Wednesday 30 September 2020

Justice Committee Hears From CRCs

A few days ago we covered what HMI Justin Russell had to say to the Justice Select Committee. Here we have the first instalment of what the CRCs had to say and unsurprisingly they are not happy:- 

Q31 Chair: Let us move to our second panel, all of whom are appearing virtually for us. Lady and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to help us and give evidence to us today. As there are four of you, I will ask you each to introduce yourselves. 

Suki Binning: I am Suki Binning, chief executive of the Seetec-run CRCs covering the south-west, Wales and the south-east. 

David Hood: I am David Hood. I am the vice-president of international business for MTC. I was the MD for MTC in the UK. We run London and Thames Valley CRCs. 

Chair: Yes. We met, I think, in the London context. 

David Hood: Yes, we did. 

Chair: It is nice to see you. 

Adam Hart: I am Adam Hart, the CEO of the Reducing Reoffending Partnership. We operate the two CRCs across the midlands. 

Trevor Shortt: I am Trevor Shortt. I run six of the CRCs in the east of England and across the north for Sodexo.

Q32 Chair: Thank you all very much for the introductions. Obviously, we saw from the things you said at the time that you were not best pleased when the decision was taken to end the probation delivery partnership contracts. How much of that do you think was a result of a bit of hard cheese sort of thing—“We lost these contracts. We have to defend our professional reputation”? Were you surprised when they were brought to an end? The decision was taken, rightly or wrongly. 

David Hood: I think that, yes, we were disappointed; there is no doubt about that. We had put in a lot of time and investment, and our staff had put a lot of time and investment into the work that happened over the last few years in the PDP competition. We thought we had something to offer the system going forward. 

Our primary concern now is that we are going to lose some of the innovations that were introduced over the last couple of years that have made a difference and helped the system. We also lose the prospect of the future innovation that would have come out of a mixed economy model, with private sector providers operating with the public sector. I think we lose that and it is not a good thing. For us, that was part of the disappointment. 

Q33 Chair: Can you give me an example of some of the innovations that you think might be lost? 

David Hood: From our perspective, I heard Justin Russell refer to our case management system, Omnia, which we introduced in MTC. We think that is a fundamental shift forward from the systems that are currently used in the NPS—nDelius and OASys. I agree with the point he was reflecting that was made by our staff. It is a backward step. For us, it is a fundamental tool in delivering the service, and that will be gone. 

Suki Binning: To echo some of what David said, when the decision was made to unify case management I and my staff understood the rationale behind that, particularly in light of the inspection reports that we had seen. We had also seen some very positive comments about the innovation in the CRCs in relation to behavioural change programmes. Yes, there is acknowledgment that the CRCs did not necessarily do as well on public protection, but certainly when it came to community payback programmes, my staff particularly were really enthusiastic about the probation delivery partners and the role that a mixed economy could take in probation. That was something that staff were really looking forward to. It was a significant disappointment that there was a U-turn on the probation delivery partners. 

In Wales, where we only deliver those services now, we did a poll survey the following day; 78% of staff said that they were really disappointed at the news. 

Trevor Shortt: I echo what has already been said. We were both surprised and disappointed by the decision, particularly coming just 12 months after the decision not to re-let the CRCs. Like Suki, we understood some of the backcloth to the initial decision, but our view on this was that it was a fairly uncontroversial outsourcing of some particular pieces of probation work that we had had, as CRCs, some direct experience of delivering over the past five years. 

On the second point, I echo what David said. It is ensuring that we do not lose some of the really good work that has been done over the past five years. We have somehow failed to grasp the breadth of that, particularly around the grassroots work that has been done in multidisciplinary and multi-agency ways at local level across the country. 

Q34 Chair: Mr Hart, what about you? 

Adam Hart: Incredibly disappointed is the best description, not least of all because I felt it very much played to the strengths that the CRCs have demonstrated, and indeed what the HMIP had called out as being in good shape for the most part across CRCs, or indeed excellent in some. I felt that that was the sweet spot; the PDP and the separation of case management was really playing to everybody’s strengths. We had invested a lot of time, energy and effort. Our staff are incredibly disappointed. Yes, we are incredibly disappointed with the outcome. 

Q35 Chair: What was the level of consultation you had? 

Adam Hart: I suggest that we had engagement as opposed to consultation. I think we were engaged pretty late down the line. Indeed, we were still very much turning up and participating in active procurement meetings the week before the announcements were set to be made. The disappointment came a little bit from that, but was also in terms of the engagement. It was not the very detailed suite of engagements that one might have expected would lead into consultation. It was very much an opportunity, almost singular in nature perhaps, to voice our thoughts around that eventuality, should it happen. Subsequently, it has happened. 

Q36 Chair: Are there any other views, or is it a similar picture for everybody? When the Secretary of State made the announcement, he appeared to be framing it quite substantially in terms of the disruption caused by Covid19 making delivery of the plans more complex, so they needed flexibility to deliver a national response. To what extent do you think that Covid-19 was a driver, or did it go deeper? 

Suki Binning: That is a question I am regularly asked by my staff: “Suki, can you explain how the decision was made?” I struggle to give a narrative to staff around the role that Covid played. What we would have thought would be ideal would be a period of stability, where those who are providing services at the moment—particularly around unpaid work programmes—continue to do that. We are now under huge pressure to deliver a transition plan with the backdrop of a pandemic. That is quite difficult for us.

David Hood: I echo Suki’s point. It is a question that often gets asked. I would have thought, and many of the people who work with me think, that the best situation in the Covid environment—probably emphasised by today’s announcements—is to try to keep things in all other respects as consistent as possible. If we accept the principle that the service moves back, let’s give ourselves enough time to make sure that that is done safely. 

Q37 Andy Slaughter: Could I pursue that point? You have been very frank, both in the comments that your companies made when the announcement was made and indeed in your comments to the Chair just now, which is refreshing. On the Covid point, the logic, if the Secretary of State were right, and the reason you have been excised from the services is that you could not cope effectively with a crisis, that would not say very much about your competence generally. If you disagree with that reason given for the change of service, why do you think the change has been made? 

David Hood: Probably the simple answer is that I am not sure. At the time the announcement was made, that was the explanation given. We have not been given any other explanation. At the time the announcement was made—this was partly reflected in some of Justin Russell’s comments—we were working exceptionally well with the Department to deal with the Covid circumstances. 

In very rapid time, we had deployed a new operating model. That was done with exceptional collaboration across the system and with the Department. We have continued to be flexible in meeting the needs and the demands of the current environment and the customer, the Ministry of Justice, as we have gone on. I am not sure why they would have thought that we could not deal with the Covid circumstances because, demonstrably, we were dealing with the Covid circumstances. 

Q38 Andy Slaughter: Could I ask the others to comment as well, because it is a crucial point? Either the Secretary of State is right and you were not up to coping with running the service during a time of crisis, or he is wrong, in which case there must be another reason. Which is it, and what is the answer? It cannot be that you do not know. 

Adam Hart: The first three months of the Covid crisis were very telling, in the fact that I think we rose to the challenge incredibly well. We spun on a sixpence in terms of the continuity arrangements that we had ready to go. I think the data bears out the performance across the CRCs, which was just slightly ahead of the NPS’s own performance when it came to the offender management contacts that we were able to continue with. I think in Mr Russell’s statements he was giving figures of 75% and 80% of contacts being retained, which is a pretty high figure in the very early period. 

I can only say that I think it is a question for the Secretary of State, but from my vantage point, running a couple of the CRCs in the system, we responded incredibly well in a very collaborative space. HMPPS and NPS were incredibly collaborative in those first few months as well. I believe it worked very well. I cite it as a very good example of co-operation and good working practice. 

Trevor Shortt: I won’t repeat what has already been said; I agree with both the previous witnesses. The only other comment I would make is that there is some rationale in the decision around the issue of volumes playing into the future competition. Our view as an organisation is that those volumes could have been dealt with commercially, but it was a risk in relation to Covid. That was something new and needed to be factored into the competition. 

Q39 Andy Slaughter: We seem to agree that Covid is an excuse perhaps for the reason for taking the services back in-house. Surely, it must be that the current Government formed the view that this was not a model that was working, which was a lot of people’s view at the time the experiment was set up. There is nothing inherently good or bad about a mixed economy model, but a lot of people had concerns that the probation service had moved over to that model. That now appears to be a concern that the current Government share. 

I can understand that you would not share that, but what do you think of the new model? What do you think is the future for any private sector role in the probation service?

Adam Hart: I do not agree with that particular side of the jigsaw. However, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the significant challenges in the first few years of the CRCs; we did not get everything right. 

The biggest frustration that we have, and my teams have, is that a lot of those things have been corrected, including by the Ministry of Justice in terms of the funding parameters. There is demonstrable improvement. Again, I cite the HMIP reports that came out over the last six months. They have seen an improving trajectory, with some CRCs moving from a lower rating to a good rating, and the overall score actually increasing. There is a little frustration that we have bedded in a system and overcome immense challenges. The MOJ recognised the structural underfunding and addressed that from December this year. We have seen improvements across CRCs. There is much more work to go, but that is what I would like to start us off with, if I may, because that is the backdrop that I see. 

In moving that forward into the future, it is important to take stock of all the challenges and innovations that have been overcome and embedded in the CRC structure and system. We are potentially in danger of losing all that good groundwork. I invite others to come in on that. 

Suki Binning: With regard to the new model, we have spoken about the strengths of the mixed market in terms of unpaid work. The other issue we had was that the first set of reforms, which I was party to, having worked in the public sector for two decades, was rushed. It again appears that we are rushing into another set of reforms without taking the time to look at alternative models. 

We had a moment in time when, as a system, we could have looked at alternative models that were best for those serving custodial sentences and community orders, and linking into local governance such as PCCs. I think that was a missed opportunity. I do not think we took the time to look at alternative models. We reacted to the issues with the current contracts and put in a solution too quickly. 

Q40 Andy Slaughter: For those of you who came from a public sector background—I suspect many of the Members here have had dealings with their local probation services over many years—there was no real demand, I felt, coming from within the probation service that the solution was to externalise, privatise or introduce a mixed economy. Do you think with hindsight that that was done in the wrong way or too hastily? Again, a number of us have had involvement with your private organisations in other roles, which have not been entirely successful. What would you say was wrong about that, and what would you do differently? 

Suki Binning: On the original reforms, we have rehearsed that the issues were around funding and volumes. Justin mentioned that as well. 

Q41 Andy Slaughter: But, to interrupt, you knew about the funding situation. It is all right with hindsight to say that it was because the funding was wrong, but you knew about that at the time. 

Suki Binning: But having been in the public sector for 20 years, what we thought worked really well was the mixed economy and having an approach that brought in innovation. Certainly, I saw investment from my parent company in terms of IT, estates strategy and the ability to respond very quickly to local needs. For instance, when my local criminal justice board and my police forces started to see a rise in stalking offences, we put in place a programme, which was the first of its kind in the UK, to deal with stalking. We were able to do that because we were fleet of foot. For me, those were some of the advantages of moving from the public sector to the mixed economy sector. 

Q42 Richard Burgon: I have two questions. First of all, I want to turn to some comments made by the former chief inspector of probation, who concluded in 2019 that the model for the part-privatisation of probation was, in her words, “irredeemably flawed”. She also identified, crucially, that it was not possible to reduce probation work to a series of contractual requirements. 

I would like to ask each member of the panel whether you agree with this assessment or do you think that the previous chief inspector got it wrong?

David Hood: On the first point, the point that Justin Russell made in his evidence is important: the expectation around the level of investment available through the period of the contracts was significantly greater than turned out to be the case. If the expectation had been met, I think we would have seen very different outcomes from the model. As we got towards the back end of the contracts, the improvements as things became more stable reflect that fact. We cannot underplay the significance of the commercial and funding environment. 

On whether you can reduce these types of services to contracts, I would accept that there are challenges around that. You need to work hard at it, but it is possible. In London, for example, we came to arrangements with the Department around delivering our services according to a series of quality metrics that were not reflected in the original contract. That was in the end us taking a position that said the Department was going to have to make some inevitably subjective judgments around what quality meant. We were prepared to accept that, because we all felt that in the end we could get to the same place on what good looked like. I accept that it is difficult, but I do not accept that it is impossible. 

Adam Hart: I will not repeat what David said, but I echo it. There was the benefit of knowing the levels of improvement within the CRCs, as indicated from subsequent HMIP reports, and the addressing of the funding model and indeed the additional funding that has gone into enhanced through-the-gate services, among other services. I am not sure all of that was prevalent at the time the report was written, so with the benefit of hindsight perhaps some of those factors would be included in the report. 

In terms of the contracts, measurement of a real-life situation is always difficult to contractualise. I and others have seen successful implementations of that pan-Government, in many of the Government Departments that have managed to do something not too dissimilar. It takes a great deal of trust and flexibility on both the commissioner and the provider parts to come up with the right types of measures, especially around quality, to be able to suggest that it can be measured, and that outcomes can equally be measured, as well as quality. 

I think it is possible to place relevant measures in a contractual setting that works and gives the public the protection requirement, first and foremost. It requires an amount of energy and an amount of rehabilitative activity towards an individual. I believe that both can be achieved through a contract. 

Q43 Richard Burgon: Secondly, I obviously understand that people from CRCs are going to defend their organisations. It is part of their remit as part of those organisations. We need to be clear that the Government were forced into the embarrassing U-turn to bring probation back into public hands after the part-privatisation was found to have left the public less safe. It also racked up hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of public money in bail-outs to the outsourced companies. What are you doing to ensure that the public are not further ripped off or endangered before this part-privatisation, which has been a disaster, is finally brought to an end? 

Chair: Who wants to respond to that? You do not have to agree with all the propositions. 

Suki Binning: When the south-west and Wales CRCs went into administration, the Department undertook a process to look at what would be the best way to ensure that services did not fall down. I understand that proposals were put in by the public sector and by us as a current provider. The decision was made for us as an organisation to step into those areas and provide a service. 

We have stabilised the service in Wales and the south-west. I have spoken with the staff who have gone through that process and can now start to see that we are protecting the public. We have invested resources to bring the organisation back to a steady state. We have definitely played our part in protecting the public and giving taxpayers value for money. 

David Hood: On the second point, we are committed to make sure that services are transferred back in a safe way. In the meantime, we will continue to ensure that they are delivered as best they can be. 

On the first point, it is not quite right to characterise what the Department did as in all respects a bail-out. What I am talking about is separate from the Working Links situation. What the Department did over recent years was to make sensible adjustments to the contract and in doing so was able to return some of the expected funding back to the service. That is part of the reason why, as we move towards the end of the contracts, the environment has been more stable; there has been an ability for us to plan financially year on year in a way that we had not been able to do previously. 

Q44 Chair: Mr Hart, do you want to add anything? 

Adam Hart: It is very much akin to what David Hood was saying. The proof of the pudding is in the fact that there was a very substantial underspend when it came to the services that were originally procured for the CRCs. That would intimate to me that there has not been a mass bailout. I do not recognise bail-out, so I would like to say for the record that I do not believe we have received any bail-out. We have managed to adjust to a system that now has the potential to work. The previous system did not in terms of its funding mechanisms. 

Trevor Shortt: I echo what the others have said. The structural underfunding at the beginning was a critical factor in where we got to mid-term. It is worth saying that the cost of a CRC place is significantly less than a place in the NPS. As we look to the future, that will be levelled up. 

The issue now, as David said, is that as we look to the future we can ensure that our services are handed across in a way that ensures the confidence of the public on the one hand, critically, but also that we do not lose some of the really good work that has been going on, in the rapid transition that we are now facing against the context of the uncertainty of Covid.

To be continued

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Napo Evidence

I notice that Napo have supplied written evidence to the Justice Select Committee inquiry into the future of the probation service:-

Written evidence from Napo the Professional Association and Trade Union for Probation and Family Court Staff 

Question 2The new model aims to strengthen integration between prisons and probation by integrating through the gate roles, processes and products with sentence management. What is you view on this and do you anticipate any gaps? 

  • Through the gate has not worked in the past - a lot more work needs to be carried out to make it effective. 
  • I think it is a good idea and will offer more opportunities for staff. 
Question 3 - How can the NPS ensure that it maintains the innovation and best practice achieved during Transforming Rehabilitation reforms? 

  • Hand the cases in prison back to probation officers in the community as they were before so that work is done for release by trained professionals who complete the work and don't lock it off to simply tick a box with nothing in it. 
  • Keep the partnership working achieved by CRCs in place. 
  • By having productive dialogue regarding what works. MTC has, to be fair, worked hard to raise standards. 
Question 4 - CRC and NPS staff are being brought back together under the new model. In your view how is this transition being managed? 


Lots of unknowns at the moment so it is hard to comment. I think CRCs are more in the dark than NPS colleagues, as all communications regarding the transition are coming from the NPS and many of the links on the documents the CRC staff can’t access as we are not on the system. Poorly so far. Despite less than a year to go information is not being shared so staff know what to expect. Lack of confidence in transition plans. 

Question 5 - What support is being offered to you by your current organisation? 


Emails from Napo. 

Question 6 - How are probation clients being supported through transition by your current organisation? 

  • I don’t believe they are being supported as yet. Staff don’t really know what's going on with the transition so it's difficult to support the Clients  
  • They aren't being told anything and staff have no information to share as we are in the dark. 
Question 7 - In your view what is the most significant impact of Covid-19 on probation? 

  • The immediate impact and the anticipated long- term impact. The most significant impact is that the service has seen that they can trust their staff to work effectively from home. This trust was lacking before. It has also reduced the stress of travel and improved work life balance and for me, it has resulted in me being happier. 
  • With regards to service users, they have been more open during contact and we are all aware of our own vulnerabilities. In the longer term it is hoped that remote working will continue as it has been beneficial to the service and service users. 
  • Working more from home - not being able to have face to face with service users – Covid-19 within NPS has been all about ticking boxes - dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. 
  • Proven ability that staff can work from home more often. However, there is a significant impact in the courts in terms of adjournments for breaches. Unpaid Work and Programmes also have a significant backlog which will further impact the court when Offender Managers have to apply for extensions of orders.  
16 September 2020

Sunday 27 September 2020

Political Assaults on Journalism

Following yesterday's brilliant Guest Blog and Friday's important but rather turgid Select Committee evidence, I feel compelled to go 'off piste' with yet more evidence of how the pandemic is providing perfect cover for sociopath Dominic Cummings to continue his anarchic and disruptive games that threaten so many aspects of our democratic structures. This from the Guardian/Observer has his grubby fingers all over it:-  

Hardline BBC critics reportedly offered top media roles

Boris Johnson is reported to have offered jobs at the head of two of Britain’s most important media organisations to two outspoken critics of the BBC. Paul Dacre, former editor of the Daily Mail, has been asked to run the national broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, while Lord Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph and biographer of Margaret Thatcher, is believed to be considering accepting the role of chairman of the BBC.

The provocative choice of two such hardline anti-BBC voices has prompted anger and dismay across the broadcasting and entertainment industry. Speaking to the Observer on Saturday evening the Labour peer Andrew Adonis summed up the response of many to the news. “If true this is Cummings operating straight out of the Trump playbook with the intent to undermine our democratic institutions.”

The former government minister continued: “These would be really disgraceful appointments. Neither Paul Dacre at Ofcom nor Charles Moore at the BBC would believe in the mission of the institution they are running. Dacre demonstrably doesn’t believe in impartially and statutorily regulated media and Moore doesn’t believe in public service broadcasting, as his refusal to pay the licence fee demonstrates.”

But reactions on Saturday evening were not all predictable. Even the iconoclastic Jeremy Clarkson, not normally aligned with the affronted liberal reaction, has spoken of his shock at the news. “I’d rather drive my lambo off a cliff than see Charles Moore as chairman,” he said. “BBC will go up in flames like one of my caravans.”

“Coffin. Nail. UK” was the simple comment on Twitter on Saturday evening of the film star Hugh Grant, who has campaigned for press regulation. The former editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger has also suggested that the fabric of British society is under attack. “Paul Dacre to run Ofcom, Charles Moore to run the BBC. Because Boris wants them. No process. NO joke. This is what an oligarchy looks like.”

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, tweeted more in sorrow than anger. “In a week when a genuinely great editor like Harry Evans has died, only Boris Johnson could resurrect Paul Dacre.” Jo Stevens, the shadow culture secretary, said: “Throughout this crisis, one of Boris Johnson’s overriding priorities has been handing out cushy jobs, public contracts and taxpayers’ cash without proper scrutiny. People are worried about their jobs and health. The prime minister should be showing the leadership our country needs, not seeking undue influence over our independent institutions.”

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP, said the potential appointments were a desperate attempt by No 10 to “wind up the other side of the culture war”. He added: “These are people who are in power and are determined not to be held to account. It’s almost a laughable move.”

One veteran British broadcaster pointed out that Moore has not only refused to buy a television licence, but has boasted in the past that he does not watch television. “He is a journalist with no knowledge of running any institution and zero interest in broadcasting.”

A long-term BBC manager told the Observer that the appointments of two rightwing Brexiters, should they go ahead, showed a lack of faith in the industry and would eventually lead to commercialisation and an end to home-grown talent and entertainment shows.

Dacre, a hate-figure on the left but a defender of press freedom, is said by the Sunday Times to be in talks about the role at Ofcom and was approached by the prime minister in February, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. He is believed to be trying to ascertain how much freedom he would have to crack down on supposed BBC bias and to strip the corporation back to its core public service remit.

Moore is said to be on the brink of signing up for the job at the BBC, although he will have to weather an incoming storm about the fact the job was not properly advertised. If he takes the chairman’s seat, it will clear the way for the decriminalisation of non-payment of the BBC licence fee, something which would hit BBC revenue by around £200m a year.

A government spokesman said the application process for the new chair of the BBC will be underway shortly, adding: “It is an open recruitment process and all public appointments are subject to a robust and fair selection criteria.”

Jean Seaton, the BBC’s official historian, said that the appointment of Moore might have been possible to defend on its own. A BBC sceptic and senior journalist might be someone’s preferred candidate. “But it is the idea of the two of them in tandem that would be such a disaster and cannot be defended,” she said.

Downing Street sources have so far attempted to calm the impending row by praising the new director general, Tim Davie, and emphasising the government’s support of public service broadcasting.


This from the New European:-

The pro-hunting anti-licence fee Brexiteer lined up to run the BBC

In a Britain where Gavin Williamson is education secretary, Suella Braverman is attorney general, Liam Fox is our candidate to lead the WTO and Priti Patel is home secretary, it comes as little surprise to hear of Boris Johnson’s supposed choice as the new chairman of the BBC Board.

As the Mail on Sunday asked, “Is Boris about to make Charles Moore – a pro-hunting, anti-licence fee Brexiteer – the new BBC chairman? (It’s the question that will have Broadcasting House wokerati choking on their turmeric lattes)”. A full house there for those of us playing Mail headline cliché bingo.

If you’ve had the good fortune to miss him, Moore is the fogeyish Tory hat-trick specialist who has not only edited all three of the Conservative Party’s house journals – the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, plus the Spectator – but also wrote three punishing volumes of Margaret Thatcher’s 2,848-page biography. You might also know him as the pundit, who, in August last year, attacked actual national treasure Olivia Colman for having a “left wing face” which made her unsuitable to play the Queen in Netflix’s The Crown.

Old Etonian Moore later explained that, “the Queen’s mouth expresses an acceptance – strong‑minded yet gentle – of whatever life may throw at her. Ms Colman’s has that hint of complaint and hauteur which is such a feature of the educated left”. Conceding the actor’s point that you did not need to look exactly like someone to play them, he added that this was “why it is ridiculous to attack actors for blacking up”. A bold rejection, that, of the first law of holes (‘when you are in a hole, stop digging’).

But then, as Moore declared earlier this month, “newspaper columnists are paid to have opinions. If we express these loud and clear, this sometimes successfully conceals the fact that our opinions can be idiotic”. Alas, it seems that both his volume and clarity knobs have been defective for some time, as evidenced by his thoughts in 2016 on the tragedy of the Tory leader who took Britain into the referendum: “You often hear of people being ‘trapped in poverty’, but it is also possible to be trapped in wealth. This is David Cameron’s fate.”

Not long after the War of Colman’s Face, Moore launched the Battle of the NHS Bulge, telling readers that “nurses and ancillary staff… are often disproportionately tubby” and wondering “are they discouraged from eating too many American-style muffins?” He is in favour of the restoration of imperial measurements (“I bet petrol prices would be forced down if we could see the enormous cost of a gallon”, he wrote recently) and against what he sees as coronavirus hype.

In March he appeared to think the biggest problem facing Britain was a lack of coffins due to panic-buying. “People are not, so far, dying in unusual numbers (but) without coffins, body bags may have to be permitted,” Moore wrote. “Unless properly informed, the public will assume the coffin shortage is because ‘people are dying’ in unprecedented quantities”. Helpfully, the British public soon cleared up any ambiguity by actually dying in unprecedented quantities. Still, none of this silliness disqualifies Moore from becoming chair of the BBC board.

What should disqualify him is his undisguised loathing for the BBC and its staff. In the past few weeks, he has written that Auntie is in the middle of “a cultural revolution against being white, being British, being male and taking pride in our history and culture”.

He claims that people within it are “mutinously determined” to assist the EU, and says the organisation exhibits “weakness masquerading as liberal virtue” which means “direct bias has been permitted almost unpunished. This is visible… in famous cases, like Emily Maitlis’s diatribe against Dominic Cummings”. A diatribe for which Maitlis, you might remember, actually was punished.

When the BBC needs a defender it is getting a defunder, who believes the licence fee is “an offence to freedom” and who hints at scrapping Radios 1 and 2, together with unnamed “entertainment channels”. In January he wrote “I do not necessarily disagree that some things on the BBC – notably Radio 3 and 4 – are good for our culture. If they are, ways, such as subscription, can be found of paying for them.”

What on earth is the point of hiring as the figurehead of the BBC someone who not only despises much of its output, its employees and its means of funding but actually despises the organisation itself and proposes breaking it up into smithereens? You might as well put Greta Thunberg in charge of the third runway at Heathrow. Or David Frost in charge of the Brexit trade negotiations.

The answer is that appointing Moore or someone like him will help the prime minister’s special adviser to do what he does best – create an atmosphere of fear and pressure which leads BBC dissenters to quit (see his ongoing work in the Conservative Party and the civil service).

In any choice between the British Broadcasting Corporation and the bully Dominic Cummings, Johnson is picking the BDC over the BBC every time.


All this has to be viewed in the context of the on-going war between No 10 and the media with the disgraceful boycott of Piers Morgan at ITV's Good Morning Britain, Emily Maitless at BBC Newsnight and Jon Snow at Channel 4 News.  All completely respectable and responsible public broadcasters, but all with a track record of doing their public and democratic duty of holding a government to account.  

Readers will recall how things escalated with Boris Johnson refusing to be interviewed by 'challenging' journalists such as BBC's Andrew Neil during the December general election. Both he and Channel 4 really angered No 10 by 'empty chairing' and in Neil's case, memorably shaming Boris Johnson in a coruscating and damning statement to camera. I still wonder if this defiant action lies behind the surprising decision by the BBC to cancel his popular political shows and the very public falling out after some 30 years with the Corporation. But Neil is not only leaving, he's setting up a rival channel. This from BBC website:-

Broadcaster Andrew Neil has paid tribute to the BBC after announcing he will be leaving after 25 years.

The 71-year-old journalist is to become chairman of new TV channel GB News, which is due to launch early next year. He said he was leaving the BBC, where he has presented shows such as Daily Politics and helped front its election coverage, with a "heavy heart". The BBC said he had "informed and entertained millions of viewers" over the years.

Neil's last appearance for the BBC will be in early November when he will help lead its coverage of the US presidential election. The former Sunday Times editor has been at the heart of the BBC's political coverage for the best part of three decades. As well as presenting Daily Politics and its successor Politics Live, he was the host of the popular late-night discussion show This Week for many years. His penetrating and often combative general election interviews with party leaders won him wide critical acclaim.

He was involved in a row with Downing Street prior to last year's election when he publicly challenged Boris Johnson on air to appear on his show, saying his absence from the screens represented a "question of trust". The PM was the only one of the main party leaders not to be questioned by Neil.

Earlier this year, the BBC said the weekly Andrew Neil Interview show, which had been broadcast since 2019, would not be recommissioned but it was in discussion with him about other formats. Announcing his departure, Neil said these discussions had not come to fruition and he had decided to take the role of chair of GB News, where he will also host a daily show.

"With heavy heart I announce I will be leaving the BBC," he wrote on Twitter. "Despite sterling efforts by new DG (director general) to come up with other programming opportunities, it could not quite repair damage done when Andrew Neil Show cancelled early summer." He thanked everyone who had helped him during his time at the BBC, describing them as the "best of the best" and saying the corporation "will always be special to me".

In a statement, the BBC said it would like to give its "heartfelt thanks" to Neil, describing him as a "formidable and talented broadcaster. For years, he was at the heart of the irreverent and much-loved This Week and played a key role in the Daily and Sunday Politics, Politics Live and the BBC's general election coverage," it said. "We are sorry the US election coverage will be his last BBC presentation for the foreseeable future but he will always be welcome at the BBC." GB News is a new 24-hour news channel which will compete with the BBC, ITV and Sky News. Its financial backers include the US media giant Discovery. 

The BBC's media editor Amol Rajan said its launch and Neil's signing was a "big moment for British culture".


I'll wrap this up with a reminder of how vitally important independent journalism is to a democracy with news of the passing of Harold Evans last week. I grew up being an avid reader of the Sunday Times and still have a vast collection of their ground-breaking photojournalistic magazines. This from Amol Rajan BBC Media editor:-

Sir Harold Evans: Crusading editor who exposed Thalidomide impact dies aged 92

Harry Evans personified not only the noblest possibilities of journalism, but of social mobility in the 20th Century too. Born into what he called "the respectable working-class", his route to national and international acclaim via the streets of Manchester and Darlington - the latter as editor of the Northern Echo - is sadly a route few take today. He embodied the most romantic ideal of an editor: a humble hack taking on mighty forces through the dogged pursuit of truth.

Though he later fell out with Rupert Murdoch, and never forgave him, in his 14 years at the helm of the Sunday Times he redefined journalism itself. He was a master craftsman, in a trade where practical wisdom was precious and vital; and he combined a flair for layout, projection and design with a remarkable nose for a story, particularly those with human suffering at their heart.

But above all he was brave. During his reign, it seemed no super-rich bully or powerful government could intimidate him. In our era of information overload, diminished trust in journalism, and fewer people willing to pay for news, the nostalgia for what he represented is impossible to resist. As he put it himself in the title of his wonderful memoir from 2009, he reached the top in Vanished Times. He had the resources, and the time, to hold power to account - and he did uniquely well. Mixed with his charm and sheer decency, this put journalism itself in a debt to him that will never be fully serviced.

Journalists have paid tribute to his campaigning work on the Thalidomide scandal and other injustices. Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian, said he was a "master craftsman of journalism" who "was the editor we all wanted to be". Andrew Neil, a former editor of the Sunday Times, described Sir Harold as the "greatest editor of his generation" and one with an "unerring instinct for a story".

Author Robert Harris told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Sir Harold was an outsider coming in to the Sunday Times, the "son of a railway man who wanted to take on the establishment".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who once worked as a journalist at the Times newspaper, described Sir Harold as a "true pioneer of investigative journalism" who "will always be remembered" for "tirelessly campaigning on behalf of those who were affected" by the Thalidomide scandal that he exposed.

'Giant among journalists'

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "Sir Harold Evans was a giant among journalists who strove to put the ordinary man and woman at the heart of his reporting." And Glen Harrison, a Thalidomide survivor and deputy chairman of the campaign group Thalidomide UK, described Sir Harold as "an outstanding human being for our cause".

After leaving the Times, Sir Harold and his second wife, Tina Brown, moved to New York. She edited Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, while he became founding editor of Conde Nast magazine. In 2011, at the age of 82, Sir Harold was appointed editor-at-large at Reuters, the organisation's editor-in-chief describing him as "one of the greatest minds in journalism".

Saturday 26 September 2020

Guest Blog 79

We Can be Heroes (Hidden ones)!

29.09.20 is Thank you #HiddenHeroesDay, celebrating and giving thanks for the outstanding service of the #HiddenHeroes working in our prisons, IRCs, probation and youth justice services, especially during the covid-19 outbreak. The Butler Trust will be hosting an event to mark the day, and prisons, probation offices and youth justice services up and down the country will be holding local events of their own. 

Prompted by an advert I saw on the side of a bus I googled #HiddenHeroes and was directed to the website by The Butler Trust. The explanation jumped out and told me to “celebrate the heroes in our NHS at this time, and don’t forget the #HiddenHeroes working on in prisons, IRCs, probation and youth justice services”. Okie dokie, I took the bait and reminded myself of a brave former Chief Probation Officer (Sarah Billiald) who publicly accused Grayling of dismantling the probation service and stated “the probation service may be anonymous but we'd sure as hell notice if it wasn't there".

This will not be a popular post, but the problem is I wasn’t a fan of Clap for Carers Thursday and I’m not a fan of Hidden Heroes Day either. In my view, everyday is a day to clap and recognise carers and keyworkers. A clap and a tweet doesn’t provide resources, doesn’t improve working conditions, doesn’t provide protection from the abuse and health risks, doesn’t increase the salary and certainly doesn’t help to pay the bills. I’m not a fan of the Butler Trust or selective staff award systems, and I’m not a fan of the HRH representatives that hand out it’s certificates. Every year I hear stories of the managerially endorsed few that become ‘winners’, but not in all cases mind.

Similar to the BAFTA’s and Oscars, the Butler’s are a bit of a popularity contest and the group photos always lack colour and diversity. Even it’s website image of its “Staff & helpers at the 2016 Awards in St James’s Palace” has only one visible BAME person present. Similar to the Probation union Napo that doesn’t adequately represent probation, its Probation Journal that rarely reflects true probation practice, and the Probation Institute that isn’t a widely recognised institute for probation, it’s difficult to understand the purpose of the Butler Trust or why it’s perpetuating the view we are ‘hidden’.

The Butler Trust claims to “promote the excellence of and to pay tribute to prisons, IRCs, probation and youth justice”. Typically, “Probation” gets hidden in third place on the list. It will never be a sexy or glittering career and we do like to be anonymous, but we are far from hidden or invisible. We sit in courts, prisons and local community offices, and are not so hidden with the phones and tannoys going off. I’d be rich if I had a shilling for every time a local or statutory agency needed my help, or an offender’s legal or family representatives demanding my time. Probation only seems to be hidden when we’re either doing something good or suffering in silence, so make us 'Unhidden'!

We could of just been mainstream 'Heroes' instead of making us second-rate pretenders like DC Comics or the Justice League. Probation is not very hidden at the moment now we’re on the government’s list of essential services. It’s quite visible that most probation colleagues are currently commuting to work every day in the midst of a pandemic. This means busy journeys on public transport and traffic clogged roads. It’s quite visible that some of us arrive at dirty, disgusting and unsafe probation offices to work full days with poor resources. Probation work is quite visible to the offenders, partnership agencies and probation managers that we are working flat out. It’s quite visible to some of the local residents and businesses that do not want our probation offices and hostels in their vicinity. It’s quite visible to our families that many of us work long hours and try really hard not to bring home the stresses of the insurmountable risks and pressures we work under for peanuts.

Probation was not hidden when Chris Grayling privatised it, “an act of vandalism based on ideology”, leading to understaffing and judges and magistrates losing confidence in probation. Probation is still suffering from that loss of staff numbers, skills and experience. Much of its provision remains delivered by the private sector and its policies and procedures aggressively controlled by the prison service. The pending probation reunification will not fully put Humpty (NPS) and Dumpty (CRC) back together again into a pre-TR mould.

Probation was not hidden when HMIP graded probation areas and trusts as “unsatisfactory”. Politicians have publicly stated that too often probation appeared “stretched to breaking point and struggling to fulfil its fundamental role of keeping the public safe”.

Probation was not hidden when the HMIP graded CRCs unfit for purpose because of privatisation. Wikipedia hasn’t hidden that CRCs were “failing victims, with a significant lack of understanding about domestic abuse, and routinely underestimating the ongoing danger posed to the victim and not reassessing the level of risk”.

Probation was not hidden when a banker was killed by men on probation, when the taxi cab rapist was being paroled, when an IPP offender wasn’t recalled to prison and when all those probation officers investigated for doing their jobs were thrown under the bus by SFO investigation teams. I’ve dipped a toe in the Atlantic Ocean of complaints because we regularly hear about the “serious offences committed by people supervised by the probation service”.

Probation was not hidden when it was controlled by the folly of NOMS, when it was merged with the prison service to become HMPPS and when it was placed under the dictatorship of the Civil Service. We’ve become more controlled since 2012, and when addressing the House of Lords, Lord Ramsbotham stated, the “Probation Service has no senior probation official in the ‘ridiculous NOMS’. So an awful lot is being said and done about the Probation Service without there being any proper Probation Service advice at the heart of what is happening”. Until probation is released from the civil service and prison dominated culture it will never be more than the forgotten ‘P’ in HMPpS.

Probation was not hidden when it was included in the public sector pay freeze between 2010 and 2017. It wasn’t hidden when the NPS failed to pay the promised pay progression due in April 2020. Despite negotiations, the NPS failed to get the necessary sign-off from the Treasury to pay the increment which is still outstanding. This government cannot find a hidden penny to increase pay for already underpaid probation staff, yet ministers have given themselves a pay rise and bailed out the failing CRCs and their owners to the tune of over £342 million. This didn’t stop probation senior managers receiving £1500 monthly during the lockdown to lead from the front (room of their houses). We’re only hidden when it matters, like when Robert Buckland in 2019 announced a pay rise for prison officers, and when it was announced that public sector workers, including doctors, teachers and police officers will see above inflation pay rises this year. Probation was not on the list.

What they do keep hidden is that probation was once a gold standard service built on evidence based practice and rooted in the local community and partnering with local specialist providers. That was until Chris Grayling came along and ‘transformed rehabilitation’. On 29.09.20 my diary will not read ‘Hidden Heroes Day’ because the Butler Trust, the Ministry of Justice, HMPPS and the Probation Divisional Directors will not be speaking, writing and tweeting about the poor pay and conditions. They won’t be stating that probation doesn’t work because of austerity, the lack of resources, and the absence of wider social provision and access to services. They won’t mention the countless probation colleagues fallen by the wayside due to the stress, pressure and abuse, the blame culture, the intrusive police and security vetting, and just being fed up.

Probation Officer

Friday 25 September 2020

Justice Committee Hears From Justin Russell

On Tuesday, in connection with its inquiry into the future of the Probation Service, the Justice Committee took oral evidence from HMI Justin Russell, together with representatives from several CRCs. I've waited until written publication of the exchanges as I suspect there is much that will be of interest to readers. A long but important first part:-   

Q1 Chair: Our first witness, who is with us in the room, is Justin Russell, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of probation. Welcome, and it is very good to see you again, Mr Russell. 

Justin Russell: Thank you and thanks for having me. 

Chair: Thank you very much for coming to help us. Perhaps we can cut to the chase because we have seen a good deal of written evidence, of course, about the inquiry, and your work is familiar to us in any event. 

What a lot of people might be thinking is this: the probation service now is going through its second major reform in five years. The first was pretty substantial, with the CRCs and so on—a major reform; and now another major reform is going in the opposite direction. I suppose people might ask what confidence we can have that the new model will stick and that we are going to get a lasting solution that we can deliver on. As the person who is charged with inspecting the service, what is your take on that? 

Justin Russell: You are right to say that a lot of people hope that this new model will stick. It is the fourth major restructuring in over 20 years, following previous restructurings, so it is very important for everyone working in the service that they get some stability going forward. 

I do not think structural reform by itself will necessarily bring that stability. It is very important that it is backed up with real resources, strong leadership and the right performance framework. All of those elements have to be in place. Merely shifting boundaries around while changing the structures will not by themselves necessarily bring substantial improvements in quality. 

Q2 Chair: Some of the Committee’s findings and reports were quite critical of the previous structure and the fragmentation. Did that fit with the evidence that the inspectorate found? 

Justin Russell: It did, and I think the findings from the inspectorate over the five years of Transforming Rehabilitation matched what your Committee and the National Audit Office have been saying. From quite early on in our inspections, we were finding, as you say, a fragmented and two-tier service with some quite serious flaws in the way the structure had been set up. 

The most serious flaw of all was the commercial contractual mechanism, and the way that that meant some very serious underfunding of the CRCs. I think the Lord Chancellor came to your Committee and said that potentially there was a £700 million underspend on CRCs compared with what was expected to be spent on them over the seven years of the contract. That gap in funding has had a deleterious effect on the quality of service that they have been able to deliver. 

Q3 Chair: That is something you were able to pick up from your inspections. 

Justin Russell: It certainly is, and we have been picking it up since we started doing inspections after TR. There are some areas of good practice: some services have done well. We have seen some areas of improvement. London CRC, for example, has improved over the years, and South Yorkshire has scored well over the years. 

In our most recent round of inspections, we re-inspected nine CRCs and compared our results with our previous set of standards; three of them we now rate as good, so there have been some signs of improvement. The remainder are still in need of some improvement, particularly around the basics of offender management and managing risk to the community. 

Q4 Chair: That is very helpful. When you said, as you fairly did, that there are other things beyond purely reunification that were required, are there particular areas of the topics you highlighted to us that you think should be given the most focus? 

Justin Russell: In terms of what our inspections have found over the last two or three years, it is the focus on public protection. Actually, the CRCs have not been bad at looking at desistance and at reoffending. That has been very much where their focus has been, and they have introduced some interesting innovations around that; they have introduced new rehabilitation programmes and some quite sophisticated data tools to see what the needs of offenders are. 

We consistently score them down on the management of risk. Over half the cases we inspect in CRCs are not satisfactory in relation to protecting the public—assessing risk, planning for it and then reviewing it. That needs to be a key focus going forward. 

It is not just CRCs. It is the weakest area of performance for the National Probation Service as well. They score a bit better than CRCs, but it is still bringing their scores down. They all need to improve in that really critical area of public protection. 

Q5 Chair: System wide. 

Justin Russell: Yes. 

Q6 Dr Mullan: I want to pick up on a couple of those points. It is a really difficult thing to weigh up the extent to which you might attribute the factors, but would you say that the reorganisation was a small factor or a big factor versus the other things you talked about? 

Justin Russell: A big factor in terms of the poor performance? 

Dr Mullan: Fragmentation in terms of performance. 

Justin Russell: It was a big factor, but it was not necessarily the split, although that was a factor. The under-resourcing was a critical factor because so much of the probation budget goes on staff; that is the biggest element. It had a real impact on case loads and on the manageability of what staff were doing. We were consistently finding staff saying, “I’ve got too big a case load. I can’t manage that.” We were finding probation officers with 70 or 80 cases, and you cannot manage risk effectively or do a good job by the people you are supervising if you are managing that many people. That was a direct result of the lack of resources, and that, in turn, was a reflection of the failure of the funding mechanism. 

Q7 Dr Mullan: I assume that the funding mechanism is the same funding mechanism for the three that you found to be good performers versus the ones that were not. What do you think is the difference within the same framework and budget, the same contracts, for those to be good when others are struggling? 

Justin Russell: The overall shape of the contracts is similar, but they all went in with different bids and different tenders. Some of the providers were more ambitious in their assumptions about what they would get from payment by results in the later years of the contract, and those are the ones that are really suffering now and have the biggest holes in their budgets. What we actually see now is almost a three-tier probation system, where we have the National Probation Service, we have maybe three or four decently performing CRCs and then some that are really struggling because of the holes in their budgets. 

As we have gone back into those CRCs in the last year, they are still having to cut budgets; they are still cutting probation numbers. Particularly, Purple Futures and the RRP services in the east and west midlands are where we see those real issues very much at play. 

Q8 Dr Mullan: Did you notice any difference between whether they were perhaps a private sector provider or a non-profit provider? Did you see any pattern in that regard? 

Justin Russell: Not necessarily. There are good providers, both private and of a more mutual arrangement. Durham and Tees Valley is the best-known example of the more mutual arrangement. MTC is the provider for Thames Valley, and we have rated them good. Sodexo is the provider for South Yorkshire and we have rated them well. 

Private providers can do a decent job, but they are in a very different position financially and there are risks. Once you start to outsource something and you have large providers moving into the market—large parent companies—you are also at risk of what is happening to the owning company as well. If they get into trouble, the justice subsidiaries may struggle as well. We had that issue with Working Links at the beginning of last year when they went into administration. That caused all sorts of problems in the south-west and Wales.

Chair: That is very helpful. We have the new model; it is still in draft form, of course, at the moment. February 2021 is the time when I understand the final model is expected. 

Justin Russell: We are still waiting for the detail in the target operating model, and the detail behind the transition plans. 

Q10 Chair: We are about four months before it goes live at the moment. Do you have initial views as to the progress on that? Are you concerned that we are that close to going live? 

Justin Russell: It is an ambitious timetable. The clock is ticking, and they have eight months to go till June next year. My own experience of leading big transition programmes is that there is an awful lot of detail that you have to get right. If you do not get it right, you have people turning up to work on day one whose IT systems are not working, who maybe cannot even get through the door and who do not have half the cases they are supposed to be bringing with them. 

The critical things are that you need to make sure the people are coming across, that you have everyone in scope, and that you have sorted out terms and conditions, pensions and vetting and all the rest of it. You need to make sure that the IT and the data systems are right, because we are talking about 130,000 cases transferring into the National Probation Service, and you do not want to lose any of them on the way. 

You need to make sure that you have sorted all the buildings and the accommodation. Purely sorting out the leases on tens or hundreds of buildings is a detailed and difficult task. There are some big things that need to happen between now and June. We are going to do our own inspection of transition planning and readiness, starting at the end of November, and we hope to report in the new year on how we think that is going. 

Chair: That is useful, thank you. 

Q11 Rob Butler: I would like to continue talking about transition, if I may. Let us get to the nub of it: do you think there is enough time to transfer successfully by June 2021?

Justin Russell: Potentially. It partly depends on how much you can derisk what you have to do and the mitigations you have if things aren’t right. If you are trying to do everything on one day, there are huge risks attached to that. It is how much you can mitigate. 

Some of the obvious things are being done. They are lifting and shifting people’s case loads, so probation officers will move into the new structure with their existing case load, and will carry on supervising that so that people do not get lost in the process. They will carry on having the same line management. 

Ironically, one of the failures of TR was around encouraging innovation in IT systems, Because that did not really work out, quite a few of the CRCs are still using the NPS case management system, so they will not have to transfer that, although London and Thames Valley have their own case management, so that will be an issue. 

Q12 Rob Butler: That is a very pertinent point. I happened to visit Thames Valley CRC a couple of weeks ago and they are very proud of their IT system, which they would say is rather more sophisticated than that of NPS, particularly, for example, in being able to track their service users, as they call them, in real time, which the NPS system apparently does not. They are not going to be able to use that system, so they expressed concern that there is almost going to be a backwards step in some elements of supervising offenders once they go back to the unified model. Do you have concerns about that? How are you going to inspect it? 

Justin Russell: Yes. I have been to the Bicester office for MTC and looked at that case management system, which is called Omnia. I sat with a probation officer and they were really pleased with it. We have had very positive feedback from probation staff in both Thames Valley and London about that new system; it feels much more intuitive, and it is quicker to do assessments. I hope there are elements that can be transposed. 

That is an issue you need to talk to the Department and HMPPS about, but it is those sorts of innovations that TR was all about in some ways, and you need to make sure that some of the learning is brought along. It is not just IT: there are other things that they have been doing around community hubs and service user engagement as well. 

Q13 Rob Butler: If I quote you correctly, I think you said that you encouraged the NPS to capture what works in CRCs and transfer initiatives or ideas to the new service once it is a unified model. Will an element of your inspections be monitoring that to make sure that the advances that have been made, in an albeit flawed system, are not lost? 

Justin Russell: We will keep inspecting against our core standards around quality and management services and facilities; where we spot good practice, we will continue to flag that. We have been doing that with CRCs, and we will be looking to see whether they have brought that in with them. I have written to the Minister to talk about what I see as some of the positive things that CRCs have been doing. When we do a report, we flag up those initiatives as well. It is important to bring those over where they can, yes. 

Q14 Rob Butler: But do you have confidence that the transition can take place by June 2021, and that that is not overly ambitious? 

Justin Russell: Until we have done our national inspection in December, we will not have the evidence one way or the other, so I am happy to come back to you early in the new year and report on what that shows. 

Q15 Andy Slaughter: On transition, what effect is it going to have in relation to the existing workforce? I think you also have an ambition to recruit 1,000 new officers by January next year. 

Justin Russell: HMPPS have that ambition, yes. We will be holding them to account on whether they meet it as part of our inspection. 

Q16 Andy Slaughter: Yes. Do you think it is realistic? 

Justin Russell: I spoke to the director of the workforce programme last week, and we are very carefully monitoring what is happening with staffing numbers. We see signs on the ground that probation officer numbers, in the NPS at least, are starting to increase. We inspected the north-west NPS at the beginning of this year and were pleased to see that they have had 153 new trainees come into the north-west. I hear similar things from other regional directors. 

The last published figures showed that probation officer numbers had gone up by about 200, by about 6%, and the gap in the number of unfilled probation officer vacancies is coming down. It is still above 400, so they still have some way to go. I think the number of trainees, on the latest published figures for the end of June, was above 500, so there is a gap between that and 1,000. I am told that there were 9,000 applications for the most recent round of PQiP recruitment—the new trainees—so there is a pipeline, and obviously, as the job situation starts to tighten and people are looking for opportunities, that, to some extent, may help them to get bigger application fields as well. 

Q17 Andy Slaughter: It is perhaps not surprising in the current climate that there are a lot of applications for jobs, but this is becoming quite a familiar story. You could say the same thing with prison officers or indeed police officers, where the service has been cut back to the bone and there have been huge reductions over 10 years. Now some compensation is being made for that, but you have the situation where you are trying to recruit people, who perhaps have no background, and train them. In some cases that makes it worse for a period of time, because the existing service has to switch its resources to that sort of induction process. Given that we have very high case loads anyway, are you concerned about that process? What do you think can be done to mitigate the problems with it? 

Justin Russell: You are right to say that in the short term there are certainly pressures that come with recruiting new trainees: they have to have a reduced case load while they are training; you have to have someone mentoring them; and you have to have a trained assessor who is assessing them as well. All of that affects productivity, although in the long run, once they have the hang of the job, it goes back up again. They need to keep the numbers coming in; they need to keep recruiting. 

The other factor is that you have potentially 20,000 extra police officers coming downstream who will be putting more business into the courts and on to the probation service, and they will need to keep recruiting to meet that requirement as well. They will need to go beyond 1,000, I would have thought, to start to meet those extra demands as well. 

Q18 Andy Slaughter: It is a perfect storm in a way. We are transitioning from one system to another because the previous system failed; the service is trying to make up for the lack of numbers and deal with what are perceived to be the current problems of excess case load, which have caused some pretty distressing events to happen. Obviously, you are aware of all that, and it is your job to monitor, criticise and so on, but, going beyond that, do you have any insight into how the service should be operating? Do you have any advice, or do you not see that as your role? 

Justin Russell: I have been talking to quite a few regional directors over the past few weeks. They have to balance both recovery planning from Covid and preparing for this major transition next year. That is a big demand on them. They need support teams around them; they need support from the centre to be able to do that, and they need resources. I was encouraged that an extra £150 million went into the probation service this financial year. It is really important that that gets baked into the baseline going forward, and that they have a decent settlement in the spending review to support all of that work going forward. It will be very challenging for those leaders, particularly those who may be new to the NPS. 

Q19 Andy Slaughter: We all know that the MOJ has received probably the highest cuts of any Government Department, and this is only mitigating that to some extent. Do you see there being a risk to the public in what is happening at the moment, and do you think any steps should be taken on safeguarding in terms of the way that the service operates during the transitional period?

Justin Russell: As I said, our biggest areas of concern in our quality standards are around risk of harm and whether they are getting the risk assessments and the planning and reviewing right. That has consistently been unsatisfactory. We will continue to focus on that in all of our inspections relentlessly and check that lessons are being learned. 

There are some signs for encouragement, in that some of the scores have started to improve a bit. What I hope is that they do not start to go down again as we get nearer to transition. Keeping the service’s eye on the ball of delivery, as they also prepare it, is really important. As the CRCs head towards the exit door, it may become more difficult for them, particularly for their parent companies, to stay focused on delivery. A lot of CRCs are starting to lose their leaders, as senior leaders are now moving into regional director and heads of operation jobs in the NPS and leaving the CRCs, so there are real vulnerabilities around that which the service needs to look out for. 

Q20 Paula Barker: There is just one question from me. In respect of the workforce strategy and the transition, do you know whether the trade unions will be fully engaged, on behalf of their members, in the whole process? 

Justin Russell: I don’t know. I certainly hope they have been, and we will be checking on that in our transition planning inspection when we start it in November. That is certainly one of the questions we will be looking at. 

In the Wales example, where Wales went through the transition a bit earlier, there was, certainly in the offender management function, a lot of negotiation and liaison with the trade unions. I think that is still going on. I am not sure that they have yet settled the terms and conditions around the Welsh probation service, so there are lessons from that exercise for the rest of the country as well. 

Paula Barker: Great. Thanks very much. 

Q21 Dr Mullan: I have a couple of questions. In terms of the 1,000 figure— although this might already have been covered—as the companies are wound down and we move back to a single model and their staff transfer over, I assume it is clear that that 1,000 will be on top of any people who transfer in, because you are not really creating a bigger workforce if you are just bringing in-house existing people. Is that part of how you understand it? 

Justin Russell: The big problem we have is that there are no national figures on the CRC workforce; we do not know how many probation officers or PSOs they recruit, so it is very difficult to know how big the hole is that needs to be filled as they transfer over. We have been collecting that data as we do inspections. The data from the services that we have inspected shows that probation officer numbers have come down by about 10% across those we inspected over the last financial year, as resources have got tighter, so that is increasing the hole that needs to be filled. 

There are very few CRCs, if any at all, that are now starting to train new probation officers—it is not in their interests—so it is very much on the NPS to make good that gap. I am sure they take account of what the potential gaps in the CRCs are, as well as the NPS gaps, when they decide how big the recruitment cohorts should be going forward. 

Q22 Dr Mullan: I guess what I am getting at is how you are going to be able to draw a firm conclusion as to whether the overall workforce of people working on behalf of Government in probation has gone up by 1,000, versus people who have just come in from the companies. How will you know? 

Justin Russell: That is a very good point, and I will be asking the very same question as they continue to pass statistical bulletins, because the statistical bulletin, as you have probably seen, is purely NPS staff. We have never had a bulletin on CRC staff. There will at some point be a number of people who are in scope for the transition to CRCs and we will know that number, but, as you say, we will not necessarily know what the gap in that number is. 

Q23 Dr Mullan: I am interested in the vacancies in the sense that it is all very well to talk about lack of budgets, lack of money to hire people, and so on, but when you cannot hire people within existing budgets, it demonstrates that it is not just a matter of the overall money available to the services. Why do you think they are struggling to recruit? Are there not suitable people? Is it salary, or work environment? What do you think means that they struggle? 

Justin Russell: As you might expect, the biggest struggle with vacancies is in London and the south-east; and in the south-east it is the bits of Kent and the home counties that are closest to London. That has been a real issue. In our Joseph McCann review, we found staff shortages in the Hertfordshire office that had been supervising him. Some of our inspections have shown vacancy rates in the NPS of up to about 20%. They are being plugged with agency staff at the moment. 

What I am often told is that agency staff are quite happy to do long-term placements; they do not particularly want to go for permanent probation officer jobs because they find that reduces their flexibility. There needs to be some combination of thinking about what flexibility or work-life balance they can offer within the service, or if it is the salary. There was some language in the workforce strategy about looking at pay and conditions, which I hope indicated that they are considering what might need to be done on that, in particular in areas of high vacancy. 

Dr Mullan: It is interesting what you say about the number of applications and what they are applying to do, so maybe there is a more positive future. Thank you.

Maria Eagle: Briefly, before I move on to Covid, there is one thing that strikes me about the reason why the CRCs were set up and split away from the NPS. They were going to deal more with minor offenders who could be turned away from repeat offending more readily perhaps, and the NPS was going to stick with dealing with some of the very serious and dangerous offenders. Have you any view about all these challenges coming at once—the high case loads, the organisational change as the two organisations are put together, the lack of staff and the recovery from Covid—and what impact they are going to have, if any, on the ability of the service as a whole to deal with the high end, more serious and dangerous offenders? If they are not supervised properly and if they are not properly dealt with, the consequences of things going wrong can be much greater for those who end up being victims of perhaps further offending. Do you have any handle on that, and whether or not during this transition there is going to be an issue in dealing with the serious and dangerous offenders at the toughest end of the scale? 

Justin Russell: What we are finding is that supervision of the higher risk offenders who are in the case loads of the NPS has been rather better than the lower and medium risk offenders. Because those offenders will stay with their NPS probation officers as they go through transition, there should be continuity of supervision through that process and, hopefully, people’s eye will stay on the ball with them. 

Interestingly, when we did our study of serious further offences, two thirds of homicides committed by people on probation were people who had been assessed as low or medium risk, so it is not people at the high end who are offending. What we find as we look at CRC case loads is that they are pretty chaotic people: they are quite likely to have a drugs problem, and 40% of them are domestic abuse perpetrators. Calling them low risk is not necessarily always the case; they might be homeless and, quite typically, have issues with accommodation. 

We find that that population has huge needs. They are quite chaotic and need particular interventions and support, maybe different from supervising a lifer coming out of prison or someone convicted of a serious sex offence. They need the right sort of supervision and services going forward. It is important to make sure that that happens as they move over to the NPS caseload next summer. 

Q25 Maria Eagle: Can you let us know what your initial findings are on the inspection of probation services during the Covid-19 period? Obviously, that has changed how everybody does things, so do you have any initial findings from your inspections? 

Justin Russell: Yes. We have finished the fieldwork and have been writing up our findings. We looked at six local services, and in detail at 60 cases, in June, and we interviewed some service users about their experience and interviewed probation officers. 

We found that the probation service had done, in some ways, a remarkable job at completely changing their operating model overnight to one of remote supervision, so that 80% to 90% of people were receiving phone supervision rather than face to face. Some critical services had to be stopped altogether. They had to stop doing unpaid work; they stopped doing accredited programme delivery, or at least the new programmes. They necessarily, I think, focused on risk, on doing risk assessment, and on people’s welfare. In general, looking at the cases we inspected, they did a reasonable job of that. We did not have to raise any urgent alerts about people who had gone missing or were not properly being managed. It was by phone, but it was reasonably consistent contact; 75% of them had had a contact every week from their probation officer by phone. 

There were a variety of views from staff about having to work from home. The majority welcomed the flexibility it gave them and the savings in travel costs and all the rest of it. Some of them struggled a bit to find the space to work at home. In the probation service, there are some pretty challenging conversations with some difficult people; in front of your kids in your living room, that is quite a tricky thing to be doing, and people felt a bit stressed by that sometimes. 

We also talked to some service users. Where they were in a stable situation—a stable family life and somewhere to live—some of them preferred being remotely supervised; they preferred phone contact. It meant that they did not have to sort out childcare and worry about going on public transport. They said they felt they could be more open sometimes with their probation officer when they were doing interventions. With service users who were more vulnerable and might have a mental health problem and other welfare needs, some of them really struggled quite a bit and missed personal face-to-face contact with their probation officer, who could be quite an important person in their life sometimes. 

Q26 Maria Eagle: Having done some of that work, what is your sense of how the Covid-19 challenge and this period has changed priorities for the probation service? 

Justin Russell: One of the positives is that it has given the CRCs more experience of particularly focusing on risk, on risk assessment and getting that right. They have done a reasonable job of that, so those staff will be taking that into the new arrangements next year. People have got the hang of doing other forms of remote supervision, and, longer term, there will probably be a move towards some supervision continuing to be online or over the phone, but in a mix with face to face. 

One of the interesting things is improved multi-agency relationships. Probation officers have struck up good relationships with the police in particular and with social services. They are communicating more; they have daily conversations about who may have been arrested or flagged on social service systems, and more people are turning up for multiagency meetings—MAPPA meetings and MARAC meetings. Because it is much easier to dial into a virtual meeting, they are getting quite good attendance, and that is a positive. I would expect that maybe some of those will continue to operate like that going forward. 

Q27 Maria Eagle: Do you think that new priorities for the service will come out of this period that will continue, or will there be a shift back to old ways of doing things? 

Justin Russell: I think the priorities will remain reoffending, desistance and steering people away from crime, and the public protection role. Those are not going to change. The way they deliver those services may change to reflect the use of new technology. Necessarily under Covid, the focus was very much on risk and public protection. There was less delivery being done on offending behaviour programmes or interventions. Those are now being switched back on and people are starting to come in. That is the gap at the moment that will need to be filled; there are far fewer people doing accredited programmes at the moment than there were before Covid, and that number will need to go up. 

Unpaid work is quite interesting as well. The old model of doing unpaid work was that you put a lot of people in a minibus and took them off to do litter-picking or other work. It is quite difficult to keep social distancing, so they are having to find different ways of doing it. People are having to make their own way to work placements. There are fewer people on placements and there is more focus on individual placements. There are some quite big challenges around that as well. 

Q28 Maria Eagle: You recently launched a consultation on the future of adult inspections. Do you have any initial findings in respect of that work? 

Justin Russell: We are just going through our consultation responses at the moment and we will publish our way forward on that. There is broad support, I think, for two or three of the key things that we are going do. 

One is that, as CRCs and the NPS come together, we will no longer need separate inspection teams for the two different sorts of service, so there will be single inspection teams. They will be able to look end to end at every case they look at, right from the point when the initial court report is done through to planning assessment and on to review and through-the-gate release. Then we will aggregate all that data. 

A key thing we are going to do is start looking at a much more local level. Our inspections will look at local delivery units, which might be a single city, a unitary authority or a single county. That will give the probation service itself much more granular detail, so you will know how probation is performing in Newcastle, Leeds or Bristol, and not just the whole of the south-west or the whole of the north-east. That will be important to the public, so there will be more transparency to the public. I will be able to go on the radio and tell Radio Leeds listeners, “Here is how your local probation service is operating.” I find that difficult to do at the moment when I am reporting on the whole of Yorkshire and Humberside. That is important. 

Another key thing is that I have always been keen to look at the outcomes of the probation service. Is it making a real difference to the people being supervised? Are they getting into accommodation? Are they getting off drugs? Are they getting into employment and training? Is their health improving? We will be looking at how we can measure those outcomes, as well as process, in our inspections. We are doing some pilots in Wales this autumn to see how we can measure those sorts of things in practice in a local service. 

Maria Eagle: Thank you very much. 

Q29 Dr Mullan: While we have you here, I want to ask you about the proposals in the new White Paper around probation, particularly the use of more tagging and home detention. I don’t know if you have seen anything about them and I know it is perhaps not strictly under this remit, but have you had any initial thoughts as to whether you think that is going to work and what you think the challenges might be? Do you think the probation services will be in a position to monitor and go after people who breach their tagging, in collaboration with the police? Do you think it is going to make a difference to people’s compliance? What would your thoughts be?

Justin Russell: There was a whole range of proposals in the White Paper around community supervision, many of which I think the probation service will welcome. There is obviously the tagging stuff. There is improving the quality of pre-sentence reports, community sentence treatment requirements and the courts to supervise people— problem-solving courts. There is plenty there. 

On electronic monitoring, I think the GPS technology is potentially a game changer in being able to monitor people’s movements, as well as whether they are just at home or not. We will need to see what difference that makes. There has been a new systematic review of the evidence on electronic monitoring published, and I was reading it last night. It varies according to who is being supervised, so there is good evidence that sex offender reoffending rates reduce under electronic monitoring, and there are certain other groups of offender where it has a positive effect. 

For others, it may not have such a positive effect. It partly depends on how you manage it, but there are signs that it has an impact on reoffending rates, and that is a positive thing, but it needs to be used in the right way. When it is used for people coming out of prison for home detention curfew, you have a very strong stick for people to stick to their curfew because they will be called back to prison if they do not. If it is a condition of a community sentence, the breach proceedings may be a bit longer, so part of the success of it will be how quickly you can act on that, and people realise that there are real consequences from breaking the tag.

The longer you have someone on a tag, the more, potentially, they could breach and, therefore, the implications on the Prison Service downstream start to flow from that, but I am sure they will have done the modelling on that going forward. 

Q30 Dr Mullan: Do you think people being in their homes and confined in that way is going to make it easier for probation supervisors to meet them and engage with them, or does that not tend to be a challenge in their engagement with the people they are supervising? 

Justin Russell: At the moment, the static electronic monitoring tends to be about curfewing people at night-time, which is not when you would be having an appointment anyway. One of the interesting proposals in the White Paper is that you would have variable curfew hours, maybe longer at weekends than during the week, and that probation would have more control, potentially. There is some very interesting language in the White Paper about giving the probation service more discretion, and more flexibility to vary the conditions and requirements relating to supervision. I would certainly welcome that and think it would be a positive development. 

Chair: Mr Russell, thank you very much indeed. It has been very helpful and informative, as always. We look forward to hearing from you again with the updates that you so helpfully give us. Thank you for your time and for your evidence to us today. We are grateful to you.