Friday 31 August 2018

What Future for Probation? 3

Frances Crook of the Howard League has made the case for PCCs not taking control of probation and Rob Allen has responded:- 

Taking Stock: More Local Control of Probation?

Among its wonderful wealth of exhibits, Oxford’s Pitt-Rivers Museum includes a set of village stocks, originally placed on the footpath in College Lane Littlemore in March 1857. They were made especially for the punishment of a man sentenced by the magistrates to spend 6 hours in them.

The wooden stocks were built by one Richard Humphries, “Village Constable and Carpenter” and it was this that came to mind while reading Frances Crook’s powerful argument against Police and Crime Commissioners assuming responsibility for the probation service. Frances thinks it would be wrong “for an authority that is charged with overseeing policing with its investigative role also to oversee the infliction of a sentence. This creates an inherent conflict of interest, particularly if there is any element of private profit-making bodies involved.” Constable Humphries seems to prove the point.

Yet I can see more merit than does Frances in more devolved organisational and financial arrangements for probation and indeed prisons. One of the key principles of a Justice Reinvestment approach is giving local people greater responsibility for preventing and dealing with crime. The hope is that if local agencies must meet the costs of locking up people in their area, they are more likely to take steps to do less of it.

The reconfiguration of probation provides an opportunity to incentivise this transfer of resources away from prison places and into community-based measures for rehabilitating offenders and preventing crime. At any one time, about 100 people in crisis ridden Birmingham jail are serving sentences of six months or less. Probation might work harder to develop credible and innovative alternatives for these petty offenders if they stood to access some of the savings that would result from lowering prison numbers. They might also provide interventions which would enable the police and prosecutors to keep more in the way of minor cases out of the courts altogether.

Creating this dynamic would require a regional or local mechanism for allocating and shifting resources across the criminal justice piece. I’ve argued that this role could be played by PCCs working with local authorities in Justice and Safety Partnerships. The Howard League’s 2009 Commission on English Prisons suggested that “with local authorities as lead partners, .. local strategic partnerships should be formed that bring together representatives from the criminal justice, health and education sectors, with local prison and probation budgets fully devolved and made available for justice reinvestment initiatives.”

There are already tentative steps towards devolution in Greater Manchester and London where the PCC role is carried out by the mayor. But there is a case for going farther and faster. The Strengthening Probation initiative looks more and more like a roadside repair on a vehicle that should be written off.

In 2009, in arguing for directly elected sheriffs to run criminal justice, Douglas Carswell suggested that a putative Sheriff of Kent, “knowing that he was up for re-election, might rule, that instead of facing jail, shoplifters would be forced to stand outside Bluewater with placards around their necks reading ‘shoplifter’.” While this is nonsense, there are risks in a localising punishment. But there are opportunities too.

Rob Allen


I rather like this view from Joe Kuipers:-

"I would advocate a structural model of 10 unified probation regions + Wales, each overseen by a multidisciplinary board accountable to an independent national probation board, with delivery based on LDU structures."

Thursday 30 August 2018

What Future for Probation? 2

Yesterday's rousing plea from Frances Crook has nicely kicked off a bit of a debate, but with the sham probation consultation cleverly running during a period when many colleagues, especially those with children, are focused on holidays, returns to school, university etc, I suspect numerous pleas for ideas and views are going unheeded. Here's one from the Probation Institute:- 

Dear readers

The Probation Institute Fellows and Directors met on 14th August to consider the consultation "Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence".

Our response will be developed in full in the coming weeks, it will address the majority of the questions, focussing on some particularly key issues which, in headline terms will include 

  • An 8 week timescale set away in mid summer is too short for this consultation
  • The review must clearly state the purpose and the goals of changes needed before determining more new structures
  • Re-integration of offender management should be applied across England and Wales
  • We believe the proposal for a Professional Register should be more ambitious, wider in scope and driven by professional development for all practitioners as well as the conduct issues
  • The challenge of re-thinking post release supervision for under 12 month sentences should be a consultation in its own right and is critically important
  • A better balance between speed and time for a thorough assessment is needed in pre sentence reports
We are developing our thinking about performance/payment measures and about "intelligent commissioning". Our response will also include our views on professional training and the need for clear definition of roles. We are concerned that the consultation could destabilise probation training.

We would like to receive views of members on the consultation as early as possible to help us to develop our response. Please send us your views.

Helen Schofield
Acting Chief Executive


Thanks to the reader for forwarding this from their Napo branch regarding rather short notice of the event yesterday at HMP Askham Grange when Sonia Crozier and Ian Poree were due to put in an appearance. Can anyone who attended please tell us what transpired?  

Have your say - Strengthening Probation Building Confidence

Probation – What now?

Members will be acutely aware of the impact Transforming Rehabilitation had on both the service we provide and staff well-being. As we move towards what effectively amounts to TR Mark 2 it is imperative that members have their say on how to repair that damage and strengthen probation services.

Napo believes that Probation has no place in the private sector and should be brought back under public ownership. You will have your own views on what is required. Don’t miss this very important opportunity to have your say. You can register for this event or any others on the list here

For members in the CRC please pass your comments and suggestions to your LDU colleagues who may be attending the event.

You can also attend in your own time.


On the subject of Police and Crime Commissioners, I'll end with this reminder from the archive dated 5th February 2016:-

Political Corruption

According to the latest edition of Private Eye, SEETEC is the latest of the probation privateers to be in special measures for failing an audit, but Home Secretary Theresa May has a cunning plan for probation - give it to PCC's to sort out.

Now those with long memories will recall that Police and Crime Commissioners was a concept floated a long time ago by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange to replace Police Authorities. It was an idea that had no public support and their election three years ago recorded the lowest ever turnout with hundreds of thousands of spoilt ballot papers, a fact that the government and Theresa May has conveniently swept under the carpet. This comment from yesterday summed it up nicely I thought:-

Democracy all round, then, as probation services and the modern version of borstal schools are handed on a plate to politically sponsored individuals who, at best, were shoe-horned into something like £65,000 a year PCC roles on the back of 30% of the votes from an average 15% turnout by the electorate. I'm not a statistician, but doesn't that effectively mean these quango's are being run by one person on the basis of getting the nod from just 5% of the electorate?

Like much of government policy nowadays, it was cooked up on the back of several fag packets and during her speech yesterday, even she admitted that at one point she felt it had all been a ghastly mistake. But only three PCCs have so far significantly disgraced themselves, none of them Tories, so relief all round and in fact completely unbeknown to the public, the decision has been made to give these barely-elected officials even more power over the Fire Service.

In a very sneaky move last month, departmental responsibility for the Fire Service moved quietly from the Department for Communities and Local Government, back to the Home Office in readiness for what will effectively become a merger of police and fire service functions under the joint control of PCCs. But clearly Theresa May feels suitably emboldened in her empire-building to now actively consider adding youth justice, probation and education to her portfolio:-

"But in the future, I would like to see the PCC role expanded even further still. Together with the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, I have been exploring what role PCCs could play in the wider criminal justice system. This is something that I have long believed in and which a number of PCCs have shown interest in. As they say, there is a reason that we included the words “and crime” in PCC’s titles.

So after the May elections, the Government will set out further proposals for police and crime commissioners. Because as a number of PCCs have argued, youth justice, probation and court services can have a significant impact on crime in their areas and there are real efficiencies to be had from better integration and information sharing. We have yet to decide the full extent of these proposals and the form they will take, but I am clear that there is significant opportunity here for PCCs to lead the same type of reform they have delivered in emergency services in the wider criminal justice system. 

And there are other opportunities too. As Adam Simmonds has argued, I believe the next set of PCCs should bring together the two great reforms of the last Parliament – police reform and school reform – to work with and possibly set up alternative provision free schools to support troubled children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.
And alongside the expansion of PCC responsibilities, the development of powerful directly elected mayors provides a fantastic opportunity, where there is local agreement and boundaries make sense, to bring together policing with local transport, infrastructure, housing and social care services under a single directly elected mayor. I know many PCCs have engaged with local proposals, and I would encourage them to continue to do so - because I am clear that PCCs’ consent is a prerequisite for the inclusion of policing in any mayoral deal."

Now there's another funny thing - mention of 'Elected Mayor's'. I seem to remember the public were not too keen on them either. When John Prescott floated the idea years ago up in Durham and the North East, it was roundly rejected in a referendum and similarly where I live, electors comprehensively gave it the thumbs down. So how is it we're getting one imposed on us by George Osborne and Central Government anyway?

So lets get this right. The public didn't want PCCs, didn't turn out to vote for them and many that did, spoilt their ballot papers. The public don't know who they are, what they do or who is standing for election because candidates do not qualify for a free mailout. During the election for PCCs there will be no mention of the proposed new powers, that will only be decided after they are get elected.

What was the title of Theresa May's speech? Why, 'Putting People in Charge' of course! Oh how the English language has been utterly corrupted by politicians.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

What Future for Probation?

Good to see Frances Crook of the Howard League in the vanguard of debate on the future of probation:-  

Why police and crime commissioners should not be the local vehicle for probation reform

We are in discussion with the Ministry of Justice and various interested organisations about the future of probation. We have developed a blueprint for how we could solve the problems created by Chris Grayling’s disastrous reforms but there are some structural issues that are proving contentious.

Some people are suggesting that police and crime commissioners should be the local agency overseeing probation. I disagree. This is why.

Firstly there is a matter of principle. It would be wrong for an authority that is charged with overseeing policing with its investigative role also to oversee the infliction of a sentence. This creates an inherent conflict of interest, particularly if there is any element of private profit-making bodies involved. That way lies America – not normally something to be emulated when it comes to criminal justice. It was not many years ago that the Crown Prosecution Service was established to split the investigative and prosecution roles as they were seen to be in conflict. Justice demands balances and separation.

Secondly, the PCCs have to seek election, and re-election. It would be too tempting to exploit the management of offenders for personal political gain. Whilst I like to think the mainstream parties would, normally, be responsible in their rhetoric (not always the case) about managing offenders, there have been a lot of independents and mavericks standing for election for PCC and they easily create a brouhaha about how they would use public humiliation or excessive punishments.

It is not good enough to say that it is the courts that decide on the punishment, as they simply direct people to agencies running community sentences. Indeed, magistrates have repeatedly said that they do not know enough about how community sentences are delivered. So it would be easy for a PCC or a candidate to go rogue and stir up a feeding frenzy calling for excessive punishments.

Thirdly, there is no need to involve elected officials in the delivering of court-ordered sentences. This does not need to be part of the electoral structure. Probation should be a professional service, as it always used to be when it was the most successful public service for over a century. I want professionals who are skilled and qualified to drive buses and pilot airplanes and conduct surgical operations, and I want professional probation officers to oversee people in the community who have committed offences. It is a skilled job and we want it done properly so that people can desist from crime and communities can be safer.

Fourthly, the story of victims services is not a good precedent. The devolution of victims services to PCCs saw a nationally understood and well-functioning organisation, Victim Support, undermined and its budget handed piecemeal to PCCs to do as they wish. Now there is no single authoritative voice for victims and local services are beholden to short-term funding and to the whim of the local PCCs. Victims services are fragmented and quiescent.

The Howard League’s vision for the future of probation is for a strong and independent public voice for probation, which oversees a couple of hundred thousand people every year. Local delivery of services should be supported by a national structure that guides on best practice and training. Local independence is crucial. Of course, local probation should be networked into policing, prisons and courts, as it always was in the past.

There is a good case for PCCs to be part of that network, but probation must be independent locally and its first and most crucial relationship must be with the courts not the police or PCCs. The courts must have confidence that probation and community sentences are not being politically driven or they will not get used.

The government has a consultation out suggesting that a public service is largely reinstated in Wales but that England simply redraws the 21 areas into 10, apparently a vain attempt to make the community rehabilitation companies more profitable as they have been squealing about not making enough money. This will not sort out the problem.

Probation and community sentences can play an important part in helping people to lead crime-free lives. It can save the taxpayer money by reducing the unnecessary use of prison. It can help reduce crime and protect victims. It needs to be given the structure, autonomy and freedom from political interference to do the job.

Frances Crook

Latest From Napo 178

I notice that Napo have published details of motions to be debated at this years Southport (Stockport? Well done Mike for spotting error) AGM and a ballot has opened in order to allocate priority for consideration. In addition to all the expected issues, the following particularly attracted my attention:-  

National Executive Committee

35. Rebuilding Our Activist Base 

Napo bases itself on the dedication of key activists in workplaces to maintain the visibility of the union, forge effective relationships with members and fight injustice from employers at a local level. 

The branch is THE vital component in training these activists and in building the solidarity that gives meaning to our collective strength. It is also the place where our elected representatives and full-time officials are held to account. 

Any strategy to increase our membership that neglects the branch is building on sand and threatens the lifeblood of the next generation of activists. This AGM calls on Napo to recalibrate the ‘Strategy for Growth’, putting the branch at the centre. 

Proposer: Kent Surrey and Sussex Branch

36. General Secretary Election Process 

This AGM notes the recent General Secretary Election process gave too short a time to allow many Branches to arrange hustings; meaning the vote was based mainly on a written statement alone. 

This AGM believes the process needs to be reviewed to enable members to have better access to candidates in order to make informed decisions for the vital role of General Secretary. 

This AGM calls upon the NEC, as the employer body, to review the process and bring the reviewed process to the next AGM. 

Proposer: London Branch

37. Preserving Professional values with the Probation Journal 

Napo has a longstanding relationship with the Probation Journal, a publication whose reach extends far beyond that of our Trade Union and Professional Association, of which we can all feel justly proud. 

For many of us in Probation, reading the Journal helps us to stay firmly connected with core probation practice and values, which can feel a distant memory with the increasing bureaucratisation and dumbing down of our work. In the difficult financial times Napo faces, the income generated by the Journal could come under scrutiny, with calls to reduce funding or change the way it generates income. However, the benefits of this renowned Journal in terms of recruitment, retention and shared values cannot be underestimated. 

As inexperienced staff / trainees continue to be recruited in swathes, membership to a professional collective and access to the Probation Journal and associated publications should form the cornerstone of Napo’s recruitment activity as a Trade Union and Professional Association. This potential is currently underutilised. The Probation Journal should be a key investment into recruitment and essential to the preservation of our core identity as professionals. AGM instructs Napo to commit all necessary support and funding to the Probation Journal. 

Proposer: London Branch

38. Napo Expenses 

Napo expenses have not changed since 2007, when a litre cost approximately 95p a litre, it now costs 118p a litre (average for 2007 and 2017, diesel). This means current rates awarded by Napo are unlikely to cover the fuel costs themselves, let alone the wear and tear costs. NPS reps have to claim for all their union expenses from Napo as the civil service refuses to allow us to claim for anything union related, even if it is a meeting with the employer. As such, they can be considerably out of pocket and more so perhaps than CRC reps who, as far as we are aware, can generally claim for expenses from their employer.

Pressures on branch funds are more acute than they were due to the situation with NPS reps. As such, an increase in funds to branches would need to be considered in order to ensure the burden for the increased rate does not fall to branches. 

This AGM calls for Napo to increase their expenses rates to something that reflects actual fuel costs in 2018 rather than 2007. 

Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch

39. Commitment to Napo Committees or a New Direction 

The Committee structure supports Napo’s member led and democratic functions and ensures mandates approved by members at AGM are carried out. Napo’s Constitution and structures currently rely on members joining Committees and influencing, shaping and driving activity through participation to strengthen our Union. In the past Committees have worked well. NEC reduced the number of face-to-face Committee meetings to manage deficit budgets and find alternative and less onerous ways of working. This has not encouraged members to hold positions on Committees, with some having no elected members and significant vacancies in others. Officials or Officers are left to undertake Committee work. When Committees are not functioning, it removes a key layer of accountability from Napo work and effects changes in the democratic structures that provide for members to lead Napo to fulfil AGM mandates. 

This AGM seeks to mandate the NEC to: 

• review the Constitution, organisation and function of its other Committees; 
• establish alternative, more flexible and effective methods or working groups to undertake the work of the union; 
• consider replacing Committees with annual working parties to complete a particular function dependent on motions agreed at each AGM and potentially disband once the work is complete. 

Proposer: Jamie Overland 
Seconder: Denise Mason

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Prison : The Figures

Whilst probation is distracted by the MoJ sham consultation and Michael Spurr keeps his head down, it's obvious there's no 'quick fix' to the prison crisis with numbers set to rise with sentence inflation. This from the Guardian last week:-  

Prison population set to rise despite overcrowding crisis

Prisoner numbers are expected to rise by thousands over the next five years, according to estimates released amid warnings of a crisis in jails in England and Wales. The prison population of England and Wales was 83,165 as of Friday and is projected to increase steadily by 3,200 to 86,400 by March 2023, figures released by the Ministry of Justice show.

In the long term, projected increases would be driven by an expected rise in offenders sentenced to terms of four years or more, the research paper said. The numbers of over-60and 70-year-olds in prison were projected to increase, driven by increases in convictions for sexual offending, it added.

The figures come in a week when Birmingham prison was removed from private operator G4S and returned to state control following the shock findings of an unannounced inspection. Prison reform campaigners warned that the dire condition of HMP Birmingham was not unique and reflected a broader crisis driven by overcrowding.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “In a week dominated by the crisis in prisons now, these projections for the future are still the most important document in the minister’s in-tray.” Dawson said there was no “realistic” option for the government to build enough prisons space to accommodate the projected rise in places and it needed to develop a policy to lower demand for prison.

“That can start with delivering on the promise of fewer short sentences, but it must also include a review of long sentences for more serious crime,” Dawson said. “That means revisiting maximum and minimum penalties, a parole system focused on safe release at the first opportunity, and a means to review the longest sentences when their purpose has been served.

“We face the unedifying spectacle of a prison system where the length of sentence destroys rather than rebuilds lives, dominated by a growing population of sick and dying old men.” The over-50-year-old population is projected to grow from 13,616 in June 2018, to 14,100 in June 2022, while the over-60 population is projected to grow from 5,009 to 5,600 in the same period. The over-70 population is projected to grow from 1,681 to 2,000.

On Monday, Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, announced that he had invoked the urgent notification process in respect of Birmingham prison, meaning the justice secretary, David Gauke, is required to draw up an emergency turnaround plan. It is the third use of the power since it was created. Clarke and his inspectors discovered widespread drug use, high levels of violence and filthy conditions with blood and rat droppings on the floors and walls.

Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, said: “Our prisons are already facing an emergency, with some of the worst conditions that inspectors have ever seen. Given the Conservatives’ lack of a serious plan to fix this mess, these figures suggest that a crisis driven by dangerous levels of overcrowding, understaffing and cuts is set to deepen even further.”

The Ministry of Justice said: “We are committed to making prisons places of safety and reform and have ambitious plans to transform our estate. We are clear that there will always be enough prison places for those sent to us by the courts.”


On Sunday the Observer highlighted how the cull of prison staff under Grayling has left the Service devoid of experienced staff:-

Loss of senior managers led to UK’s prison crisis

Hundreds of senior staff and management have left the Prison Service in the past five years without being replaced, new figures reveal, which has led to “dangerous” flaws in the system, according to campaigners. The exodus of crucial experienced staff has coincided with record levels of assaults, suicides and self-harm in jails in England and Wales and forced the government to take action to increase prison officer numbers after almost a decade of cuts.

Official figures obtained by the Observer from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) under freedom of information legislation show that 40 senior prison managers have left in the past five years but only two have joined – one of whom quit less than a year later. There were 205 outgoing managers compared with 23 incoming, while only a single replacement was hired in place of 295 custodial managers.

About 17,000 staff left the service between 2012 and 2016, with 106 operational managers exiting in 2016, up from 47 in 2012. The only net increase came in non-operational roles, with 52 more psychologists and 142 more administrative assistants.

The revelations will pile further pressure on the government to reconsider its policy of outsourcing prisons to private contractors. The MoJ had to draft in an extra 30 prison officers to HMP Birmingham last week after being forced to take the G4S-run institution back into state control. An inspection found the jail to be “in a state of crisis” with drug use rife and blood, vomit and cockroaches in the corridors. The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said gangs could perpetrate violence “with near impunity” and that staff were afraid and experienced bullying.

Separate figures released by the MoJ forecast the prison population in England and Wales, which has nearly doubled since 1993, would grow by more than 3,200 over the next five years to 86,400 by March 2023. More than half of prisons are now “overcrowded” by their own definition.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said it “could take a decade” to repair the loss of leadership and experience. “Prisons are having a crisis of middle management and this could pose considerable dangers,” she said. “While it’s good to bring in young blood to work for the prison service, like with any profession they need help and guidance. If there’s a rat infestation or a riot, you need to be able to turn to someone with years of experience.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, agreed. “Many governors welcome the opportunity that recruiting new staff represents – but not in prisons where confidence has collapsed and new officers have to learn their craft in the midst of fear and chaos,” he said. “It is no accident that when a prison has got out of hand, the response normally includes reducing prisoner numbers.That is the relief that the system as a whole also needs if new staff are to stay and become competent.”

Earlier this year the Observer revealed that since 2010 prisons in England and Wales have lost a combined 70,000 years of officer experience. The number of prison officers with less than three years’ experience has more than doubled.

Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, said: “Across all grades, there are still nearly 7,000 fewer staff in the Prison Service than when the Tories came to office. That is the root cause of the repeated crisis in our prisons – a situation that has now clearly become a prisons emergency. But these problems run much deeper than a simple head count. Thousands of years’ worth of vital prisons experience, built up over decades, has been lost for good as valued staff are axed or leave because of ever-worsening conditions. This poses a long-term threat to the stability of our prisons and underlines the recklessness of the government’s race to-the-bottom in our prisons system.”

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “The proportion of senior managers in the service has not changed since 2011. As with any other organisation, we often promote staff with extensive experience to fill roles vacated when, for example, people retire.”


Private Eye explains why the figures can never stack up with prison privatisation:-

Thursday 23 August 2018

More on Prisons and Politics

A lot of people are on holiday and even with dramatic events unfolding daily within the secretive prison world - the BBC is reporting a second Governor has been suspended, this time at HMP Styal in addition to HMP Berwyn - there is a sense of us just 'treading water'. 

But with Quality Street already stacked high in Tesco, Christmas having seemingly started on 1st August, we will soon be into the party political conference season with normal service resuming. Brexit not withstanding, the crisis in all parts of the Criminal Justice System cannot be ignored for much longer and something fundamental has to happen. Here's Rob Allen musing on things and in a double bill highlighting the news manipulation tricks the MoJ regularly engages in:-  

Why we need a new Woolf Inquiry into Prisons

When Lord Woolf inquired into the 1990 Strangeways riot and those which followed, he concluded that prisons need to keep three dimensions in balance - security, control and fairness. The first two requirements had been prioritised at the expense of the third, fuelling the grievances which drove the protests. The report into the 2016 Birmingham riot, finally released yesterday suggests that it was a lack of control which was key. The prison had seen a deterioration in the use of legitimate authority, chronic staff shortages and a corrupted system of violence reduction (VR) reps - prisoners with backgrounds in organised crime serving long sentences who policed disputes not always using peaceful means to keep order.

Lack of control was behind yesterdays’ decision to take HMP Birmingham back into the public realm - albeit temporarily. The ghastly consequences spelled out in graphic and distressing detail by Peter Clarke in his Urgent Notification letter mark a new low in the treatment of prisoners and have secured a day’s headlines at least. But what next?

There are two immediate questions to resolve. First, why did the Ministry of Justice not intervene earlier? Prison Minister Rory Stewart was told by the local independent monitoring board in May that “basic humanity, safety and purposeful activity were simply not being delivered”, and the prison service’s own on site monitor allegedly agreed that prisoners rather than staff, appeared to be controlling many of the wings. We deserve to know whether, as Peter Clarke says, someone was asleep at the wheel or whether as Stewart says yesterday’s forceful action follows an ”intensive period of Ministry of Justice measures to compel improvements”.

Second, how far is this debacle down to privatisation? Unions and Labour apart, the consensus is that the question may be a distraction. I’m puzzled why G4S allowed the prison to descend into chaos and suffer the undoubted reputational damage. There's history of course, with recent scandals at Medway Secure Training Centre and Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (where an independent inquiry is underway).

Apart from the disgusting conditions and unchecked violence at Birmingham, staff locked in their offices, unwilling to tackle drug misuse, and not knowing where their prisoners were at any given time, doesn’t look good for what is at heart a security company. The G4S CEO chairs the International Security Ligue, an association of private security organisations responsible for defining, establishing and maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards of the private security industry worldwide. If nothing else, he will not have been impressed by the arson attack during the week of the inspection that destroyed nine staff vehicles. The assertion by former Justice Minister Phillip Lee that “companies are currently ripping off taxpayers” also needs proper investigation.

Peter Clarke has argued for a thorough and independent assessment of how and why the contract between government and G4S has failed, without which he sees no hope of progress. The independent investigation should arguably cover the broader question about the role of the private sector.

But, like part Two of Woolf’s report, the immediate disaster needs to be a springboard for a wider and searching look at the use and practice of imprisonment in England and Wales. The practical response to the crisis at Birmingham - to reduce prisoner numbers and increase staff – is a clue as to what needs to be done across the system.

Rob Allen


Headlines and Deadlines

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart is making headlines by offering to resign if his “Ten Prisons Project” doesn’t succeed in cutting levels of drugs and violence. It certainly seems refreshing to hear a minister put his career on the line in this way although I thought I’d heard him say something similar before. He did. Nearly seven months ago he told MPs on the Justice Committee:

“If I am not able in the next 12 months to achieve some improvements in making these prisons basically clean, with more fixed broken windows and fewer drugs, I am not doing my job, and I would like you to hold me to account for that in 12 months’ time”.

It might seem churlish to ask but when should Mr Stewart expect his performance to be judged? On January 24th, 2019 a year after his parliamentary offer. Or next August as he proposes today. Either way let’s hope that the “new model of excellence” – will start to make a real difference to life on the landings unlike so much of the rhetoric to come out of the Ministry of Justice in the last few years.

Today’s announcement puts more flesh on the bones of the strategy launched by Stewart’s boss last month. David Gauke’s 10 July speech was cleverly timed to overshadow the scathing annual report of the Chief Inspector that followed the next day. Is there something similar about the timing of today’s announcement?

Last Friday 10th August, the Inspectorate confirmed a BBC report that it had decided to issue an Urgent Notification (UN) in relation to HMP Birmingham, following significant concerns raised by their inspection of the G4S run prison. The Inspectorate tweeted that they would not release any further information about the inspection until they had published the Urgent Notification letter they send to the Justice Secretary explaining their concerns.

That letter should be sent within seven calendar days of the end of the inspection on 10th August - so by the 17th of August. The fact that Rory Stewart visited Birmingham on Wednesday 15th as he put it “to follow up on the recent inspection”, suggests it’s been sent. So why hasn’t it been published?

The protocol between the Inspectorate and the MoJ says the Chief Inspector “will publish an urgent notification letter to the SoS and will place this information in the public domain”. The MoJ document about the process says the letter will be published on the "Trigger Day"- the day the letter is sent.

It's the middle of August and people are away so that might explain the delay. I expect the letter will be published on Monday. If not , it will be legitimate to ask questions about whether the first private prison to be subject to the process is being treated differently from the public ones which preceded it.

Rob Allen

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Private Failure : Public Rescue

Despite some voices trying to argue that the prison crisis is nothing to do with privatisation, there is now a very clear pattern emerging and the politicians are going to have to address it. This from the New Statesman:- 

2018: the year the failure of privatisation and austerity became undisguisable

The state takeover of Birmingham prison adds to a catalogue of private sector chaos: Carillion, East Coast, Northern Rail and bankrupt Northamptonshire council. 

For nearly a decade, the Conservatives’ combination of austerity and privatisation has enfeebled Britain’s public realm. The failures of this approach have long been obvious (as the New Statesman’s Crumbling Britain series has charted) – but 2018 is the year they became undisguisable.

The Ministry of Justice has today taken emergency control of Birmingham prison – the first publicly-run prison to be privatised – from contractor G4S, after an inspection found chronic levels of violence and drug-use among prisoners, and corridors littered with cockroaches, blood and vomit. After cuts of more than 30 per cent to the Ministry of Justice budget since 2010, the UK's prison system has long struggled to manage, with a near-record population of 82,949 in England and Wales alone.

The events in Birmingham fit an unmistakable pattern: private failure, public rescue. In January, construction behemoth Carillion – which provided 11,500 hospital beds, 32,000 school meals and employed 20,000 UK workers – collapsed at a cost of at least £148m to the taxpayer.

In May, for the third time since rail privatisation, the East Coast Mainline was renationalised by the government after its private operators Virgin and Stagecoach defaulted on payments (costing the state an estimated £2bn in lost revenue).

The state of Britain’s railways is now a source of national shame. For too many commuters, the mere act of travelling to work is now an arduous odyssey characterised by repeated delays, cancellations and overcrowding. Northern Rail, one of the worst offenders, eventually cut more than 9,000 services from its timetable after daily chaos. On Southern, as many as 267 passengers have crammed into carriages designed for 107 people. And yet far from commuters being compensated, rail fares – already among the most expensive in Europe – are due to rise by another 3.2 per cent in January (having increased by an average of 32 per cent since 2010).

Meanwhile, Conservative-run Northamptonshire county council – once a Tory flagship – has been forced to declare effective bankruptcy and will now only provide a legal minimum of service (described by one observer as “a people-not-dying level”) including potential cuts to child protection. Up to 15 councils, according to the National Audit Office, are also at risk of insolvency (real-terms funding for local authorities has been cut by 49 per cent since the Conservatives entered office in 2010).

In every corner of the state, the cost of austerity is marked. Rough sleeping, which fell by three-quarters under the last Labour government, has risen by 169 per cent since 2010. The NHS has been forced to cancel operations and even urgent surgery as it struggles to meet ever greater demand. Relative child poverty has increased for three consecutive years and now stands at 4.1 million, or 30 per cent of children. Nearly 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres and 478 libraries are estimated to have closed since 2010. Potholed roads and uncollected bins are evidence of the scale of austerity borne by councils.

But the surprise is that anybody should be surprised. From the onset of austerity in 2010, critics warned that it would inflict irrevocable harm without achieving the aim of eliminating the deficit. The government’s dogmatic commitment to privatisation – foreign state firms have taken ownership of British rail franchises – has long put ideology before evidence.

For Britain, the sixth largest economy in the world, with its own currency and low borrowing costs, austerity has always been a choice, rather than a necessity. National governments have a duty to manage the public finances responsibly. But as economic evidence shows, the best long-term means of debt reduction is productive investment, not politically-driven cuts. Government borrowing, it is said, will “burden” younger generations. Yet austerity has enfeebled the collective institutions that they depend on and that their forebears strove to build.

In these circumstances, unsurprisingly, public appetite for alternatives is growing. A poll published last year by the Legatum Institute and Populus found the majority of Brits favour public ownership of the UK’s water (83 per cent), electricity (77 per cent), gas (77 per cent) and railways (76 per cent) - as proposed by Labour. Voters are weary of the substandard service and excessive prices that characterise many firms. Indeed – let it not be forgotten – the pretext for austerity was a financial crisis that originated in the private sector. Now, as then, the state – long disparaged by economic liberals – is being forced to intervene to save the market from itself.

Britain’s economic and social divisions are the root of its political polarisation. The Brexit vote was not merely an expression of antipathy towards the EU but a symptom of far greater discontent. Should the Conservatives continue to preside over a new era of private affluence and public squalor, the UK will become a yet more troubled and divided country.


Polly Toynbee writing in the Guardian:-

Squalid prisons are just the start. The entire justice system is in meltdown

Austerity’s most savage cut is barely visible. Ambulances stacked up outside overflowing A&E departments make news because that could affect you or yours, any day. Pot holes in the road draw motorist and cyclist wrath, as do missed bin collections. But the near collapse of the entire criminal justice system can happen right under our noses, and none but judges, lawyers, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and prison staff know anything about it.

Prisons did top the news on Monday when the horrifying inspection report on HMP Birmingham forced the government to take it back from G4S. Blood, vomit, cockroaches, rats, the air thick with the drug spice, staff hiding, in fear of violent prisoners: here was a scene of hell and squalor that should knock the “prison works” nonsense out of the most ardent lock-’em-up MP. One shock inspection report after another has thudded on to ministers’ desks, many among the 102 state-run as well the 14 privately run jails, revealing a prison estate in crisis. Under all previous governments, journalists could regularly visit any prison with due notice – and prison governors would speak out about problems. Now they are frightened into silence. I was allowed to film a whole Panorama programme in the most disturbed and violent part of Holloway prison, known as the “muppet wing”, in the Tory 1980s, when authorities were still open about prison problems. No longer.

In 2010 the shutters came down and it’s virtually impossible for journalists to visit prisons, except for a rare manicured walk-about with a minister. Why not? Because what the media would see would be too disgusting. Because desperate staff might say too much. Because the worst are too out of control. But where scrutiny by the press is denied, as it is now in benefit offices and anywhere else the effects of austerity are on display, this government bars access to public services as never before in my professional lifetime.

Secrecy suggests shame. The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, a semi-amateur politician, earns growls from colleagues for promising to resign if there’s no improvement by next year. He could start by opening the gates of his filthy estate to us of the filthy fourth estate.

Prisons returning to Newgate conditions are just the most extreme fallout from the disintegrating justice system, from inadequate policing to a crumbling CPS, malfunctioning magistrate and crown courts and vanished legal aid. The tottering edifice is only kept going by the superhuman goodwill of the dwindling numbers operating it. Who else sees it, beyond frequent-flyer criminals? The public – victims, witnesses and jurors – may only touch it once in a lifetime: then they find delays, adjournments and collapsed cases deeply distressing.

The Ministry of Justice is suffering the deepest cuts of any department – a huge 40% to be sliced away before 2020. The Treasury knows this is a secret world, hidden from public eyes, as courts are removed ever further from the local community, an integral part no longer. On the last day of term, when the government scuttles out bad news in written statements, the MoJ slid out an announcement that seven more courts are to be shut and sold off. That’s on top of the 258 that have closed and been sold off in England and Wales since 2010. In the great sale of public property – hospitals, schools, police stations, courts and more – the Treasury demands that capital raised be sucked into the running costs of remaining services, regardless of how a growing population will need this valuable land, gone forever.

Courts are so packed that clerks book in as many as seven extra cases, summoning lawyers, witnesses, victims and defendants from afar to wait all day, hoping a case collapses and they can be slotted in. If not, they are all summoned on another date to lose another day off work; child care rearranged, carers rebooked. Cases are often adjourned several times over or collapse altogether from bungled evidence collection. An over-stretched CPS after 25% cuts and a shrunken police force means evidence goes uncollected or is not disclosed to the defence, so the case goes under, setting free violent criminals and domestic abusers out of sheer incompetence. Political pieties promise to “put the victim first” – but victims are often left bereft and endangered by failed cases, after travelling miles several times over. A 2017 government report showed some 50% of cases are not prepared for hearings after the CPS lost a third of its workforce.

The great 1945 government is celebrated for its welfare state of pensions, benefits and the NHS. But less remembered is how its legal aid brought equal access to justice. No longer. In 2012 legal aid entitlement was removed from family, housing, immigration, debt and employment, leaving the poorest and weakest unable to claim their rights. Those trying to represent themselves take hours of expensive court time, where a lawyer representing them would cut to the chase. Defendants are granted longer sentences and less bail by magistrates when left to defend themselves: 15% of those remanded in prison, often for long periods, are found not guilty.

The unfolding calamity in our criminal justice system is best told in The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken. This angry yet forensic analysis from first arrest to prison is a gripping front-line view by an anonymous, lowly criminal barrister. Read and rage at evidence that “every day the provably guilty walk free”, while the hapless needlessly end up in jail.

All 650 MPs were sent a copy, crowdfunded by young legal aid lawyers. A ComRes survey of MPs’ summer reading finds it to be the third most popular beach-list book, a matching tale of woe to follow Tim Shipman’s account of the Brexit fiasco and Anthony Beevor’s history of the battle of Arnhem. But will they read it, or is it just listed by their spads, while they devour the latest Jack Reacher?

If they do, all 650 should return in September boiling with indignation. What have they been doing, prattling away about “sovereignty” and the supremacy of our laws over European courts, when gross injustice is done here daily by a legal system in meltdown, as reported by the Public Accounts Committee? Two-thirds of crown court cases are delayed or collapse, leaving 55% of witnesses saying they would never do it again.

When criminal barristers went on strike recently against 40% pay cuts leaving them often with less than the living wage after travel costs and waiting time, the government said: “Any action to disrupt the courts is unacceptable.” But they are the deliberate disrupters of a legal system that is the basis of democracy.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Prisons : Policy v Management

Thanks go to the reader for pointing us once more in the direction of comment from a former MoJ insider on the growing confusion between policy and management at his old department. (I've taken the liberty of removing references for clarity.)  

What ministers need to take responsibility for is failed policies 

Rory Stewart's promise to resign if he doesn't cut assault rates in 10 violent prisons by at least 10% in the next 12 months – very precise figures, those! – looks at first sight entirely admirable. Brave, certainly, even foolhardy, given the relentless upward surge of violence ever since his predecessors cut prison staffing levels by 25% in 2013 (assaults up another 15% last year alone). And a welcome change from the usual evasiveness of politicians. And no one can doubt Stewart's passionate belief that prisons must do better – or that he is the one to make them do it. It's rare that we hear such belief in public services from a Tory politician, in this age of austerity, and Brexit.

And yet, it's an odd and, I think, inappropriate thing to say.

Those with long memories may recall Martin Narey's threat, made in 2001, to resign if he couldn't turn failing prisons around. But there's a big difference: Narey was chief executive. It was his job to run prisons. Stewart is minister, not chief executive; though, as I have previously noted, he continually blurs the two roles. (And it's noticeable that since he arrived, the actual chief executive, Michael Spurr, is never heard from or seen). But the execution of a complex programme of intervention in 10 prisons, to see what can be done to reduce violence – that, surely, is an executive job, for which the chief executive should be answerable? (Odd to think how hard Michael Howard fought to avoid resigning, on the grounds that 'operations' was not the responsibility of ministers!).

The other difference is that Narey was battling decades of weak, poor management: his threat was a message aimed at the old guard of the prison service, who did not see a need to change. Stewart doesn't have that problem. Actually, what he is battling is the consequence of policy decisions by his immediate predecessors - gross under-staffing: not the fault of officials, but of ministers. Narey's threat had a point: Stewart's does not.

Is it, anyway, a resigning matter - for chief executive or ministers? After all – isn't it a bit odd for a minister to promise resignation over not cutting assaults by 10%, when no minister has offered to resigned over the doubling of assaults so far? And if the reduction is say only 5%, or 10% in some prisons, but less in others - or if it is decided there's a better way, maybe by restoring staffing levels - how does it then make sense to resign? There seems a histrionic air about this, rather than sound political judgement.

Stewart seems to have fallen in love with the strange but compelling world of prisons – as some outsiders do. Prisons are fascinating - because they are a world of their own, because there are so complex, because so much is at stake. It is rumoured that Stewart wants to swap the ministerial role for that of chief executive. Maybe Stewart would make a good chief exec, in due course. (Though it's a bit hard to see him as a civil servant, bowing to ministerial wishes and sensitivities – especially under a Labour Government).

But at present he's the minister, and it's a bad idea to have a minster trying to directly manage a public service, as Stewart seems intent on doing. The separation between policy making and executive management was at the heart of the Agency concept launched by the Margaret Thatcher in the '80s – with strong, visible professional leadership, empowered to run the service directly, freed from ministerial micro-management, but held publicly to account for performance within a policy framework set by ministers.

That idea enabled the prison service to turn round from being the basket case of the public sector in the early 90s, survive the fastest ever rise in numbers and innumerable scandals in that decade and become a far safer, more controlled, more decent system in the 2000s. It's a concept now empty of meaning in the case of HM Prison and Probation Service, with the motor powers of any service – its finance, HR, IT and estate services - now taken back to the centre of the MoJ, whose record in those matters is not to be envied, and the chief executive has been made invisible, while the minister assumes the management role.

The political and the managerial are rightly separate spheres, different jobs, both need doing, the one complementing the other, but requiring different skills, expertise and behaviours, though to be sure, they need to understand and respect each other. Stewart has shown remarkable grasp of the realities of prison work - but he hasn't worked in a prison, as has every head of the service since Richard Tilt in 1995, a change which in my view has made all the difference. And he shows a tendency to believe prisons can be run like a military command – by no means the first to make that mistake). In my long experience as an observer of prison management, good and bad, the command and control model has its limitations: eventually, you must let Governors and their teams do the job they are paid for and trained for. It's also more than a little worrying how Stewart is always so sure that he is right. In excess, that can be a dangerous quality.

And here's the nub of the matter: as Peter Dawson, who heads the Prison Reform Trust (himself a former Governor) points out, ministers need to focus on doing the things which only ministers can do: policy, and politics. And this is where Stewart, and Gauke, fall down. Only minsters can tackle our over use of custody, which has caused gross overcrowding and a repeated need for massive building programmes - which are in turn overtaken by further rises in numbers. That means not just legislation, but educating the Neanderthals on his own benches, and in the Tory press (and maybe outing Labour on the issue, too). But Stewart, while agreeing that we use prison far too much, seems already to have thrown in the towel on penal policy). Again, only Ministers can secure adequate funding for prisons: but Stewart shows no sign of repenting of Grayling's savage and irresponsible staffing cuts, which are at the heart of the current crisis*. Even so, MoJ is racking up an enormous deficit which, after the retrenchment of the Grayling years, looks set to make MoJ the Black Hole of public finance, just as we move towards another recession. Nor are ministers willing to accept responsibility for the chaotic mess which Grayling's privatisation policy made of the probation service, itself a factor in the burgeoning prison crisis, as courts lose confidence in community sentences.

In many ways, the ministerial job is the less attractive of the two. But it is Stewart's job, and he should get on with it. And let Spurr get on with his.

Julian Le Vay

* In fact, under pressure on BBC 4's 'Today' this morning, he came close to conceding that the Grayling cuts were too deep: 

A Conservative prisons minister has admitted officer numbers should not have been cut to the extent they were as he refused to add HMP Birmingham to a list of facilities he would resign over if conditions failed to improve. The remarks from Rory Stewart came as the government took the extraordinary step of taking immediate control of the category B facility in Birmingham from the private contractors G4S.

Ministers were warned of a raft of failures at the 1,200 capacity prison in a report from inspectors which described soaring violence, drug use, and appalling living conditions including “ever present” cockroaches and blood and vomit in corridors. But when pressed on the Conservatives' previous action to drastically reduce prison officer numbers by 7,000 and to then reappoint some, he replied:

“You’re absolutely right that one of the challenges along with the drugs was staff numbers which is why we’ve brought in 2,500 extra officers. So you’re absolutely right – I’m conceding to you that we needed more officers.”

Monday 20 August 2018

MoJ in Cloud Cuckoo Land

From wikipedia:- 'Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state where everything is perfect. Someone who is said to "live in cloud cuckoo land" is a person who thinks that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are. It also hints that the person referred to is naive, unaware of realities or deranged in holding such an optimistic belief.'

Because prisons are naturally fairly secretive places, the MoJ's standard policy is to try and ignore problems for as long as possible in the vain hope they go away. In a world of post truth and fake news it's also become standard practice to deny the obvious, even when it becomes crystal clear to everyone else and the saga at HMP Birmingham fits the mould perfectly. 

We all know about Chris Graylings disastrous policy decisions when he was in control at the MoJ and in particular his keeness to sign up to austerity cost savings that included massive staff cuts. 'Fair and Sustainable' has proved to have been preparing perfect foundations for the current prison crisis and the decision to force privatisation of HMP Birmingham led quickly to the riot in 2016. 

The damning report of the local Independent Monitoring Board was ignored and the MoJ 'controller' was either asleep at the wheel or their pressing the alarm bell at MoJ HQ was simply ignored. In the end it took an unannounced visit by staff from HM Prison Inspectorate some 10 days ago, when their cars were trashed in the official car park, the subsequent 'worst report ever seen' and an urgent warning notice from Chief Inspector Peter Clarke, before ministers reluctantly agreed that 'something' had to be done.

But even then the policy is to try and defend the indefensible, namely that it's nothing to do with privatisation or G4S, the company involved, and pretend it can all be fixed with a new governor, 30 extra staff and 300 less prisoners. Lets pretend the emperor is fully clothed, things can be sorted in 6 months, G4S can still have a stab at running some probation contracts and Rory Stewart won't have to resign in 12 months. It's all cloud cuckoo land. Here's the story in the Guardian:-   

MoJ seizes control of Birmingham prison from G4S

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been forced to take immediate control of HMP Birmingham from its contractor G4S, after a damning inspection found that prisoners used drink, drugs and violence with impunity and corridors were littered with cockroaches, blood and vomit. The government is having to take the unprecedented step of seizing control of the failing prison, removing its governor and sweeping out hundreds of prisoners on Monday, just hours before an extraordinarily critical report is released by the prisons inspectorate.

The state of the category B prison is likely to raise significant questions in the coming days about private sector involvement in the prison system. G4S was awarded a 15-year contract to run the prison in 2011. The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said there had been “dramatic deterioration” since the last inspection in early 2017 and the government should launch an urgent inquiry into the appalling state of the prison, the most violent in England and Wales and the site of riots in 2016.

Prison gangs perpetrating the violence “could do so with near impunity”, he said. Inspectors saw prisoners who were evidently under the influence of drink or drugs, which went unchallenged, including widespread use of the psychoactive drug spice.Staff were fearful and experienced widespread bullying, the report said, and inspectors witnessed an arson attack on a supposedly secure staff car park during their inspection.

Prison officers often had little grasp of where prisoners were, the report found. Communal areas were filthy, with cockroaches, vermin, blood and vomit left uncleaned, and wings that had virtually every window damaged or missing. Clarke said the report contained “some of the most disturbing evidence that inspectors ... have seen in any prison.”

In his letter to the justice secretary, David Gauke, Clarke said there was an “urgent and pressing need to address the squalor, violence, prevalence of drugs and looming lack of control”. Clarke said he was “astounded that HMP Birmingham had been allowed to deteriorate so dramatically”.

He said he had no confidence in the ability of the prison to make improvements. “There has clearly been an abject failure of contract management and delivery … the inertia that seems to have gripped both those monitoring the contract and delivering it on the ground has led to one of Britain’s leading jails slipping into a state of crisis.” Clarke has invoked an “urgent notification protocol”, a device that puts the justice secretary on notice that urgent action is needed to address significant concerns at a jail.

The MoJ said it had instigated an intensive period of improvement measures with little success, forcing it to take the prison back under government control. HM Prison and Probation Service will run the prison for an initial six months, before assessing whether control can be returned to G4S. The “step in” process is not technically nationalisation, but a process allowed when a provider is deemed to have breached its contract to run the prison safely, meaning there is no liability to the taxpayer.

No staff redundancies will take place, though the MoJ said it would send in an additional 30 members of experienced prison staff as well as a new governor, Paul Newton, formally of HMP Swaleside. More than 300 prisoners will be moved from the prison while the jail is overhauled.

The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, said the conditions in the prison were clearly unacceptable. “It has become clear that drastic action is required to bring about the improvements we require,” he said. “This ‘step in’ means that we can provide additional resources to the prison while insulating the taxpayer from the inevitable cost this entails.

“We have good, privately run prisons across the country and while Birmingham faces its own particular set of challenges, I am absolutely clear that it must start to live up to the standards seen elsewhere.”

However, MoJ sources have been keen to stress the government does not believe privatisation was at the root of the prison’s troubles, pointing out that other G4S prisons including HMP Oakwood had recently received good inspection reports. Stewart has staked his own reputation on dramatic improvements to the prison system, telling the BBC he would resign in a year if he has not managed to reduce the level of drugs and violence in 10 target jails, although Birmingham was not among them.

The MoJ said it was clear that the prison was still suffering significant effects following the 2016 riots involving more than 600 prisoners, the worst since the infamous Strangeways riots in 1990. The government was forced to send in specially trained Tornado Squad officers, who battled prisoners for more than 12 hours.

A report by the independent monitoring board ahead of the riots had warned of the dangers posed by prisoners under the influence of psychoactive drugs including spice and black mamba. Assaults on staff at HMP Birmingham rose 84% to a record high of 164 incidents last year, according to MoJ figures.

The “step in” to take control in Birmingham is the first time such drastic measures have been used mid-contract. In 2016, the government stepped in at the end of its contract with G4S to run Medway Secure Training Centre, after undercover reporters filmed staff apparently mistreating children.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Responses to Demise of TR 5

Napo Briefing Paper 2 Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence


It is easy to be sceptical about how serious the Government are taking their 8 week holiday homework project, aka the “Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence” consultation. However, Napo will not abdicate our responsibilities as the voice of the probation profession and will respond fully and comprehensively during the consultation period – and we’ll continue to influence the debates and discussions beyond 21st September. 

As part of this, we are producing a series of in depth briefings and question papers looking at the other big questions prompted by the paper, even if they’re not specifically mentioned in the consultation…the questions the Government are less keen to see asked. Briefing #2 looks at the money and the financial questions around the proposed new CRC contracts. 


It’s probably not surprising, given the ideological commitment to outsourcing now embedded in the Tory Party’s DNA, that Gauke’s consultation would insist on sustaining a “mixed-economy” of some sort. This instinctive preference would be re-enforced by the mounting evidence of organisational weakness across the nationalised NPS. The NPS is massively “over-budget” (if it ever had an actual budget) but it can’t pay people or collect pension contributions properly. It’s even getting charged at premium rates to call its own HR helpline!

Yet the Justice Select Committee’s report into TR has officially defined the contracts as “a mess”. In doing so, the JSC join the HMI Probation in officially questioning if the current model could ever work. It must be a huge worry going forward that whoever contracts are let to and on whatever terms, the MoJ will still have responsibility for shaping and monitoring any contracts – with an overwhelming track record of failure.
  • When questions about how much the TR model has actually cost produce confused, contradictory and opaque political answers can anyone be confident these same people have any more idea or chance of getting this right next time? 
For people seemingly wedded to the merits of outsourcing, Gauke and his team seem to be pretty hostile to anyone making a profit. For example, they keep insisting the extra costs to the contracts published in the OJEC updates last summer (and presumably the further imminent update due for this year’s contract adjustments) are not actually extra costs but merely a “restructuring” of the contracts. It’s even been suggested these extra costs are really a saving and that providers are operating at below actual cost – i.e. operating at a loss. The MoJ tell us further planned spending isn’t additional investment but merely not collecting contract fines. In other words, the Payment By Results formula’s being replaced by Rewarding Failure Payments to keep these Contractors in the game. 

It’s certainly true that few shareholders have so far got rich on TR. During negotiations with Napo, some CRC owners have shared confidential financial information with our Reps. These show contracts operating at very difficult margins - consistently less than 5%. Not much has to go wrong when a margin is that tight for a contract to be in trouble. This model sank Carillion. Napo understands that Interserve has been in similar difficulty and doubt remains around if their auditors will allow them to re-tender unless profit margins in new contracts are significantly higher. Working Links’ staff report having visits from the Bailiffs because of unpaid utility bills. 

But higher margins in new contracts will mean higher costs for the taxpayer or a diversion of monies away from the NPS, who manage and support high risk offenders. You simply can’t have it both ways. The consultation paper says nothing about how much the taxpayer should be investing in rehabilitation but unless the spend increases the current problems will surely be replicated. The Government cannot hide from this basic, mathematical fact. 


Napo’s intelligence confirms the existing contracts are already being restructured. The CRC owner’s financial risks are being reduced. It is not overly cynical to suggest losses are being rectified now to avoid companies suing the MoJ for miss-selling the original contracts – it is no secret that before contracts were signed Iain Poree and others acknowledged that the work split was going to be more like 50:50 than the CRC:NPS 70:30 ratio originally anticipated in the TR consultations. 
  • If this contract restructuring is happening now, to square off the original contracts which will be finishing early, does this mean the taxpayer will be footing a higher than expected bill for probation by 2020?
  • Will anyone get around to adding up the additional unbudgeted costs of the NPS (who have had at least 50% of the work rather than the expected 30%) whilst the Contractors are compensated for their shortfall? How much will TR have cost? 

Two points immediately jump out about Gauke’s continued confidence in the market for probation services. Firstly, what market? Who is still in and who is dropping out? Who’d be joining the competition? 
  • Will the Working Links’ Bailiffs be off their backs and their contracts magically profitable with core probation provision returning to the NPS at least in Wales? 
  • Are Interserve so battered and bruised by their TR hiding that their auditors tell them Purple has no Future? 
  • Will the likes of SERCO or G4S be allowed to join the competition, after being excluded last time because they were under investigation of defrauding the taxpayer on previous MoJ contracts? 
  • With even bigger contract areas, will the charities and potential Mutuals that dropped out last time because it was impossible to find the deposits to underwrite investment and pension risks, be any better placed now, after 5 more years of austerity?
Secondly, will the existing survivors agree to play-on? Without their risk’s being greatly reduced and some guarantee of a profit in evidence, how could their Shareholders let them? 
  • With so little likely competition, isn’t the current round of negotiations more about contract adjustments up to 2020 – and as such, just the first phase of formal negotiations around longer more profitable contracts for the current holders? 
Unless this is wrong, that’s not competition – that’s a cartel - one where the Contractee is a known incompetent and the Contractors now know what they’re buying. 


This impression is re-enforced by a quick analysis of the new proposed contract areas in England. 4 of the 10 currently have 1 provider, potentially bidding against itself: 

Kent Surrey Sussex (SEETEC) 
London (MTC Novo) 
South West (Working Links run BGSW and the Dorset, Devon and Cornwall CRC area) 
Eastern (Sodexo run the 3 CRCs in BENCH, East Anglia and Essex)

In 4 more the competition is between struggling Interserve and 1 other provider. If Interserve withdraw the other provider will also have a huge negotiating advantage: 

South Central (MTC Novo in Thames Valley v Interserve in Hampshire IoW) 
East Midlands (RRP having the existing area and potentially picking up Interserve’s responsibility for Lincolnshire when it moves from being partnered with North Yorkshire and Humberside) 
Yorkshire (where Sodexo have South Yorkshire and Interserve the rest) 
North-West (With Sodexo having Cumbria and Lancashire whilst Interserve the rest) 

In the remaining 2 CRCs the “competition” is also limited, if intriguing: 

West Midlands – where RRP could go up against People First, the provider in West Mercia and Warwickshire who were the 3rd and last bidder for the original contract and the only one left standing after the original winners walked away) 

North East – where Sodexo have ARCC in DTV to “compete” against, unless the MoJ decide to force an arranged marriage to protect the only Mutual winner in the 1st contracts. 


Everyone with an interest in this needs to know who is in the bidding and who is out - asap. This is especially acute for staff in the Working Links areas, who know they’re losing Offender Management in Wales and for staff employed by Interserve.

The next Napo briefing will explore in more detail the staffing implications and questions around a second tier transfer for those returning to the NPS (e.g. in Wales) and potentially transferring to a new CRC owner elsewhere. 

However, the consultation paper has some potentially positive and ideas about a probation wide workforce development strategy, professional development and career pathways linked to professional standards, a national qualification framework from PSO through to senior management levels, etc. These will need to be carefully developed, in partnership with staff via consultation forums not yet established and in place. Doing this well will not be quick, especially with unions and HR leads on all sides concentrating on TUPE and staff transfer issues, as well as pay reform, etc. 

The paper also correctly talks about wanting to test new models – with co-commissioning and co-designing of probation serves with regional Mayors and PCCs. With specific reference to the merger of all core probation services in Wales, the consultation talks about considering ,”whether the learning from these new arrangements is applicable to the system in England”. 

Unless the whole consultation is a cruel hoax and these sections are meaningless filler, it is impossible to see how a sensible and serious contract settlement can be developed to let new long-term contracts in 2020. 

Napo knows that some CRC owners have been pressing for contract stability and contracts of a minimum of 10 years. From their perspective that isn’t unreasonable, giving them greater scope to borrow and invest in infrastructure, ICT, etc. But that can’t seriously be allowed to happen if the parties don’t know what will be required – especially after the MoJ made such a mess of the contracts last time for exactly the same reason.

The length and structure of the contracts will give a huge indication to staff, owners, MPs and the public about how serious Gauke and Co are about stabilising the probation service and how genuine the consultation is. There would seem to be only 3 probable answers:

A.  Long 10-year contracts, which mean all of the talk about testing new models is merely talk. 

B.  Short 2 to 3 year initial contracts to stabilise, with on-going negotiations and a break clause for re-tendering and restructuring around the end of the existing contract period (2022-23). This would easily facilitate merging core probation services by 2022 and some consensus about what should/could be competed locally, facilitating charities to re-enter probation in areas where they operated prior to TR. 

C.  Something half way between these 2, (eg. 5 to 7 year contracts), would suggest the MoJ are still, in fact, making this up as they go along and everything is still to play for.


It is natural for Napo and our members to believe that there is a coherent, carefully designed political plan for the service we care so much about. However, it is more likely, given the chaos across Government that this consultation is more about the Government being seen to have a plan. Our hope is the momentum Napo has helped build across the political spectrum, which recognises the importance of getting this right and the risks of continued failure, will exploit this Government uncertainty and force a real and genuine debate around the consultation. 

Critical to a wider discussion must be questions about the type and shape of the proposed new CRC contracts. This briefing highlights some of the core questions all stakeholders need to recognise and ask, and Government needs to answer NOW, with their answers also informing people’s replies to the consultation. 

These questions include: 

How much is probation really worth to Government? Will they take this opportunity to finally take rehabilitation seriously and invest what’s needed, whatever the operating model(s), and allow greater transparency around funding arrangements? 

Are all of the existing providers indicating they want to stay in, or have some (like Interserve or Working Links) already told the Government they plan to withdraw? If so, what are the exit terms being agreed? 

What assurances are current providers being given about future profits to keep them in the game?

How are the MoJ finding extra monies to stabilise the market and minimise contractor losses? Is this coming from the taxpayer or will the NPS get a smaller slice of probation funding? 

How long does the Government want to let the new contracts for and will there be break clauses to allow for further reform and restructuring? 

If there are no break clauses, how exactly do they intend incorporating lessons from cocommissioning and/or the Welsh “pilot” or is that meaningless, cynical political spin?

Dean Rogers
Assistant General Secretary