Sunday 31 December 2017

A Trip Down The Happy Valley

As another year draws to a close, it's sort of expected for blogs to sign off with some relevant thoughts and reflections on the past 12 months and those that know me will be fully aware that I'm a sucker for tradition. Having said that, this Christmas has seen a significant departure from the norm at blog HQ. Apart from the 'Call the Midwife' special and in the absence of 'The Great Escape' from every channel's offerings, a collective decision was made to indulge in some personal programming and have a massive blow-out on BBC Boxed Sets instead.

It started with 22 hours of 'Line of Duty', not consumed in one session you understand, and has just ended with both series of 'Happy Valley' Yes, it did feel a bit like work in quite a few places, because all probation staff recognise most of the story lines and characters, but oh doesn't Calderdale and that magnificent millstone grit just look wonderful? Surely the series is sponsored by the Yorkshire Tourist Board, even though the behaviour of some of the inhabitants might be a tad scary for some?

Like many I suspect, I've always loved a good crime drama since growing up on Lockhart, Dixon, Barlow, Watt, Fancy Smith and Bert Lynch. Of course there's been many since and Sergeant Cawood is but the latest to don a uniform as part of a very long and illustrious pedigree of gripping British police drama. I know it's only a story, but I just can't help mentioning that any guy coming out on licence from 8 years of a determinate sentence would almost definitely be a MAPPA case and therefore unlikely to be AWOL for very long before considerable effort was put into being apprehended and returned to prison. But I'm not a scriptwriter.

And there's the rub, probation never seems to get a fair outing in drama and even in 'Line of Duty' we all had to cringe at the 'offender manager's' hostel visit that got him a well-deserved kick in the goolies. Probation just seems too hard to portray and we all remember the dreadful 'Public Enemies' series in 2012 which thankfully never got repeated. 'Hard Cases' from back in 1988 was better, but before that you have to go back to the late 1960's and 'Probation Officer' to get any reasonable portrayal of believable Probation practice. 

I sympathise with screen writers though as the pace of change is so great. I couldn't help but be amused at the 'front desk' scenes in 'Happy Valley' and am reminded of the expression 'what are those grandad?' It's sobering to reflect that as we come to the end of 2017, I'm told there isn't a single police station in Wakefield city centre, let alone a 'front desk', the very home and administrative HQ of the West Yorkshire force. 

Ironically, the 'nick' portrayed in 'Happy Valley' closed several years ago, along with other stations all down the Calder Valley, but in a neat twist, was therefore available to the film production company. I think Sergeant Cawoods former station at Sowerby Bridge is still available to live in following its recent sale.

It's almost certainly too late to get a decent portrayal of what probation was all about and I'll have to be content with waiting for another trip to the 'Happy Valley' scheduled for 2019. In the meantime, lets enjoy 2018.

Happy New Year!      




Wednesday 27 December 2017

In Search of the Truth

All over for another year and sat at home pondering on what, if anything, to write about, my attention eventually falls upon an article from yesterday in the Guardian. This should alarm us all and it's a rare excuse to go off piste once more:-

Government admits 'losing' thousands of papers from National Archives

Thousands of government papers detailing some of the most controversial episodes in 20th-century British history have vanished after civil servants removed them from the country’s National Archives and then reported them as lost. Documents concerning the Falklands war, Northern Ireland’s Troubles and the infamous Zinoviev letter – in which MI6 officers plotted to bring about the downfall of the first Labour government - are all said to have been misplaced. Other missing files concern the British colonial administration in Palestine, tests on polio vaccines and long-running territorial disputes between the UK and Argentina.

Almost 1,000 files, each thought to contain dozens of papers, are affected. In most instances the entire file is said to have been mislaid after being removed from public view at the archives and taken back to Whitehall. An entire file on the Zinoviev letter scandal is said to have been lost after Home Office civil servants took it away. The Home Office declined to say why it was taken or when or how it was lost. Nor would its say whether any copies had been made. In other instances, papers from within files have been carefully selected and taken away.

Foreign Office officials removed a small number of papers in 2015 from a file concerning the 1978 murder of Georgi Markov, a dissident Bulgarian journalist who died after being shot in the leg with a tiny pellet containing ricin while crossing Waterloo Bridge in central London. The Foreign Office subsequently told the National Archives that the papers taken were nowhere to be found. After being questioned by the Guardian, it said it had managed to locate most of the papers and return them to the archives. A couple, however, are still missing. The FO declined to say why it had taken the papers, or whether it had copies.

Other files the National Archives has listed as “misplaced while on loan to government department” include one concerning the activities of the Communist party of Great Britain at the height of the cold war; another detailing the way in which the British government took possession of Russian government funds held in British banks after the 1917 revolution; an assessment for government ministers on the security situation in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s; and three files about defence agreements between the UK and newly independent Malaya in the late 1950s, shortly before the two countries went to war with Indonesia.

The disappearances highlight the ease with which government departments can commandeer official papers long after they have been declassified and made available to historians and the public at the archives at Kew, south-west London. A Freedom of Information Act request in 2014 showed that 9,308 files were returned to government departments in this way in 2011. The following year 7,122 files were loaned out, and 7,468 in 2013. The National Archives says Whitehall departments are strongly encouraged to promptly return them, but they are not under any obligation to do so.

“The National Archives regularly sends lists to government departments of files that they have out on loan,” a spokesperson said. “If we are notified that a file is missing, we do ask what actions have been done and what action is being taken to find the file.”

Some historians have been particularly distrustful of the Foreign Office since 2013, when the Guardian disclosed that the department had been unlawfully hoarding 1.2m historical files at a high-security compound near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. The hoard came to light during high court proceedings brought by a group of elderly Kenyans who were detained and abused during the Mau Mau insurgency in 1950s Kenya, when the Foreign Office admitted it had withheld thousands of colonial-era files.

A few years earlier, the Ministry of Defence refused to consider a number of files for release under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that they may have been exposed to asbestos. The files concerned such matters as arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UK special forces operations against Indonesia and interrogation techniques. The MoD denied it was using the presence of asbestos in an old archive building as an excuse to suppress the documents.


Thoroughly alarmed and dismayed, I follow the trail, not only to find the hand of one Chris Grayling, but David Lidington as well. This from the Guardian 18th October 2013:- 

Foreign Office hoarding 1m historic files in secret archive

The Foreign Office has unlawfully hoarded more than a million files of historic documents that should have been declassified and handed over to the National Archives, the Guardian has discovered. The files are being kept at a secret archive at a high-security government communications centre in Buckinghamshire, north of London, where they occupy mile after mile of shelving. Most of the papers are many decades old – some were created in the 19th century – and document in fine detail British foreign relations throughout two world wars, the cold war, withdrawal from empire and entry into the common market.

They have been kept from public view in breach of the Public Records Acts, which requires that all government documents become public once they are 30 years old – a term about to be reduced to 20 years – unless the department has received permission from the lord chancellor to hold them for longer. The secret archive is also beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Foreign Office is not the only government department that has been unlawfully hoarding files. This month the Guardian disclosed that the Ministry of Defence was unlawfully holding more than 66,000 historic files at a warehouse in Derbyshire, including thousands of files from the army's Northern Ireland headquarters. However, the Foreign Office's secret archive, which is estimated to hold around 1.2m files and occupies around 15 miles of floor-to-ceiling shelving, is believed to be far larger than the combined undisclosed archives of every other government department. One of Britain's leading historians describes its size as "staggering".

A basic inventory of the hidden archive gives a clue to its enormousness: batches of files are catalogued according to the length of shelf space they occupy, with six metres and two centimetres dedicated to files about Rhodesia, for example, and four metres and 57 centimetres holding files about Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, the KGB spies who operated inside the Foreign Office and MI6. There are 50 metres of files on Hong Kong, 100.81 metres about the United States and 97.84 metres of "private office papers".

No length is given in the inventory for other categories such as Colonial Office files or records from the permanent under-secretary's department, the point of liaison between the Foreign Office and MI6. The inventory says there is one bag of records from the Foreign Office's now notorious cold war propaganda unit, the Information Research Department. And buried away within the archive, wedged between files from the British military government in post-war Germany and lists of consular officials, are papers about the treaty of Paris, which concluded the Crimean war in 1856.

The Foreign Office's realisation that it would eventually need to admit to the existence of such a vast repository appears to have come at a time when its lawyers were waging a court battle with a group of elderly Kenyans. It was a battle that it eventually lost, with the result that it was obliged to issue an unprecedented apology and pay millions of pounds in compensation to thousands of men and women who suffered severe mistreatment during the 1950s Mau Mau insurgency.

During those proceedings the Foreign Office repeatedly denied the existence of a much smaller secret archive of 8,800 colonial-era documents, known as the migrated archive. It was eventually obliged to admit that this did exist, and that its contents corroborated the Kenyans' allegations about widespread acts of murder and torture by the colonial authorities.

As a first step, the Foreign Office gave its colossal secret a name, the Special Collections. Then last November the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, was asked to sign a blanket authorisation that is said to have placed the retention of the files on a legal footing for 12 months. No announcement was made. Finally, a written statement about "public records" by the Foreign Office minister David Lidington was quietly issued in the Commons on a Friday afternoon. The statement included two sentences that referred to a "large accumulation" of documents.

As a result of the manner in which the matter was handled, the existence of the archive has remained all but unknown, even among historians. Anthony Badger, the Cambridge history professor who has been overseeing the declassification of the migrated archive, has written that he believes "it is difficult to overestimate the legacy of suspicion among historians, lawyers and journalists" that resulted from the concealment of those 8,800 files.

The discovery that the colonial-era documents are just a very small part of a hidden archive of more than a million files is certain to cause enormous damage to the Foreign Office's reputation among historians and others. A Foreign Office spokesperson said the archive had accumulated over time and that "resources have not been available to review and prepare" them for release.

The handful of historians who have become aware of the archive are deeply sceptical about this claim, however. Richard Drayton, Rhodes professor of imperial history at King's College London, said the size of the hidden archive was staggering, and it was "scandalous" that papers of such significance could be concealed for such a long time. "It's a working archive, for a department which believes it has a long-term, historic interest in many parts of the world," he said.

It was unclear whether there is any "truly explosive" material within the files, Drayton said, or whether officials were attempting to manage the country's historic reputation. "It may be that from the perspective of the state, 50 years is a short time. But the idea that the British state today has an obligation to protect the reputation of the British state of 50 years ago seems to me wholly inappropriate. It would be a manipulation of history, which we associate with iron curtain regimes during the cold war, regimes that managed and controlled the past."

Mandy Banton, senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said it was "extremely likely" that the archive had been culled to remove material that would most damage the reputation of the UK and the Foreign Office. Banton, a Colonial Office records expert who worked at National Archives at Kew, south-west London, for 25 years, said she had been "very angry" when she discovered that the migrated archives had been withheld. "I would have been incandescent had I learned while still working there. In lying to me, the Foreign Office forced me to mislead my readers."

Freedom of information campaigners believe that the hoarding of such a huge amount of papers is symptomatic of a culture of secrecy and retention at the Foreign Office and across many other UK government departments. Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, an NGO that works to ensure the Freedom of Information Act is properly implemented, said: "The FoI system depends on people knowing what they hold and being transparent about what they hold."

The archive is kept at Hanslope Park, a sprawling Foreign Office and MI6 outstation in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside. Sometimes referred to by Foreign Office staff as "Up North" – although it is only 60 miles north of London – Hanslope Park is also home to Her Majesty's Government Communications Centre, a facility where hundreds of government scientists and technicians develop sophisticated counter-espionage measures. They include measures intended to protect the UK government and its allies from the sort of surveillance that Edward Snowden's leaks have shown to have been perfected by the National Security Agency and Britain's GCHQ.

Two wire fences, one 10ft high and topped with razor wire, encircle the cluster of buildings at Hanslope Park. Between them is a no man's land with intruder alarms. CCTV cameras are positioned every few yards and the entire perimeter is covered by floodlights. Inside, posters on the walls carry the half-joking warning: "Careless talk costs jobs."

Curiously, many of the offices are said to house row after row of typewriters rather than computers, with incinerators at the end of each room for the disposal of typewriter ribbons – a measure to reduce electromagnetic emissions, which can travel for hundreds of yards and be deciphered by foreign governments. Hanslope Park is not only a highly secure facility, it is also a place that appears to be accustomed to handling – and destroying – large amounts of paperwork. This, possibly, explains why the special collections have been held there.

The blanket authorisation signed by Grayling put the secret archive on a legal footing for 12 months, during which time the Foreign Office is expected to devise a plan for its declassification and transfer to Kew. A spokesperson said a plan would be presented next month to a committee that advises the National Archives and the Ministry of Justice.

It will be quite a task. Declassification of the migrated archive has taken two and a half years, with the final tranche of documents due to arrive at Kew next month. At that rate, clearing up the special collections would take around 340 years.


This from the Guardian 29th November 2013:-

Revealed: the bonfire of papers at the end of Empire

The full extent of the destruction of Britain's colonial government records during the retreat from empire was disclosed on Thursday with the declassification of a small part of the Foreign Office's vast secret archive. Fifty-year-old documents that have finally been transferred to the National Archive show that bonfires were built behind diplomatic missions across the globe as the purge – codenamed Operation Legacy – accompanied the handover of each colony.

The declassified documents include copies of an instruction issued in 1961 by Iain Macleod, colonial secretary, that post-independence governments should not be handed any material that "might embarrass Her Majesty's [the] government", that could "embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers", that might betray intelligence sources, or that might "be used unethically by ministers in the successor government".

In Northern Rhodesia, colonial officials were issued with further orders to destroy "all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or religious bias on the part of Her Majesty's government".

Detailed instructions were issued over methods of destruction, in order to erase all evidence of the purge. When documents were burned, "the waste should be reduced to ash and the ashes broken up", while any that were being dumped at sea must be "packed in weighted crates and dumped in very deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the coast".

Also among the documents declassified on Friday are "destruction certificates" sent to London by colonial officials as proof that they were performing their duties, and letters and memoranda that showed that some were struggling to complete their huge task before the colonies gained their independence. Officials in more than one colony warned London that they feared they would be "celebrating Independence Day with smoke".

An elaborate and at times confusing classification system was introduced, in addition to the secret/top secret classifications, to protect papers that were to be destroyed or shipped to the UK. Officials were often granted or refused security clearance on the grounds of ethnicity. Documents marked "Guard", for example, could be disclosed to non-British officials as long as if they were from the "Old Commonwealth" – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Canada.

Those classified as "Watch", and stamped with a red letter W, were to be removed from the country or destroyed. Steps were taken to ensure post-colonial governments would not learn that such files had ever existed, with one instruction stating: "The legacy files must leave no reference to watch material. Indeed, the very existence of the watch series, though it may be guessed at, should never be revealed." Officials were warned to keep their W stamps locked away.

The marking "DG" was said to be an abbreviation of deputy governor, but in fact was a protective code word to indicate that papers so marked were for sight by "British officers of European descent only".

As colonies passed into a transitional phase before full independence, with British civil servants working for local government ministers, an entire parallel series of documents marked Personal were created. "Personal" files could be seen only by British governors and their British aides, a system that appears to have been employed in every territory from which the British withdrew after 1961. "The existence of the 'Personal' series of correspondence must of course be scrupulously protected and no documents in this series should be transferred to ministers," colonial officials were warned.

While thousands of files were returned to London during the process of decolonisation, it is now clear that countless numbers of documents were destroyed. "Emphasis is placed upon destruction," colonial officials in Kenya were told. Officials in Aden were told to start burning in 1966, a full 12 months before the eventual British withdrawal. "It may seem a bit early to start talking about the disposal of documents prior to independence, but the sifting of documents is a considerable task and you may like to start thinking about it now."

As in many colonies, a three-man committee – comprising two senior administrators and one police special branch officer – decided what would be destroyed and what would be removed to London. The paucity of Aden documentation so far declassified may suggest that the committee decided that most files should be destroyed. In Belize, colonial administrators officials told London in October 1962 that a visiting MI5 officer had decided that all sensitive files should be destroyed by fire: "In this he was assisted by the Royal Navy and several gallons of petrol."

In British Guiana, a shortage of "British officers of European descent" resulted in the "hot and heavy" task falling to two secretaries, using a fire in an oil drum in the grounds of Government House. Eventually the army agreed to lend a hand.

The declassified papers show colonial officials asking for further advice about what should and should not be destroyed. In 1963, for example, an official in Malta asked London for advice about which files should be "spirited away out of the country", and warned that while some documents could be handed over to the new government: "There may again be others which could be given to them if they were doctored first; and there may be files which cannot be given to them under any circumstances."

In June 1966, Max Webber, the high commissioner in Brunei, asked Bernard Cheeseman, chief librarian at the Commonwealth Relations Office, for advice about 60 boxes of files. "My Dear Cheese," he wrote, "can I, off my own bat, destroy some of these papers, or should the whole lot be sent home for weeding or retention in your records?"

Not all sensitive documents were destroyed. Large amounts were transferred to London, and held in Foreign Office archives. Colonial officials were told that crates of documents sent back to the UK by sea could be entrusted only to the "care of a British ship's master on a British ship".

For example, Robert Turner, the chief secretary of the British protectorate of North Borneo, wrote to the Colonial Office library in August 1963, a few weeks before independence, saying his subordinate's monthly reports – "which would be unsuitable for the eyes of local ministers" – would be saved and sent to London, rather than destroyed. "I ... have been prevailed upon to do so on the grounds that some at least of their contents may come in handy when some future Gibbon is doing research work for his 'Decline and Fall of the British Empire'."

Those papers that were returned to London were not open to historians, however. The declassified documents made available Friday at the National Archives at Kew, south-west London, are from a cache of 8,800 of colonial-era files that the Foreign Office held for decades, in breach of the 30-years rule of the Public Records Acts and in effect beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act. They were stored behind barbed-wire fences at Hanslope Park, Buckinghamshire, a government communications research centre north of London, a facility that it operates along with MI6 and MI5.

The Foreign Office was forced eventually to admit to the existence of the hidden files during high court proceedings brought by a group of elderly Kenyans who were suing the government over the mistreatment they suffered while imprisoned during the 1950s Mau Mau insurgency. Even then, however, the Foreign Office failed to acknowledge that the 8,800 colonial files were just a small part of a secret archive of 1.2m files that it called the Special Collections, and which it had held unlawfully at Hanslope Park.

The Foreign Office is understood to have presented a plan to the National Archive earlier this month for the belated transfer of the Special Collections into the public domain. On Thursday it declined to disclose details of that plan. The newly declassified documents show that the practice of destroying papers rather than allowing them to fall into the hands of post-independence governments pre-dated Macleod's 1961 instructions.

A British colonial official in Malaya reported that in August 1957, for example, "five lorry loads of papers … were driven down to the naval base at Singapore, and destroyed in the Navy's splendid incinerator there. The Army supplied the lorries (civilian type) and laid on Field Security Personnel to move the files. Considerable pains were nevertheless taken to carry out the operations discreetly, partly to avoid exacerbating relationships between the British government and those Malayans who might not have been so understanding ... and partly to avoid comment by the press (who I understand greatly enjoyed themselves with the pall of smoke which hung over Delhi during the mass destruction of documents in 1947)."

A few years later, colonial officials in Kenya were urged not to follow the Malayan example: "It is better for too much, rather than too little, to be sent home – the wholesale destruction, as in Malaya, should not be repeated."


From the Guardian 17th January 2015:-

The 30-year rule documents they don’t want you to see

The National Archives at Kew has just released hundreds of government files, as it has done for decades under the “30-year rule”. The archivists and press officers helpfully point journalists to records that have contemporary resonances, guaranteeing good coverage in the media.

They also helped to persuade some of the more secretive Whitehall departments to abandon their practice of blocking the release of entire files whenever there was any reference to an individual or event they did not want disclosed. Now passages are often redacted or pages removed, with a notice placed in the file to that effect.

But many files remain closed indefinitely, subject to an extraordinary, sweeping escape clause. Under section 3(4) of the 1958 Public Records Act, files can be withheld “if, in the opinion of the person who is responsible for them, they are required for administrative purposes or ought to be retained for any other special reason”. The only condition is that a minister or Whitehall official who wants to suppress a file must tell the lord chancellor (currently the justice secretary, Chris Grayling). The individual who wants to retain the file does not have to explain what “administrative purposes” they may be required for, or the nature of any “special reason” for their continued retention.

Files held back this year under the act’s section 3(4) all relate to events that took place at least 29 years ago, ie, in 1985 or earlier. (The 30-year rule is gradually being reduced, under a 10-year transition, to a 20-year rule). They include those relating to Whitehall’s joint intelligence committee, terrorism, security in the grounds of Buckingham Palace (after an incident on 2 July 1982), one titled: “The narcotics problem: proposals for greater involvement of the United Kingdom intelligence community”, one with the title: “Soviet funding of the NUM, information from Sir Bernard Braine MP”, and another on “special intelligence operations” in Northern Ireland.

The reasons for withholding these may be obvious or understandable, though not necessarily justifiable. No less easy to understand, but on the face of it even less justifiably suppressed, are a number of other files due to have been released now. These include papers, all dated 1985 or earlier, on UK nuclear tests and GCHQ. The latter documents concern funding, the ban on trade unions, official policy on the interception of communications, and on Jock Kane, the GCHQ radio operator who blew the whistle on security breaches at the centre’s former listening post at Little Sai Wan in Hong Kong. Other files held back include those marked “Falkland Islands: political”, “Gibraltar: political”, “India: political”, and “USSR: military”.

In addition to those retained indefinitely under the Public Records Act’s section 3(4) are those marked “T” – meaning they are “temporarily retained”, though there is no way of knowing when they will be released. Those marked with a “T” this time round include files relating to “public opinion and public debate on nuclear weapons issues” (a probable reference to how the Ministry of Defence used MI5 to monitor CND campaigners), “defence sales” (the Westland affair, over which Michael Heseltine resigned, and which involved the leaking of government law officers’ correspondence), the “situation in the Middle East”, and the UK’s relations with Oman and Gibraltar.

Other files retained include those relating to “Anglo-Libyan relations” after the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan People’s Bureau in St James Square on 17 April 1984, and one titled “Representation of political parties at ceremonial occasions – Cenotaph and state banquets”. All these are meant to be “public records” kept on behalf of the public. The public has a right to see them, or at least to be told why they have been suppressed and when they will be released.



One of my favourite gifts this year has been from the BBC in the form of the complete 22 hour 'box set' of that brilliant police drama 'Line of Duty', still available on iplayer for a few more days. The villains always burn the evidence and the series ends with Supt Hastings surveying a wall of mugshots and ruefully observes that catching bent coppers "looks like a lifetimes work"

Historical records are essential in getting to know the truth. Last month a memorial was finally unveiled commemorating a tragic event from the Second World War, the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster when 173 people died on a set of stairs leading to a shelter. It was the worst civilian disaster of the war. This from the memorial website:-

"In a book published last year we recently discovered that there was also a government cover-up after the Bethnal Green tube shelter disaster.

Rick Fountain's book 'Mr. Morrison's Conjuring Tricks' sets out the evidence that in 1941 (so, two years before the disaster) Bethnal Green Council had written to the government asking for permission to alter the station entrance and make it safer if a lot of people wanted to use it. The Government department refused and the Borough Engineer wrote a stronger worded letter explaining that the entrance and stairway needed several measures to make them safer. Again the government refused permission. The Council's borough engineer wrote a third time to plead for permission to alter the entrance, but was once more refused.

The day after the disaster all these measures sought by the Council were put in place. However, Bethnal Green Council was made to keep their earlier letters secret, under the Official Secrets Act. The Council was therefore made to take the blame. Statements given in Parliament suggested that the victims were to blame. This ensured the event was kept as secret as possible. This was partially to prevent the enemy using it for propaganda purposes, but apparently it also saved the Home Secretary of the day, Herbert Morrison, from having to resign. The Mayor of Bethnal Green was not allowed to defend herself and was largely blamed for the tragedy.

The public enquiry, and the summing-up by the judge in the one court case that followed, largely agreed that there had been no panic on the part of the victims so they were not to blame. The final statement about the enquiry was read out in Parliament by another MP as Herbert Morrison had a cold on that day. So no questions could be asked. It was the Hillsborough of its day."

Given the instruction regarding the risk of 'embarrassment' expressed by Iain Macleod in 1961, I wonder if this is not an honest view held by governments of all hues since time began and that therefore, what are the chances of ever getting to know the full truth of Hillsborough, Orgreave or Grenfell? 

In answer to my question earlier this year and addressed to a long-term friend and colleague 'is being a Probation Officer incompatible with being a civil servant?',  they replied without hesitation 'yes!'

Sunday 24 December 2017

A Christmas Story

As all long-term readers are well aware, this blog does not do advertising, but if it did, there are a number of products that might gain endorsement, one being Mather's Black Beer, a traditional Yorkshire product.

Image result for Mathers Black Beer images

The black beer brewed by Mather’s is a strange beast, for several reasons. With consumption largely confined to West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire it is very much a regional taste. Even though it is more than 8% abv, for arcane reasons relating to its very high original gravity it is duty free. It is a beer but uses no hops, and is almost exclusively used as a mixer. 

There are several near relations of this surviving black beer dotted about the world: in Germany Schwarzbier is enjoyed in several regions, a very dark, heavily malted brew, though lower in alcohol content than Mather’s. Malt beer is enjoyed in the USA and in South America – and sometimes still in Scotland. And in the days when temperance was a powerful movement in Northern England black beer of a rather different style was brewed in Lancashire – Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall still serves black beer and raisin – a clue to the origin of the Mather’s drink perhaps, in that both are supposedly tonics.

Some daring souls drink black beer neat, but this is more of a trial than a pleasure – the drink is thick, mouth coating, very sweet and very malty, though with a bonfire toffee charm hidden in there somewhere. But mix it with something else and the results are interesting. A proper rum and black is with black beer rather than the blackcurrant that many bartenders will provide if unchecked, and this is a drink with a history – supposedly a way of making scurvy prophylaxis palatable to sailors in days gone by, black beer containing a high concentration of vitamin C. Mixed with lemonade you have a refreshing and malty shandy, known in Yorkshire as a Sheffield Stout. And some enjoy it as flavouring for milk, pregnant women it seems enjoying this tipple, though there is a legend that says pregnant women drinking black beer will have twins.

Sometimes seen elsewhere in the country on the shelves behind the bar, in with strange drinks from rather more exotic spots than Leeds, black beer is perhaps an acquired taste, but worth giving a go once or twice.

(From Food Legends on Information Britain website

But by 2012, trouble was brewing, as discussed here in the Huddersfield Examiner:-

Black beer brewers hit by Osborne budget

Black beer is a taste that children used to acquire at their grandma’s knee. Does anybody remember it? My grandma always had a bottle in the family home in Cheapside, Wakefield, where I was born. When my uncles went out for a Sunday lunchtime drink she and my mother and Auntie Doris would cook dinner. Opening time in those days was 12 noon to 2pm and all the chaps in the pub or club had strict instructions to be back home in time for the first servings of the Yorkshires.

As the steam rose on the stove and the smells from the oven titivated the taste buds, my nose would rise like a Bisto kid and the ladies of the house would take a modest drink. My mum and Auntie Doris would share a bottle of Tetley’s and my grandma would pour herself half a glass of black beer which she then topped up with lemonade. A smaller glass would be produced and I would also get a black beer shandy.

Those days have gone. Who can guarantee a chap will return home prompt at 2.20pm when licensed premises are open all day? And who, these days, still drinks black beer? The only makers of this distinctive drink are Huddersfield’s Continental Wine and Food. Mather’s Black Beer is flat, thick and strong at 8.5% alcoholic volume.

The problem is George Osborne’s budget. He didn’t just hit pensioners and pasty eaters. He removed a tax exemption from black beer that has been in existence for 80 years because it was accepted the drink was taken for its medical and nutritional benefits. It is high in vitamin C. It is also never drunk neat. Early this year, before the budget, Morrisons was selling a bottle for £2.10. Now it is online at £4. And this could be a leap too far for a specialist drink loved mainly by the elderly on restricted budgets in West and South Yorkshire.

Black beer can trace its roots back to 1555. Captain Cook gave it his crew to ward off scurvy. But now it could be scuppered because of Chancellor Osborne. No surprise there, really. He obviously did not grow up in a household with a Sunday lunchtime ritual of blokes in the pub and Yorkshires at 2.20pm. Or had a snifter of black beer at his grandma’s knee.


The story reached the Guardian of 5th April 2012 and the article explains  the background:-

Mather's Black Beer

Black beer's future looks dark after budget tax relief changes

When George Osborne revealed the contents of his red box last month, much of the focus was on pensioners as the big losers of the coalition's third budget.

But 200 miles up the M1, a family-run brewery was also feeling unfairly victimised by the chancellor of the exchequer. In a little-noticed footnote to the 2012 budget, Osborne decided to repeal a curious tax relief which has for 80 years exempted from excise duty a special kind of alcoholic beverage made by just one company: Huddersfield's Continental Wine and Food (CWF).

The result is that a 68cl bottle of Mather's Black Beer will soon almost double in price to £4 – a leap CWF fears will be too much for its loyal customers, many of whom it says are pensioners leading frugal lives in Yorkshire and surrounding areas.

"It's 50/50 whether we'll still be producing Black Beer in a year's time," said Vicky Lee, CWF's group marketing and trading controller. "Yorkshire has already been economically very hard hit by the downturn, and this is yet another nail in the coffin for business in the north."

Ever since 1931, Mather's Black Beer has not been taxed like ordinary beers and lagers, despite having an alcoholic volume of 8.5%.

The logic behind this historical quirk was twofold – first, as HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC) notes (pdf), black beer is "taken" (not drunk) "for its perceived medical and nutritional benefits", notably its high vitamin C content. Second, it is not sipped neat, but diluted with lemonade or milk. When mixed with the former it becomes "Sheffield Stout" and tastes like a malty cross between dandelion and burdock and bitter shandy, with a faint caramel kick. It can be found behind the bar in almost every Yorkshire pub, usually nestled beside a dusty bottle of Stone's Green Ginger Wine.

HMRC says repealing the tax relief "supports the government's objective to simplify the tax system and is part of a package of measures which will repeal reliefs that are no longer necessary, have not achieved their policy rationale or are distortative". But on the factory floor in Huddersfield, men who have been brewing black beer all of their working lives said Osborne was killing off a part of Yorkshire culture.

Production manager Trevor Smith has been making black beer since 1978 and says it would be a "real shame" if production was stopped. "It would be summat else from here disappearing – it would feel like part of Yorkshire going," he said.

Like many black beer fans, Smith was started on the drink young and introduced his children to its merits before they were even old enough to go to primary school. "Just a capful, mixed with lemonade. It was a treat for them," he said.

But Joe Turton, CWF team leader, said part of the problem was not enough children carried on the habit. "I don't think the young 'uns go for it so much these days," he said. When asked what it tastes like, he laughed. "It's, erm, acquired. Like nowt else you'll ever have tried before."

Lee and her colleagues are constantly thinking up ways of broadening black beer's appeal beyond its northern heartlands, particularly the idea of using the drink in recipes. Their dream is to persuade Yorkshire celebrity chef James Martin, host of BBC's Saturday Kitchen, to use black beer in one of his recipes, prompting a Delia or Nigella-style run on the product.

Black beer can trace its roots back as far as 1555 when it began as "spruce beer", which was produced by mashing and fermenting the leaves of spruce pine. In the 1769, Captain Cook, the great Yorkshire explorer, started brewing black beer and giving it to his sailors to ward off scurvy on their antipodean adventures. By the time of the second world war, black beer was deemed to be so important for the morale of communities in northern mining towns that the UK government made special efforts to ensure that rationing did not affect production of the allegedly health-giving brew.

These days, CWF is the sole producer of black beer, having bought the Mather's brand from its inventors back in 1995. HMRC accepts that the withdrawal of the duty exemption "will have a negative impact" on CWF and "will make the product more expensive, making it less affordable, particularly for customers of pensionable age".

What sticks in Vicky Lee's throat is the bald admission by HMRC that the new rules – which come into force next April – will have a "negligible operational impact for HMRC". In other words, it won't fill the Treasury's coffers, even if the product survives at its new price point. Just not enough of it is made.

"At the end of the day, we are only selling 35,000 bottles a year," said Lee, "and you've got to bear in mind that each bottle tends to stay in a customer's drinks cupboard for a year before it's all drunk. The HMRC admits they won't make money off the duty increase, so why are they bothering?"

Plus, she says, CWF does not get rich brewing black beer. "We don't make it for profit. We keep it going for its heritage and we want to keep the product keenly priced for our customers, many of whose incomes are already at a stretch – and will only get more stretched with the rest of the budget measures."

The story made the Daily Telegraph too:-

Budget 2012: Sour taste for black beer fans

The "death knell" sounded for a piece of British heritage when the Budget ended a decades-old tax relief for a unique traditional drink, brewers said.The Treasury confirmed the end of a long-standing relief which exempts a famous type of black beer from excise duty. The tax change will affect only one company: Continental Wine and Foods (CWF), which sells 35,000 bottles of its Mather's Black Beer each year and is the last remaining producer of the drink in the UK.

The Huddersfield company says the move will take the beer's £2.10 price to over £4 when VAT is factored in, steep even for its loyal customer base. According to a Treasury impact assessment, this is mainly "people in the over 65 age group in Yorkshire".

"It looks like the death knell has been sounded for the product, because it will double its price," said John Shinwell, managing director at CWF. "It will not be commercially viable if the sales fall off. It's a bit of Yorkshire heritage biting the dust."

Traditionally popular with miners, the sweet, malty brew can be traced back to the 16th century. Captain Cook took it with him around the world to keep his sailors free from scurvy, as it is high in vitamin C - the reason it has enjoyed tax relief for its "health giving" properties.

CWF argues that the beer, sold in a thick, concentrated form which has an 8.5pc alcohol content, is not beer as anyone would recognise it. Diluted with its typical mixers of lemonade or milk, it is akin to a very weak shandy - with an alcohol content so low it would avoid duty, it says.

The Treasury admits the tax change will have a "negligible" impact on its coffers but says that it fits with the goal of simplifying the tax system.

There was a petition that gained 193 supporters:-

Remove the duty from Mathers Black Beer so that it can be manufactured again

"It is the taste of Christmas in a bottle and is a Yorkshire tradition. It's as important to Yorkshire Christmas as the turkey and tinsel."

and a Facebook page 'Bring Back Mathers Black Beer' remains as testament to the initial widespread shock and is still a forum for discussing all things MBB:-

I don't know any one over 25 that hasn't drank Mathers black beer and lemonade at some point in their life. I work in a wines and spirit dept in a supermarket and the amount of people that ask for it is unbelievable.

True story. Mathers Black Beer made me 'the man I am today........' God help us all.....

So many people devastated. We love black beer. xxxx

They've basically ruined Christmas!

I want my Christmas, never mind the tax, no Christmas without our black beer, can we do a strike on Christmas to get our black beer back, Santa please can I have for Christmas Mathers black beer please please please. I believe in Santa xxxxxxxx

Bring back Mathers black it was a family tradition to have at Christmas when my mum died she had a bottle in cupboard it was hard who had to take it home it was drunk on her birthday please bring it back.

Getting in touch with any current/former club and pub landlords around Yorkshire and Lancs and getting them to think of any well-known MBB drinkers might be an idea.

I'm thinking a book might be a good idea, with recollections as a good awareness raiser.

I have contacted an old colleague. He is the CEO of a drinks company and one of his colleagues used to make black beer. He said that he doesn't think CWF will sell them the IP, the abv is a problem and the other issue is consumer demand.... But they will look into it!!

I wonder how many people would actually be against buying it off the "back shelf" in the off licence/convenience stores.

Would it be possible to form an investment group between us and ask CWF to sell us the recipe. Then we take the recipe elsewhere to get some produced.

I have one unopened bottle but I dare not open it.

EEEE Sheffield stout, will miss it we always have a bottle (had) in.

The other way to do it is have it made in China and export it back to the uk?

Sheffield stout, its a must for christmas, absolute madness.

Silly I know but it's an institution. x

Bring it back xx

Fed up of this assault on my culture! Would you support this on anyone else's? I think all of us could use this, adapted slightly, and email our MPs, regardless of where in the UK we might be.

I sooooo hope they do bring it back, I couldn't get any last year and my Christmas dinner just wasn't the same.


In amongst the numerous comments fondly remembering Christmas's past, I noticed an unanswered appeal to Ed Balls at the time:-

Hi Ed

I don't know if you can remember from your youth a drink synonymous with Christmas called Mathers Black Beer or Sheffield stout?

Production of it was stopped last year and it will no longer be on our supermarket shelves due to the government imposing a tax duty on it as it is very low alcohol. A Christmas tradition that has been brought to a halt because of some narrow minded MP in London who has no regards to the impact he has caused. It's like slapping a tax in mince pies or Christmas cake because they contain brandy or whisky or sherry!!! Black beer dates back centuries and records show that early recipes for the product helped sailors be protected from scurvy.

I have written to the company who made it 'Contentinental Food and Wine' and they would have to put the liquor up by about £1 per bottle and don't think it would sell. I do and so do others (I have set up a Facebook group).

However, you being a local lad (I live in Horbury) thought you might be able to use your influence as we have had no response from an email sent to the PM's office 6 months ago.

Can you help us Ed? We might not get it this year but if we could bring it back next year it would be amazing.

The Facebook page is: Bring back Mathers Black Beer. Thanks for listening and I look forward to your response.

Kindest Regards,

But it was all to no avail. Hard as you might search the Morrisons alcohol shelves today, you won't find a bottle of the once-cherished and famous Mathers black beer because production finally ceased in 2014. It was killed-off by the charmless George Osborne in a bit of 'administrative tidying-up' and in the process another bit of northern working-class heritage was swept aside. Any wonder the North surprised the rest of the Nation in several recent elections? 
"It is the taste of Christmas in a bottle and is a Yorkshire tradition. It's as important to Yorkshire Christmas as the turkey and tinsel."
But don't worry, Yorkshire folk are nothing if not resourceful and some have resorted to brewing their own:- (no not me - ed) 

No automatic alt text available.Image may contain: drink

Happy Christmas!

Saturday 23 December 2017

Pick of the Week 36

So Ingeus (RRP) have made a loss of £12.6m in 2 years across SWM and DLNR CRC's, been given a bung of £36m up until 2021 and still have proceeded in giving 50% of all back office staff a 90 day redundancy notice just before Christmas. What is going on?

I have often wondered how other parts of the Criminal Justice System, let's not forget that public protection, reducing reoffending, rehabilitation resettlement are collective efforts not just Probation work, about privateers making profit for getting the form filling right. The other cash strapped parts must look across at the so called Rehabilitation Companies (Rehabilitation my proverbial arse!) and scratch there heads or gesticulate in other ways over their disbelief. They must say, why am I spending my precious resources, money, fixed assets and people supporting this bunch of ... I dare say that was already muttered many, many months ago in many different quarters and I think subsequently decisions have been made. How are the government going to restore confidence?

It's also curious how a story about these phones which was covered extensively by the tabloid press in early 2016, gets another moral panic going. A nice platform for Liddington to talk tough, perhaps?

In the 1990's I worked in a magistrates' courts team which included an embedded, seconded mental health professional. They endeavoured to see every new remand prisoner, every sentenced person & every referral for reports - but certainly prioritised anyone with a known link to mental health services or a presentation giving cause for concern. They had a good working relationship with the Police doctors and a hotline to a consultant psychiatrist if required.

The former prison's inspector made it clear that cutting resources was increasing risks to safety. Apart for the fact that many with mental health issues should be diverted from custody, it all boils down to funding. If the government had the same political will that found £1bn for the DUP, there would be no mental health crisis in the prisons.

I'm pretty old and knackered now, and have seen many governments come and go, but I can honestly say that this Tory Government today is the worst I've ever seen. And by some at that. Their ideological-driven policies are having a brutal effect on all but those rich enough not to care. The justice Secretary whilst signing off on cuts to legal aid has employed a 'second' speech writer at £70,000pa. Cuts to prisons and probation go hand in hand with lucrative contracts to private companies.

The NHS is being sold off at an alarming rate. This week Serco acquired a contract worth over a hundred million to deliver health care, but they didn't get it from the NHS, they bought it from Carillion?!?!? David Gauke the work an pensions minister defended a 140% rise in rough sleeping. A 60% rise in homelessness, and a big rise in child poverty by extolling the wonderful values of universal credit, and the governments record on reducing unemployment on the Andrew Marr show this weekend.

Everything's a smokescreen, they spout out all kinds of patronising crap to the population and don't really care if it's believed anymore. Lidington today will talk about drugs, drones and mobile phones, not about cuts, squalor, mental health and violence. Nor will he talk about what those in prison now can expect upon release. No accommodation, no benefits, and no real support. I'm sick of this government I really am, and they need to go ASAP.

I'd like Lidlington to use his statement today to say a few words about how phones, drones and drugs, are responsible for a 64 year old alcoholic sex offender (with previous) and required to sign the sex offenders register, being released from prison homeless to live in a public park?

That will be an NPS case then. Just shows how appalling the housing situation is. This man should have been placed in supported housing or approved premises and monitored very closely, but the crisis we have in probation coupled with a housing crisis and MoJ doing nothing to assist us means a risky and also vulnerable man is sleeping rough in a park where he could pose a risk to public. He will be out again soon and what then? Back out on the street is quite likely. 

The MoJ need to invest in accommodation that can be used to place our service users. The housing crisis is one of the most significant issues we are struggling with now as an entire nation and offenders are at the bottom of the pile in terms of priority. As [above] points out, this government are presiding over the biggest fuck up we have witnessed since we were last at war. I am not joking! Unless something is done we are going to witness deprivation that hasn't been seen for over 50 years. People unable to afford a home, fuel or food. What the hell is going on? We have to get rid of this government.

Lidingtons comments about ROTL and more people being allowed to go to work from prisons and greater use of tagging is a precursor for extending tagging to more prisoners reaching the end of their sentence in an attempt to reduce the prison population.

I certainly hope so. No Governor is going to be able to turn this around but I reckon this is the tip of the iceberg. I have heard similar reports about other prisons including Bristol with regard to filth, cockroaches, drugs and violence. The whole system is failing whilst Government use Brexit as a handy smokescreen. Not long before the national press post staff at doors of prison to interview inmates as they exit. I can see another documentary.

Carillon have the contract for prison maintenance, but will only recognise the MoJ as its employer. Hence, the governor has to ask the MoJ for work to be carried out, who in turn have to get the contractor to do the work. I doubt if getting A wings showers fixed is a high priority for David Lidlington or Sam Gymah to sign off on.

I was having a thought about outing myself. I then thought what if thousands of us did the same, stopped being scared, you know like, 'I'm Spartacus!' several thousand times over. However, 5000 headteachers petitioned the government recently and seemingly to little effect. We have some of our most senior representatives no longer couching their language, they are saying this isn't working, this is a disgrace. But all met with a baffling, infuriating soundbite reply. I am sure at some point someone of distinguish will actually throw a wobbly, express numerous expletives, get personal, suggest moral failings. You know, I'm sure your Mother loves you but ... this is a fucking disgrace.

I have seen a couple of comments regarding the upcoming move for Harrow CRC to Denmark House - which is in the borough of Barnet. A distance of 6.2 miles from the current office. The impact this can/will have on Service Users is worrying, to say the least. Service Users will now face anything from a 45min - 1.5 hour journey to attend appointments, depending on where they reside in Harrow. Giving ongoing coverage of lack of face to face meetings, this can only be viewed as negative in terms of engagement.

Just think about the service users who have mental health issues (paranoia, PTSD, anti-social disorder etc) and how they will fare on a 3 bus trek to attend an appointment. Along with those with drug/alcohol dependencies who struggle at times to attend appointments, on time, locally. Service Users of NFA in Harrow. Those who have no funds to purchase food let alone an increase in travel expenditure. The impact this will have on a practitioners ability to support, engage and advocate for service users.

Gone will be the ability to support cases in real crisis to local housing services. No longer is the civic centre a three minute walk. Gone will be the ability to support cases to local agencies such as WDP to ensure scripting. Gone will be the ability to support those in MH crisis to Bentley House for urgent assessment or support. Gone will be the ability to link in quickly with the Job Centre when Service users are being failed and need someone to advocate on their behalf. Now we will have to instruct them from Barnet, back to Harrow, to engage with such services.

There is a lot of focus on how poor CRC teams operate. How poorly they engage with service users. Probation Officers (which is what we are...not Offender Mangers!) want to have a positive impact with those we work with. The few restrictions now in our way highlighted above, it’s just demoralising. This year alone, I am aware of service users managed by Harrow who have received quality 1-1 support to help achieve change. Being out of borough will, I guarantee, reduce such positive change.

It’s all well and good being told we can provide travel fares for service users - though not to promote this (we are though, loudly). This isn’t the issue. It’s being removed from local services, partnership agencies which contribute to change. It’s scandalous. Desperate to being only two weeks away from this move - local agencies are yet to be informed by management. No discussions have been held about how such a move will be managed going forward. Look Ahead - a very important housing service for OM’s and Service Users - have stated they will not attend Denmark House and are likely to withdraw there service.

Still no office space has been secured for staff moving to Denmark House. Of concern, as seen by Dorset Close recent move to Askew Road - will there even be adequate interview rooms to hold appointments covering Barnet & Harrow cases? There isn’t at Askew Road to meet demand. No changes in letter heads, OM contact number. It’s all very silent from management given such a big change approaching. Such a move - all to save a few quid - is neglectful to the service users and the public. It’s being managed appallingly by senior management. It’s a shameful and shambolic decision. BIONIC. Nonsense.

No one put in a formal complaint about this Office move. It was all informal moaning and grumbling. A formal grievance that can be done on a group basis force the organisation to account for its decisions and records staff reservations and concerns. If this is not done it looks as if you were all holding hands and singing Kumbaya rather than fighting the closure.

As much as I deplore the reduction in local service delivery, it just sounds like you're catching up with the rest of us. Bristol, for example, has a single central office covering a huge geography with crap and costly buses. At least London has comprehensive public transport.

Just imagine the difficulties offenders have when travelling 30+ miles in rural locations, some with extremely poor or non-existent transport links. How can you conduct meaningful work when someone has to spend upto 3 hours travelling in each direction to appointments.

Salisbury group participants used to be taxied as much as 90mins across Salisbury plain twice a week for groups. Bath group members often had to travel to Bristol. Doesn't even have to be rural particularly, trying to get public transport to central Bristol from 5 miles out can be nigh in impossible.

Those resident at HMP Liverpool are there because there's consequences attached to the decisions they've made. It's high time that consequences were attached to the decisions made by politicians, particularly when their decisions are responsible for suicide, selfharm, and even murder. It's true what the ex-con says, if you kept an animal in those conditions you'd be prosecuted and banned from keeping animals probably for life.

Health care is provided by a private company, maintenance is provided by a private company, and they should be held to account for their failings. When prisoners are involved in disturbances the MoJ always say, "this behaviour will not be tolerated, and those involved will feel the full force of the law." But if you're forced to sleep in a cell, with a piss covered floor, exposed and dangerous electrical wiring, rats and cockroaches crawling about, written complaints being ignored, then the full force of the law seems a bit harsh to me.

I'm pleased the report was leaked, and pleased at the timing. I get fed up of seeing Sam Gymah and Dominic Rabb being sent out to answer questions in parliament or the select committee and nothing getting done. Where's the consequences for those who allowed this to happen? And who's going to put it right?

Do Probation staff, now at least, actually realise that recalling people back into these conditions is bloody barbaric. Yes, understood that recall is apt in some extreme cases, however the majority of recall are not done to prevent a known imminent risk. Most recalls rely on that essential tool, the Probation Officers Crystal Ball and come from a back covering/need to do some thing now place.

I think now it's pretty safe to assume that sending anyone to one of these inhumane hell holes is going to affect their mental health. Sending someone in or especially back who has a health issue WILL result in that issue getting worse or much worse or even fatal. Why should YOU therefore not be prosecuted for assault-to-manslaughter as you are knowingly inflicting that suffering. Why should you not feel the full force of the law? After all you can no longer say you are not an accessory, can you?

Liddington is not well regarded by his department but not detested as much as Grayling was. I have a couple of acquaintances that work at the MoJ who said that very few if any staff supported TR and fully realised that the split was a disaster. Their advice was either all private or all public so Grayling was going to go all private, then some people in MoJ & NOMS pointed out that the supervision of the most serious offenders should not be given to the private sector because it would expose the government to accusations of dodging responsibilities. Grayling was swayed by the arguments to split as this was the safest option for him politically whilst satisfying ideological interests he read in the bluffers guide to Hayek.

What an absolute mess, the MoJ need to ask CRC practitioners directly what is really happening. The amount of resource going into recording performance and measuring data is obscene. Red tape, paperwork and box ticking means very little meaningful work is being done face to face anymore, stuck behind our desks. 100% set up to fail.

So, as stated throughout the TR project by many, the MoJ expedited an ideologically-driven policy regardless of its validity or efficacy. This scorched earth approach led directly to:
- the loss of professional probation service provision
- the loss of support for those subject to probation supervision, the loss of many hundreds of jobs & thousands of years of experience
- the shovelling of £billions of public funds into the pockets of private enterprise - with nothing worthwhile to show for it.

Grayling, Wright, Cameron, Romeo, Brennan & everyone else involved in this scandalous travesty should be brought to account. They should be publicly named & shamed, humiliated on the record in Hansard to ensure the shameful history of TR cannot be forgotten.

"Assume 20% fixed costs and it turned out to be 77%" What kind of business did the MoJ and the private companies think that Probation was? So called professional companies such as Sodexo MUST have known that an assumption of 20% expenditure on fixed costs was totally and unbelievably wrong. Simply considering that fixed costs would include staff costs, pension contributions, accommodation costs, computer systems costs, provision of computers, telephony and office machinery would indicate to anyone with an IQ larger than their shoe size that 20% was nowhere near sufficient. (and I haven't mentioned travel costs, postage, security systems and a host of other "fixed costs" that would need to be taken into account.) 

That the MoJ proposed 20% as their assumption demonstrates how appallingly bad their knowledge of the real costs of doing any type of business actually is. They are not safe to be let loose. Is it any wonder that it has all gone so terribly, terribly badly. I concur with [above] that all those involved should be publicly "outed" for their shameful destruction of Probation and for the massive cost to the taxpayers that they have brought about. The public should know who these self-serving people are and front page shaming of them in EVERY daily newspaper would be just dessert for them.

Money money money. But how much profit has MTCnovo made out of London CRC in the past year? Does anyone know? No me neither. I work like a demon to tick the boxes to generate profits for them. All I ever get is that I am losing them money every time I miss one of their targets, inevitable regardless how many hours I put in. So how much profit over the past year? They are not telling us how much, or why they think the profit they made is somehow not enough. And how much have they invested into their services? They probably haven't invested anything. Quite the contrary. They are useless and so are their paymasters. And the tax payers (me) are mugs for putting up with it.

I think it’s high time Probation staff became a little less dedicated to flogging a dead horse in the CRCs and told bosses where to go. Perhaps a bit more stubbornness protest and militancy wouldn’t go amiss. Staff should start by joining or rejoining a union that are prepared to fight for them. The only union to join at present is Napo. If they experienced a Corbyn-like surge in membership and ousted Lawrence who lets face it is a scrapper without a strategy or popular support and not the smart fixer and operator needed, then the fiasco would be exposed and Probation would at least go down fighting in an honest way that might just capture the public imagination.

Good job Dino & SSW team; you deserve a really positive result for your tenacity & determination. The law of unintended consequences says you have also probably saved the GS from eviction as he capitalises on your collective effort, so perhaps he'll donate his Xmas bonus to the cause? Sadly he wasn't as focused for the benefit of staff elsewhere when the TR shambles started. The field is set, Napo. Time to play hardball, make amends for the hundreds of jobs given away too easily & recover professional Probation from the depths of despair for the benefit of those who need the Service.

Dino is a well known Napo trade unionist. He is good, a capable leader. He has made sure Ian Lawrence has been part of the dispute from the centre of Napo. All our members are well informed of the issue and the constant defence has continued. The dispute is a matter of staff protection based on a failing model of cost cuts and staff sackings by some severance deals. Dino made it clear all members should have the same terms as those who hit the bonanza. 

A service that respects contract commitments and a fair and similar protection that staff had before TR. He is clear he will never sign off on terms less than what we already own simples. The relationship of Ian Lawrence and his activities in the South west are applauded because Ian Lawrence has been to many SW meetings speaks at branch AGMs with over 40 members attending. Ian Lawrence is delivering support at the highest level for a branch that is clearly doing what all other branches should have done should still be doing and which shows no signs of stopping. Why not give Ian Lawrence some credit for the work he does where it is due? 

Friday 22 December 2017

Mad Friday

It's the last Friday before Christmas and you'll possibly be relieved to hear I can't be bothered to publish much today - but I hate leaving a blank space, so here's a reminder of what could possibly be nearer reality than most of us could ever have imagined.  

Thursday 21 December 2017

Latest From Napo 170

As always, thanks to the reader for forwarding the following. This blog relies on people contributing material and I'd be especially interested in those typically uplifting Christmas messages from senior management, photos of computer screens if necessary.

South South Western Napo Branch report 21

Dear Napo Members,
The continuing pressure of change under this Working Links way just seems to see staff dissatisfaction soar as members continue to report issues to NAPO. Well-attended branch meetings indicate the drain and strain members are experiencing. Across the region it is becoming clearer we are losing many recognisable probation service values that we used to be part of. More of the tick box culture is embedding while the bean counting and low staffing levels start to reach crisis point. Napo made it clear not to overcut. We are still at significant and continuing odds with Aurelius Working Links an organisation retaining just a few of the much needed Probation officers that once made us a key public service.

Since our last report about the ACAS meeting and the HMIP report on Aurelius Working Links, they continue to drive on with their risky model. They remain oblivious to the facts that in Dorset the whole county only has a dearth of qualified probation officers propped up on the frontline with agency POs we understand. Sadly many POs having now seen the way things are, and looking at developing trends, have made arrangements to be leaving shortly. Coupled with the fact that many PO staff are opting to join the NPS at great personal pay line loss to themselves. Pensions have part to play but too many PO grade would rather leave the CRCs for the NPS than continue in the decline of their role under Aurelius Working Links. Fortunately they remain our NAPO members and we respect their clear choices and wish them well in their professional career choice.

This creaking story will continue as we also learned that the NPS is signalling open recruitment to its posts and that the Whole System Improvement team WSI are doing a one off CRC detailed staff projections calculation. That will be an interesting document to see once they work out what is happening on the ground. To add to the mix our General Secretary, Ian Lawrence, is writing to the minister shortly about the low level of probation officers in the Aurelius Working Links contract areas. That concern will look at the minimum standards required to remain able to fulfil contractual and professional obligations. The General Secretary is keeping us posted.

On Pay increases the long overdue and much awaited miserly 1% pay increase found its way to the staff in November. Nothing much to cheer about. The overall picture looks even more bleak. Members will have received several national e mail circulars from the General Secretary Ian Lawrence on pay issues for the NPS and how this plays out for the CRCs. The news that NPS may well start offering additional pay points to recruit experienced staff to join the NPS and that leapfrogging may well occur. If this happens it will reduce morale for existing staff held on the pay spine while new employees could well be lifted to encourage recruitment. We wait to see what happens. From NPS spending the cash it has been reported that Aurelius Working links continue to snatch any pennies back suggesting work diary provision is to cease. If that is the case, we can read what we might into the situation. If it is about money and cost cutting for more profit it signals another loss towards staff care it illustrates more decline from Aurelius Working Links. We know e diaries are limited than that to which we have on our person. No need to log in and take ages to get through secure gateways searching wifi signals then to find access delayed due to outage or something else.

Parliamentary submissions
Napo members had been informed in Branch report 20 that we would be providing a SSW NAPO branch submission to that inquiry and this has been done. Taking a line from the General Secretary, Ian Lawrence, I am not able to publish it until after the important questions in that document hopefully find their way to the committee for their use. It was just over the word limit and we could not find anything positive to report, not since the private contract holders took up the reigns. I doubt this could change on current performance. They continue to drive a flawed working model which sees PO grades leaving and the roles below constantly facing higher responsibilities, more cases, no workload timings or weightings, and no proper accounting for your health and safety. I am sure Aurelius Working links spokesperson will find some spin to gloss over issues for parliamentary inquiries, I doubt any words will have integrity given what we have experienced from them so far. Readers will appreciate our point of view as many contributed to the issues raised. Thank you NAPO members for the input. It will be reproduced in a branch report once the committee publish their outcomes or as soon as we can. I am informed that several other colleagues have submitted their own reports individually and will rely on the protection encouraged and afforded by the committee for their statements. I am aware the Unison presentation spans more than 20 plus pages and is a thoroughly expansive and detailed document. Of course that document alongside National Napo’s submission will be important new year’s reading. We will keep you posted.

Zero Hour contracts versus agency staff
As if the recent BBC spotlight and media coverage of the naked Dorset unpaid worker on community punishment wasn’t enough (viewable here in case you missed it).

Expensive agency workers who, we understand in this case, were not properly trained or experienced for such work. Hardly appropriate for the difficulties of the role to which placed. It takes particular skilled staff set to manage the wide difficulties of external placements in CP. Something those of us experienced in probation would recognise the complexities. Yet we see a further decline as the prospect of Aurelius Working Links exploring zero hours contracts for a bank of staffing. We find this almost impossible to believe but when there are no standards to making money we ask what is next in this decline line? To date we have not seen anything that could be described as innovative or bringing any enhancements to what we were supposed to do in probation. NOTHING. If there are any, please let us know so things can be shared in balance. We do understand there will be some minimum training including Health and Safety but probably only because of the awful scrapes that besiege Aurelius Working Links from media and our NAPO General Secretary Ian Lawrence who has been inundated with interest for articles. Some more media criticism items yet to come.

Meeting with the General Secretary Ian Lawrence PCC & joint unions
It was a cold day in Bodmin Cornwall and it started very early with the General Secretary arriving for a series meetings scheduled with the PCC and Union heads. The conversation was productive and that we had sight of the PCC Parliamentary submission with many promising prospects for the changes required for the future, indicating much common purpose. There are some real gaps in operational credibility with current arrangements and yet it will take major changes to shift the situation from being locked in the mess of the contracts many of us endure. Nonetheless, the exchange has led to another meeting being called shortly to see how we can collaborate further to develop plans that serve the public properly better and who quite rightly should demand the best provision of services for their protection.

Ian then attended a BBC radio broadcast again about the local contract holder Aurelius Working Links. Ian found nothing positive to say as we understand things. Aurelius Working Links as ever had nothing to contribute despite being approached by the broadcaster.

No longer cold as joined the branch executive and members for a really warm welcome attending the Branch meeting on an industrial estate in an office shared with local services. Flanked by a Cornish pasty factory and an industrial cement works. It is a million miles away from the sorts of conditions enjoyed by most other NPS offices. Especially stark differences from those enjoying the MOJ buildings in the centre of London for example. Like many locations, a minimum quality level is anticipated. However, the sharp contrast to the buildings that we once had in the public service estate are also being abandoned at speed by Aurelius Working Links. Hell bent on extracting Probation staff from well-established easy client accessible locations. It does make you look on in despair. Many of the new buildings are in fact poorer with substandard conditions that the staff have been transferred into. More than obvious overcrowding open plan singular large hall. Amid claims the old buildings not being fit for purpose. What then is the apparent difference? The new Aurelius Working Links provision is far worse in our opinion. Some of our members now have a new desk which is in fact is a kitchen work-top shared as a stationary and mailings station. No health assessments and not properly purposed. Despite the charade there is no substance to this emperor’s new clothes. Staff corralled into Aurelius Working Links own sites, we are clear it is more to do with cost profits than anything to do with innovation encouragement and abilities. The new supposedly fit for purpose sites and one especially is anything but suitable. The list is easily documented, but we all know lack of confidentiality, no windows, noise levels, desk facilities, lighting, escape routes, fire practices, health and safety assessment on safe building numbers, just a total shocking state of unfit accommodation showing they learnt nothing from the mess they made in Dorset with the alleged rat infestation in the planned rehousing of staff there. Of course there will be some writing of letters and other complaints shortly but let us not forget our experience of the Aurelius Working Links way , is they never formally reply never put anything writing to address these serious concerns. We will keep you posted

Ian Lawrence, NAPO’s General Secretary, had made a reference to the quality and conditions of the places he visited last week in the South and West. Ian also went on to visiting the Weston Super Mare and Bristol offices to see the impact of Aurelius Working Links on the membership. His blog “the disgraceful way in which staff are being treated by this employer and the dreadful and dangerous things that are going on in terms of interventions and Unpaid Work services.”

The General Secretary openly shook his head in despair at some of the graphic descriptions of service provisions that he heard directly from the SSW branch membership. It was an incredibly powerful testament from those members. Service provision in decline. What lifted spirits was that Ian tapped into real common purpose. Members have reported back described just how empowering the General Secretaries support had felt. It was a worthwhile engagement. Members have been encouraged to see the General Secretary engage and rally the branch. Ian gave genuine commitments to Napo members supporting, encouraging, and offered some well understood tactical ways in which we are to strengthen real rejections of the ongoing failings of the Aurelius Working Links way. Ian made pledges to be a full part of that change in the direction of our combined areas dispute. Ian left Cornwall for the next leg of his getting around the dispute area and was scheduled into western branch at the end of the week. A whistle stop tour then, some much respected directions from the General who has continued to help direct and manage the dispute over its lengthy process. He will most certainly continue with us on the journey as things remain as they are.

From dangerous to the ridiculous, we have reports of bizarre appraisal targets being attempted to be set by some whereby absence on sickness becomes zero target in staff appraisal performance. Oddly the other is to contribute to identifying business opportunities from staff members. I guess we are all financial talent scouts now then while the Aurelius working Links continue to pare down staff for the money .

It is a stark reality how misunderstood the collective consciousness of probation folk has been. There is an incredibly strong sense of unjust treatment and consequence to wider social needs than anything the contract holder either wants or appears to engage in. Certainly not in delivering better services as a measure. There seems no genuine connection between the claims of doing a great job in the midst of the constant whining and bleating about no money. They claim they need but then sky rocket the 4.2 million quid contract adjustment last summer and now sit around waiting to pounce the next government money tree bail out to private ventures. That money will teleport itself perversely as a clear profit out of the UK. It should have been redirected back to offender services need.

Personally, having been working in probation for over 34 years you learn a thing or two. In all of my time I have been fortunate to meet and work with many people of all grades and roles. Incredibly diverse ranges of people that probation attracts as its strength is diluted and getting lost under the TR fiasco. It is these cash figures that attract business interests to make large money easily and fast

  • 21 Community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) 
  • in England and Wales 8 number of different providers across the 21 CRCs 
  • £3.7bn total lifetime contract value for all 21 CRCs
  • £889 million forecast total probation costs for 2015-16, including costs of CRC contracts, the National Probation Service, and operational and contract assurance activity
The prospects of accountability over the longer periods with the complexities of producing data delivering targets as the product. This is an open goal for accountants of CRCs hat inform their cash profit projections. We have seen plenty of that. I do not easily accept recent Private Eye loss making suggestions when we know all the figures are closely hidden. The long running SSW NAPO branch dispute has seen us plan and work through every stage properly. From local registration of a failure to agree to formally lodging the dispute and collectively with the General Secretary to the region. Through joint secretaries who did not seem able to perform their basic duties. Not willing to challenge the private companies. Nor at appeal with the contract managers in attendance, yet more inability to tackle the Aurelius Working Links performance manipulation almost seems deliberate. The contract management and the Joint Secs completely impotent the dispute continued Fortunately or NAPO Ian Lawrence and our branch exec team are vindicated by our persistence to maintain the dispute. Holding our position as the powerful HMIP report into BGSW in August 2017 made that clear. Not to mention the escalating SFOs the only national data record the statisticians and contract managers have still not published in the reports. We suggest why because the public won’t wear a costly failure. Not the just money but the additional 25% increase in human costs to the victims. SFOs is unacceptable to anyone working in probation, whatever the experience. It continues to be the vocational aims which unite probations sub consciousness understandings. The wide issues we all used to share. We will continue to push for HMIP to inspect the Devon Dorset and Cornwall CRC in the new year with what is coming they may well be directed to.

Our professional grades being devalued. Reducing status of the professional structures which in fact need to be protected. Middle managers at PO level holding crisis level risk cases. These are well above safe practice levels and could not have been allowed had we been remained as a proper probation trust.

The SSW branch executive have renewed energies and optimism which comes in the form of the Annual Report from HMIP.

None of it makes a cheery read for the future of the privatisation agenda and the continued break of our once great probation public service. We hope things are about to start us all on the much needed pathway to change. I doubt it will ever put things right, re-nationalisation has to form part of that debate? That pledge already made by the labour party. We will see.

Christmas message
Reducing identity developing within Probation with new language pervading all we do. Save Money! save printing! Save this and that, save anything. Also what can be sold should be could be. They seek to buy a business, make business and the worst reference to dealing with the needs of offenders is to call it “The business need”. Oh really? Nothing in there about people need.

Our thanks and respects to colleagues who openly refrain from using these terms. They know who they are. Thanks Ian Lawrence we are positive and helped by his encouragement. Ian deserves recognition and gratitude. To those special friends of SSW branch for your support. The advisory matters, the guidance, the late calls and of course we could not keep this up without you!!!

Thank you all branch membership for turning out and supporting the meetings illustrating our fantastic solidarity!

Executive of the Branch the most supportive band of activists who have done so much under the poorest of circumstances. Still pushing the dispute my warmest appreciation for your encouragement. The JNC rep friends and colleagues in the also beleaguered NPS.

In all it has been a difficult year and worse still to come for next but the TR clock is ticking.

On ticking clocks 2018 is an important year in electoral terms for NAPO. In addition to the election of the General Secretary, we come to the end of term for the post of National Chair/s.

We can work together in an organised, unified direction with CRCs and NPS central equal in this struggle. Whilst the implementation of TR has presented NAPO with serious challenges, the future holds a possible change of scene with the potential of being favourable providing we address them in a strong and competent way. This is a time where we must be clear about our expectations from the leadership of our union. We deserve a leadership that represents the best interests of the membership and will fight for recognition and survival.

Our General Secretary Election will be a serious matter that many members will want to show their commitment to supporting Napo and voting should a ballot be called. I will be writing more on these issues as the elections timetable is announced. The next few years is going to make real difference in what our collective futures become. We will be looking to ensure all is done to see how we can contribute to turn services around with the best in leadership for your future.

We hope to be around long enough to close the door on privatisation as whatever government takes power they have to call time on the CRCs failures. As things we continue on your behalf Napo members supported by our friends in Unison. Together we are stronger and continue to protect your terms against the Aurelius Working Links way. It is just a matter of time now! Let’s hope they leave much earlier than later.

As you all look forward to some well earned and deserved time off at Christmas our best wishes to you. If you read this and not a union member then Join Napo now please. All take part with us and to help us protect our futures. What we have experienced to date has to be arrested through collectivism. Getting less while working harder with more downgrading and more losses to terms yet to be argued over.

Whatever you do enjoy your time off in this festive season and enjoy the new year’s celebrations with some fresh optimism together we are stronger.

Dino Peros NAPO SSW Branch Chair

December 2017