Thursday 30 November 2017

Grayling Supports Unified Service

"Today, Chris Grayling arguing to hand over track maintenance contracts to network providers, claims its obvious that a single unified service is always going to perform better then one that's split up or divided!!"

Yes I choked on my bacon butty when I heard Grayling say that on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme yesterday. It's a bit off piste, but enlightening nevertheless to reflect on how much crap is spoken by this particular odious politician and how privatisation just doesn't work in some sectors. This from the Guardian:-   

East Coast rail 'bailout' could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions

The East Coast rail franchise will be terminated three years early, avoiding the embarrassment of another private firm handing back the keys to the government but potentially forfeiting hundreds of millions in premiums due to the Treasury. Under a rail strategy announced by the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, a new partnership model will replace the franchise contract of Virgin Trains East Coast (Vtec).

The train operator, a joint venture led by Stagecoach with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, had pledged to pay £3.3bn to run the service until 2023 when it was reprivatised in 2015 after six years in public hands. Instead, Vtec is likely to pay a fraction of that sum, with the bulk of payments due in the final years of the franchise. The firm signalled that it also expects its payments for the next three years to be cut. In the first full year of operation, it paid £204m. Shares in Stagecoach jumped 12% on the news.

Andy MacDonald, the shadow transport secretary, told the Commons that the strategy announcement was “a total smokescreen”. He said: “The real issue is that the East Coast franchise has failed again and the taxpayer will bail it out.” Pointing to the share price rise, he said: “Markets don’t lie. The secretary of state has let Stagecoach off the hook for hundreds of millions of pounds. He’s tough on everyone except the private sector.”

Grayling responded: “As we bring this franchise to a close and as we move to the new arrangements, no one is getting any bailout at all. Stagecoach will meet in full their commitments made to the government as part of this contract.”

Andrew Adonis, a former Labour transport secretary, tweeted that the government had “serious questions to answer about the fiasco on East Coast and why they are (in effect) bailing out Stagecoach/Virgin with taxpayer money”. Adonis nationalised East Coast in 2009 when the previous private operator National Express said it could not meet its promised payments to the Treasury. Expected growth in passenger numbers has not materialised and Stagecoach has been seeking a bailout from the government. The firm has admitted it overpaid for the franchise, but said that delays to infrastructure upgrades by Network Rail and the delivery of new Azuma trains were partly responsible.

Stagecoach’s chief executive, Martin Griffiths, said he was “encouraged by the positive new direction for Britain’s railway” and said the strategy was “a clear statement of intent to seek to negotiate new terms for the East Coast franchise with Virgin Trains East Coast and we are hopeful of reaching an agreement through to 2020 within the next few months”.

The rail strategy laid out by Grayling said the East Coast Partnership (ECP) would be “the first of the new generation of long-term regional partnerships bringing together the operation of track and train under a single leader and unified brand”. The partnership models will see private train companies invited to bid for contracts where they can take more control over tracks run by Network Rail.

But unions said that the move again called into question the franchising system, with contracts awarded without competition and firms walking away from contracts. Mick Cash, the RMT general secretary, said: “It stinks. It looks like the government rigging the market again in favour of the private sector. This is basically Chris Grayling manning the lifeboats and bailing out Virgin and Stagecoach once again.”

City analysts said the deal was necessary for Stagecoach and the Department for Transport (DfT). Gerald Khoo of Liberum said: “Despite the short-term challenges, much depended on infrastructure upgrades ... that Network Rail will not deliver in 2019, if at all. The DfT is responsible for its shortcomings. Consequently, both sides needed to find a way out.”

Transport commentator Christian Wolmar said: “Stagecoach were clearly in trouble – but it [the ECP] is a way for the government to save face over the very structure of franchising. What is the point of franchising if the risk is never with the private company, and the promised gains to the taxpayer are clearly just theoretical?”

More questions were raised by a separate decision to give First Group another contract to run Great Western Railway (GWR) up to 2024 after it was controversially allowed to continue running the service, despite dodging £800m due to the government in an original contract. The franchise, which runs commuter services into London Paddington and long-distance trains to Wales and the south-west, is likely to be broken up, under plans published by the DfT. The biggest commuter franchise, Govia, which operates the Thameslink, Great Northern and troubled Southern services, will also be broken up.

DfT will extend First’s current GWR franchise contract by another year, to April 2020, and then give a direct award for two more years, with an option to double the tenure. First has run the trains during the botched upgrade of the route by Network Rail, which has seen costs overrun to almost treble the original budget and stretches of the electrification project abandoned to save money. Tim O’Toole, First’s chief executive, said: “We are pleased that our strong track record at GWR is recognised.”


Whilst we're talking of odious characters and privatisation, just noticed this in the Independent:-

NHS makes undisclosed settlement to Richard Branson's Virgin Care after legal dispute

The NHS has settled a legal dispute with private healthcare group Virgin Care for an undisclosed amount. The Labour Party said it was “scandalous” that the NHS had to defend a legal battle with the company, which is part of Richard Branson’s business empire. It also called on the Department of Health to disclose details of the settlement.

Virgin Care sued the NHS last year after it lost out on an £82m contract to provide children’s health services across Surrey, citing concerns over “serious flaws” in the way the contract was awarded. The company filed proceedings at the UK High Court naming the six local NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Surrey, as well as Surrey County Council and NHS England.

Virgin Care and NHS Guildford and Waverley CCG, which was the lead group, both told The Independent that the details of the settlement were “confidential”. However, NHS magazine the Health Service Journal reports that one CCG inadvertently revealed the settlement had left them with financial liabilities running to hundreds of thousands of pounds. NHS Surrey Downs CCG initially disclosed that its liability in the case was £328,000 in its October public finance papers, the HSJ reports. But this reference was subsequently removed with the CCG, saying this level of detail “should not have been included in the report”.

Virgin Care has been a winner of several major contracts for community health and care services in recent years, including a £700m adult social services contract in Bath and North Somerset. The winners of the Surrey contract, Surrey Health Children and Families Services, a partnership between the local hospital NHS Surrey and Borders Partnership Foundation Trust, and two local social enterprises, took over the service in April.

Spokespeople for Virgin Care and NHS Guildford and Waverley CCG did not comment on what payment, if any, was made, saying: “The parties are pleased to confirm that an agreed resolution on the litigation concerning the Surrey Children’s procurement has been reached to a satisfactory conclusion for all parties with detailed terms confidential to the parties.” When news of the legal dispute was first announced, NHS Guildford and Waverley had said the group were “confident” in their commissioning processes.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s scandalous that NHS money is being wasted on fighting off legal bids from private companies. Ministers need to make clear how much public money has been used in this case – at the least it seems to be hundreds of thousands of pounds. That is money that could be being used for NHS patients who are waiting longer than ever for routine services.”

NHS England referred The Independent to Guildford and Waverley CCG, which had not responded at the time of publication.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

TR Omnishambles Guide

I notice that the House of Commons library staff have been busy putting together a handy TR 'primer' or reference guide to the whole omnishambles saga. In just 29 pages, fully referenced, it will stand as a very concise 'go-to' document for anyone wanting to try and understand the crazy journey we've all been on since 2013.

In addition to the introduction, I've selected the whole of 'Section 4 Reaction to the reforms' and 'Section 5 Government position', which pretty much brings us bang up-to-date. A long read, especially on a smart phone, but important to bring it to people's attention and absolutely vital in helping to understand the whole bloody mess that is TR:-  

Contracting out of probation services
This briefing paper charts the implementation of controversial reforms to the probation service. Most offenders are now supervised by Community Rehabilitation Companies, which are primarily led by private companies. A new public sector National Probation Service manages high risk offenders. So what's the verdict so far? Jump to full report >>

This briefing paper charts the progress of recent reforms to probation services in England and Wales. It also brings together some of the commentary.

In the 2010 Coalition agreement, the Government said it would introduce a “rehabilitation revolution that will pay independent providers to reduce reoffending”. On 9 May 2013, the MoJ published Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform, announcing its plans to invite providers from the voluntary and private sectors to bid for rehabilitation services.

One of the main new changes was splitting the probation service in two, with the public sector managing high risk offenders and providing services to the courts, and the new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) managing low and medium risk offenders. In September 2013, the MoJ invited bids to run 21 CRCs across England and Wales, worth a combined £450 million. The list of new owners of CRCs was released on 18 December 2014. Only one of the CRCs was won by an organisation outside the private sector.

Payment by Results (PbR) is an outcome-based payment scheme central to the Government’s reforms. Under the contracts, a proportion of a provider’s payment is determined by the reductions in reoffending they achieve. The Transforming Rehabilitation strategy document said this would create an incentive for providers to “focus relentlessly on driving down reoffending”.

Transforming Rehabilitation introduced a nationwide “through the gate” resettlement service. The intent was to give most offenders continuous support, usually by the CRC, from custody into the community. CRCs began providing “through the gate” services from 1 May 2015.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) produced five reports evaluating the reforms as they progressed. The final report, published in May 2016, found improvements in joint working and communication between the CRCs and the NPS, particularly in dealing with breaches or increased risk of harm However, there were problems with court work, staff training and morale.

In its thematic inspections, HMIP said that the ‘Through the Gate’ services were so poor that if they were removed the impact would be “negligible”. HMIP also found in a separate report that the reforms had meant services for women offenders were less focused.

HMIP began individual area inspections in summer 2016. They have found overall that CRCs are performing below expectations, with particular criticism for some CRCs monitoring offenders by telephone.

Reactions to the reforms
There has been widespread comment on the reforms in Parliament, and by charities, inspectors and directors of prisons and probation.

Transforming Rehabilitation has primarily attracted criticism since the reforms were announced. Initial concerns focused on the speed of the reforms, the splitting of the probation service into two, and the possible ideological reasons behind the changes. During the reforms, criticism focused on the performance of CRCs, with lower than expected workloads causing financial difficulties. The Public Accounts Committee found that the MoJ had yet to bring about a “rehabilitation revolution” and questioned the effectiveness of the reforms.

More recently, in 2017, both the Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service and the Chief Inspector of Probation have said the new system is not working well. The Justice Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation, seeking to find out how effective the Government reforms have been and what else could be done in the short term to help the probation service.

The Government’s position
In July 2017, Sam Gyimah, the Minister for Prisons and Probation, accepted that there had been problems with the delivery of the reform programme, blaming in part the reduction in the number of low or medium risk offenders. The Minister said the Government acted urgently to adjust the payment mechanism to make CRC income “less sensitive to changes in demand”. The Government hopes that this will provide CRCs with more certainty of their future income, allowing them to invest in delivering the necessary services.

The Government also set out plans to develop a joint protocol with the health authorities, as well as funding a new inspection framework for probation.

The Government set up a dedicated unit in Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service in the summer of 2017 to coordinate implementation of all recommendations made by Inspectorates and other bodies in relation to offender services.


4. Reactions to the reforms

There has been widespread comment on the reforms in Parliament, and by charities, inspectors and directors of prisons and probation. Transforming Rehabilitation has primarily attracted criticism since the reforms were announced. Initial concerns focused on the speed of the reforms, the splitting of the probation service into two, and the possible ideological reasons behind the changes. During the reforms, criticism focused on the performance of CRCs, with lower than expected workloads causing financial difficulties. The Public Accounts Committee found that the MoJ had yet to bring about a “rehabilitation revolution” and questioned the effectiveness of the reforms. More recently, in 2017, both the Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service and the Chief Inspector of Probation have said the new system is not working well. The Justice Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation, seeking to find out how effective the Government reforms have been and what else could be done in the short term to help the probation service.

Reactions to the initial proposals 
Justice Committee report In January 2014, the Justice Select Committee published its report following an inquiry into the MoJ’s probation reform proposals. The Committee expressed a number of concerns about: 

• the pace of the reforms; 
• staff qualifications; 
• the maturity of the probation services market; 
• the likelihood that a small number of large business will dominate; and 
• the lack of contingency planning in the event of market or provider failure.

Public Accounts Committee report 
On 20 May 2014, the PAC published the report of its inquiry into the MoJ’s probation reforms.34 The Committee concluded, among other things, that the scale, complexity and pace of the reforms gave rise to risks around value for money, particularly considering the MoJ’s poor procurement track record. The PAC recommended that the MoJ should set out how it would assess risk at each stage of the programme and that the current performance levels of the probation service should be used as a benchmark against which the reforms would be judged.

In Parliament 

The new reforms did not need primary legislation, apart from the new supervision requirements. Nevertheless the reforms were the subject of much debate when the Offender Rehabilitation Bill 2013 was going through Parliament. 

In brief, criticism in Parliament centred on the perceived lack of parliamentary scrutiny for such major reforms to the probation services given the lack of primary legislation, the speed of change, structural issues in the new set-up, and staffing issues. 

Library Research paper 13/61, Offender Rehabilitation Bill and 
Library Research paper 13/72, Offender Rehabilitation Bill Committee Stage Report,  provide full background on the policy debate around this Bill. 

Westminster Hall debate, October 2015 
A Westminster Hall Debate on the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme took place on 28 October 2015. Stephen Kinnock (who secured the debate) described the record of probation trusts before the reforms as “highly successful”: 

"They had won European-wide awards for public service and all the trusts had been recognised as either good or outstanding by recent inspections. Trusts had established good local partnerships with other agencies, including in the private sector, that had been producing excellent results." 

Mr Kinnock went on to say that some experts had argued that splitting probation was “a far riskier solution” than wholesale privatisation, However, “the greatest flaw” was the rushed political timetable, which, he said, had led to confusion, guesswork about resource allocation and delivery problems.

Robert Neill, the Conservative chair of the Justice Committee, said that his discussions with probation providers had not contained “a word of ideology”. Asked by Labour’s Wayne David why the changes had been introduced so quickly if not for ideological reasons, he said: 

"First, because if one spoke to any sentencer, for example, they would say that the need to have a better approach to those being released from short sentences into statutory supervision was real and pressing. Those people are immediately at risk of recidivism, which leads to lost opportunities for life in every case. Secondly, the need to improve the “through the gateway” services was real and immediate. That is not to say that we should not review and improve the programme as things go along. Of course, that is right and sensible. The Select Committee recognised that point on a cross-party basis, and I think the Minister does, too."

However, he went on to raise the “significant operational and information sharing concerns” which practitioners had raised. 

For the Government, Andrew Selous said that one of the key reasons for the reforms was to finance the additional supervision for offenders with short sentences: 

"The key point is that we would not have had the money to introduce supervision for the under-12-month group without the reforms. No Member who has spoken has mentioned that. We could not have done what everyone has called on us to do without putting in a lot of extra money that was not available."

He continued: 

"The transforming rehabilitation reforms have made substantial changes to the way in which offenders get help, in the through-the-gate process and in the community. The reforms are still bedding in, and while they do that we are turning a greater focus on the rehabilitation of offenders in prisons. As the Secretary of State and I have said before, reform of our prisons is a key area of focus, and we have made it clear that our current prison system fails to rehabilitate offenders or to ensure that criminals are prevented from reoffending. 

[…] We have very robust contract management for every CRC and will hold them to account on what they have said they will do."

Commentary during implementation 

National Audit Office, April 2016 
The NAO published a report in April 2016 on Transforming Rehabilitation. It concluded that:

"The Ministry [of Justice] has successfully restructured the probation landscape, avoiding major disruptions in service during a difficult transition period. But this is only the beginning. If the Ministry is to stabilise, and improve, the performance of CRCs and the NPS it needs to continue to address operational problems, such as underlying capacity issues, weaknesses in ICT systems and performance data, and improve working relationships between NPS and CRC staff – some of which are unsurprising given the scale of reforms. 

Ultimately, the success of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms will depend on the extent to which they create the conditions and incentives to reduce reoffending. While NOMS’ oversight of CRCs is robust, significantly lower levels of business than the Ministry projected will affect some CRCs’ ability to deliver the level of innovation they proposed in their bids. Furthermore, the NPS is not yet operating as a truly national, sustainable service. Achieving value for money from the new probation system will require resolving these fundamental issues, and ensuring the right incentives for all participants in the system."

The NAO also said that the NPS had “higher than predicted caseloads and faces a difficult further period of change if it is to play a fully effective role in the transformed and national probation service”. 

The NAO said in its press release that the performance of Transforming Rehabilitation would not become clear until performance data on reoffending was released in late 2017.

Public Accounts Committee, September 2016 
In September 2016, the Public Accounts Committee published a report into Transforming Rehabilitation.  The Chair of the Committee, Meg Hillier, commenting on the launch, was critical of Government’s reforms: 

"There is a real danger the Ministry of Justice has bitten off more than it can chew. It set out with some fervour a programme of reforms not just to rehabilitation but also to the courts and prison systems. Ambition is one thing but, as our Committee continues to document across government, delivering positive results for taxpayers and society in general is quite another. 

'Revolution' is a potent word the Government may regret using to describe its reforms to rehabilitation. After two years these are far from complete and there remain serious risks to achieving the performance levels expected by the end of 2017. 

We are disappointed that, given the human and economic costs of reoffending, gaps in data mean the overall effectiveness of the reforms cannot be properly assessed. But even without this information there are grounds for concern over the restructuring of the probation system. Evidence suggests new commercial arrangements could threaten the provision of rehabilitation services for minority groups, including women; we received testimony of excessive caseloads, and of the neglect of services focused on individuals."

The Committee found that the MoJ had yet to bring about a “rehabilitation revolution” and questioned the effectiveness of the reforms. On CRCs, the Committee concluded that they needed to work with local and health authorities, and the police, to ensure offenders could access services including housing, education and employment. On innovation, the Committee said there were “significant barriers”, and that a lack of prescription from the Government posed risks to maintain services for specific minority groups such as female offenders. 

The Government responded in December 2016, agreeing with all of the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations.The Government said that:

"The Department is aware that the rehabilitative and 'Through The Gate' resettlement services provided to offenders serving short custodial sentences are still developing and are not consistent across CRCs. As part of the Department’s review of the probation system, the Department is examining how these services are being delivered to this cohort, and the performance outcomes used to measure success. The Department will set out its plans by summer 2017."

Justice Committee, March 2017 
At the end of the last parliament, the Justice Committee launched an inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation. In evidence sessions in March 2017 the Committee questioned a range of stakeholders about the reasons for the challenges with the implementation of the programme and potential mechanisms for overcoming them. 

The Committee held two evidence sessions, including taking evidence from HM Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, who said “we are in a very unsettling position”: 

"The first point to make is that CRCs are facing substantial financial challenges. With workloads now some 30% smaller than anticipated, and payment largely linked to the number of service users through the door, CRCs are having to cut their cloth accordingly. They are running with ever fewer professional staff and taking other steps to contain or manage expenditure— and to reduce it, wherever possible. They are pared back, if you like, and focus predominantly and understandably on what is measured and rewarded. Of course, they are seeking to avoid stinging penalties for non-delivery against contractual targets. 

That is the first issue: the financial model and the financial underpinnings for these organisations are not sufficiently stable, and that is substantially inhibiting CRCs as they seek to develop and implement new operating models."

Dame Stacey also commented on a lack of expected innovation and the cultural challenge involved in the programme: 

"The second issue is that, in making these changes, Government hoped to see substantial amounts of innovation— new ways of turning people’s lives around and, hopefully, reducing reoffending. You will know from our reports that we have not seen very much innovation in the way in which service users are progressing through probation. We do not see a wealth of new interventions; indeed, we see a bit of a dearth of tried and tested interventions. Rather than seeing a large amount of activity, with many different things happening, we are seeing less happening than any of us would be comfortable with. 

[…]The third thing is that, of course, this was a very significant cultural challenge and change for probation. It is a caring profession, not dissimilar to social work, teaching and nursing, yet this wholesale move to fragment the service and to give it a commercial edge has been enormously difficult."

The 2017 General Election caused the inquiry to close without a report. In the current Parliament, following on from their previous work, the Committee announced a new inquiry on 12 October 2017 into the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, addressing two key questions:

• How effective are current Government measures in addressing the challenges facing the probation service? 
• What more needs to be done in the short term to improve the probation system?

Recent commentary 
The Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, Michael Spurr, said on 13 October 2017 that the new system of offender supervision “wasn’t working” as it should.  Mr Spurr expressed concerns that CRCs were providing only basic signposting for offenders. 

Dame Glenys Stacey, the Chief Inspector of Probation, said in a speech in September 2017 that the new system was not working as expected:

"[…] probation services are not being delivered consistently to the standard we expect. The National Probation Service, responsible for those assessed as high risk, it is delivering to an acceptable standard overall, although there are inconsistencies in the quality of work across the country, and some anomalies as well. 

The majority of individuals, however, are categorized as medium or low risk, and although there are exceptions, the Community Rehabilitation Companies responsible for their supervision are not generally producing good quality work, not at all. Probation reform has not delivered the benefits that Transforming Rehabilitation promised, so far. 

We rarely see the innovations expected to come with freeing up the market, and instead proposed new models, new ways of delivering probation services on the ground and supporting them with better IT systems have largely stalled. The voluntary and charitable sectors are much less engaged then government envisaged. Promised improvements in Through the Gate resettlement – mentors, real help with accommodation, education, training and employment for short sentence prisoners - have mostly not been delivered in any meaningful way. And too often, for those under probation supervision we find too little is done by CRCs. On inspection, we often find nowhere near enough purposeful activity or targeted intervention or even plain, personal contact. 

Why is this? Staff morale, workloads, training and line management are highly variable and need to improve if probation is to improve. Staff are change weary and more than that, too 2 many are too overburdened with work. Their employing companies are financially stretched, with some unable to balance the books, as unexpected changes in the type of cases coming their way have resulted in lower payments than anticipated. 

The government must face this squarely, knowing that CRC contracts are currently set to run until late 2021. It must consider its options, in order for there to be any prospect of consistently good probation services nationwide."

Dame Stacey concluded that new probation standards and more regular inspections, announced with the support of the Government, would help drive improvement. She also called for two additional changes: 

a better financial footing for CRCs, without losing the incentivisation of the current system, and a new way of incentivising CRCs by using HMIP ratings to provide rewards for high achievers. 

BBC Panorama report 
A Panorama programme, entitled Out of Jail: Free to Offend Again?, first televised on 25 October 2017, investigated the Government’s reforms of the probation service. Panorama exposed that one private contractor did not take action on more than 15,000 missed appointments over 16 months in London. One whistle-blower on the programme said there had been an “explosion” in reoffending following the reforms.

Reacting to the programme, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said on Twitter that the Government’s reforms had been “a monumental failure” and said the Labour party would undertake its own review of CRCs as part of its wider policy to return the probation sector into a public service as before. 

In response to the Panorama investigation, the MoJ told the BBC it was “right to reform the system”.

5. Government position 
On 21 June 2017, the Government said that it has carried out a review of the probation system and that the findings will be published “in due course”. 

In a written ministerial statement on 19 July 2017, Sam Gyimah, the Minister for Prisons and Probation, accepted that there had been problems with the delivery of the reform programme, blaming in part the reduction in the number of low or medium risk offenders: 

"[…] it is clear that the current delivery of some aspects of probation services must improve. It is inevitable that such fundamental reforms to a complex public service will take some time to bed down. In addition, since the contracts were negotiated the number of offenders sentenced to community orders has fallen, and there has been an increase in the proportion of offenders assessed as posing a higher risk of harm. The result is fewer offenders are being referred to CRCs, leading to falls in CRC income to significantly below the levels expected at the time of the competition. This has made it extremely challenging for CRCs to deliver the services outlined in their contracts. In turn the NPS has seen a growth in their caseload and increased demands on its staff. That is why we have been reviewing the probation system, and why we are now taking steps to improve services." 

The Minister said the Government acted urgently to adjust the payment mechanism to make CRC income “less sensitive to changes in demand” by better reflecting the “fixed nature of most of the costs that providers incur when delivering services to offenders”. It is hoped that this will provide CRCs with more certainty of their future income, allowing them to invest in delivering the necessary services. The Minister noted that the additional investment provided by the Government would be “no higher than originally budgeted for at the time of the reforms”. 

The statement also set out plans to develop a joint protocol with the health authorities, as well as funding a new inspection framework: 

"In addition we are working with the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England to develop a joint protocol setting out how probation, health and treatment services should work together to support those serving community sentences in England. We will seek to implement the protocol in a number of test-bed areas this year, and have agreed with the Welsh Government that we will seek to establish a similar protocol in Wales. We are also providing additional funding to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation and supporting them to introduce a new framework for the inspection of probation services from April 2018. This will provide stronger scrutiny and increased transparency of the performance of probation by introducing annual inspection of CRCs and NPS areas and the publication of individual ratings for providers." 

The Justice Secretary, David Lidington, in July 2017 also provided an update on the probation system in an open letter

Over the past year my department has been reviewing the progress of these reforms, and I will myself take a close and careful look at overall performance in the coming months. 

The structural reforms saw the caseload divided between the National Probation Service (NPS) – which took on higher-risk offenders - and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs,) set up to supervise those judged to be low- and medium-risk. Here, the system has encountered unforeseen challenges. Demand has been stronger for the NPS caseload and this has created different financial and operational pressures for both CRCs and the NPS. 

We are putting in place balancing policies aimed at addressing these challenges. To date, we have adjusted the CRCs’ contracts to reflect more accurately the cost of providing critical frontline services: given this, we are calling on them to provide better support as they help offenders build more positive lives. 

In response to a PQ in October 2017, asking about the high workloads in NPS and CRCs, the Government praised the performance of the NPS: 

"The great majority of Quality & Impact Reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation have commented favourably on the performance of the National Probation Service (NPS). We recognise that staff shortages in certain parts of the country have resulted in high caseloads in those areas. The NPS is addressing this via a major recruitment campaign and is on target to recruit around 500 additional trainee probation officers, and over 1000 probation service officers in 2017-18. 

Contracts with Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) require each that each CRC ensures that it employs a sufficient level of staff, and that its workforce is competent and adequately trained. We closely monitor and robustly manage providers to make sure they fulfil their contractual commitments to reduce reoffending, protect the public and provide value for money to the taxpayer."

Another PQ in October asked the Government what plans existed to ensure recommendations by HMIP were implemented across the NPS and CRCs. The Government explained that “a dedicated unit was set up in Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) in the summer of 2017 to coordinate implementation across the Department of all recommendations made by Inspectorates and other bodies in relation to offender services”.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Police and Austerity

Thanks to the reader for pointing me in the direction of this piece on the LSE British Politics and Policy website highlighting what effect government cuts have had on another part of the criminal justice system:-

The worrying state of policing in England and Wales after seven years of austerity

Barry Loveday provides an overview of the state of policing in England and Wales. He highlights the severe impact of seven years of austerity on performance, and concludes that whether Brexit will ameliorate or worsen the situation remains to be seen.

In the 2017 PEEL Report HMIC have applied three strands to measure and assess policing performance in England and Wales: effectiveness, efficiency, and legitimacy. In doing so, they have arguably provided the most useful and critical evaluation of current domestic policing activity to come out of the Police Inspectorate to date.

The report also serves to highlight the very real dangers that have arisen from the government’s austerity policy particularly in relation to the eminent collapse of Neighbourhood Policing, a strategy to which the police service had, earlier, given almost complete support.

As has been argued most recently by the senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism, the rapid decline in local neighbourhood policing can also be expected to undermine effective counter-terrorism (CT) operations against Islamist and neo-Nazi attacks. These CT operations, he argues, remain ultimately dependent on local intelligence generated through the relationships and trust arising from local policing. But one consequence of reducing the police workforce by 18% (from 243,900 in 2010 to 200,600 in 2016) has been to recreate ‘response policing’ as the primary activity of the police service as declining police numbers can no longer sustain neighbourhood policing strategies. This will only be made worse by the projected loss of a further 6,000 officers by 2020 following further budget cuts.

A clear warning to government and the public
Yet these warning signals should alert government to the implicit dangers of undermining policing strategy through further reductions in public spending. Ironically, the current reality is that the political class are now unable to see events through anything but the prism of Brexit. Like it or not, Brexit – currently a cliff edge threat – remains the only show in town for Theresa May’s government.

This might be thought unfortunate if not surprising, as HMIC has presented within its report a valuable insight into the current strengths and weaknesses of police forces in England and Wales. Thus while HMIC have found that, in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, most forces had a good understanding of current demands on their services and provided a good service to the public (pp.47;52) problems were identified in some significant operational areas.

Not the least of these was the discovery that in some forces a large number of crimes were being effectively written off rather than being pursued to ‘an appropriate conclusion’ (p.47). Quantitative analysis also revealed that in England and Wales, 47% of investigations into recorded crime were closed without identifying a suspect, and that for violent crime the proportion closed without the identification of a suspect ranged between 3% and 53%. While this may only serve to emphasise the dependence of the police on information from witnesses and the public, it also demonstrated a variation between forces that was more difficult to explain.

Yet as noted within the report, one factor contributing to this problem is the current ‘national crisis in the recruitment of detectives’. While it is identified it is not explained. It therefore remains a matter of interest that detective work, once a highly-valued function within policing, is now actively shunned, so much so indeed, that the Met is now seeking to fill the gap by way of direct recruitment from members of the public.

A changing crime profile
Direct recruitment may, however, begin to enable the police service to begin to respond to the changing profile of crime. So, while traditional acquisitive crime has fallen significantly over recent decades, this decline has in fact been more than matched by a rise in new crime types: fraud and cybercrime. Moreover, as public and business use of IT expands, this crime type can be expected to increase exponentially.

This is worrying as most police forces have failed to appreciate the nature of the change in criminal activity or its extent. This may have also reflected current inability among senior police leaders to adequately differentiate between police capacity and police capability. While police leaders can identify capacity issues reflected in police numbers or ranks, this rarely extends to capability which relates to organisational specialisms, workforce planning, or assessing future demands on the service. Where police forces have recruited new officers, many did so with only a limited understanding of the skills these officers needed to have (p.56).

The nature of the problem is highlighted within the report. Police forces were failing to keep pace with the way technology was changing people’s lives and experience of crime. While few forces were focused on developing the digital skills of either staff or officers, data from the ONS clearly demonstrated the extent of the new crime problem. ONS data showed that in the 12 months to June 2016 ‘at least’ 31% of blackmail offences, 45% of obscene publication offences, and 11% of stalking , harassment and child sexual offences, were committed online, in full or part’.

Yet while survey data showed that over 80% of the public thought online crime was a big problem, just over 40% ‘did not feel confident that their local police could deal with online crime’. This remains unfortunately a pretty accurate assessment and probably only reflects within police forces a limited understanding of the serious skills gaps which now characterise their own workforces.

Growing vulnerability of children
While the report identifies a number of vulnerable groups, child vulnerability understandably receives much attention. It notes that a 2016 HMIC report, based on a child protection inspection of the MPS, proved to be the ‘the most severely critical that HMIC has published about any force, on any subject, ever’ (p.21).

Yet children are now growing up in a digital world where the experience of cyber bullying is frequent and the vulnerability to grooming and predation along with exposure to upsetting and damaging material is also widespread. This vulnerability is not being reflected in terms of the police response or priorities where the current generation of children are digital natives but senior police leaders ‘are at least two generations behind’ and are failing to recruit enough people with the right skills to police the internet.

In a detailed and far-ranging report, HMIC have also flagged up the current crisis in mental health care. It notes that the police as an emergency 24-hour service have been overwhelmed by mental health care incidents in the community – a problem exacerbated by the curious identification of police cells as ‘places of safety’ within the Mental Health Act 1983. Currently up to 40% of police time can now be spent dealing with these incidents which reflect the complete failure of care in the community as a strategy and the deliberate cuts in mental health provision made by many Health Authorities. As is argued within the report, the police cannot continue to cover for the failures of other public services. This again reflects the baleful impact of seven years of austerity pursued by government. It remains a matter of debate as to whether a soft or hard Brexit will serve to either ameliorate or just make this highly unsatisfactory situation much worse.

Barry Loveday
Reader in Criminal Justice at the University of Portsmouth.

Monday 27 November 2017

Divide and Rule

Seen on Facebook:-

Letter to my MP this afternoon for what it's worth after the shocking news that MoJ have pulled out of the pay negotiation citing that they have used what money was left to pay prison officers. The moral of the story is, it does not pay to just simply put your head down and just get on with it. We have been too tame and docile, time to start making our presence felt. The POA have shown the way. Action is needed now!!!

Dear Mr Xxxxxxxx

I am writing to you as Member of Parliament for my home area Xxxxxxxxxx. I have been informed by my union that MoJ have decided to freeze our pay once again while prison staff have been offered a 4 to 6% raise to address the immediate problems in the service. As you know we are now one service HMPPS. The probation service has the same pressures around recruitment and falling living standards. We have had a 8 years pay freeze and our pay band system has totally broken down with it currently taking over 30 years to reach the top of the pay scale.

We are generally a quiet work force and usually just get on with our work in the best possible way, despite the disaster of privatisation and the on going problems. Enough is a enough and all staff are very angry. We have been put through massive stress due to the reorganisation. We have very limited resources and everyone is working with unacceptable high case loads despite the important role we play in protecting the public. Nonetheless the government clearly do not value our role despite platitudes. Therefore it is unacceptable we have been treated as second class civil servants.

Please can you look in to this as a matter of urgency with the Secretary of State Mr Lidington and or the government?

I look forward to your response.

Xxxxx Xxxxxxxx
Probation Officer of 30 years standing.


What? I thought a deal was done and we were awaiting an announcement!?

We were and then we got that, playing us of against the POA.

It’s like a slap in the face after what we have had to put up with. I think the time has come for drastic action from us union members.

No doubt, after freezing our pay they will pay agency staff instead as they can't recruit anyone. Not cost effective. And why did MP's give themselves an 11% pay rise? Do they have no morals?

We have a number of agency staff in our office.

Not surprised people are going agency. The salary is not sustainable against the cost of living.

Yes they are on better hourly pay.

Regardless of which union we are in, we should Unite to make a stronger force to be reckoned with and take action. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes.

Dean Rogers Shocking though Spurr stealing probation's money to cover his overspending of every other budget is - it's worth noting it is the 2017-18 budget he's knicked. We continue to await news about pay reform monies - a key focus of our planned meeting with Ministers. What this reveals most clearly is worrying grab for probation from prison service. We are not one service and as chaos in SOP showed, the different pension schemes remain a huge barrier. This is a battle about pay but a war about the independence of probation.

It's also about money Dean

Dean Rogers Indeed - without doubt. I just wanted to point out the timing was confusing some. They have stolen the left overs from the 1% increment. We await news on pay reform. Very concerning they're seemingly trying to prioritise prisons over probation on pay though. Incredible arrogance.

Playing us off against each other.

That's giving them too much credit. They're in a panic and going from one crisis to another. Prison' s are their priority because it's their background and politicians worry about it more. But they should have learned by now probation will not be ignored.

Yes cos they are aware that the public know about prisons and not much about Probation. Action must be taken. I’ll do whatever it takes.

Yep, most of the public don't care about Probation; we're just seen as do gooders, sticking up for and providing for 'criminals' whereas prisons keep them locked up where many think they belong. So of course money will go to the prison side. A weak attempt to gain the confidence of the public.

I was expecting something like this. Government has yet to even notice Probation because we, particularly as individuals, keep too low a profile. Not enough of us join the unions. We hide what we do from others which means the public don't understand our role. When we do strike, most if us still go into work or just play catch-up the following day.

Probation needs some publicity, about what we do. We need to raise our public profile and get ourselves in the media.

I'm a bit shocked anyone's surprised. .....they know they can ignore us as the public don't know what we do and don't want to hear about it anyway. Also we don't kick up enough fuss. A handful of us might have the balls to leave, the rest of us will work ourselves into a stress related early grave. I have absolutely had enough of it.

I agree. Perhaps working to rule for all and strikes may demonstrate the important role probation plays in our society.

No parole reports for a month that should concentrate their mind.

No parole reports until they increase our wage!

Or refusing to supervise any one over 100% on WMT.

I might do that.

I am forever writing to my MP about probation. Fed up with it now. So demoralising.

Sunday 26 November 2017

Pick of the Week 32

If something looks like it's going to crash at mid-flight point the normal response is to look at contingency or change direction options to avoid the crash. Has MoJ considered any other options?

As well as incompetence, is there not a large element of fear of being challenged? A big person to be respected would be one who could admit that they had misunderstood the situation and were doing xxx to put it right. That would be a person to respect.

I have worked for different organisations on the probation side and I can confirm a lack of business competence as well as a total lack of awareness of the value or work that Probation does. There seems to be an assumption that their all civil servants who operate using the stereotypical assumed working practices of civil servants resulting in a lack of respect for CRC staff. I was shocked by the attitudes of the people working either in parent organisations or HMPPS/NOMS/MoJ.

It had its flaws but it wasn't broken; yet 'they' decided it needed fixing & made untold £millions of public funds & numerous civil service staff available to design & expedite 'their' version of change within months. Now its utterly fucked; yet 'they' won't admit it's broken, let alone consider repairing it. 'They' = Right-wing Tories, supporters, collaborators & enablers. 'It' = INSERT AS APPROPRIATE e.g. probation, NHS, brexit...

Whilst the staff shafted to the CRC's are working in deplorable conditions stressed to F"""k without any support and with the prospect of losing our jobs at a drop of a target being missed. Forgot to add and those that suffer from disabilities are ignored, and the only passport they will get is one to leave. No protective characteristics/DDA applies to anyone. No basic employment rights are applied, just supplied with a toilet if you are lucky to work from an office.

I thought we had moved on from Social Darwinism and its promotion of doctrines of laissez faire, survival of the fittest and imperialism. The only doctrine missing was eugenics, though he makes a passing reference to the futility of wasting resources on the 'less able'. The comparisons between the natural world and public policy mutations are fallacious. Never mind the laws of the natural world, if market forces had been allowed to prevail, the banking system would have gone bust in 2008 but for the divine intervention of the taxpayers. All this Meur's verbiage is ideologically driven: reactionary in tooth and claw.

He may not see much role for a strong state, but the public do when it comes to good public services that are focused around meeting social needs, not profits. Given his love of social experimentation and unhindered evolution, isn't it remarkable that TR wasn't trialled and piloted to see if the models would work in the real world. No, it was imposed by a politician in a hurry, who ignored the advice of all the experts. 

TR was the latest pay-off to the shadow state that represents the interests of the private sector as it gobbles up public money because of the ideological obsession with shrinking the democratic state. Muer bangs on about accountability and allowing old structures to mutate, but he is light on transparency, so that we now have billions of public money being handed to private companies who are exempt from Freedom of Information laws. How can the public make informed decisions when they are kept in the dark, save the occasional undercover investigation that exposes abuses and mismanagement? I don't know what the equivalent is for commercial confidentially in the natural world. Muer, as far as I am concerned, is flogging snake oil.

What reductionist nonsense! Where does political power fit into his schema? Did trade unions naturally evolve, or were they a collective response to social inequalities maintained by a so-called natural order that sought to preserve elite privilege? It's perhaps unsurprising that the phrase 'survival of the fittest' was coined by an economist which means something quite different to Darwin's theory of natural selection. But I can see how it suits Muer's purpose to reduce everything down to individuals and competition. He wants to have us believe that social realities are the outcome of natural laws, that what now prevails is superior in evolutionary terms to what went before. As there was no such thing as society it logically followed that an individual poll tax was the evolutionary answer! It turned out there was such a thing as society and it revolted. In truth social reality reflects political choices – and always will because human beings have the power that no other animal possesses; the power to shape the world – for good or ill.

Only if those human beings "are aware of a policy" - however, in Muer's academically sesquipedalian world, the human beings conveniently remain as stooopid as the self-declared 'elite' like to imagine they "usually" are...

The UK has become such a parody of itself that I'd rather sit alone with a pot of live yoghurt, some kleenex (I have a cold) & a VHS movie. Nothing I say, do or believe in has any relevance to the modern world of money, power, greed, deception & over-stimulation. Nothing is left to the imagination. I'm perfectly happy with 625 lines, 50Hz, VHS & some hardback books.

'Going Underground' is a must see, hard to believe that Working Links ever allowed this use of public libraries to interview offenders in west country. You would think even one member of their management or CRC management with half a brain cell would have foreseen this bringing them into disrepute. Just shows how out of touch they are. ' Should do better' is a massive understatement. Surprised no one has taken them to court yet.

Ian’s most at home showboating and tub thumping because it is simple and no one asks difficult questions but what is really needed at the helm is some understanding, guile and strategy. Employers fear someone who comes back at them speaking their language not 1970s trade union cliches and by performing competently in front of the cameras and who backs up any points and arguments with damning facts and figures.

Whenever I’ve witnessed him at a formal meeting such as the NEC he has been fiddling around with his laptop or tablet and clearly finds everything tedious or perhaps it is all going over his head. He gave his first re-election campaign speech at the AGM that was not exactly inspiring in front of the home crowd. 

For goodness sake, Napo should be forging alliances and making joint statements with those who represent the Magistrates, Police and Prison Governors and Prison Staff not cosying up to the RMT (fine people though they are) who will put off moderates across the political spectrum. We should be at the same events as The Howard League and all the other non governmental criminal justice organisations who have cross party support. We need to have a presence in Parliament on both sides of the house advising and influencing or we are sunk.

RT and Sputnik are beyond the reach of UK government spin doctors, and for me that is their main attraction -- I can read/watch news and opinions that my own government would prefer not to be broadcast. Yes, it's Russian government propaganda, but they are totally blatant about it so actually that makes it harmless. If you have something to publicise that is embarrassing to the UK government then RT might be your best hope of getting the story out there. It's not the first time they have broadcast about TR and the outcome.

The statement that the RRP is closing "all of the probation offices in the Black Country with the exception of Wolverhampton" is not quite correct. Under this definition of the "Black Country" there are 4 RRP offices all of which are shared with the NPS. The Dudley Office (Hope House) will currently remain a shared site and the only change may be a slight increase in the number of RRP staff. The other 3 offices (Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton) will remain open as NPS offices and the RRP staff will be moving out of all of them (yes, including Wolverhampton) and moving to a new combined Wolverhampton office. I think facilities at the new office are a considerable improvement but the criticism of extra travelling for both staff and clients is very true and a considerable disincentive.

Recent (paraphrased) irony-free account given to me (paid off after 24 years) by a PO I trained (about 5 years ago) in a supermarket aisle: "I just love this agency contract work. 4-day week; time limited in any one location; premium rates; dip-in, dip-out; expenses to cover living & travel costs during the week; long weekend at home or on a Euro city-break before another week *somewhere*."

Email received from an agency, my name removed. "Good afternoon ****, I hope you're well and had a good weekend. I wanted to get in touch with you as we've been approached to provide people to complete OASys assessments. The reports are a mix of Layer 1 and 3 so I wanted to see what sort of pay you'd be looking for for this sort of role, whether it be pay per report or per hour. Please let me know."

I was listening to the new Lord Chief Justice on the radio today, commenting that if the population loses confidence in its judiciary, law and order is threatened. I think we can extend that to the entire criminal justice system.

It's what you get when the public service ethic gets lost in the privatisation of services, not to mention the loss of experience and motivation to do a good job for its own sake. The criminal justice system is being degraded.

G4S are so passionate about child detention that they've had Medway taken off them & they've been trying to sell the Oakhill contract since Feb'16, but no-one is daft enough to want to inherit another G4S disaster. They'd rather have it taken off them as well, which doesn't bode well for the children incarcerated at Oakhill.

When persistent and poor performance and reputational damage are no obstacle to being awarded multimillion pound contracts there is no incentive in getting things right. G4S and Co don't have to do things right, nor do they even have to pretend to anymore, the next contract is only around the corner.

I dread to think what will happen when these contracts are tendered again. Imagine the stress and change that staff will have to undergo again. Imagine the flux and disruption through the wider system. I would love some fearless politicians and thinktankers who dreamt up this concoction to stand up, be accountable, and say this was my idea or I thought this was a good idea and I stand in front of you all now to explain why I am still minded to think so. Yeah, right, dream on. At most we'll get the party line, the sound bite, delivered across benches in the game called politics.

It cannot hold together for much longer at Working Links. Despite the valiant efforts of staff who are still grafting away, it is like a seriously leaking boat. You bail out but it keeps flooding in and sinking. Soon staff will tire and collapse, like Roman slaves in a galleon, the masters keep whipping us but sooner or later we will collapse and be thrown overboard unless we escape. Christmas period will probably be the tipping point as the few staff around will be unable to manage, that and more staff handing in notice, looking for other jobs, going off with work-related stress due to the complete lack of any health and safety standards. Zero acknowledgement from anyone above SPO level that there is a catastrophe looming. No recognition, no one bothering to check on staff welfare. Offenders rightly complaining about their constant move from one OM to another, chaotic supervision, changes of office and distance to travel. Meanwhile they are ground down by benefit changes and sofa surfing due to housing crisis.

Clarke's reference to 'exotic sentences' sounds like IPPs, which suggests it was another of The Sun's ideas that did find favour with New Labour. It's also been rumoured that Gove is in the cabinet on Nurdoch's insistence. Aside from the yellow journalism of Murdoch, it's no surprise that money buys influence – it's why there is a lobbying industry. It's why Rolls Royce paid backhanders to win contracts and BAE was mired in a serious fraud inquiry over the Al-Yamamah deal with the Saudis until it was stopped on national security grounds by Blair.

There is tendency to assume that some politicians impose policies and laws – in the face of all reasonable evidence – for ideological reasons. But maybe the explanations lie in other motives. The growth of the private sector in the delivery of public services does mean that willing politicians win new friends and offers of consultancies when they leave office. G4S and A4E employed two former New Labour home secretaries, Reid and Blunkett.

The most shocking thing about Ken Clarkes revelation is that it's not really shocking at all. We all know the power of the press and powerful corporations. In a world where we have fake news and alternative facts, a reality TV star as leader of the 'free world' who governs from a twitter account, and the butchers and greengrocers on our high street replaced by bookmakers and payday lenders, no one can really be surprised at the grip corporations have on government. It's how far it goes is the real concern. Will the UK become Orwells airstrip one after Brexit? Will we have a choice between 'I'm a celebrity' and the 'running man' for Saturday night TV? An even bigger concern is how do you disentangle it all when you can never be sure where the tail ends and the head begins? Orwell and the dystopian movies of the 80s seem more and more fact then fiction.

I've been reliably informed this week that within CGM Interswerve that anyone who undertakes the Pquip qualification will no longer be seconded to NPS for high risk offender training - that didn't last long did it? - again more corner cutting in reduction of quality staff training.

Staff on Pquip have also been asked to sign a contract, with terms on it such as if you fail you have to pay back 4K, they will also not have the freedom of movement to the NPS. They were asked to sign these contracts 6 months after starting, it's now in a solicitors hands, they've been told not to sign. How can you sign a contract so many months in, they should have been given that choice at the beginning of the course and then they could have decided to continue or not. INTERSWEREVE are just disgusting, I also note Ian Mullholland has cancelled his meetings with staff until next year. Probably because he has no plan other than to make everyone redundant.

Well, at least now we all know how much our overlords think we're worth! Ironically it's exactly the same amount as how much I now care about this job.

It's also going to be interesting to hear what their plans are once they close the PSC in Fareham and who's going to deal with all the programme scheduling since they got rid of all the experienced staff in the district's in order to open the PSC's - its all been very quiet on that front!

Working Links have definitely bitten off more than they can chew. They are currently dealing with a larger than average number of SFO's. The fact that they have cut staff down to the bone should act as a wake up call you would hope! They need qualified and experienced staff to deal with the medium risk domestic violence cases and manage risk. PO's need to be able to devote more time to these unpredictable people. Middle managers are spread over multiple office bases to save more money. Supervision thin on the ground and certain managers have zero experience and brought in to manage targets by sending snotty e mails on a regular basis to harassed staff. 

Let us not forget 300 plus women die each year in UK at the hands of an abusive partner or ex partner. Latest SFO. I wonder how many cases the OM had? Was he or she a PO or PSO? If caseload was over what it should be, then Working Links should be faced with serious questions. They should be taken to court and asked to justify how they can safely manage all these DV cases when they have cut maingrade staff by over 50%. Too many for remaining PO's so PSO's increasingly carrying multiple DV cases also. Utterly disgraceful and beyond contempt when lives could have been saved over the last 3 years in Wales and South West. The most uncaring organisation.I have ever heard of. 

NAPO will need to give their members some massive support in WL because from what I hear the few staff left are in dire straights. Many have left or in process of leaving and more will surely follow unless CRC's go back to public ownership or are taken over by someone who actually knows what they are doing and gives a damn. Managers who sit back and ignore the situation will ultimately pay the price, whether that be their reputation or job or both. They should be sticking up for their staff and grow a backbone.

"The cash-strapped contractors". Can't quite believe they are cash strapped. No one knows presumably how much or little money they have made from our taxes. Chances are they're not cash strapped,  just not raking it in quite to the extent they had hoped for. FOI requests would not be able to reach as far as the private contractors' balance sheets would they?

This assertion that my CRC employer is cash strapped, no one seems to question it, not even a critically analytical investigative journalist from the Economist, seemingly. The assertion is definitely a well worn one in our team meetings here in London CRC. No money to cover long term sick leave, working "under capacity" is a favourite phrase, no money to employ admin staff, site management staff. I'm sure they would have us all on an office cleaning rota if they thought they could get away with it. £2000 penalty for every case that is not "released" on delius on the day of actual release. If it slips your mind to do that on the day, feel guilty. You are costing the company money. Cash strapped? I don't believe it. Mean, secretive, exploitative? That's more likely.

Here in CGM we feel your pain - recently been told if we don't meet our SL10 targets (UPW) we could end up in competency regardless of the fact that in some clusters the UPW managers are useless and offenders constantly get sent home as there are no supervisors! How do these companies say they're cash strapped when we now manage more offenders on Adult ORA PSS custody cases than we ever have.

Most UPW Supervisors are on zero hour contracts now. CRC's cannot afford to offer contracts so haven't enough contracted staff to run the units. Another result of cost cutting. Most UPW Managers are being told to get paid projects at all costs, Magistrates have lost confidence in UPW, how much time left for Community Payback in this environment?

I'm glad the mags and judges have lost confidence in UPW, though not enough of them have and those that have have been an awful long time about it. Are sentencers still stuck because of the need to provide a punishment as part of their sentencing? In our CRC we still get people put on UPW who have so many other probs that they could not possibly be expected to comply. The judiciary should take the PSR authors by the hand and visit some sites. They should interview staff and service users and evaluate what they see. Then they should refuse to sentence to UPW until the projects are funded adequately, the staff are remunerated properly under decent employment circs and the work is meaningful. Common y'all. Let's each of us take some responsibility for the resistance required.

WTF! They are exempt? That is ridiculous. So WL could be selling CTC estates and pocketing the cash or claiming money for completion of BBR programmes when they have not been completed or are compromised because they are being delivered by only 1 member of staff as opposed to 2 and we can't even get an answer? Oh sorry, just realised one of these statements is actually true! Freedom of information by someone in the know.

Q. Are working links staff having to interview offenders in front of public/ children/ anyone who wants to listen in?
A. Yes they are. At more than 1 location.
Q. Have Working Links lost so many staff over past 2 years of their own making, in order to save money and maximise their profits for shareholders that the service is now unsafe and putting public at risk?
A. Yes. All true.
Q. Have SFO's increased since privatisation?
A. Yes. Need I say more.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Biting Off More Than Can Be Chewed

Another day and another article, this time from the Economist having a stab at pointing out how some public services just don't lend themselves to privatisation. It also highlights how widespread is the general ignorance about probation - "Previously, public-sector trusts supervised about 220,000 ex-convicts a year" - ex-convicts? - oh dear..... 

Britain privatised part of its probation service. What happened next?
The experiment has shown the difficulty in contracting out some public services

Joanna Williamson worries that she has become a box-ticker. She is a probation officer. But when chunks of the service were privatised in 2015, her bosses became more concerned with meeting targets that have little to do with helping former offenders. The number of cases she handles has soared and safety standards are slipping. The shift has taken its toll on morale. Many colleagues of Ms Williamson have left. She has an eye on the door.

Ms Williamson (not her real name) is on the front line of government reforms to rehabilitation. They were part of a drive to improve public services through competition, but have become a case study in the difficulties of contracting out. Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, has pointed to many flaws with the new system. Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the parliamentary public-accounts committee, has said there is a danger that the Ministry of Justice has “bitten off more than it can chew”.

The reforms were ambitious. Previously, public-sector trusts supervised about 220,000 ex-convicts a year. The new system added some 45,000 short-term prisoners, and split offenders into two groups. Those deemed to be a high risk to the public were left under the state-run National Probation Service. The rest went to private contractors known as Community Rehabilitation Companies. These companies are paid for each offender they supervise, with deductions if they miss targets, such as filing resettlement plans on time, and bonuses if they reduce reoffending.

The first tranche of reoffending data, released in October, is mixed. It shows that 13 of the 21 contractors have managed a statistically significant drop in recidivism, compared with 2011 levels. But, based on preliminary data, only three are on course to cut the average number of offences per reoffender, another target.

Comparing their performance with that of the public sector is tricky, because of the different profile of the offenders they deal with. And reoffending rates may not be a good way to measure success, says Julian Le Vay, a former finance director of the prison service. He points out that they started to fall before the reforms, dropping by two percentage points between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The average number of offences per reoffender rose from 3.3 to 3.7 in the same period. It is unlikely that these changes reflect the work of the prison and probation services, says Mr Le Vay.

Other targets create unwelcome incentives. Contracts dictate that providers must complete prisoners’ resettlement plans, but not how thoroughly they must fill them in. In one inspection Dame Glenys found blank plans being filed. That means the contractor is paid in full, but it fails convicts on their release. Similarly, a probation officer who supervises clients sloppily is less likely to notice breaches of the release agreement, such as missing a scheduled meeting. But firms see their pay docked for such breaches, so some may be tempted to turn a blind eye. Gabriel Amahwe of MTCnovo, a probation firm, wishes that the contracts were more flexible. That would allow staff to tailor plans more closely to their local area.

Another problem is estimating the workload and pay for contractors. At first private firms were expected to get around 70% of the offenders. In fact they took only around 40%. As a result, cash-strapped contractors have made cutbacks. Some probation officers now meet clients in libraries and church halls, which lack safety features, such as panic buttons, and private areas to discuss sensitive topics, like child custody. More supervision is done by phone, which makes it harder to gauge offenders’ emotional state. Some contractors are piloting assessment by unmanned electronic kiosks.

Moreover, a family conflict or alcohol problems may push an offender’s risk level from medium to high. That means a disruptive transfer from a private contractor to the state-run service, explains Richard Garside of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, a think-tank. A parliamentary justice committee has set up an inquiry into how to improve rehabilitation. But don’t expect any easy fixes. As Mr Garside puts it, probation delivers “complex services to people with complex problems”.


Interestingly, I notice Julian Le Vay recently made this observation on his blog site:- 

Nothing To See Here
Difficult times at the MoJ - everything going badly, less money every year, everyone saying you're not doing enough to put things right. Still, David Lidington and his Perm Sec, David Heaton, have found a solution: just don't tell anyone what you're doing. I was searching the other day for the usual Departmental and Agency Plans and Strategies spelling out what they aim to do, the key dates, key targets, how they money will be used - and they no longer exist. All there is now is a super-bland statement of nothing much 'Single departmental plan: 2015 to 2020'

As for Parliament, that great bulwark of our liberties, they simply haven't noticed. Too busy 'taking back control', I expect...

Julian Le Vay

I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.