Thursday 27 June 2019

NPS Staffing Crisis

The new Chief Inspector of Probation published a fairly positive report on NPS in the North East yesterday, but once again it highlighted the staffing crisis largely brought about by TR:-

North East probation service delivering innovative work, despite heavy workloads

A probation service in the North East of England has been commended for its strong leadership and the innovative way it supports individuals to move away from further offending. The North East Division of the National Probation Service (NPS) supervises almost 19,000 high-risk offenders across a large area that stretches from the Scottish border to The Wash in Lincolnshire.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of the North East Division of the NPS and looked at 10 aspects of its work. The Inspectorate has given the Division an overall ‘Good’ rating, its second-highest mark.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Leaders in the North East Division of the NPS have a clear vision and strategy to deliver a quality service, and this has been communicated well to staff and key stakeholders. However, the Division is not always able to achieve this ambition because of staff shortages and high workloads.”

There is a lack of qualified probation officers across England and Wales, and inspectors found significant shortages across this Division too. Restrictions to local recruitment have further hampered efforts to place newly qualified officers in the offices where they are most needed.

Mr Russell said: “Despite staff shortages and some heavy workloads, staff across the Division take the time to develop professional relationships with the individuals under their supervision. If individuals missed appointments or broke the rules of their orders, staff did excellent work to engage individuals again and get them back on track.”

Inspectors found the Division offers a comprehensive range of services to individuals to support their rehabilitation. Pioneering initiatives include ‘Project Beta’, a collaboration between HM Prison and Probation Service, Durham County Council and Darlington Borough Council. The project works with individuals who are leaving prisons across the North East to help ensure they enter stable accommodation on release to provide a foundation for beginning a life free from crime. Inspectors also noted a network of community hubs in Cleveland has supported women to move away from crime and reoffending.

The Division has also been proactive in addressing gaps in its services. Probation staff wanted to strengthen their work with sexual offenders so set up additional training and a library of resources. Staff can now work with this complex and challenging group of offenders with greater expertise and confidence.

Work with victims of serious crime was found to be of a good standard. The Division runs a statutory scheme that provides victims with updates on the perpetrator’s sentence and gives them an opportunity to contribute their views on release plans. Contact with victims was timely and supportive in nearly nine out of 10 inspected cases, and victims received clear communications throughout the course of the sentence. However, inspectors found a small number of victims were not contacted about the scheme; the Inspectorate is now encouraging the Division to make sure all eligible victims are approached.

Inspectors found the overall quality of work with individuals under supervision was generally good, but some aspects require improvement.

Mr Russell said: “The Division needs to take a more robust approach to risk management in order to keep potential and actual victims safe. In a third of inspected cases, the risk assessments did not contain enough information about who might be at risk of harm from the individual under supervision and the exact nature of that risk. For example, some assessments overlooked victims of previous offences.”

The Inspectorate has made seven recommendations to improve the quality of the Division’s work.

Mr Russell added: “There is much to commend in the innovative and proactive leadership of the North East division of the NPS. Taking the opportunity to learn from this inspection will enable the division to further improve its service delivery.”


A few weeks ago a question on Facebook sought to address the staffing problem and the responses might prove enlightening, not just to the MoJ as they beaver away in earnest on the new probation model, but also to those currently contemplating a career in this line of work:-

What would it take to convince you to return to probation or retain you as a member of frontline probation staff if you are thinking of rejoining or leaving? If you are temping what would encourage you to move from temping to permanent work? 

A parking space would be a start.


I would want more pay and manageable caseload but that's a pipe dream.

I was recently tempted back to a permanent PO post from agency, as they’ve agreed to give me extended leave (unpaid), to enable me to maintain flexibility to xxxxxx each year. I feel very lucky - have yet to see how the reduced income will impact though!

I’d like that. To spend more time xxxxxxxxx.

Definitely. Ill health and the privatisation made me re-evaluate life’s priorities .. go for what makes you happy and live your best life. x

Yes time to re-evaluate definitely.

Reduced stress helps! X

Yes. I get told by friends that stress can kill even. 
I’m XX. If I early retired this year I’d only get £XX a year pension. I’m looking into flexible retirement. I’m XX this year and no matter what pension is - at 60 I’m going to early retire.

I agree totally .. my plan is to retire early and move to Xxxxxxxx full-time, where the cost of living is much lower. xx

More official recognition, less of a blame culture and less aggressive intervention into private life - needing to seek managerial permission before needing to do virtually anything outside of work, excessive vetting, social media embargoes etc.

More manageable workloads. No more weekly emails saying this that or the other is missing or out of date. Not having to wait two months for an OHA. 
More facilities time for reps. A less draconian absence management policy.

To be honest nothing would tempt me to move from agency to permanent. I work part time- take a month off Xxxxxx and Xxxxxxx, as well as other shorter bits of leave - have a degree of independence and autonomy - which also allows me to work in different places. I’m mortgage free so have few financial commitments and retire in 2021! For others I would suggest a robust WMT, flexible hours and technology to work from home - parity re conditions - parking - reopening offices - ongoing training!

I forgot about the WMT- not fit for purpose.

I forgot about the no bullying!

Workload, by which I mean LESS assessments. OASys tells us nothing that we do not know in advance. What EXACTLY is SARA for? Why ARMS? Still more pay, lets get back what we lost since 2012. Less counting things, more time with people. If we have to be civil servants how about non contributory pension and retirement at 60?

My thoughts exactly. Don't forget VISOR! Another useless tool we don't need, we don't want!

Yeah, that too.

Oh and RSR! Fill out this form that tells us that serious re-offending is very rare. Well ain't that a surprise!

I’m a temp and no price to go permanent would be enough. X

I have been banging the ViSOR drum for years! Hopefully this will be the end of it once and for all.

Totally agree about SARA. Utterly pointless. 

Fingers crossed but I doubt it as it's about us doing the police's work for them, same as for the ARMS!

I never look at it

I have seen it and the bulk of the info on there is supplied by us anyway! It’s completely unnecessary and even if it was imperative, access should have been granted without vetting. I cannot explain how much upset and concern this caused amongst some of my colleagues.

I don’t look at SARA.

They are ALL pointless. OASYs takes hours. OGRS takes five minutes. Scores are always very close. Do an OGRS. Ask a question covering all the areas in OASYs Use those as the basis of a sentence plan done via the web. SORTED.

It seems to be widely agreed that SARA is useless.


Is temping much more money?

Not really when you take in to account no annual leave or sickness pay. However, I prefer the autonomy - the feeling that if I’m unhappy there is a plethora of other jobs in the sector. I also think you have more authority when it comes to flexible working - I do condensed hours with Xxxxxxx’s off. I have done 2 spells permanent and 2 spells temping. I really would not consider permanent work again.

The RSR is not significantly different in what it looks at than what you get from an OGRS. The only time it is ever different is for sex offenders, when it increases the numbers.

My take from Court work. Can we ditch the EPF? Unless the person is out of area, this is a waste of time. If people are from out of area, let us just call it an Accredited Programme and the other area can figure out which, according to what they have. Could we get rid of RAR? Not an effective way of supervising anyone. It can result in someone receiving a minimal service even if their circumstances change and mean they need more support. The considerations when doing a report on someone should focus on *if* they need Probation intervention and what sort would help the most. There is no such thing as a catch-all, one-size-for-all intervention.

SARA? Well, it helps you remember what areas can be relevant to domestic abuse and its causes, but the practitioner is still the one deciding the risk.

What’s EPF?

Effective Proposal Framework, which must be done before doing the proposal on your reports, including before delivering any stand down reports.

Pay according to years experience and holidays to match. I know that’s not fair on permanent staff but it’s what I would push for on an individual basis. Anything less - no thanks. Temping has saved my mental health and enabled me to continue to work as an OM. At the end of the day, I’ve been able to carry on working on the job I love and serve the community.

My mental health is certainly suffering. I’m stressed re workload. Not fit for purpose WMT and how we are all being treated. And made to feel we are to blame for being stressed and not being able to manage that.

Nonsense emphasis on ‘resilience’.

Left for YOT - not sure anything would tempt me back, especially not as YOT matched my NPS salary and to return would put me back on bottom of NPS scale. Had forgotten what being appreciated for work effort was like as not had that for years in probation.

Sounds like you are much happier.

Well if a lot changed maybe you could be swayed.

Odd. As a seconded PO in Xxxxxxxx YOT l was treated with contempt. As were all the staff. So happy to have a way back.

This is second time in YOT as had previous secondment to different YOT. Welcomed and valued by both. Current YOT has just taken on ex-probation officers with others having been seconded to that YOT.

So how about career progression? Training etc. Those who are PSOs would you like to train to be a PO with no loss of pay or maybe a bit on top? How about the creation of Senior Practitioner posts on the same points as SPOs? Management training for POs? Transfer without penalty? If we don’t ask we won’t get.

Some good ideas there, especially the Sr Practitioner posts.

I’m a big supporter of SP roles as we are not all cut out or want to be managers but certainly know our onions. I also think that not developing the PSO role to enable movement is a travesty.

I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than be a manager. But senior practitioner role sounds an excellent idea.

All social workers have senior practitioners posts and when I started as a P.O. the only route in was with a social work qualification.

Yes all of the above! We need more emphasis on progression through OM skills not management. So if u have done a counselling course - that ought to lead somewhere rather than nowhere. I’m not interested in management, I see that as a separate career. Or, make managers carry a caseload to make it more integrated.

It’s so so sad we won’t be able to do a stint in programmes now. I want group work skills! I want skills in rehabilitation. I want to be coached in rehab skills and have people actually interested in how I work in supervision. I know how to risk manage, but the real practise improvement - no one seems to care.

Sorry to rant - but when inspectors look at our cases they care what happens in sessions. Managers don’t really. We all know that that is the point of our work. Practitioners have to scrabble around digging up old worksheets from 20 years ago to actual
ly structure their sessions. We ought to have ready access to these as well as a comprehensive partnerships directory which is updated on a six monthly basis in every office. Also: every new case needs to be brought before a weekly allocation meeting so they can get partnership appointments booked in from the word go. I know this is not strictly speaking about career progression but I’m just putting an idea out.

Trouble is, all of this gets in the way of doing assessments.

I'd say that as far as I’m aware it does in the NPS but in London CRC and TV there is at least, in recent times, a genuine concern about trying to improve quality at the coal face after most staff made clear their dissatisfaction with command and control targets obsessed approaches. I’d have liked the sort of innovation now being rolled out to have happened sooner but contract times have been shortened and reliable systems take time to develop and roll out. However, I really don’t want the good progress in certain areas - particularly in advances in tools and technologies - to be lost as progress has been hard won and involved many dedicated practitioners. Some of the best stuff has just started to gain some traction not least due to a change in senior management direction but also it is evident that the green shoots of what we might want are evident and mostly welcomed and I’m relatively hard to convince. I would like NPS colleagues to benefit from the best of what has been developed and available. There is an opportunity to improve things across the board.

What both NPS and CRC desperately need are well trained staff both PSOs, POs, SPO and hopefully SPs and certainly something suitably creative in respect of PSOs who all need to feel positive about their employers, leaders, and newly motivated to do the job they were trained to do in the way that is best not directed by faceless bureaucrats.

As a PSO I’d have appreciated the opportunity to train as a PO - as did many highly qualified PSOs in my region - but when we were told we’d have to pay for our own ‘top up’ modules none of us had odd 2 grand to spare.

Exactly. Many would do it but not at their own expense.

I’m doing it now at my own expense but gaining the modules via an Xxxxxxx from Xxxxxxx Uni, hence a huge student loan. At least this way I’ll get a Masters at which point I’ll walk out of Probation. I think what was so difficult for us CRC PSOs was the knowledge that NPS PSOs don’t face the same financial penalty. I really must leave this group - I sound like a moaning old git, and I’m not! I’m very peaceful but this second kick in the teeth for programmes has just destroyed my love for this job.

You don’t sound like that. I’m really angry about it.

My CRC has management training, CPD, innovation, opportunity to have input in how the organisation ran, Associate Tutors roles for operational staff who wanted a chance to deliver programmes and brush up on rehabilitation skills and CA's who wanted skills and experience to apply for operations roles, to lead or work on projects ..... I hope these innovations don't get lost in the move and that the new NPS takes forward all of the positives from both current NPS and CRCs. However, Programmes Rule!

Easier application process rather than civil service competencies that bear no resemblance to the actual job!!

So true. Excellent point.

Better pay, free parking and flexible working and I would consider coming back

Better pay, flexible working including working from home at times and free parking, plus team building.

Easier application process.

As PSO with ten plus years experience it’s frustrating that you have to have a degree to firstly apply for PQUiP. It seems that experience and consistent good/outstanding appraisals doesn’t mean much!

Less hours.

Competent and trained management without a bias of who you are mates with. Work progression routes and personal development. Investment in staff.

Generic case loads like there was back in circa 2003-2007 so there's a mixture of different types of cases - makes the job more emotionally/mentally sustainable.

Guaranteed pay increase every year. And the money owed from the pay freeze. Not too much to ask is it?!

Unfortunately the reality of modern day NPS is not conducive to such cosy discussions. Any such suggestions are usually ignored. Civil Service if that is what is coming is not a panacea. It is very much top down command and control. There is little scope for discussion mostly because purse strings are held tightly at the very top.

For a friend of mine who wanted to get into general office admin work (band 2) they laughed at the wages and told me not for that - would rather stay doing retail on 45 hours a week and get 15k more per year.

For me the only thing would be to put wages up by at least 15% (I know it's gotta be a followed process) but I will be honest I have had enough of it. The only reason I'm still here is the pay cheque at the end of the month. And yes I am looking elsewhere. There are lots of issues and not enough solutions.

Essential car user allowance.

A welfare support system that supported people rather than punish them. 
Services that I could refer people into. Quality housing, drug and mental health support that is not so cash strapped that most "Assessments" come down to "how do we deny this poor bastard any help". 

Less, no sorry, NO obsession with public safety. There is a part of the Criminal Justice system which should prioritise the good that a person can do rather than the bad which they have. Where better than the Probation Service.

An obsession with getting alongside people rather than alongside a computer to fill in another assessment. 
Some distance from the Prison Service and the Justice Ministry to allow us space to breath and be the Service we were and can be again.

Some or all of that would mean that I could enjoy my last 10 years in the service, rather than spend every birthday trying to calculate if I can survive THIS year on a reduced pension or do I have to stick it out longer. Not a lot to ask is it?

Less targets and being allowed to get on with the job and doing the work that matters, work with clients.

Being able to work from home is a huge bonus. Flexible working. Having fabulous colleagues and managers.

I am glad that senior managers are finally starting to recognise these issues. They never seemed too bothered about retaining staff, which has had a catastrophic effect. Hopefully they are realising that their methods of control and direction are not working, and that there should be more ‘carrot’ than ‘stick’! For me they need to offer more creative and flexible working options, we have the IT to support that now. They need to look at particular offices or areas that struggle to recruit and retain and consider the issues and how to encourage people to want to work there. A senior practitioner role is an excellent idea, otherwise there are limited career progression opportunities for those not interested in management. Make improvements to OASys/all the assessments that we have to do, to avoid constant duplication of information. The focus should be on working with people, having the time to do meaningful work with them instead of prioritising ‘targets’.

The way it used to be. Working with a smile on your face. Reduced blame culture manageable time frames. Having your own secretary who felt valued and personal to you and colleagues. Parking - enough staff to share the workload - managers who were not guided by performance targets - professional autonomy - and overall respect from employers - but from what I hear that’s going to be a hard one to achieve when it all gets lumped back together. When I heard the news I sort of did a little flip. But as this goes on and I hear the rumblings from the jungle commonly known as the ministry of magic! Well I’m not filled with enthusiasm and glee.

I left in 2016. After the split there seemed to be a move to reduce everything to the 'quickest' or 'most efficient' way of doing things to the point where the value in doing them at all was lost. We used to stand up for ourselves - if a Court asked for a PSR on a DV case with an unrealistic turnaround then (if we knew a thorough risk assessment couldn't be done in that time) we as professionals would say no and we'd be backed up in doing so. I think we need a clear culture of who we are and what we do and we need senior officers to also know that too and who will stick up for the service when needed (I'm still saying we even 3 years after leaving!). I think probation is going to need to prove itself - be clear about its values and what it stands for and what as a profession it offers - before many would go back. That will take time.

Also, having left, you soon realise quite how bad the pay and career progression is in probation. It's a fairly flat structure with not many opportunities. I left as a PO and would need to go back in as well above SPO grade to make it worth my while. It was never about the money, but the jobs you guys do, you deserve more that's for sure.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Prisons Cause Crime

Now here's a surreal story. According to the BBC, Humberside police don't want one of the MoJ's super prisons on their patch because they say it will increase crime in their area:-

Full Sutton 'super prison': Police object to plans

Artist's impression of plans for Full Sutton new prison

Police have objected to plans for a new "super prison", fearing it would increase violent crime within the jail and raise demands on the force. Planning permission has been approved by East Riding Council for a £91m Category C jail near an existing high-security prison in Full Sutton. But Ch Supt Phil Ward from Humberside Police said the prison would create an estimated 250 more crimes each year.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it had carried out impact assessments. It said in a statement: "We commissioned all the appropriate impact assessments required for the planning process using the standard methodologies. "These included traffic, environmental, and public service impact reports which have been submitted to the local authority."

Ch Supt Ward said: "Comparisons with similar sized Category B prisons to that proposed in the planning application show recorded criminal offences to be circa 250 per year, the majority of which (circa 150) are recorded violence offences. "These offences require investigation which will place significant additional demand on Humberside Police."

The MOJ said they were not aware of any evidence that shows the risk of crime increases around areas with prisons in them. As well as a rise in crime, however, Ch Supt Ward also cited concerns over the impact on the community and transport network. He added that the village of Full Sutton "already suffers from significant non-village traffic flow due to the current prison facility" and "insufficient public transport to mitigate the anticipated traffic flow increase".

The existing prison - HMP Full Sutton - is a maximum security prison for men in Category A and Category B. It has a capacity of about 150 male inmates. The new facility proposed by the MoJ would house 1,440 inmates. Category C prisons are training and resettlement prisons, which allow inmates the opportunity to integrate back into the community on release.

Objections have also been received from more than 100 members of the public and protests have been held over the plans. Dozens of people gathered to protest in March, saying the area would be unable to cope with the extra traffic and it would make the area less desirable.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

A Thought Piece

As we reflect on the passing of Paul Senior, I notice this tweet from the British Journal of Community Justice:- 
"The BJCJ is saddened to hear the news of Paul Senior's passing over the weekend. As a founding member of the Journal, his contribution has been wide and long-lasting. In tribute, we are featuring a special back issue of the journal. It was the last one that Paul edited."
The link to the issue can be found here and in light of the current discussion regarding the future shape of probation, I've selected the following:- 

Tragedy and Farce in Organisational Upheavals for Probation: What Next?

Is this an unlikely scenario, circa 2011? Government hiring a consultant in organisational and personnel management and challenging them to:

“Map out a way of changing the entire organisational matrix of probation. This is your brief:
  • Undo the governance arrangements completely and create a bifurcated and multiple ownership model using a range of companies with no experience of running probation services
  • As it worked so badly in 2001 when 17 chiefs were retired at a stroke losing the leadership skills of a service at a time when a new national organisation was created, repeat this tragedy as farce in 2014 so aim at, at least, 13 CEOs leaving the Trusts as the new organisations are created thus decimating leadership
  • Create new arrangements which will downgrade the skills of its workforce, create confusion over what is required to be a probation practitioner and then squeeze funds to the extent that redundancy, low morale and sickness escalates and the core of probation, its workers, are decimated, set against each other and disillusioned.”
And yet this is just what has unfolded in the most farcical episode in probations' rich, if turbulent, history of organisational change. The changes initiated by Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) are maybe more disruptive than previous changes but there have been plenty of changes since the steady state of 1970s and 1980s. For most of the last forty years, probation has been a local public service managed via a variety of Probation Committees (magistrates initially as the employers) and then Boards with a changing relationship with its courts, local authorities, the region and the centre. At one time the local authority also contributed to part of its budget, though the extent of local oversight was limited as direction has always come from the centre. This gathered pace when probation was projected ‘centre stage’ in the early 1990s and a more managed service was required. Boards became more diversified to include representatives from business and finance and the occasional academic. 

However, the funding requirements, controlled by the centre, ensured increasing compliance to central direction, ultimately increasing such control so that a National Probation Service was created in 2001. It was an opportunity for influence and recognition for the distinctive work of the probation service but which ultimately failed. A closer relationship with a more dominant partner, the prison service, a succession of lack lustre national leaderships plus a submissive attitude to the demands of government saw probation drift from its core ideals to a weak and divided organisational arrangement lacking rationale, connectedness and a sense of direction. The 2001 version of the NPS did not last and another organisational shift brought Probation Trusts, increased local engagement through Local Criminal Justice Boards and Community Safety Partnerships, regional bodies and enhanced working partnerships with the police and with the third sector. As we reached 2012 the Trusts were regarded, by the government's own measures, as in good health and had become the first public organisation to be awarded the ultimate business kitemark, the British Quality Foundation’s 2011 Gold Medal for Excellence Award.

Now just four years later we have governance models which are predicated on survival and ensuring the new Community Rehabilitation Companies at least break even. Many of the CEOs who started the CRCs before ownership was transferred to a strange band of catering, workfare, cleaning and security companies have now gone or been superseded by senior managers from the owners. There is no continuity between the different providers and less and less organic links with the new National Probation Service despite originally sharing buildings and having a common IT language. Now many models prevail and communication has become difficult.

Leadership is a difficult issue to get right. Too often the balance between management and leadership is blurred. In 2001 there was a strong move to centralise probation policy and practice and make all local areas dance to a new choreography (National Probation Service, 2001). For the new director faced with a brain drain of 17 Chiefs, amongst which were some of its most innovative thinkers and leaders, an administrative model prevailed and the new chiefs were managers working on behalf of a target-driven centre. This did not work well and as successive central leaders failed to resist the prisonisation of probation local leaders began to emerge. The new Trusts arrived with a younger, more female dominated leadership of the 35 Trusts which through its representative organ, the Probation Chiefs Association (PCA), began to drive forward a new agenda. Evidence showed it was performing well and innovating around such issues as Integrated Offender Management (IOM), domestic violence, sex offenders, accredited programmes, desistance agendas, the Offender Engagement Programme, etc. PCA as a fledging organisation, was beginning to assert itself and give a voice, often a female voice, to the views of its leadership in ways which approached the earlier more vocal ACOP in the recent past. Even if you took the ultimate government measure of success, reducing re offending, it was demonstrable on MoJ's own statistics that being on probation in the Trusts did help reduce reoffending (MoJ Analytical Services, 2013). During the early TR debates, this leadership was visible and articulated its dismay at the dismantling of the successful Trust arrangements. However, the corporate silencing which was imposed by the MoJ quietened that voice to a whisper and it felt that at that moment the leadership lost its power to influence the changes. Indeed many faced with the uncomfortable job of making TR work either resigned or were quietly invited to do so. Once again the leadership was decimated and as the new arrangements emerged, it did so with a much less experienced set of individuals, nervous about their futures whether as a result of their civil servant status in the NPS or the insecurity of their future in the new CRCs. The voice of that new leadership has been largely silent.

Ironically the review of research initiated by the MoJ (MoJ Analytical Services, 2013) which drew on the good practice highlighted above suggested the following four characteristics should be at the centre of the new organisational arrangements:

• Skilled, trained practitioners;
• Well-sequenced, holistic approaches;
• Services and interventions delivered in a joined-up, integrated manner;
• Need for high quality services. (Senior, 2013)

I posed this question rhetorically in a blog concerning these aspirations in 2013:

’High quality services? Where can we possibly find a public service with top quality kite mark awards, reductions of up to 10 per cent in reoffending from community orders, a highly trained and motivated staff group, delivering integrated holistic services in cooperation with voluntary and private providers? Is this why we are seeking new providers? Wait, these criteria are met by an organisation in existence – probation trusts. So it makes sense to rip them in two, give it to providers with aspirations but little track record.’ (Senior, 2013)

If the farce of diminishing the leadership was enough to impact on probation, it is a further tragedy that the organisational changes have wrought an existential crisis at the heart of the probation profession. This is discussed elsewhere in this volume (see Worrall et al.) which interrogates the impact on the occupational culture; here it is sufficient to note the warnings from voices rising above the parapet to reveal a sorry tale of the disestablishment of the Probation ideal. It can be summarised emotionally as confrontational, demoralising and divisive. In practical terms the status of probation officer has been diminished, particularly but not exclusively, in the CRCs; colleagues have been set against each other as they work for different organisations; communications have been made more complex and IT systems have proliferated without positive interconnected outcomes. At the time of writing, redundancies, sometimes as much as 40 per cent, are likely to be implemented! Training arrangements within the CRCs are undermined and practice is often being devolved to PSO equivalents in both NPS through E3 (NPS, 2016) and in the various models of the CRCs. There are, nevertheless, examples of good practice across the country, maybe in spite of rather than because of the arrangements. The future of probation as a profession is threatened by these changes yet skilled, trained practitioners were at the heart of the research evidence quoted above (MoJ Analytical Services, 2013). One voice picked at random from Twitter sums up the crisis:
'#probation fast becoming a concept, not an institution/public service NPS enforcement and CRCs failed business.' (@sadSPO, 5th March 2016)
140 characters says it all. The profession is under threat.

So, above are insights into the changes, below are some of the fears and hopes expressed at the conversation in Kendal.

• Commodification of emotional labour (see Knight et al. in this volume);
• Individualist, oppressive, competitive environments;
• Silos will be created with no common language to ease communication;
• Individual CRCs will be amalgamated for the needs of efficiency thus breaking local links even more;
• Loss of expertise/local community links following abolition of trusts. Where is the link with courts in CRCs?;
• Management becomes procedural not professional;
• Commercial imperatives are prioritised at the expense of best practice;
• The mantra becomes low cost service for maximum profit;
• Workforce no longer expects to stay in probation for life - short term work then move on;
• New managerialism defines training, then practice, of managers.

• Freed of National Standards this will release the creative potential of CRCs;
• Mobilising the creativity of people to manage change; historically probation staff are resilient;
• Will become more outward looking, the profession of probation expanding to include not just direct probation staff but all working in community rehabilitation and community justice including third tier organisations;
• Creative new way of managing in the changed structure;
• Strong confident leaders who can communicate the meaning and purpose of probation to the public and politicians;
• Strong occupational cultures regardless of diverse organisational contexts buttressed by an independent voice for the profession, the Probation Institute.

The future of a recognisable probation institution is at risk given the organisational changes, arguably more invasive than previous attempts. Bifurcation of delivery means that integration of services for the individual service user is threatened. The deskilling of qualified Probation staff is a product of where an individual was placed in the reorganisation and not any assessment of their skills and knowledge. This threatens the professional confidence, independence and creative potential of probation staff, an integral part of delivering the always difficult role of probation. The need for effective leadership is compromised by the bifurcated arrangements. Perhaps it is prescient to speculate that when further organisational changes arrive, they may well seek to undo some of the consequences of this farcical and tragic organisational transformation.

Paul Senior 

Saturday 22 June 2019

Professor Paul Senior

Very sad to hear that Paul Senior's long battle with illness ended earlier today and I've been asked to publish the following tribute:-

I’m writing to you to find out how to get a blog entry onto your On Probation feed about the death this morning of Professor Paul Senior. You will know that through the TR debacle, while many Chief Officers (and others) were silenced, Paul stood, often alone, as a loud, irritating and critical voice, risking the future of his department at Sheffield Hallam. I am glad he lasted long enough to see his stance wholly vindicated (but not yet long enough to see Grayling get some comeuppance).

Paul was associated with probation from the 1970s. He was initially a probation officer in Doncaster, then a Training Officer in South Yorkshire Probation, before joining Sheffield Hallam University full-time in the 1980s. He became the first ever Professor of Probation Studies. He has trained thousands of probation officers, through the various manifestations of probation qualifying training, conducted and written many probation-related research projects, hosted the CJ Portal at Sheffield Hallam and was, until last year, the elected Chair of the Probation Institute. One of his fortes was to range across the seminars and workshops of a conference and deliver a succinct and accurate summary as the final speaker. He did this for NAPO trainees conferences for years on end. I suspect that there’s barely a probation officer in the country who is not acquainted with Paul himself, his work and his influence.

He died peacefully, with his children, Joe and Hannah, at his side, after a courageous 6-year battle with cancer.


Tony Grapes

Thursday 20 June 2019

In Search of the Probation Narrative

I've been away for a few days and been somewhat distracted and inattentive. Despite lots going on and the whole future of probation up in the air once more, it seems mightily quiet, so I thought I'd go in search of the narrative:-  

We have a new minister, refusing to use 'probation' in his title, telling Bob Neill and the Justice Committee they are misguided in thinking TR was a disaster:-

"To condemn TR out of hand and say that it was a failure is unfair to many aspects of it: for example, the increase in the overall number of people supervised; some of the really good projects that we saw in the south-east relating to stalking; and the work done on unpaid work requirements. I do not think it would be fair to write off the past four or five years as a blind alley, because it certainly was not. A lot of what we have learned from that will be taken forward in the new model, but the end of the division between serious offences and less serious offences will help us, most notably not just with overall accountability but with the workload of probation officers. Perhaps we can explore that as we go into questions."


We have those cunning MoJ spin doctors attempting to push some good news stories to deflect attention:-

'Lifeline' community treatment pilots to steer offenders away from crime

Vulnerable offenders in the criminal justice system will be offered targeted treatment under new plans designed to boost rehabilitation and reduce re-offending announced by the government today (20 June 2019). Where appropriate, through the new pilots more offenders will be diverted towards community sentences in where they will receive treatment for mental health, drug or alcohol issues, often deemed to be the root cause of offending behaviour.

Pilots have already seen an almost 250% increase in those referred for mental health treatment within 18 months and a higher rate of compliance with the terms of an order, just 8% failed to comply with their requirements. The approach will now be rolled out to new sites in London and Greater Manchester.

This focus on ensuring people get the right care, at the right time, in the right setting will be integral to the forthcoming Health and Justice Plan, announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Justice Secretary David Gauke today. This comes 10 years on from the landmark Bradley Report, which set out a comprehensive plan to reduce reoffending and improve public health for vulnerable offenders.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said:

"Providing targeted, tailored and timely mental health and addiction treatment for vulnerable offenders across the country will help cut reoffending - saving taxpayers’ money and making our communities safer. We will support agencies across health and justice to work more closely together to ensure offenders have the right support and to build greater confidence in community sentences. This is just the start of our shared vision to reshape offender health and strengthen community sentences, ultimately improving rehabilitation and breaking the cycle of offending."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock:

"Addressing prisoners’ physical and mental health needs early on can help tackle the root cause of their criminality and steer them away from the path of reoffending. It is crucial the health and justice systems work together to provide the best possible care for prisoners. Today’s announcements demonstrate our commitment to giving people the support and treatment they need to live healthy lives in prison and reintegrate into society when the time comes."


And make no mistake, the MoJ has to come up with something positive to try and counter their tendency to lie, cheat and bully - hardly a comforting prospect for a 'reunified' probation service under civil service control. This from the Guardian:-

Bullied bisexual prison officer unlikely to work again, tribunal finds

A bisexual prison officer is unlikely to ever work again because the harassment and discrimination he suffered at work has permanently damaged his health, an employment tribunal has found.

In two judgments, it was revealed that Ben Plaistow, 41, is likely to receive an exceptionally high compensation payout when his case is finally settled later this year, not only because of the campaign of bullying and harassment his colleagues at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes conducted against him during his two years of employment there, but also because of a litany of failings by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), including the forging of documents submitted to the tribunal.

“Perhaps most seriously, given the identity of the respondent [the MoJ], is the forgery by late production and backdating of documents designed to ‘plug gaps’,” the tribunal ruling states. It also refers to “corruption of documents by conflation, amendment or post-dated creation” and said the MoJ’s failings go “beyond error”. The colleagues were found to have engaged in a “campaign of victimisation” against Plaistow, with their conduct found to be “vexatious, disruptive and unreasonable”.

Government lawyers involved in the case were also criticised for failing to demonstrate appropriate diligence and were accused of having “blindly” followed instructions from their MoJ colleagues.

The judge, Michael Ord, sitting with two lay members in an employment tribunal in Cambridge, previously found that Plaistow experienced a campaign of direct discrimination and harassment because of his sexuality, and was victimised and unfairly dismissed because he complained about what took place. 
He was subjected to a catalogue of abuse including being called “poof”, “gay” and “vermin”, was pushed and slapped, and had a bottle of water squirted in his face.

Plaistow was hired as a prison officer at HMP Woodhill in 2014 and was fired two years later after he was accused of gross misconduct. In December 2015, he was alleged to have used unnecessary force on a prisoner while breaking up a fight. The incident led to his suspension and subsequent dismissal. However, the tribunal heard he did not use unnecessary force. This was backed up by CCTV footage and witness testimony from the prisoner, who acknowledged he was at fault.

Expert medical reports found that Plaistow, who was well-regarded by both the prison service and prisoners, was highly unlikely to ever work again. He has been diagnosed with PTSD, moderate psychological damage and paranoia as a result of “lengthy failings” by the prison service. One doctor who assessed him found his condition to be “chronic and permanent”.

The payout he eventually receives will be based on a career-long loss of earnings; Plaistow had hoped to work until the age of 68, so is likely to have lost 27 years of his working life. Final calculations are still being worked out and will include the loss of his £31,660 a year net salary since his dismissal and into the future, as well as the loss of his pension.

As well as awarding him £41,000 for injury to feelings, the top end of the top band in this category, the tribunal has also awarded him £15,000 aggravated damages and £8,000 exemplary damages. These damages are only awarded in rare cases. Aggravated damages are given when the employer’s conduct towards the victim has been humiliating and malicious and exemplary damages are a sign of great disapproval of the employer’s conduct.

The tribunal found that the MoJ’s “conduct as an arm of the state in relation to this case has been unacceptable”. The tribunal raised further concerns about the training the MoJ promised to provide following the case, which it found to be “wholly unconnected” to the substance of the judgment, relating to discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation.

“No steps have been taken at management level as to identification and eradication of such conduct amongst staff,” the tribunal heard. Until the MoJ was approached about the investigation by Plaistow’s lawyers, it had “taken no steps whatsoever to investigate the serious findings and matters of concern”, the tribunal found.

The government department was criticised by the tribunal for not being able to say if anyone had been suspended pending an investigation or whether any steps had been taken to prevent officials from colluding during the investigation.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate any kind of discrimination in our prisons and take action to make sure all staff are treated appropriately and fairly. A new staff network, ‘pride in prison and probation’, was set up in 2016 to support workplace equality and now has 5,000 members. We have noted the judge’s decision and are considering next steps, and a separate internal review is ongoing.”


Of course there is the on-going Employment Tribunal that tends to confirm the MoJ's love of secrecy in trying to bully and silence:-

An Academic Says She Was Bullied At The Ministry Of Justice After Revealing It Was Running A Programme That Made Sex Offenders More Likely To Reoffend

An academic whose research revealed that the Ministry of Justice’s treatment of sex offenders in prison might actually increase their chance of reoffending is suing the department. She says she was bullied out of her job after whistleblowing about the results. Dr Kathryn Hopkins worked as a researcher in the MoJ’s analytical services department. Her study of the controversial Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) suggested that five years on from release, prisoners who had been on the programme were more likely to commit a sexual offence again.


Then we have the saga of HM Probation Inspectorate continuing to find 'excellent' leadership everywhere in the CRCs, but sadly hand-in-hand with poor performance:-

"Although inspectors praised Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC’s commitment to innovation and strong leadership, they did have concerns about the quality of some case supervision and its ‘Through the Gate’ work with offenders leaving prison. There is a widespread shortage of qualified probation officers and the CRC has found it particularly difficult to recruit and retain staff because of its proximity to London. The CRC has decided to tackle the problem by leading the development of a new apprenticeship scheme to offer people a different route into the sector. If the scheme is successful, it could be rolled out nationally."

When is HMI going to admit their inspection methodology must be seriously flawed, or are the cynics correct in assuming there must be some other policy aim at work here? 


We have the MoJ's proposed new model for probation containing such meaningless crap as this:- 

68. A Regional Co-ordination Function is predicated on the Dynamic Framework and the regional oversight of multiple contracts delivered on a regional and sub-regional footprint. Working in an Intelligent Customer capacity, it will actively co-ordinate supply and demand to ensure the Responsible Officer can have access to the right services at the right time. 

69. The Dynamic Framework will be the means for NPS regions to access services for offenders both on community orders and those supervised on licence in the community, with the ambition that some services will eventually reach into the pre-release phases of sentence in England, offering Through-the-Gate. The Dynamic Framework will also be the anticipated sourcing vehicle for spending the Regional Outcomes Fund if appropriate. 

70. The Dynamic Framework also provides accessibility for a range of different commissioning bodies, HM Prisons, Regional Authorities for Probation, HMPPS Wales, Welsh Government, PCCs, MOPAC and GMCA, Local Authorities, etc. It should be noted that commissioning bodies other than the Authority (HM Prisons, Regional Authorities and HMPPS Wales) can also buy services directly from the Framework or via co-commissioning arrangements with the Authority. The Framework will also be used to award both contracts and grants.


With the government stubbornly wedded to still keeping a privatised chunk of probation in the mix, charities and other third sector players need to be mindful they got their fingers seriously burnt under TR and lost a lot of money. The CivilSociety website highlights other worrying effects of the disastrous policy:-    

Government probation reform led to 50 per cent drop in charity grant funding, says report  

The government’s most recent overhaul of the probation system may have led to a 50 per cent drop in grants from independent funders, according to a new report. Charity sector thinktank, NPC's new report, Independent, Effective, Humane, shows that independent grant funding for probation charities dropped from £37.1m to £18.4m from 2013 to 2014, the same time as the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme was introduced. 

The report says the figures suggest “funders may respond directly to policy upheaval—by pausing their funding”. It says grant funding levels have since recovered but warns: “With renewed uncertainty about the future of probation services in 2019, charities need commitment and stability from funders.” 

The report says charities that are involved in probation services are heavily reliant on independent grants, with smaller, specialist organisations getting about two-thirds of their funding this way. It says this is because the public “don’t often give to criminal justice charities” and the government is increasingly funding through contracts instead. And the report says probation charities are concerned that independent funders are being put off funding probation services because they are worried “their grants are propping up a harmful prison system”. It says they are also concerned about charities ability to access service users in prison, and the risk of subsidising government contracts or private sector profits. 

An anonymous grant-making trust is quoted in the report as saying: 

“We have moved away from funding work in prison to work in the community with people who are at risk of offending or reoffending. “When we do due diligence, charities say that our grant might subsidise government contracts. We understand how hard it is for charities—they are between a rock and a hard place—but it just isn’t acceptable to our trustees.” 

Following a highly critical report on the government’s £900m Transforming Rehabilitation programme by the chief inspector of probation last year, the Ministry of Justice announced its decision to end current probation contracts early and consider a new model for probation from 2020 onwards.  


Finally, in trying to speculate where we might usefully look in terms of what the hell the probation narrative currently is, I'll end with some House of Lords exchanges from the 16th May, the day when the infamous government 'u-turn' was announced:-

Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, I am incredibly grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. This is a welcome U-turn on a disastrous probation policy—but what a mess, what an absolute mess. I feel the need to probe the underlying thinking a little further to ensure that lessons are truly being learned in the Government. Those of us on these Benches have real constitutional concerns, and concerns about accountability for public safety in relation to privatising the criminal justice system.

Today’s U-turn, a necessary first step to cleaning up the probation mess, comes only after hundreds of millions of pounds have been squandered propping up failing private companies, and public safety has been put directly at risk as a result. So I must probe the Minister on the thinking for the future and the proportion of these funds that are to be preferred towards private companies as opposed to voluntary bodies and social enterprises. This is crucial to understanding whether failing outsourcing giants, such as G4S and Sodexo, are going to be offered a way back into the probation system.

Lord Dholakia Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. All of us think that it has been a long time coming and it is right that we should broadly welcome the thrust of the Government’s intention to reorganise this service.

I take our share of the blame as part of the coalition Government, during which we supported some of the reforms of the National Probation Service in 2014. Some of the principles of these reforms were very sound when they were introduced. It was right that supervision was available for at least the first year when inmates leave prison. It was important to provide through-the-gate services, so that people can have a place to live as well as continuity of training and treatment between prison and the community. To do all this, it was vital that voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice field were fully involved.

Mr Grayling has bungled and underfunded contracts so badly that his reforms failed to achieve these objectives. No wonder it is estimated that these botched reforms have cost the taxpayer more than £500 million, according to the National Audit Office. He is the most unfortunate Minister whose record is dismal, and it is a surprise that he has lasted so long, even at the Department for Transport at this stage.

We need some guarantees to ensure that the probation service is not let down again. Who is examining the existing case load of probation officers? What further resources are available to make them more effective? Is there any way of tying probation resources to the rise in the number of prisoners in our establishments? Is there some way of ensuring that more incarceration of prisoners will effectively mean more work for the probation service? A good many well-trained but disillusioned probation officers have left the service in the last few years. What is being done to bring them back into probation work?

The Minister has just announced a new targeted innovation fund. What share will voluntary organisations have in such funds in order to make the probation service more effective? The new targeted innovation fund ought to make sure that such organisations are not locked out. Of course reforms are necessary, but we should never lose sight of the fact that when the state incarcerates prisoners, it takes full responsibility for each individual. We would do well, in very difficult times, to say to ourselves that if we lose that responsibility we will lose control of our criminal justice system.

Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for their contributions. I do not accept the characterisation of these matters advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. Indeed, as I have often observed in the past, the gross overstatement of an argument simply diminishes it in the ears of hearers.

The position is that we have learned lessons over the past few years from the way in which probation was set up and carried through, as between the National Probation Service and the CRCs. Indeed, one of the difficulties that emerged arose not out of money being used to prop up CRCs, or money being taken from the taxpayer for the benefit of CRCs, but because the Government was actually too successful in negotiating the commercial terms of the CRC contracts, with the result that the CRCs made persistent losses on these contracts of such magnitude that they began to withdraw from the quality of service they should have provided in the first place. That created very real difficulties, and we accept that. We actually had to go to the CRCs and try to renegotiate in order to keep them on a reasonable path of provision.

One consequence of that has been that, for example, CRCs have paid out more than £9 million in respect of what are called service credits—which are, for them, service debits; they are credits to the taxpayer but debits to the shareholders of these companies—because of their failure to reach performance targets. So we responded to the very real difficulties that emerged in that context.

We are now developing a system whereby we will have the probation service on a regional basis. These regions will be coterminous with the PCCs, in the hope that, going forward, there will be greater linkage between the PCCs and the probation service. We will have a director-general of probation, which I think accords with a recommendation that has just been made in the interim report issued today by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who was commissioned by the noble Baroness’s honourable friend, who I believe continues to be the shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Richard Burgon MP, who asked the noble Lord to look at this.

On the question of U-turning on nationalisation, I will quote from the interim report of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He says:

“There is no doubt that the private sector has brought rigour to the oversight of probation. The best of them explained how they had introduced a forward-looking culture of delivering more with less, which must have relevance for the future, plus a better understanding of the relationship between cost and delivery”.

We are seeking to build on those benefits, appreciating that there were also deficits in the way in which CRCs delivered at the end of the day.

To take up the particular point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, we are concerned to ensure that the voluntary sector has access to these contracts going forward. Indeed, one of the difficulties that emerged with CRCs was that, as they fell into greater financial difficulty, they drew back from their engagement with the voluntary sector and we therefore lost the immense benefit of that sector’s involvement in the probation service.

Taking this forward, we hope to re-establish clear, unambiguous faith in—for example—non-custodial sentences so that the courts can have more confidence in putting those forward and thereby, touching again on a point made by the noble Lord, relieve pressure on the prison system itself by virtue of an improved probation service.

Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that in its earlier chapters the probation service attained an outstanding reputation and public confidence because of the quality, wisdom, experience and insight of its staff? That is crucial to the operation. Does he not also agree that, while there may be an argument about what happened in the last phase, there is very little doubt that, among many people, its reputation seemed to be in jeopardy as short cuts were taken and that there was a perception that the probation service had become an extension of the custodial system and had rather lost the purpose it was there to fulfil? Does he not therefore agree that, whatever happens—and we wish the new system well—commitment, quality of staff and the relationship and friendships that have to be built up between the officers and the people with whom they are dealing will be absolutely crucial?

Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

My Lords, I without hesitation and qualification commend the professionalism, integrity and ability of the staff within the probation service. That is why we are intent on implementing a statutory professional regulatory framework that will recognise the degree of professionalism that they have exhibited and continue to exhibit in the discharge of their demanding functions. The National Probation Service has extended its staff in recent years by about 500, and is bringing on further training of such staff. Going forward, we have appreciated the need to ensure consistency in the delivery of probation services and are not looking back to the prior form in which probation was delivered. When there were 35 probation trusts operating, with commendable staff, there were 35 ways of doing things. We have found that it is far better to try to identify a single, unified way of doing things for the entire probation service.

Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for quoting the interim report that I was required to write by the Shadow Minister for Justice. I note that he quoted my paragraph saying that not all had been lost by the community rehabilitation companies and citing the economic rigour that they had to bring to their role. Perhaps I might ask Minister two questions. First, he will have noted that the Justice Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee—plus the National Audit Office and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation—issued very critical reports of the whole transforming rehabilitation process. They said that the procedure had been rushed and unpiloted. Are the new proposals again to be rushed through unpiloted? Secondly, will the 11 areas correspond to the existing 11 government regions within which the police and crime commissioners operate, or will we have yet another division? By adopting Department for Work and Pensions boundaries, Transforming Rehabilitation completely crossed every single common-sense boundary that had been followed by the probation service for years.

Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

I am obliged to the noble Lord and welcome the fact that he has given consideration to these issues and is able to contribute to this matter with his interim report. No doubt he may take that further. On his second point, I had mentioned that the 11 proposed areas will be coterminous with PCC regions. There are more than 11 PCCs, of course, but we will ensure that the regions are coterminous so that we can develop the appropriate relationships between the PCCs and the NPS in that context. It is certainly not our intention for this to be rushed. I would mention two points: first, although the existing CRC contracts, as adjusted, run to the end of 2020, we have the ability to extend them to the spring of 2021 to have time to bring in these reforms; and, secondly, there will be a pilot in some sense because the model we are now adopting is the one we had already decided to adopt for Wales, which will be implemented from 2019. We will be able to see how this actually operates in practice before we proceed further with the rollout across the rest of England.


I love this bit:-

"When there were 35 probation trusts operating, with commendable staff, there were 35 ways of doing things. We have found that it is far better to try to identify a single, unified way of doing things for the entire probation service."

MoJ Give Evidence 2

Here we have another chunk of the recent dialogue with the Justice Committee and a bit more 'granularity':-

Q406 Victoria Prentis: It occurs to me that as part of this session I should declare that I am a trustee of Nacro and a non-practising barrister. 

You have already talked about the transition strategy. Is that part of a wider transition strategy for ensuring that there is continuous support? 

Amy Rees: The straightforward answer is absolutely. We are conscious that we now need to get to the end of the contractual period, which is likely, as Jim has just said, to be spring 2021, with everything in the best shape possible. We are going to do that in three ways: first, ongoing contract management that will continue throughout the period and is well understood; secondly, the benefit of what happened in Working Links is that we now have tried and tested contingency plans if we cannot make it to the end with any particular provider through unforeseen circumstances; and, thirdly, there will be active dialogue with the current providers about how we can best manage the transition. That is all on the CRC side of the house; there is also quite a lot we will need to do on the NPS side of the house to be ready. We are starting that work and planning now. 

Q407 Victoria Prentis: How are you going to incentivise the CRC companies to keep up the work? 

Amy Rees: First, our contractual terms are very clear about what they are obliged to do. Secondly, as we have just discussed, we have quite a lot of stabilisation measures to try to make a stable business for them going forward. In addition, we are working closely with them on how we can manage transition so that it is beneficial to both sides; and we are in active discussion, as you would expect, with trade unions about how we manage the change for the staff who will be affected. 

Q408 Bambos Charalambous: I have two points, the first of which is about the contracts. The contracts were very badly drafted in the beginning, which led to lots of problems. Has any lesson been learned from the procurement process? I think it was rushed through and that has led to untold problems now. 

Robert Buckland: Mr Charalambous, you reiterate and perhaps develop some of the points we have already discussed. I have already dealt with some of the baseline assumptions made about the type of cases that were going to be coming through the system, and the fact that we ended up with more serious offences that had to be dealt with by the NPS. That meant that fewer less serious cases would have been dealt with by the CRCs. We were also making sure that there was a full and proper understanding of the need for as stable a staff base as possible. My experience of the probation service is that we should encourage as much longevity of service and experience as possible. Nothing is better than experience, bearing in mind that we are dealing with a cohort of individuals who display all sorts of challenges. One learns from experience how to deal with them. 

More fundamentally, there is the role of probation staff and the wider public understanding of the importance of their role. I want to make sure that, in future, probation officers are valued by everybody as much as they are by people in this room and those of us who have worked with them, and that their vital role is enhanced and understood. That aspect of the reforms is going to be really important. 

To take your point, as you have heard from my officials, we are taking great care with any assumptions that are made about the future, but the big advantage of this change is that we will no longer have the division between serious and non-serious; we will have an overall framework with the regional model. Let us take an individual probation officer, for example. The inspectorate said that a caseload of more than 60 is too much. We are already mindful of that and want to help probation officers manage a lower caseload and a wider range of offences, not just all serious offences. A lot of NPS officers have had to deal with quite a serious diet of heavy cases. It is right to level that out so that there is a mixed caseload, to acknowledge the fact that it can take a very heavy toll when you are dealing with complex and challenging individuals. That wider understanding of the context is very much part of how we are going to develop the process. I take on board your comments. I think that this time, with the timescale we are talking about, we can and will do better. 

Amy Rees: TR was certainly an ambitious and innovative reform, and we acknowledge that there were two particular areas of complexity that will not exist in the new model. The first, as the Minister said, is that there will not be split offender management. That was quite difficult to contract for. We will not have to contract for offender management, which was a complicated and tricky thing to do. 

The other area was the inclusion of payment by results, which, as you can appreciate, was also a pretty tricky thing to try to contract for. We will not be doing that in the new model, so we are certainly looking to simplify the new contracts that we will be signing with new providers. 

Q409 Chair: It seems to be accepted in light of experience that payment by results was not the right model for probation. 

Amy Rees: We would certainly acknowledge that PBR added a massive level of complexity and risk that we and providers have been learning about in reality. 

Q410 Chair: You are not going to pursue it anyway; that is understood. Ms Crozier, turning to the relationship with the workforce, they have been through a good deal of upheaval and probably need some stability as well as support, don’t they? 

Sonia Crozier: Absolutely, but I have to say from my direct contact with NPS staff that the announcements have been broadly welcomed. There is a real sense that they want to get behind the changes as we go forward. Let us not forget that, whether you work in the NPS or a CRC, there is a strong culture of vocation in the probation service. People do not give up despite adversity, and that has been seen and assessed by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation; they have gone into probation areas where things are not as they should be, but people carry on. Obviously, we cannot rely on that good will forever, so the transitional work Jim will be leading has to put supports in place to make sure that we carry people forward to contract change. 

Q411 Ms Marie Rimmer: The National Audit Office said that the possibility of multiple provider failures is a live risk. How are you managing that? 

Robert Buckland: I think you are referring to the issue of what happens between now and the end of the CRC contractual period. We have already talked to the Committee about the experiences we have had, for example with Working Links, where we had to take action to make sure that another provider came in. That was done via Seetec. I am happy with regard to the transfer of undertakings, for example; it is not TUPE, but it is analogous to it. That happened in as smooth a way as possible so that staff were not unduly inconvenienced.

We took a lot of learning from that, which I think makes us very resilient if we are to face another challenge of that nature between now and the end of 2020. Wales is leading the way, because by the end of 2019 we will have a unified service up and running. That has been a very important source of information to equip officials with the wherewithal to deal with any failure. 

We have to be mindful of the fact that it would not be right, according to competition rules, to slot another private provider into a region because of the 25% rule, so there would have to be another solution, which will be a GovCo solution. We have thought ahead on this. We have had the experience already and we will put it to good use if needed. It is my belief that the provisions and contingencies we have made in order to support the CRCs will be enough to carry them through to the end of 2020, but we are ready if there is an issue. 

Q412 Ms Marie Rimmer: How are you going to monitor it as it goes along, without waiting until it collapses? 

Amy Rees: As you would expect, we monitor these contracts really carefully. Since the lifetime of the contract, we have been in active dialogue, hence the changes we made to the contracts over the last couple of years. We will be in even more active dialogue now about how we manage transition. We have an existing experienced contract management team that will continue to monitor the health of those contracts going forward. 

Q413 Ms Marie Rimmer: Our report was deeply concerned that the voluntary sector was less involved in probation than before the TR reforms were implemented, which was an unintended consequence. What is the MOJ doing about that? 

Robert Buckland: Perhaps I could preface the remarks and then Jim can come in. On the basis of what I said before, we think the new model, with its direct link between the NPS and providers, means there will be room for smaller localised organisations, whether it is the third sector or other types of organisation, to provide localised tailored support. I talked earlier to the Committee about co-commissioning with police and crime commissioners. You make an absolutely fair point. That was lost in the mix when it came to previous provision. We do not want to do that. In short, we are going to design a system to make sure that we can and will involve the smaller organisations. Jim might want to come in on that. 

Jim Barton: I have a couple of minor additional points. As the Minister pointed to, we are consciously designing the shape of the new market in a way that reduces barriers to entry for the voluntary sector. For the innovation partners, we intend to put in place larger contracts aligned with the future NPS regions. The first thing we are doing is fundamentally changing the payment mechanism. As we have already referenced, there will be no payment by results. Therefore, the financial sums that organisations need to put at risk, or have in their reserves earmarked to cover risk, will be significantly lower. That should make it possible for larger voluntary sector organisations or consortia to consider themselves credible bidders for those contracts. 

The second thing we will make sure that we do, which again is learning from transforming rehabilitation, is to provide much earlier clarity on what financial guarantees organisations need to put up, because I think that came as a slightly unpleasant shock to some organisations towards the tail-end of a procurement process, having invested a fair amount of time and effort to get there. We will make sure that people have sight up front of all the information that is relevant to them when making a decision with their trustees as to whether they can bid for contracts. 

As the Minister referenced, the second part of our market strategy is a framework or dynamic purchasing system that has consciously been chosen and will be created with the aim of reaching out to more specialist and, therefore, predominantly smaller not-for-profit organisations that can support individual offender need and specific cohorts of offenders. We have learned the lessons and we aim to apply them. 

Q414 Ms Marie Rimmer: Is the voluntary sector still strong enough to carry out the role you envisage for it? As I am sure you are aware, we have lost some incredibly good smaller providers, particularly BAME providers. Is the strength still there in the voluntary sector to provide services? 

Jim Barton: As you will know, we fund Clinks, the umbrella organisation for the sector, for a number of reasons. One is to do precisely that—to monitor the health of the sector. Their last report, “TrackTR”, was published last year, and gave some evidence that we are on a declining trajectory. It is getting worse and harder for the sector as a whole, and we acknowledge that. We will continue to work closely with Clinks and, through them, the rest of the sector during transition, because it is not in our interests for the voluntary sector to be hollowed out. 

Q415 Ms Marie Rimmer: It is going to be incredibly difficult, isn’t it? 

Amy Rees: Anecdotally, in Wales, where I am based, we have been discussing this with the VCS for longer, since last July. It is true that the market and the VCS have found the landscape more difficult, but we are reassured that there are still providers out there; they absolutely want to work with us and are in active dialogue with us about how we can strengthen them and shape the contract so that it is better for them. They need a bit more certainty for a bit longer than we have perhaps given them in the past. I am reassured that there is still a market and a vibrant sector that we can work with, but it definitely has been difficult for them over the last couple of years. 

Q416 Ms Marie Rimmer: In October, the MOJ accepted our recommendation that it should publish a workforce strategy. Indeed, we were told that the Department was working on one. By May, the MOJ said instead that it had rejected the recommendation. Why did you change position? 

Robert Buckland: Being frank, with regard to strategies, one can spend a lot of time drawing up a plan. It is far better to get on with it, and the figures are yielding some positive results. In the last year, 2018-19, we have appointed an extra 624 probation service officers, which is already a substantial increase for the NPS. My plan is to recruit more officers. We have an active recruitment campaign now; I want to see it very much focused not just on the NPS but on where there are issues with provision at the CRCs, so that we crack on with recruiting more officers there as well. 

In short, we want more probation officers doing a caseload, as I was saying, in accordance with the recommendations of the inspectorate, and handling a more mixed caseload, to acknowledge the fact that it can be a very stressful and difficult job; plus the enhancement of the role of probation officers in terms of their professional status. That is a strategy. I have set it out to the Committee, and I am happy to write to the Committee to explain it. That is our strategy. We have it, and we are going to crack on with it. 

Q417 Ms Marie Rimmer: You are using the inspector’s report and other reports, so you must have some idea of the numbers you need, and where. How do we know that it is actually happening, and when is it planned to happen? Is it keeping up to date, Ms Crozier? 

Sonia Crozier: One of the key lessons we learned from transforming rehabilitation is the cost of breaking the probation pipeline in terms of qualified officers coming through. We had a break, and it has taken us some time to recover from that, but we now have a well-rehearsed process for recruiting new officers to the National Probation Service and a commitment, as the Minister has just outlined, that, through transition, we will not break that pipeline again in preparing for the future. We have a good system now to project forward and reach out to the market, to attract graduates into the organisation. 

Q418 Ms Marie Rimmer: The Committee is still concerned about the critical shortage of probation officers. It seems to me that what you are saying is that you can give us some information and we might not need to be as concerned as we are. Would you let us have that information, please? 

Robert Buckland: Indeed. As I said, the very significant increase in appointments last year is a good sign that we are moving in a positive direction to achieve the ambition I have for the service. 

Q419 Ms Marie Rimmer: Could you let us have something that we can see and test ourselves? 

Robert Buckland: By all means. 

Ms Marie Rimmer: Thank you. 

Amy Rees: I just want to add a little bit on workforce. There is obviously recruitment, but the other important announcement we made as part of the announcement the Minister alluded to earlier is that we will be creating a statutory professional framework. That is really important, because people qualifying on day one is one issue, but going forward we have to ensure that professional learning, training and development is maintained. This is a guarantee that that will happen for everyone existing in the system and for new people coming into the system. We also think that it is a really important statement to the criminal justice system more widely about acknowledging the professionalism and the critical importance of the work that probation staff do.

Q420 Ms Marie Rimmer: We welcome the intention of implementing the independent statutory register for probation. Would you like to tell us a little more about that? Which body will own it, how will it work and when will it come into force? 

Robert Buckland: The statutory basis is the big departure. We will develop the detail of the plans as we come to the legislative stage, because it will require legislation. As Amy said, it will be a new framework of standards and excellence, which will support probation officers not just in enhancing their role but in setting a standard to which they will work, which allows the sharing of best practice. We have many examples among local probation officers of individuals doing great and innovative work. Let’s share and understand that better and spread it through the service. What better way than via a framework? To coin a phrase, it is a royal college approach, which has worked so well in other professions that I want to see it in the probation profession. 

As I was saying to you, Ms Rimmer, you do not need to convince me about their value. I have seen it for myself. What I want to do is to convince the public about their value and to understand them. I do not want them to be a forgotten corner of public service; they are a vital part of public service and, without them, we would soon notice the difference. 

Q421 Ms Marie Rimmer: Yes, we have noticed the difference. 

Sonia Crozier: I am absolutely delighted about the announcement on formal registration. That will give confidence to staff that, in future delivery of probation, there will be a commitment from us on the quality of the training they should be offered post qualification, which will give greater consistency and enhance quality. It will restore some of the sense of confidence, in the way the Minister just described, and the sense that we are not a forgotten corner of the criminal justice system but have something of value to add, in our ability both to effect change in individuals and to protect the public. 

It also gives assurance to victims of crime. Some of the most difficult conversations I have with victims, particularly of serious crime, are about their concerns whether the professionals overseeing individuals are actually properly qualified and trained to do their job. Once we have registration, it will give confidence to victims of serious crime as well—the confidence piece that the Minister so well articulated.

(To be continued)