. I'd jump at being permanent if there was a chance. I'd lose about £500 a month. I might be able to apply for a mortgage though and I wouldn't have that sick feeling when the SPO asked to see me. 3 placements already this year. 5 days notice each time when they finished me.

I've just breached a class A user who agreed to UPW as he was looking at custody. It got him out of the mess in court but now he's hit a problem as he can't attend UPW - I think he's capable of doing it but his lifestyle is such that there's no chance. Anyway, he DNA court, picked up on warrant and not only have they not deleted the hours (as per my application) but they've also given him an 8week curfew for breach. Fecking joke and bet ur bottom dollar he'll breach again, get custody and lose his flat etc etc. I wonder if people are deliberately set up to fail?

Absolutely right, some of the sentences coming out of the courts these days are absurd, the legacy of under-trained NPS staff not having enough time or enough information to do a proper job.

FFS. Probation ALWAYS had worked with short term prisoners albeit on a voluntary basis before CG decided this group of people would make a good 'market' for profit. Those who didn't want the intervention weren't forced, whereas now they are forced and the non compliant running rings around their officers and playing the system, wasting everyone's time.

South Yorkshire had one of the best Unpaid Work set ups in Probation, with an excellent compliance rate. However, under Sodexo, the compliance rate has spiralled down and down to 35%. Meanwhile, staff were told that they were breaching too much, and that the system could not cope, so every breach should be run past a manager. Clients are voting with their feet in regards to unpaid work, as are senior managers, and PSO staff.

It took decades to build our workforce up and 12 mths for privateers to destroy it. Slash & burn with staff there will be no option but to re-merge soon purely to pool resources - one simply cannot survive without the other. Diversity of staff personalities is what cannot be quantified on a spreadsheet so when privateers were rubbing their grubby little hands at the prospect of shedloads of money, they totally under-estimated that ultimately they could only control some of the staff, some of the time and this has been their undoing.


The following 'guest' piece was submitted anonymously yesterday and sounds a timely warning:- 

The cost of saying yes!

It was interesting to read the latest update from the HM Inspectorate of Probation and I noticed the headline “Staff told not to take action against probation breaches”. Where does that leave hard working staff that are being pushed to achieve these profitable outcomes? It's worth going back to see what has happened to staff that have followed the line of “just do it” or “JFDI”.

Look at A4E and its management of the DWP contract, this from the Independent “A dossier of evidence and complaints given to Ms Hodge, details of which The Independent on Sunday has seen, include allegations of past financial fraud, in-work bullying, claims of bad treatment and accusations that the welfare-to-work company delivered poorly run services. One complaint, written by someone who describes himself as a former A4E employee and whom the IoS has agreed not to name, described A4E as "nothing short of a gravy train". He said fraud at A4E had been "systemic" and "common practice".

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the public accounts committee, who said of the leaked document about A4E "This appears to be devastating evidence of systemic fraud within A4E. Either A4E failed to act or to inform DWP, or they did inform DWP and the department failed to investigate properly.”

The BBC noted in the report on A4E that "potential fraudulent or irregular activity is not confined to one particular geographical area… and shows a potential systematic failure to mitigate the risk towards this behaviour at both an office and regional level".

So what happened to the people who just say yes? This from the Daily Mail, “Four former employees of scandal-hit welfare-to-work firm A4E admitted swindling taxpayers yesterday. The guilty pleas follow a police investigation into the troubled company which is paid more than £200m by the Government each year. Julie Grimes, 50, Aditi Singh, 30, Bindiya Dholiwar, 27, and Dean Lloyd, 36, admitted dozens of offences of fraud and forgery. A whistleblower claimed forged signatures and blank timesheets were 'routine' techniques used for bumping up the numbers of successful job placements. The four former A4e recruiters admitted a total of 32 offences during a hearing at Reading Crown Court yesterday”.

Wikipedia noted “In March 2015 six former (A4E) employees were jailed for forging files in a scam that was said to have cost taxpayers almost £300,000. Another four ex-members of staff received suspended prison sentences.” Interestingly the Judge in the case commented "No amount of pressure justifies the wholesale fabrication of information in files or the forgery of other people's signatures on documents, all of which is designed to extract money from the Department of Work and Pensions." The judge also “said it was not for her to decide whether more senior managers should also be held to account”.

Wikipedia notes on its A4E page “A former employee from the Manchester office of A4E reports that pressure to meet quotas made fraud commonplace: 'Forging signatures used to go on all the time. You had no choice because it was made very clear to you that you would lose your job unless you reached your targets. That comment sounds vaguely familiar. The response of senior management at A4E was blunt “A4E chief executive Andrew Dutton said the company has a "zero-tolerance policy" towards fraud.

So what has happened to A4E, a small number of staff have been jailed or given suspended sentences. A4E move on they are now People Plus and according to their home page “We are a leading employment support and training services company with a mission to transform people's lives and businesses through work and training.”

It goes on to state:- 

“Justice relates to our operation of the probation service in Warwickshire and West Mercia through a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) formed as part of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation project. Across the country we also operate programmes to help ex-offenders take their first step back into work upon their release. This includes the delivery of the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) in ten prisons in the East of England. Our unique position as a provider of mainstream services both in custody and in the community enables us to provide a seamless transition into dedicated employment search and support upon release”.
 So where does that leave staff in a culture of “Just do it”? 

1. Don’t do anything without an audit trail
2. Keep copies of all relevant documents (off site)
3. Keep notes
4. If all else fails, record conversations.

Thursday 26 May 2016

TTG Not Working - Shock!

It's interesting to see that the BBC have picked up on at least one aspect of the latest report from HM Inspectorate of Probation as to how TR is going:-

Staff 'told not to take action against probation breaches'

Probation officers are being told not to take action against offenders who breach sentence terms, because their companies risk being fined, a watchdog in England and Wales has said. Since 2015, private probation groups have received payments linked to offenders meeting sentence conditions. But this may have deterred staff from taking action against people breaching community orders, inspectors found. The government said it was addressing issues raised in the report.

Government changes have seen the probation service split in two, with community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) supervising low and medium-risk offenders and a new National Probation Service (NPS) taking over the supervision of high-risk offenders. CRCs were transferred from public to private ownership on 1 February 2015.

'Discourage' community orders

Under the system, payments to CRCs are linked to offenders complying with the terms of their sentence and not committing further crimes. But the Inspectorate of Probation found a number of probation officers at CRCs said they had been told by bosses not to recommend to the courts that an offender's community sentence be revoked because their company would incur a financial penalty.

One officer said their organisation's approach was to "discourage" enforcing community orders or the conditions of a prisoner released on licence. Community orders are sentences imposed by courts in place of jail terms. They can include rehabilitation activities, unpaid work and drug or alcohol treatment. Offenders who fail to comply with community orders can have the terms of their orders amended to be more onerous and can even face prison sentences for repeated breaches.

The report also found that more than two-thirds of offenders released from prison had not received enough help from the CRC before release in relation to accommodation, employment or finances. In some areas a shortage of probation officers meant that CRC agency staff were allocated medium-risk-of-harm cases, for which they felt insufficiently trained.

The report, which related to inspections undertaken from October 2015 to February 2016, found the NPS and CRCs were now working better together but that "significant problems remain". Advice given to courts was less reliable in some cases, but the report also said the work the NPS did with many high-risk offenders was good and included effective joint working with specialists.

Dame Glenys Stacey, chief inspector of probation, said CRCs needed to do more work to prepare prisoners for release. She added: "Without sufficient preparation, those released are more likely to offend again and so find themselves back inside."


From the report:-


This is the final report in a series looking at the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. We report on the position as it is now, some 15 months after the transfer (from the state) of the ownership of Community Rehabilitation Companies. 

The National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies are now working and communicating better together than they were in the months following implementation. We are happy to acknowledge improvements made to date and pleased also to recognise the good work undertaken in parts of the National Probation Service and in some of the Community Rehabilitation Companies. Some court work and staff training and morale remain sticking points, however, and we found as well that not enough is being done for people in prison as they prepare for release. 

The new arrangements put an increased emphasis and dependency on the quality of court reporting, but it is still proving problematic, in part due to the demands of speedy justice. Oral reports are increasingly common, but a good system record and domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks are needed in all cases, so as to inform sentencing and enable Community Rehabilitation Companies to focus promptly and knowledgeably on the work needed to reduce reoffending. In addition, court staff need to be sufficiently aware of what Community Rehabilitation Companies can offer so as to advise the court appropriately in relation to rehabilitation activity requirements, a common feature of community sentences. 

The poor or patchy morale we reported on previously is still evident, mainly in some of the Community Rehabilitation Companies. Some staff expressed concern about their competence to undertake their roles, and training had not always been delivered in a timely way to equip them with the skills required to enable them to undertake new or changed roles. 

With the aim of reducing reoffending, Transforming Rehabilitation introduced supervision to all prisoners released into the community. We were particularly disappointed to note that in a substantial proportion of cases, not enough had been done before release to help the individuals with their accommodation, employment or finances. 

Community Rehabilitation Company leaders have been understandably focused on implementing substantial change. For some this has been at a cost to quality assurance and effective management oversight of the day-to-day. With the new arrangements increasingly embedded, we hope to see increased emphasis on the quality of work over the course of the year. 

By the time of publication of this report, our new adult inspection programme and methodology will have commenced. We will be reporting on the quality of probation work, and whether or not it is reducing reoffending, protecting the public and ensuring individuals abide by their sentence. In addition, we will take into account the findings from this and our earlier focus on Transforming Rehabilitation as we determine topics for thematic inspections this year. 

Finally, we hope that the detail we provide in this report will assist the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies as they review and develop their working practices.

Dame Glenys Stacey 
HM Chief Inspector of Probation

Executive summary 

Assisting sentencing and allocation of cases 

Court staff from the National Probation Service prepare court reports to assist sentencing and then determine, on the basis of specified criteria, whether the case is to be allocated to the National Probation Service or to the Community Rehabilitation Company. Good court work is essential to assist sentencing, to allocate the offender to the right organisation and for effective work to start promptly. 

We found that reports varied in quality, with written reports generally much better than reports presented orally. Unsurprisingly, assessments were generally better for cases allocated to the National Probation Service than to the Community Rehabilitation Companies; these are the higher risk and Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement cases and were more likely to have been adjourned for a written report, allowing the author more time to gather information. In some cases the risk of serious harm presented by the offender was not fully assessed, sometimes because checks had not been made to find out whether there were concerns about child safeguarding or domestic abuse, or the results of such checks had not been received. Where information was missing at the point of sentence, this should have been recorded on the allocation documentation, but was often missing or not always read by the responsible officer to whom the case was subsequently assigned. In addition, in some cases there was no written record of the oral report which had been presented to the court. 

Some court staff had not received sufficient training, and lacked confidence in completing the necessary assessments. Some report writers did not know enough about the work offered by the local Community Rehabilitation Company, which made it difficult for them to propose interventions most likely to address the offender’s problems. Sometimes they proposed a rehabilitation activity requirement ‘to address offending behaviour’, rather than a more targeted proposal which would help the responsible officer assigned to the case quickly to plan the appropriate work. 

Inadequate assessment or recording at the court stage may result in the offender being allocated to the wrong organisation, or supervision proceeding on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate information. The National Offender Management Service had recently issued a new Probation Instruction to improve the quality of reports and information exchange. 

Early Work in the Community Rehabilitation Companies 

Work should start promptly after sentence or release on licence so that individuals can be actively engaged in addressing their offending behaviour and other related needs. We found that offenders were generally allocated quickly to a responsible officer, but some did not meet them for over ten days. Arrangements were more efficient in one area where there was particularly good liaison between the court team and the office based case administrators. 

In most cases appropriate sentence plans had been put in place to address an individual’s offending related problems. They had not, however, always been involved in any meaningful way, reportedly because of the pressure to meet performance targets for completion. Most plans recorded how often there would be contact with the individual, but in over half it was not clear how the rehabilitation activity requirement days would be filled, a consequence of the lack of clarity in why this requirement was proposed to the court. 

It was disappointing to find that over two-thirds of offenders released from prison had not received enough help pre-release in relation to accommodation, employment or finances; in one-third the necessary work had not started within four weeks of sentence or release. Notwithstanding the slow start to supervision, we saw many cases where responsible officers were working imaginatively with individuals to help them change their behaviour. Two-fifths had made progress on problem areas, although, with the exception of one area, where performance was much better less than one-third had improved their accommodation or their education, training and employment prospects.

The individual’s attendance at appointments was usually monitored well, and formal warnings generally given where there were absences or unacceptable behaviour. We were told that responsible officers were discouraged from enforcing an order through the court because of financial penalties applied to the organisation; the positive consequence of this was that they worked hard to secure the individual’s compliance. 

The Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service have to work closely together when it is necessary to return an offender to court because they are in breach of their sentence, or when the individual’s risk of harm appears to be increasing and it is decided to transfer their supervision to the National Probation Service. In the early days of Transforming Rehabilitation, these ‘interface’ areas caused some concern, but on the whole the arrangements appeared to have improved. 

Community Rehabilitation Companies are not responsible for managing offenders assessed as presenting a high risk of harm to other people, which means that the accuracy of risk analysis at the start of sentence is critical. We were impressed by Community Rehabilitation Company managers who told us that where a full analysis had not been undertaken by the National Probation Service, they expected their own staff to complete it. A number of Community Rehabilitation Company cases do, however, present a medium risk of harm, often because of domestic abuse or child safeguarding issues. In such cases we would expect to see a plan outlining how the risk will be managed, but these had not always been completed well enough. In some areas, a shortage of probation officers meant that probation service officers and agency staff were allocated medium risk of harm cases for which they felt insufficiently trained. Some senior probation officers were able to provide good quality, regular supervision, but others were stretched, covering several offices, and the quality of supervision they were able to provide was not good enough. 

Early Work in the National Probation Service 

Most offenders allocated to the National Probation Service saw their responsible officer soon after sentence or release, although a few waited over ten days for their first appointment, which was too long. Most received an induction to make sure that they understood what was required of them. Overall, more people subject to supervision were involved in planning the work that would be done with them during their sentence than in our previous inspections, but this disguised marked differences between areas. 

As in the Community Rehabilitation Company cases, resettlement needs had not always been addressed before release from prison, and constructive work did not always start promptly after sentence or release, although again some areas did better than others. In many cases we saw good, focused work to reduce reoffending and the risk of harm to others. Some individuals had, however, missed a number of appointments, some of which were recorded as acceptable without a rationale for this judgement. In threefifths of National Probation Service cases, progress had been made on problems linked with offending, a better outcome than in the Community Rehabilitation Companies, particularly in relation to improvements in accommodation. In common with Community Rehabilitation Company cases, improvements in education, training and employment prospects were more disappointing. 

Given the nature of National Probation Service cases, we would expect to see risk of harm to others assessed and managed well in all cases. Where a full risk analysis was completed, a quarter were not good enough, often because they had not been updated and did not draw on all available sources of information. Furthermore, one-third of risk management plans were not sufficiently thorough. Despite these deficits, we saw good work with many high risk offenders, with examples of effective joint work with specialist workers, good use of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and an active contribution to multi-agency Child Protection procedures. Approved premises were used well to provide appropriate restrictions and manage the risk of harm to others. We were pleased to note that the use of purposeful home visits had improved since our previous inspections. In summary, while some aspects of work in the National Probation Service still needed to improve, in a number of important areas, work in the National Probation Service was better than in the Community Rehabilitation Companies.

As in the Community Rehabilitation Companies, some middle managers felt stretched and were now covering teams across a large area, with reduced administrative support. They reported that they felt the pressure to meet performance targets at the expense of quality. While probation officers felt competent to manage their cases, some probation service officers were less confident having not yet received relevant training, for example in managing people who had committed sexual offences. Some felt very well supported by middle and senior managers, but others reported that they received little supervision. 


This is the fifth and final report in our series of inspections on Transforming Rehabilitation. In previous reports we have made a number of recommendations to the National Offender Management Service, the National Probation Service and the Community Rehabilitation Companies. Some progress has been made on a number of these recommendations but, given the scale of changes, it is perhaps not surprising to note that more progress is still required. We have not made any new recommendations at this stage but will be following up our findings during the course of our Quality & Impact inspection programme.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Political Context

I thought it was worth taking a moment to reflect a little on wider political matters, not least to be reminded of the direction of travel. First off, it strikes me that Theresa May doesn't seem to have read the No10 memo suspending ordinary politics during the lead-up to the referendum, and especially not to pick a fight with anyone. Here she is laying down the gauntlet yesterday to firefighters in a speech to that favourite Tory think tank Reform, as reported in the Guardian. She'd better be careful though, because unlike the police, firefighters can go on strike:- 

Theresa May accuses fire and rescue services of significant failings

The home secretary, Theresa May, has criticised fire and rescue services for being 96% white, 95% male and allowing a “culture of bullying and harassment” in some parts of England and Wales. May said this lack of diversity, the existence of what she described as a “toxic” and “corrosive” culture in some parts of the fire and rescue services and a lack of accountability made necessary a programme of reform that was as “radical and ambitious as I have delivered in policing since 2010”.

In a speech to the Reform thinktank in London, she confirmed her intention to allow elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to take over fire and rescue services, where a local case to do so is made, and to introduce an independent inspection regime, which she said was currently impossible. The speech was May’s first major statement of direction since the Home Office took over responsibility for fire and rescue services this year.

She acknowledged the “fine tradition and proud record” of firefighters who were held in “profound affection” by their local communities. But she argued that their achievements were in spite of the framework they operated within and not because of it. “A fire and rescue landscape still beset by poor governance and structures. A workforce lacking diversity and still bound by many of the old ways of working. A service that requires further reform to improve accountability, bring independent scrutiny and drive transparency,” she said.

The home secretary said the overall size of the workforce had not changed in the last 10 years despite a 42% decrease in the number of incidents attended. But she said greater use of flexible shift patterns and relying on-call firefighters even in major towns and cities could secure significant savings without reducing the availability of frontline firefighters.

May said the fire and rescue workforce had to modernise and that she hoped she could work with the Fire Brigades Union to tackle the lack of diversity and end the culture of “bullying and harassment” in some parts of the country. But modernisation had to also extend to chief fire officers who, she said, could no longer be allowed to retire one day only to be rehired in the same job just a few days later with financial benefits that the rank and file could never expect. “It looks wrong; it erodes public confidence; it undermines the respect of firefighters and staff in their leadership. It must stop,” she said.

The existing fire authorities, which are made up of appointed councillors, bore “all the hallmarks of the flawed police authorities that I abolished in 2012”, she added. May said making the fire and rescue services accountable to PCCs would not amount to a police takeover or a top-down merger of the roles of police officers and firefighters.

“The important distinction between operational policing and firefighting will be maintained; fire officers will not be given the power of arrest and the law will continue to prevent full-time police officers from training as firefighters. Funding streams for police and fire will not be merged and PCCs will raise a separate fire precept, so local people can hold them to account for how their money is spent,” she said.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: 

“The home secretary may be surprised that we agree with her on some of the issues she raised. We have been calling for an independent inspectorate for some time, as the current system had led to huge imbalances on the standards imposed on services across the county. We support any move that will mean all fire and rescue services are inspected, validated and held accountable in a standardised fashion. We are all however surprised about the claims that the home secretary has made about the size of the fire and rescue workforce not having changed in the past decade. The record cuts that this government have imposed on the fire and rescue services have resulted in far fewer frontline firefighters and is contributing to a poorer and less reliable public service. Whilst we want to work with the home secretary for a greater diversity in our fire and rescue service, it needs to be pointed out that it was her government who in 2010 chose to remove the diversity targets that were in place, sending a clear signal to employers that diversity was of being downgraded.

This article in the Guardian serves as a reminder, if one were needed, of the direction of travel:-

Austerity is far more than just cuts. It’s about privatising everything we own

Almost everyone who gives the matter serious thought agrees that George Osborne and David Cameron want to reshape Britain. The spending cuts, the upending of the NHS, even this month’s near-miss over the BBC: signs lie everywhere of how this will be a decade, maybe more, of massive change. Yet even now it is little understood just how far Britain might shift – and in which direction.

Take austerity, the word that will define this government. Even its most astute critics commit two basic errors. The first is to assume that it boils down to spending cuts and tax rises. The second is to believe that all this is meant to reduce how much the country is borrowing. What such commonplaces do is reduce austerity to a technical, reversible project. Were it really so simple all we would need to do is turn the spending taps back on and wash away all traces of Osbornomics.

Austerity is far bigger than that: it is a project irreversibly to transfer wealth from the poorest to the richest. It’s doing the job very nicely: while the typical British worker is still earning less after inflation than he or she was before the banking crash, the number of UK-based billionaires has nearly quadrupled since 2009. Even while he slashes benefits, Osborne is deep into a programme to hand over much of what is still owned by the British public to the wealthiest.

Privatisation is the multibillion-pound centrepiece of Osborne’s austerity – yet it rarely gets a mention from either politicians or press. The Queen mentioned it in her speech last week, but the headline writers ignored it. And if you don’t know that this Thursday is the closing date for consultation on the sale of the Land Registry, our public record of who owns what property, that’s hardly your fault – I haven’t spotted it in the papers, either.

But without getting rid of prize assets, Osborne’s austerity programme falls apart. At a time when tax revenues are more weak stream than healthy flood, those sales bring much-needed cash into the Treasury and make his sums add up. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility has ruled that the only reason the chancellor met his debts target last year was because he flogged off our public assets. And what a fire sale that was, with everything from our last remaining stake in the Royal Mail to shares in Eurostar shoved out the door in the biggest wave of privatisations of any year in British history.

And more, much more, is to come. The all new and mostly grotesque housing bill will force local authorities to sell “high-value” council houses once a family moves out – which will basically hand over whatever remains of social housing in central London to investors. Osborne also wants local authorities “to dispose of potentially surplus assets”, of which he calculates they have £60bn “in property not used for schools or housing”. That would be property such as our public libraries and swimming pools – but to a government hellbent on asset-stripping such communal necessities are merely unsold inventory.

At Whitehall, ministers plan to sell a big chunk of Channel 4, and the public stake in the national air traffic control. And that’s just the start, because here’s something else you probably won’t have read about: Osborne has bundled up all of our public holdings – in every company from the collapsed banks to the Royal Mint – and put them under the control of a government organisation called UK Government Investments. Its CEO (what else?) is a former doyen of the City called Mark Russell. In a rare interview in 2013, Russell declared: “We don’t believe government makes for a particularly good shareholder. Our belief is that unless there is a good policy reason for government to have a shareholding then really we should be seeking to divest those shareholdings.” Everything must go is no longer the cry of distressed shopkeepers – it is now public policy.

As an employee of the taxpayer, Russell earns up to £159,999, which is far more than the prime minister’s salary. Yet the one thing he has done that you will have heard of was an unmitigated disaster. He was among those in charge of selling 70% of Royal Mail three years ago – a sale that, even the government now admits, brought in less money than it should. We let a 500-year-old public service go at a £1bn discount, a select committee of MPs calculated in 2014. And that takes us to the heart of the problem with such sales.

At best, privatisation is a short-term gain for a long-term loss. The public sells one of its prize assets in order to enable the chancellor to bank some cash immediately. In a report published on Monday, the campaign group We Own It calculates that if Osborne sells the Land Registry, National Air Traffic Services, Channel 4 and the Ordnance Survey the public will kiss goodbye to control over £7.7bn in dividends and profits in the next 50 years. Sure, we pocket a couple of billion now – but we lose far more in the long run.

These are services that have taken many decades, even centuries, of public investment and management to build up. The Land Registry dates back to Victorian times; the Ordnance Survey’s aerial photographs of enemy territory helped Britain win the first world war.

All that accumulated effort and ingenuity will be handed over to a small group of investors – and for what? Better management? A recent study of the evidence by the University of Greenwich concludes there is “no significant difference in efficiency between public and privately owned companies in public services”. For more investment? Ministers selling off everything from railways to water have promised privatisation will bring greater investment. It comes – but it’s always the public that ends up paying for it.

Thatcher claimed that selling off BT, British Gas and the rest would turn Britain into a shareholder democracy. Official figures show that Britons now own less than half as much of the UK stock market as they did before Thatcher’s first privatisation.

Osborne’s privatisation, like the rest of his austerity programme, will enable him to transfer wealth from the public to a far smaller group of private investors. The employees can look forward to cuts in jobs, pay and conditions – as we have seen across the privatised utilities. The rest of us, the customers, will endure higher bills and paying for hidden subsidies. And the chancellor? He will have brought in enough cash to enable him to make some pre-election tax cuts – to literally buy himself votes.

Osborne calls this privatisation. I treat it as part and parcel of austerity. But there is another term you and I might use. Because this making off with our public property is nothing more than legalised larceny.


Finally, a reminder from the past with Zoe Williams writing in the Guardian, February 2013. Harry Fletcher gets a mention with the London UPW contract that of course proved to be the trailblazer for much worse to come :-

This obsession with outsourcing public services has created a shadow state

The government has "finally woken up from its post-election slumber",notes Caroline de la Soujeole, from investment bank Seymour Pierce, "and is open for business … determined to find new, efficient ways of delivering services rather than cutting them". Huh. Who ever heard of a government that could cause this much damage while still asleep? But that is by no means the most wrong part of a short but entirely wrong statement.

By "open for business", the analyst means the government is outsourcing public services – at a huge rate. The value of such contracts has risen from £9.6bn in 2008 to £20.4bn in 2012. Seymour Pierce estimates that public sector outsourcing could hit (deep breath) £101bn by 2014-15.

You can see the existing contracts wherever you look – helping unemployed people find jobs has been entirely privatised. It's known as the "welfare market", a peerless example of double-speak in which people's welfare is ignored and market forces dominate. The Work Programme doesn't work at all on its own terms – though if, as I suspect, the true aim is to destroy the standing and the self-esteem of the unemployed, it is working quite well. That's worth between £3bn and £5bn over five years. Atos has £3bn worth of contracts, also over five years. The UK Border Agency issued contracts worth £1.7bn, all to three companies and running for five years. Probation services are outsourcing 60% of their work, valued at about £600m a year.

This is all based on the principle that the public sector is inherently inefficient. Hand it over to private companies and they will swoop in with their efficiency, their economies of scale, their incentives and their competitiveness, winnowing it down into a dart of perfectly targeted public spending.

In practice, when they say efficiency, that generally means lower wages. When they say economies of scale, that generally means constructing the contracts in such a way as to leave only the largest companies eligible to bid for them. When they say incentives, look closely and you will mainly see perverse incentives. And when they say competition, what you're actually left with is four or five – sometimes only three – companies, who barely compete with one another at all but instead operate as an unelected oligarchy.

Most public services are not about producing microchips, they're about human relationships – care work, parole, job-seeking, even assessing whether or not a disabled person is really disabled; they are about one human being spending time with another. The economist Ha-Joon Chang's famous example of the pitfall of efficiency is that it mainly means making things faster – and yet if you played a minuet at three times the speed, would that improve it?

A much less romantic example, but one that exists across the country, is being given a bath by a careworker. Your local authority has signed a contract for care work that's much lower than they were previously paying in-house. Now your bath has to be undertaken by someone who doesn't have time to take her coat off. You probably don't know her, because staff turnover averages 30% in this sector. Whoever she is, she's probably having to claim housing benefit and in-work benefits, so the public purse is paying one way or another anyway. Who wins from all this humiliation, the low-wage trap, and the isolation? Who wins when a waste management company takes over a contract and bin men are simply paid 25% less than the bin men three miles away? The shareholder, the private equity firm that bought out the waste management outfit and sold it on: not you, not us.

However, it is wrong to suppose that outsourcing only erodes wages at the bottom. It is a classless foe, and attacks people right up the pay spine (except at the top). According to Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, when Serco won the probation services contract in London it did so by massively underbidding the public sector with a view to stripping out 100 of the 550 jobs. Not to worry, you might think – the others will be covered by Tupe legislation that protects employees when ownership is transferred; pay, terms and conditions will be unaffected.

But possibly not – when Liberata won the education maintenance allowance and adult learning grant contract from a number of local authorities in 2007, scores of people were transferred from the public sector. It turned out their pensions weren't always protected. Then the company "restructured", a process that trumps Tupe, and the "scheme leader" tier was simply removed, which meant a pay cut for many of the most qualified staff.

Then it turned out that Liberata couldn't handle the contract, but by this time it was so large that the only other company capable of taking it on was Capita. When the present government came in and canned EMA, citing "unaffordability", the galling thing was that private sector bungling had made it quite expensive. So a government scheme that the data showed had a positive effect on young people's life-chances was trashed; skilled people were left unemployed; unskilled people, unemployable. And Capita probably walked away with a wedge because the coalition broke the contract. "Probably," I say, because this comes under the umbrella of so-called commercial confidentiality, so we will probably never know.

What happens when these firms, with their inexorable expansionist logic, bite off more than they can chew? We pay anyway. We paid G4S; we will pay it again when its prisons catch fire. We will pay A4e when it finds no jobs, we will pay Serco when its probation services fail. We will pay because even when they're not delivered by the public sector, these are still public services, and the ones that aren't too big to fail are too important. What any government creates with massive-scale outsourcing is not "new efficiency", it is a shadow state; we can't pin it down any more than we can vote it out. All we can do is watch.