Friday 30 April 2021

All Perfectly Normal

Oh look. Another example of the revolving door between the BBC and Tory party. The government quietly slips another Tory into a key position as the assault on the BBC prepares to move up a gear:- 

Sir Robbie Gibb has been appointed to the Board of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as the England Nation Member for a term of three years from 7th May 2021 to 6th May 2024. Under the terms of the BBC Royal Charter, appointment of the BBC Chair and Nation Board Members is made by HM The Queen, on recommendation from Ministers.

Sir Robbie Gibb had a long career as a broadcast journalist in BBC News - he was head of BBC Westminster and Editor of Live Political Programmes, as well as Deputy Editor of BBC Two’s Newsnight. He left the BBC in 2017 to become Director of Communications at No10 Downing Street, stepping down in 2019. He also previously worked as an Editorial Advisor to GB News, until October 2020. Sir Robbie now works as a senior communications adviser at Kekst CNC and is a Director of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

The base fee for all BBC non-executive directors is £33,000 per annum. A committee chair fee of £5,000 is paid on top of the base fee for chairing one of the permanent committees of the Board. This appointment has been made in accordance with the Cabinet Office’s Governance Code on Public Appointments. The process is regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Government’s Governance Code requires that any significant political activity undertaken by an appointee in the last five years is declared. This is defined as including holding office, public speaking, making a recordable donation or candidature for election. Sir Robbie Gibb declared that between 2017 and 2019 he was Director of Communications at No10 Downing Street.

This from BBC website:-

Sir Robbie Gibb: Former Downing Street communications director joins BBC Board

Sir Robbie Gibb, a former Downing Street communications director, is joining the BBC board as the board member for England. He will start on 7 May. Prior to working in No 10 for the Conservative Party between 2017 and 2019, Gibb had a successful 25-year career at the BBC, culminating in his role as head of Westminster. Before that, he was deputy editor of Newsnight and editor of The Daily Politics and This Week.

It was in those latter capacities that Gibb worked closely with Andrew Neil, the broadcaster and publisher who is chairman of GB News - a new British news network due to launch in the coming months. Gibb played an important role in the early stages of that project, but stood down as editorial adviser in October.

His main job is working as a senior communications adviser for the consultancy firm Kekst CNC. He is also a director of The Jewish Chronicle. He will continue in these roles. Gibb was a prominent supporter of Brexit. He was in No 10 during the tumultuous leadership of Theresa May, which was dominated by the effort to secure the UK's departure from the European Union.

Since leaving front-line politics, Gibb has written several articles about impartiality in broadcasting - not least at the BBC. In one of these articles, he said the election coverage on Radio 4's Today programme was "a masterclass in why the BBC is losing the trust of its audience". He said he thought the programme was "trapped by its own 'woke' group think", and that his friends had dubbed it "Radio Misery".

In an article for The Daily Telegraph, he wrote: "The BBC has been culturally captured by the woke-dominated group think of some of its own staff. There is a default left-leaning attitude from a metropolitan workforce mostly drawn from a similar social and economic background..." In the same piece, he continued: "Almost as soon as Britain's verdict [in the EU referendum] was delivered, the rigorous rules were relaxed and anti-Brexit bias and metropolitan 'group think' crept back into the corporation's coverage."

In another article for the Telegraph, Sir Robbie made clear that the "endemic" bias he sees at the corporation extended beyond news coverage to entertainment, and especially comedy. He strongly endorsed director-general Tim Davie's firm commitment to impartiality: "I have faith that Mr Davie will make this work," Gibb wrote. "His decisive early intervention over the farcical banning of singing Prom favourites and his clear understanding of why impartiality must be the number one priority for the BBC have won him praise from ministers and BBC staff alike."

While critical, Sir Robbie has been consistently supportive of a reformed BBC, arguing publicly and privately that it is a national jewel that urgently needs to address its disconnect with conservative and non-metropolitan audiences. Interestingly, he backs the principle of universality behind the licence fee, even if the practicalities of how the fee operates may need to evolve. His appointment clearly strengthens the BBC's links not just with Westminster, but with the Conservative Party specifically.

Earlier this year, Richard Sharp replaced Sir David Clementi as the BBC's chairman. Sharp, a former banker, investor and philanthropist, is close to Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, who he worked with during the pandemic. Sunak previously worked with Sharp at Goldman Sachs. In testimony to MPs, Sharp said that the licence fee may be the least bad existing option for how to fund the BBC, though he is open to discussion about reforms.

The pandemic has highlighted both the strengths of the BBC and the severity of the challenges it faces. Covid-19 inflicted a terrible financial hit - well over £100m - at a time of already strained budgets. Yet ratings and web traffic surged as viewers, listeners and readers flocked to the BBC for trusted news. BBC News remains one of the most trusted news sources in Britain, and indeed the world. During the pandemic, the BBC also put on extensive educational programming to support home schooling, which rated well.

Moreover, a consensus inside No 10 and the government more broadly now accepts the view that decriminalisation of the licence fee is a bad idea. This follows - but is of course not exclusively the result of - an extensive and effective charm offensive on Westminster by Davie. 
There is a view in some quarters of the media that Dominic Cummings' departure from No 10 has removed much of the animus toward the public broadcaster. This is wrong. On the Conservative back benches, and particularly among some of the new intake of MPs, there remains strong feeling against the BBC, which is derided there as out of touch with majority opinion.

Gibb's first duty as a board member is to support the institution to achieve its public purposes. That includes advocating reforms that address the concerns felt by some of his former colleagues in politics; but also being prepared to tell those people when they're wrong about the BBC.


1st May 2021

From FT:-

Charles Dunstone quit museum post over government ‘culture war’

One of Britain’s best-known entrepreneurs has resigned as chair of a prestigious museum group in protest at ministers purging his board as part of a culture war being waged by the government. Sir Charles Dunstone, the billionaire founder of Carphone Warehouse, quit as chair of the Royal Museums Greenwich after the government refused to reappoint a trustee whose academic work advocates “decolonising” the curriculum, according to several people familiar with the events. 

The dispute is the latest in a concerted campaign by Boris Johnson’s government to reset the balance of opinion at the top of Britain’s cultural and media institutions, largely through an aggressive approach to board appointments. Royal Museums Greenwich oversees some of Britain’s most popular cultural destinations including the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum. 

Dunstone warned Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, that he would resign as its chair unless he lifted his veto on a second term for Aminul Hoque, a Bangladeshi-British academic in education studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, according to people close to the situation. Hoque told the Financial Times he was “shocked, disappointed and baffled” by the minster’s unexplained decision. Colleagues at the Royal Museums Greenwich described him as a “devoted and conscientious” trustee.

Dunstone, who left as chair with immediate effect in February after Dowden refused to reconsider his decision, declined to comment. A government spokesman said: “All reappointments are considered in line with the government code for public appointments. There is no automatic presumption of reappointment, and indeed in the vast majority of cases, fresh talent is added with new appointments made.” In the latest full reporting year (2019/2020), ministers in Dowden’s culture department announced 92 appointments in total, of which 31 were reappointments. 

With the enthusiastic support of Downing Street, Dowden has so far blocked multiple reappointments at top institutions, with the explicit intention of replacing them with more like-minded allies. This has included vetoing a second term for two female board directors of Channel 4, the state-owned and privately funded broadcaster. Dowden this week nominated Robbie Gibb, a former Downing Street director of communications, to the BBC board. Allies of the prime minister say Paul Dacre, the former long-serving editor of the Daily Mail, is frontrunner to become chair of Ofcom, a decision expected in coming weeks. Nicky Morgan, the former Conservative culture secretary, is also tipped as the next chair of Sports England.

One chair of a big institution likened the Johnson government approach to “cultural cleansing”. Another person who has negotiated appointments with Dowden described him as treating boards like “a fiefdom”. Peter Riddell, the commissioner for public appointments, noted in a speech on Thursday that the government, had for 18 months “actively sought to appoint allies to the boards of public bodies”. “This is not the first time this has happened. Such attempts tend to go in waves,” Riddell said. “What is different now is the breadth of the campaign and the close engagement of 10 Downing Street.”

Last September, Dowden wrote to museums and galleries warning that their government funding could be cut if they removed statues and other objects associated with the slave trade and colonialism. Dowden acknowledged that some objects represented figures who had “said or done things which we may find deeply offensive”, but insisted that they played an important role in understanding the past. 

One leading Conservative said there was “an expectation that members of a board should have a similar attitude to that of the government” on such issues. “The general ethos is you should put things in context, not tear them down or remove them,” said one leading Conservative, who added that the culture department remained committed to targets for board appointments covering gender, race and disability. 

Hoque was told about the veto by Dunstone in January but was never contacted directly by the government. After he sent two emails requesting an explanation, the culture department wrote to him on Friday to say there was no “automatic presumption” of reappointment. 

Wednesday 28 April 2021

MoJ Obfuscation

Another interesting example of MoJ obfuscation and secrecy from Inside Time:- 

Prison alcohol course dropped

An offending behaviour course used in prisons to help men convicted of drunken aggression has been dropped.

The Alcohol Related Violence (ARV) course was offered in English and Welsh prisons for men seen as a high or medium risk of reoffending. Using cognitive-behavioural techniques it sought to explore previous and current alcohol use, teach skills to prevent relapse into drinking, and spot patterns of how drunkenness can escalate to violence.

However, earlier this year it was removed from the list of programmes approved for use in English and Welsh jails by the Correctional Services Accreditation and Advice Panel (CSAAP).

The Ministry of Justice said the decision was taken because “there was limited uptake for this programme and the demand for this type of intervention was being met through alternative health services and the wider Offending Behaviour Programme”.

The ARV course will be “absorbed” into alternative courses, so any prisoner who had been due to join it is likely to be offered a place on another course instead.

ARV was one of 22 programmes approved for use in jails by the CSAAP. The panel has attracted controversy in the past because its membership is secret and it does not disclose what was discussed at its meetings – and because it can approve courses for use with prisoners before there is firm evidence as to whether they work.

It previously approved the use of the Sex Offender Treatment Programme, which was suddenly dropped in 2017, five years after an unpublished internal research report had identified that men who had taken the course were more likely to reoffend than those who had not.

The MoJ made no announcement at the time it dropped ARV. The move only emerged when it was omitted from an updated list of CSAAP-approved prison courses published on the MoJ website this month. It is not known whether a research study has been carried out on the reoffending rates of people who have completed the ARV course – and, if so, what the results were.

Courses addressing alcohol use which remain approved for use in prisons include the Alcohol Dependence Treatment Programme, Breaking Free, Building Skills for Recovery, and Control of Violence for Angry Impulsive Drinkers.


Another revealing article by Maya Oppenheim in the Independent:-

The rising levels of self-harm in women’s jails in the UK are “worryingly high” with some therapeutic services cancelled during the pandemic, a new report has warned. The study, carried out by the Prison Reform Trust, found the government has failed to meet almost half of the pledges it committed to in its 2018 Female Offender Strategy.

Researchers, who shared the report with The Independent exclusively, discovered the government has fully rolled out just 31 of 65 promises despite the strategy being published almost three years ago. The charity warned the recent announcement of 500 extra prison cells being built in women’s jails reverses one of the strategy’s fundamental aims to reduce the female prison population - saying they would not be required if they had managed to actually implement the failed action plan.

Peter Dawson, the Prison Reform Trust’s director, told The Independent: 

“There is little point having a good plan if you don’t deliver it. That requires a timetable, resources and measures of success. None of these are in place. Instead, the government seems to have abandoned the idea that its female offender strategy can deliver its explicit and most important outcome – a reduction in the imprisonment of women. It is prepared to find £150m for new prison places to meet the cost of policy failure, but only a pittance to secure its success. The large majority of women are sent to prison for non-violent offences to serve sentences of less than one year. It is time for the government to double down on its aim to send less women to prison by investing in community alternatives and limiting the use of pointless short prison sentences.”


A previous report by the Prison Reform Trust found 80 per cent of women in jail were serving sentences for non-violent offences. Other studies have found high numbers of female prisoners have suffered domestic abuse, while many suffer from mental health issues - with campaigners frequently warning women in prison are often victims of much more serious offences than the ones they have been convicted of.

Dr Kate Paradine, chief executive of Women in Prison, told The Independent the government had “lost its way” since the Female Offenders Strategy was formulated.

She said: “Its proposal for 500 prison places flies in the face of all its own evidence that says the vast majority of women in prison do not need to be there. We know 95 per cent of children have to leave their home when their mother goes to prison and building more prison places will only shatter more lives and unnecessarily separate families. There is another way, one that we know works. The government can listen to the evidence, implement its own strategy and divert the £150m set aside for these new prison places into community-based services, like Women's Centres, that tackle the issues, like domestic abuse, that sweep women up into crime in the first place - keeping families together.”

The latest research, which is based on the most recent data available, shows out of the strategy’s 65 commitments, 31 have been fully achieved, 20 partially achieved, while there has been zilch progress or quantifiable implementation of 14 pledges. But researchers noted even in instances where commitments were met via publication of guidance or instructions, there is a dearth of information showing whether it is successful.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We want to see fewer women going to prison and are investing millions in our female offenders strategy to achieve this through community sentences, addiction treatment and women’s centres. Custody will always be a last resort - the new prison places will improve conditions with more single cells and greater access to education and employment, helping women to get their lives back on track.”


Blog Update

As regular readers are aware, comment moderation has been in place for some time and it looks likely to be permanent I'm afraid. It destroys much of an opportunity for discussion, but the paucity of probation-related comment as opposed to anti-Johnson and government stuff means I'm deleting much of it.

I have no problem calling out lying bastards wherever they may be in political life, or indeed examples of home grown cronyism, corruption, right wing political crap etc, etc, but I'm not letting it take over the blog at the expense of the core purpose - keeping the probation ideal alive.

I've completely given up with the union, politicians, journalists and now academics. The ever-smaller band of 'legacy' probation officers are inevitably moving on either literally or figuratively as the bright new recruits seemingly can't wait to embrace the MoJ/HMPPS command and control ethos and even if they are unhappy, are too shit-scared to say anything publicly, even anonymously.

Yes I'm angry and yes I'm fed up - but I've also got better things to spend my time on and therefore this platform will continue to wind down. However, I will reserve the option to kick it back into life from suspended animation at any time and when I feel there is something useful to say and in furtherance of the probation ethos so clearly disappearing from sight.


Interesting to note that only a few hours after publishing this post, a very lively discussion has started on Facebook with news that updating case notes within 24hrs is to become a 'target'. Quite understandable from a professional point of view and a longstanding National Standard, but noteworthy that rather than do something about high caseloads, HMPPS command and control ethos dictates other approaches. At time of writing, the topic has attracted 63 comments, including the status of a review of the Workload Management Tool, but all such supposedly hidden from public view.       

Saturday 24 April 2021

A Lost Cause

It's really quite simple. Being a probation officer and a civil servant is completely incompatible. I have no interest in football, but couldn't avoid noticing how the short-lived European Super League plans required dismissal of 'legacy' fans and their interests in favour of attracting 'new' ones was so very similar to that of 'legacy' probation officers and the urgent recruitment of 1,500 new ones.  


The astute will have noticed a distinct lack of activity on here of late, pretty much reflecting my own degree of growing disinterest in the lost cause that probation has become. The union has had little to say recently; the Labour front bench spokesperson has little knowledge or interest; the independent probation service 'campaign' vanished; CRC individualism has only days left and the MoJ's stifling stranglehold grows stronger by the day. And now the Justice Select Committee has pronounced:-      

Committee reports on new model for probation services

The Justice Committee publishes a report on its inquiry into the future of probation services in England and Wales. These services have undergone major upheaval in recent years and a new model for delivering the services is due to come into force in June 2021.

As of 2020, nearly 225,000 people were under probation service provision. These services are aimed at protecting the public and reducing reoffending. Some people ‘on probation’ may have already served a prison sentence while others will have been given a non-custodial community sentence, for example being required to undertake punishments such as unpaid community work.

The new model of probation services due to be introduced in June this year is known as the ‘Unified Model’. The Unified Model replaces a policy which was introduced from 2014/15 and was widely seen to have failed.

The old policy split the probation services between the National Probation Service, which dealt with the most serious cases, and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which dealt with the rest. Following much criticism, the Ministry of Justice decided to end the CRC contracts early and develop a new model.

Chair's comment

The Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP said:

“The last few years have been very difficult for the hardworking men and women who look after our probation services. First, they had to cope with a misguided and badly implemented re-organisation. Then Covid struck, making everyone’s job doubly hard. I hope our report will help shape a much better experience. There are lots of recommendations in it but let me draw attention to a simple and important one. No probation officer should have to cope with a caseload of more than 50 clients. If we can stick to that rule of thumb, I think we have a fighting chance of improving the situation.”

Re-unifying the Probation Service

The Justice Committee report welcomed the decision to re-unify the Probation Service. It warned, however, that after the disruption of the past seven years these changes must be fully thought through, properly funded and expected to remain in place for a period of decades rather than years. The Committee sought an assurance on this from the Ministry of Justice.

The Justice Committee report also acknowledged that the transition to the new Unified Model of delivery was a “huge operational challenge” in the context of the pandemic, including changes in management systems, IT technology and buildings leases.

The Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, pointed out:

“We are talking about 113,000 cases transferring [back] into the National Probation Service and you do not want to lose any of them along the way”.

The Committee urged the Ministry of Justice to publish a detailed timetable setting out milestones towards the Unified Model going live in June and requested monthly updates on progress made against those targets.

Some services will still be contracted out

Although the new Unified Model for delivering probation has re-unified the service, it still has provision for contracting out some services to be provided by private or voluntary organisations. This is called the ‘Dynamic Framework’. It is a commissioning mechanism for providing resettlement services needed after release from prison as well as rehabilitation interventions aimed at reducing reoffending for those on community orders.

Witnesses appearing before the Committee broadly welcomed this initiative although there were some concerns about how it may work in practice, particularly for smaller, third sector or voluntary providers of services who might be unprepared, or not have the resources, to tackle a complex commissioning process.

The Committee also raised concerns about the potential for contracts to be underfunded and recommended that the Ministry of Justice set out how they are modelling these contracts financially, and what is being done to ensure that contracts are sufficiently resourced and deliverable.

Support for those leaving prison

The report notes that successful rehabilitation relies on a successful transition from prison to probation. This includes good communication between soon-to-be released detainees and probation officers, as well as the provision of help in areas such as accommodation, finances, education and employment.

The Justice Committee welcomed the additional Ministry of Justice investment which had resulted in improved services for people leaving prison and said it hoped the service would continue to improve under the new Unified Model coming into operation in June.

However, the Committee asked the Ministry to set out in detail how it intended to manage pre-release services under the new model. There were many practical challenges to address such as security clearances for probation officers visiting prisons and access to areas in prison buildings where meetings could be held.

The workforce needed to do the job

The Select Committee report on the future of probation services notes that low staffing levels have historically been a problem in the sector. The report acknowledges that staff are working through the pandemic and against the backdrop of a second major reform programme in recent years. The Committee thanked and praised probation staff for their hard work and dedication, particularly during the past year.

The Committee found that probation caseloads are still too high, even “unmanageable” in some cases and recommended that the Ministry of Justice commit to ensuring that individual probation officer caseloads do not exceed 50.

The Ministry said 1000 new trainee probation staff would be taken on in 2020/2021. Other witnesses said it would take a long time to train these recruits and added that the government’s plan to recruit 20,000 new police officers was also likely to increase demand for probation services.

The Justice Committee report said it welcomed the government’s commitment to employ 1000 new recruits but said it was not clear whether this was in addition to the 464 vacancies that already existed. It asked the Ministry for clarification on this point.

The Committee also welcomed the government’s commitment to employ more ex-offenders as role models and support staff.


Conclusions and recommendations

Transforming Rehabilitation and the Probation Reform Programme

1. A previous Justice Committee said in 2018 that the Transforming Rehabilitation looked unlikely ever to work. Time has proved our predecessors right. We welcome the Government’s decision to reunify the Probation Service and to introduce a new probation reform programme, even if we must acknowledge how unsatisfactory it is that those working in the system must face more organisational change after six years of it and a 12-month period of coping with a pandemic. We thank the CRC providers for their work over the past six years, and recognise the positive work that has been done and the innovation CRCs have brought to the probation service during this time. (Paragraph 26)

2. This is the second major probation reform programme in the last five years. The unplanned-for effect of covid-19 has only added to the challenges the Probation Service faces. The lessons of the previous, failed reforms must be learned, and the new model must provide a lasting solution that allows some stability to a vital and hard-pressed service. (Paragraph 31)

3. As the then Minister of State, Lucy Frazer, acknowledged to us, one reason for the failure of the 2014–15 Transforming Rehabilitation reforms was inaccurate modelling of how much work, and therefore profit, would go to the private sector and third sector organisations allocated more than half the probation system’s overall caseload to administer. The PAC, the NAO and other bodies, including a former Justice Committee, have highlighted how the 2014–15 reforms foundered on being introduced too fast and without sufficient planning or research into their impacts. (Paragraph 32)

4. We welcome the decision to unify the Probation Service once more. We warn, however, that, after the disruption of the past seven years, changes proposed and begun to the probation system must be fully thought through, properly funded and expected to remain in place for a period of decades rather than months or a few years. We seek an assurance from the Ministry of Justice that the new reforms will do so. (Paragraph 33)

5. There is cause for concern in the way that some goalposts have shifted as the new model has been developed. In particular, the decision to seek Probation Delivery Partners while the new model of delivery was still being developed had unfortunate consequences. Its subsequent cancellation caused significant disappointment to those private and third sector organisations whom the Ministry of Justice encouraged to put time and effort into making successful bids only to see the idea scrapped shortly afterwards. (Paragraph 34)

6. The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland QC MP, highlighted the role of covid-19 in requiring his decision to cancel the Probation Delivery Partner programme, but we must be concerned at any possible echo of a repeat of over-rapid, under-researched reform being introduced, at great cost and inconvenience, and then swiftly reversed when difficulties arise. We recommend that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice make it clear whether his cancellation of the Probation Delivery Partner programme was a pragmatic decision as a result of the additional pressures raised by the covid-19 outbreak or a decision on principle to bring unpaid work and behavioural change programmes back within a unified national probation service for the long term. In particular, we invite him to confirm whether the Ministry plans to reconsider or revive a Probation Delivery Partner programme once the covid-19 pandemic has been contained. (Paragraph 35)

7. We recommend that the Ministry review its decision to seek partners while the new model was still being developed and to report to us on whether future procurement processes will prevent the cancellation of proposed new contacts at such a late stage in a process and after potential bidders have put considerable time and effort into nugatory bids. (Paragraph 36)

The Unified Model, Sentence Management and Advice to the Courts

8. The new unified model has the potential to increase judicial confidence, through improved communication, sharing of relevant information and a more consistent offer of support. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice sets out how it will assess whether the new probation delivery model improves sentencer confidence, what criteria will be used to make that judgment, and what research will be undertaken, and data gathered. (Paragraph 44)

9. Confidence in non-custodial sentencing among judges and magistrates - and, by implication, the public - will rise only if the suitability and effectiveness of such sanctions are improved. More needs to be done to address the range of issues that cause offending and, in particular in this context, reoffending after both custodial and non-custodial sentences. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently progressing through Parliament offers a substantial opportunity to increase public confidence that those who offend are serving suitable sentences, in prison and afterwards or as community alternatives. We look forward to considering firm legislative proposals on sentencing, release, parole, probation, youth justice and the management of offenders as the Bill proceeds. (Paragraph 45)

10. We recommend that the MOJ sets out what other action is being taken to improve judicial and public confidence in sentencing, particularly for the delivery of community sentencing. We recommend that the MOJ sets out what criteria it uses to measure the effectiveness of community sentencing, including the effect on reoffending. (Paragraph 46)

11. Pre-sentence reports are an essential part of probation delivery and ensure that sentencers have the information necessary to make sentencing decisions that will ensure justice and support rehabilitation. We welcome the MOJ’s commitment to improving pre-sentence reports and increasing their use under the new model and are pleased to hear that NPS capacity to prepare pre-sentence reports will be increased. (Paragraph 55)

12. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice set out how they intend to increase NPS capacity to prepare pre-sentence reports. The MOJ should also set out what work is being done besides this to improve the quality of pre-sentence reports, ensuring that those completing them understand and convey to sentencers what the needs of the offender are, and what is available in the local community where a community sentence may be appropriate. (Paragraph 56)

The Dynamic Framework

13. We are pleased to hear that Ministry of Justice have taken steps to make the Dynamic Framework more accessible to smaller third sector organisations, and particularly welcome the consultancy support that the Ministry of Justice have funded or made available free of charge to some smaller organisations. There is concern, however, among smaller and third sector organisations that the ambition to include their expertise in the system may be defeated by complex processes that may favour larger bidders. We support the work the Ministry of Justice is doing to address those concerns. We welcome the analysis the Department is undertaking on who is bidding under the Dynamic Framework and the issues arising from the bidding process, and we recommend that the Ministry of justice publish this analysis, alongside a plan of what measures will be taken to address any issues identified. (Paragraph 74)

14. We welcome the work the Ministry is doing to feed into the Cabinet Office review of procurement and recommend that the MOJ update the Committee on the outcome of this review. (Paragraph 75)

15. Although we recognise that contract values and volumes are indicative, we share in the concerns expressed by some of our witnesses, that in some instances projected volumes are lower than those that various organisations are currently working with. Given that contract value is based on projected volume, discrepancies in these figures, may prevent organisations from participating in the Dynamic Framework. For those that do participate, underfunded contracts may cause financial and operational issues later down the line which could affect the quality of service provision. The potential for contracts to be underfunded is of significant concern to the Committee and we recommend that The Ministry of Justice set out how they are modelling projected volumes and contract values, and also what is being done to ensure that contracts are sufficiently resourced and deliverable according to the funding that is available. (Paragraph 81)

16. No system can function fully from Day 1, but it is vital that probation service provision be as effective as possible. We acknowledge the fears of organisations such as NACRO about implementation of the Dynamic Framework, but equally note the confidence of the then Minister of Justice that services will be appropriately provided from the first day. We note the disappointment of those who may be affected by a shift from local to regional provision but appreciate why that was necessary at a time of pandemic. It is to be hoped that the ambition of including more third sector and smaller organisations with valuable specialist skills will be fully achieved in the longer term. Even given the difficulties that have arisen in its delivery, the Dynamic Framework appears overall to offer a more localised approach to service provision than was previously available. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice publish a commitment to ensure that procurement beyond Day 1 will take place at a more local than regional level wherever appropriate and where suitable services exist, to ensure that the services procured meet specific local needs. We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice also keep and publish records of procurement at regional/local levels and the volume of work awarded to smaller providers. (Paragraph 86)

17. So far as Day 1 provision itself goes, we have heard convincing evidence that some services may not be available straight away and are not clear what will be provided for those people who would use them. We invite the Ministry of Justice to set out what initial provision will be offered on Day 1 to those who need financial, benefits and debt services no longer available, a need that may be exacerbated by the conditions created by the covid pandemic. We recognise that suitable services will be made available at a later date, but we seek clear information on when that will be. We recommend that the Ministry set out a post-Day 1 procurement timeline for services not in scope for Day 1. (Paragraph 87)

Through the Gate and the new Resettlement model

18. We welcome the additional investment the Ministry of Justice has made to improve Through the Gate service provision until existing contracts end. We are pleased that this additional investment has resulted in an improved service for those in need of resettlement support and we hope that the service continues to improve under the new model of probation. We particularly welcome the Ministry’s intention to improve the integration between prison and community. All this being said, we have heard from several witnesses that the new resettlement model lacks clarity, with some uncertainty about how the model will be delivered in practice. (Paragraph 101)

19. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice set out how they intend the new model to be delivered practically on a local level, and how the model will work alongside those services commissioned through the Dynamic Framework. The Ministry should detail how they will ensure the “in-reach” (pre-release contact between the probation offender manager and prisoner) aspect of the new model works in practice, considering challenges often faced in regard to security clearance, access to space and the operational capacity for prisons to deliver. (Paragraph 102)

20. We note that the new resettlement model is being developed alongside the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) Model. While we welcome both models, our inquiry has highlighted some concern that the OMiC model has not yet been fully rolled out across the prison estate, which could affect implementation and success of the resettlement model. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice set out the status of roll-out of the OMiC model, including how many prisons are implementing the model fully, partially and not at all. Should the model not yet be fully implemented, we invite the Ministry to provide a timetable for its full roll-out. (Paragraph 103)


21. Probation Officers are fundamental to the delivery of probation, and we recognise the important role they play in supporting offenders and protecting the public. The Probation Service has historically faced difficulties with staffing levels, which has resulted in Probation Officers having very high caseloads, affecting their ability to manage risk and support offenders to rehabilitate. The Committee welcome the commitment to an additional 1,000 probation officers, but remain unclear whether this is additional to the existing vacancies. We recommend that the MoJ confirm whether the pledged 1,000 additional probation officers will be in addition to the 464 existing vacancies. (Paragraph 126)

22. We recognise that newly qualified probation officers and those still in training need training, development and support, and should have smaller caseloads, but we are concerned that in the interim, caseloads for qualified probation officers will remain high. While we appreciate that many variables make setting a target caseload difficult, it is clear from Inspectorate research that caseloads of more than 50 affect the quality of work, and thus the ability of probation to meet the aims of rehabilitation and public protection. We recommend that the MoJ commit to ensuring that individual caseloads do not exceed a baseline figure of 50. We recognise caseload numbers may fluctuate below this number, but they should not exceed it. The Ministry should also set out what work is being done to reduce caseloads, beyond the recruitment of additional probation officers and what support is available to staff with high caseloads, to ensure they are able to manage risk for all offenders in their caseload adequately. (Paragraph 127)

23. We are pleased to note the Ministry’s commitment to employing more ex-offenders and welcome HMPPS’ commitment to employing 150 ex-offenders in probation. We recommend that the MOJ and HMPPS set out a detailed timeline for how it will recruit and deploy these ex-offenders. (Paragraph 128)


24. Transition to the new model in the context of covid-19 presents a huge operational challenge, particularly for operating models, IT systems and building leases. The Ministry and HMPPS have assured us that work is under way to ensure transition is successfully and completed on schedule. We recommend that the Ministry publish a detailed timetable setting out milestones towards transition, and we seek a monthly update on the progress made against those targets. (Paragraph 142)

25. We are concerned to hear that some voluntary sector organisations do not feel sufficiently involved in the process to successfully manage transition. (Paragraph 143)

26. We recommend that the MOJ and HMPPS involve voluntary organisations and CRCs in relevant communications relating to transition. We recommend that the MOJ clarify to relevant voluntary sector supply chain partners their position in relation to TUPE, including what staff members are eligible and what contract they fall into. (Paragraph 144)


The Future of Probation: Napo’s response to the Justice Select Committee report.

Napo has campaigned tirelessly over the last seven years to reunify probation following the disastrous privatisation of probation under the then Secretary of State Chris Grayling. We welcome the interest and scrutiny that the Justice Select Committee has given probation over the years and we welcome this report of their findings.

Whilst the report includes a number of key recommendations, the committee has chosen to focus on staff workloads and the number of cases that staff carry at any given time. However, Napo would urge caution on this. Probation cases vary in terms of complexity, needs, and risk management and in order for staff to do their job they need the room to focus on those complex cases. The ongoing issue of workloads in probation requires a far more holistic approach including providing the service with the resources it needs to employ the adequate number of staff, the pay and recognition staff deserve and flexibility to address workload and stress issues. An arbitrary number will become the bench mark and this may ultimately do more harm than good.

The Dynamic framework, the part of probation still being contracted out, has been badly affected by the pandemic in terms of delays to the timetable for bidding and awarding contracts. As such we are now under immense pressure to complete the process of transfer in a very short space of time. Those staff members transferring to these new providers under TUPE must be consulted with and provided with assurances, which are currently not forthcoming. It remains to be seen whether these new contracts will provide the promised involvement of specialist voluntary and third sector providers and there remain concerns that some of the mistakes of the past will be repeated.

Over all however, the report is welcome. Napo would like to thank the committee for its time but also to ask that it keeps probation under scrutiny going forward. We have a long way to go to effectively rebuild the profession, the service and staff morale. This will require further investment, a commitment by the Ministry of Justice to listen to the experts and follow the evidence.

Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary said: “The last seven years has taught us that you cannot have an effective probation service built on ad hoc, ideologically run policies. Probation is a critical part of the criminal justice system, of rehabilitating clients and protecting the public. It cannot do this effectively if it is starved of resources and under constant change. The Minister must now commit to providing the probation [service] with adequate funding so that it can now begin to stabilise and return to being the most effective public service justice system.”


Napo written evidence to the Committee can be viewed here. That by Unison here.

Monday 19 April 2021

Talking Sense

Now here's a funny thing. With charities like Nacro having long been neutered in terms of campaigning for fear of jeopardising CJS contracting opportunities, probation now tightly in the grip of MoJ control and unions essentially silenced under civil service employment rules, who can we look to for any common sense regarding penal policy and social justice? Why the police of course because thankfully they do still have a degree of independence. This from yesterday:- 

Tackle poverty and inequality to reduce crime, says police chief

Cutting poverty and inequality is the best way to reduce crime, a police chief has said, calling for more money for deprived areas to thwart criminals’ attempts to recruit those left desperate by deprivation.

In an unusually frank interview for a senior officer, given to mark his retirement as chief constable of Merseyside police, Andy Cooke said that if he was given £5bn to cut crime, he would put £1bn into law enforcement and £4bn into tackling poverty. Cooke, who has started a new role as head of the inspectorate of constabulary, said that in his experience most criminals, including those committing serious violence, were not inherently bad.

“The best crime prevention is increased opportunity and reduced poverty. That’s the best way to reduce crime. So there needs to be substantial funding into the infrastructure of our inner cities and our more deprived areas. Why do people get involved in crime and serious crime? It’s because the opportunities to make money elsewhere aren’t there for them. And never more so than in our inner cities and in our more difficult to police areas. We need to reduce that deprivation and the scale of deprivation that we see in some of our communities, because if you give people a viable alternative, not all but a lot will take it.”

He said children educated at “some of our tough schools” needed something to look forward to other than a life of crime, and that opportunities for apprenticeships needed to be increased. “If we don’t do that, then policing will always be on the back foot,” he said.

Asked what he would do if he were given £5bn to cut crime, Cooke said reducing inequality and deprivation should be the priority: 

“I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity. Plenty of entrepreneurial skills get lost in our inner city communities or get directed into the wrong things. If you give [someone] a legal opportunity to actually earn money, a legal opportunity to actually have a good standard of living, a number of people would take that because they know they can sleep in their beds at night … they don’t have to worry about what’s happening with the kids and what’s happening with their families and the doors going through at seven in the morning.”

Cooke’s route from chief of Merseyside to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services mirrors that of Bernard Hogan-Howe, who eventually became commissioner of the Metropolitan police. Under Cooke, the Merseyside force gained a reputation for tough policing. It was a keen user of stop-and-search powers, and he was the first commander of Merseyside’s Matrix unit, set up to tackle gang crime and violence.

But he said the police, courts and criminal justice system could not simply scare people into not offending. He said such an approach taken in the US had led to “ridiculous prison sentences as deterrence, and all they end up doing is building more prisons, and you don’t see reduction in firearms crime or a reduction in murders over there”. Tough enforcement and social and economic justice need to go hand in hand, he said.

“The solution is building community cohesion,” he said. “The solution is building the opportunities for young people, and levelling up the playing field. It’s such an unequal playing field we have at the moment with job prospects, and with opportunities for the future. There’s got to be some levelling up.”

Cooke’s views about the relationship between deprivation and offending comes after 11 years of Conservative government, which critics say has widened inequalities. Police chiefs usually keep such views private. He also said aspiration needed to be boosted to prevent hopelessness cascading from one generation to the next. “It’s linked to deprivation issues, but because Liverpool particularly, is so predominantly white working class, there are low levels of attainment, there are low levels of academic achievement and low levels of aspiration, and aspiration is one of the key problems.”

The aspiration gap had to be closed, he said: “There is a massive gap. If your father hasn’t got a job, and your grandfather hasn’t got a job or if those jobs are particularly poorly paid … what’s the aspiration to achieve? Some families do [achieve]. It’s not right across the board. Some families do it, some individuals do it. But vast swathes now, they’ll go to school, they’ll leave with no qualification and they’ll have no prospect of gainful employment. Something’s got to change in relation to that.”

Cooke’s replacement is Serena Kennedy, the first female chief constable of Merseyside.

Friday 16 April 2021

Antidote to a Scary World 5

"When was the last time you actually ‘published’ or even tweeted about anything remotely positive ‘Jim’? Happy to contribute but you need to drop the shit cloud image first."

A day early in recognition of tomorrow's significant milestone in national life, and I think the first time quoting from the Church Times, but it's always been a fascination of mine as to who owns what on the High Street and how they run their business. But I've also become increasingly disillusioned with capitalism and long followed examples of beneficence such as that provided by John Elliot of Ebac washing machines, the Lofthouse family of Fisherman's Friend fame and the extraordinary story behind Richer Sounds:-  

For Julian Richer, poorer is better

Julian Richer is a successful (and, accordingly, wealthy) capitalist who believes that the way to improve society is to do as you would be done by. He came to public attention last year when he announced his intention of handing more than 60 per cent of his business, the hi-fi and TV retailer Richer Sounds, to a trust owned by his 530-odd employees. He also celebrated turning 60 by giving each of them £1000 for every year that they had worked for the company.

A flurry of profiles in the national press identified him as “a committed Christian”, but in fact the genesis of his attitude to business long predates his baptism at St Michael le Belfrey, in York, in 2006. The obvious model for his latest move, as he points out, is the founder of the John Lewis Partnership, Spedan Lewis, who famously declared that his aim was “solely to make the world happier and a bit more decent”.

Mr Richer was born in London in 1959, the elder of two children of Percy and Ursula Richer. His father, “a frustrated businessman, but academically very bright”, was the grandson of refugees from the pogroms in Eastern Europe. His mother had grown up in Hamburg, but, in 1934, had emigrated to Palestine (where she briefly married a Major in the British army). Both of them now worked as trainee managers for Marks & Spencer, and young Julian was regaled with stories of visits from its chairman, Lord Marks, who always made a point of checking that the staff lavatories were clean and that the staff canteen served hot meals.

Although it was not from his parents that he acquired what he likes to call his “compassion gene”, Mr Richer says that they were “good people”, who gave him “a wonderful upbringing”. “They taught me right and wrong, and respect and self-discipline, and eating your greens before you have your pudding. They were law-abiding — that was very important. My mum particularly was quite strict.”

The seminal influence in his life was Ernest Polack, his housemaster at Clifton College, the boarding school in Bristol to which (thanks to a bequest from a grandfather) he was sent at the age of 13. He recalls Mr Polack as “a wonderful, wonderful man. He would spend the holidays in South Africa demonstrating against apartheid and getting beaten black and blue, and then he would come back and show us his war wounds. It brings tears to my eyes even now.”

In those days, he himself, he says, was primarily interested in making money. “I was the Artful Dodger with a cheeky grin. I had a chip on my shoulder, and I was very driven. At school, I would watch out of the window all these Bentleys arriving at the weekend and I’d make my dad park his beaten-up Renault round the back.”

During the miners’ strike in 1974, he bought a large case of candles for £3 and got his father to sell them for him through Exchange & Mart for £15. Couldn’t that be described as profiteering? “I admit it,” he says, “and I’m mortified by it now.”

He had already discovered that there was a market among his fellow pupils for recycled hi-fi separates. The previous year, he had picked up a second-hand Bang & Olufsen turntable for £10, cleaned it up and “made it look nice”, and sold it for £22. By the time he was 17, his study was full of stock, and he had three other lads working for him on commission.

When I meet him, the coronavirus is still no more than a small cloud on the horizon. We sit in a booth in a cafĂ© in Mayfair and drink expensive tea. He seems to be full of nervous energy — it is hard to get even half a question out before he is answering it — and, when I remark that I hear he does 100 press-ups a day, he says: “One hundred and fifty this morning. Not all in one go.” He shows me his to-do list for the day: an A4 sheet of paper close-covered with handwritten instructions to himself.

He opened his first shop, on tiny premises next to London Bridge Station, at the age of 19. “At first, we dribbled along. Then we had a good year when we started buying end-of-line products — our turnover went from something like £120,000 to £600,000. It took three or four years before we really got going. We opened a shop in Stockport, and it went crazy. Then we opened one in Birmingham, and then Leeds, then Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Liverpool.”

When he was 23, he bought himself a second-hand Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow — which he gave to his dad a year later after treating himself to a slightly larger second-hand Silver Spirit.

It was in 1982 that the example of goodness which Mr Polack had set him was reinforced when he read In Search of Excellence, a bestseller by two American management consultants who had looked for the secret of certain businesses’ success. The book sets out eight key principles, but the lesson that Mr Richer drew from it was the overriding importance of treating both his customers and his employees well.

It is hard to differentiate between altruism and self-interest, kind heart, and shrewd head, in the business practices that he has developed since. Early on, for example, he decided that he would buy a holiday home for the use of his staff (whom he prefers to call “colleagues”). “When I went to my bank manager to ask for a mortgage, he said: ‘You don’t need to do this.’ I told him: ‘That’s exactly why I’m doing it.’” Today, the company has a dozen such homes, including apartments in Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, and Venice. “Every year, more than 70 per cent of our staff use at least one of them for a free holiday.”

Over 40 years in business, he says, he has learnt that “what you get out of people depends on how you treat them. Is that exploitation? At least we’re all benefiting together. I go the extra mile, and it is a win-win. I’m in a cut-throat world of business, and I want to be better than the competition. I want staff to stay with me and not go elsewhere. I want them to put themselves out for customers. I don’t want them to steal from me: some will, if they’re desperate, but we have phenomenally low levels of theft.”

Every week, he receives a “colleague care report” that updates him on staff morale at each of his 53 stores, and lists every employee who has a physical or mental-health issue or has suffered a bereavement, “with their mobile number, so I can call them. And I do. Not every person every week, but I’m keeping track, and I think that’s terribly powerful. I do it because I care; but, of course, the business benefits also.”

In his own 1995 how-to book, The Richer Way, he acknowledges the “unswerving support” of his wife, Rosie, “without which my modest success would not have been possible”. They bought a Georgian house near York in 1986, and, in time, she decided to attend St Michael le Belfrey, where she had been confirmed as a girl. He started to go with her, “as a passenger”.

“I felt a bit of a fraud, but I enjoyed it. I would sit quietly while she took communion and it was therapeutic after a busy week. Then, one day, the Vicar kind of jumped on me. Someone had tipped him off, I think, that I might have a few bob, and he asked me to host [in my home] an Alpha course he was setting up for businesspeople. Everyone rather enjoyed it; so we did it a second time. And, after about 18 months, I just felt I was ready to be baptised. It wasn’t a single, Damascene moment: it was more of a gradual thing.”

He recalls the day of his baptism as “a really, really special day”. The following year, he was confirmed by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, in his private chapel in Bishopthorpe Palace.

Today, he describes himself as “Christian-lite”. “We have a weekly Bible-study group in our house whose mission statement is ‘to enrich the lives of others through the message of Jesus’. For me, Christianity is about loving God and loving your neighbour. You know, Jesus was about fairness. Really, he reinforced everything I’d learnt before: from my socialist Jewish housemaster, and from In Search of Excellence. His message broke it down into simple language.”

His drive to succeed is undiminished, but it long ago ceased to be about making money. “We don’t have flash cars any more. We used to have a couple of helicopters and a jet, but — as the Daily Mirror put it — I now take the bus.”

He and Rosie still have far more than they need, he says — last year, The Sunday Times Rich List estimated his net worth at £160 million — and they do not have any children; so his focus has shifted to philanthropy.

His goal in life now, he says, is “to leave a legacy”. “I can try to improve society and leave the world a better place. I’m at an age when I’ve got a lot of experience, I have available time, I have resources that I can put into doing good. And that is my real satisfaction and joy.”

He has set up numerous not-for-profit initiatives. Acts 435, launched ten years ago by Dr Sentamu, took its name from the Bible verse that relates that the early Christians sold property “and put [the proceeds] at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need”.

The concept is simple: through church volunteers, it connects people who are struggling financially with others who want to help them directly. The minimum donation is £10, but every penny goes to someone in need, as the modest overheads are more than covered by Gift Aid receipts.

It took several years to get anyone in the Church of England interested in the idea, but, today, Mr Richer says, with obvious pride, more than 400 congregations are involved in a scheme that has helped more than 20,000 people.

In 2018 — the year when his second book, The Ethical Capitalist, came out — he set up the think tank Taxwatch to investigate and expose aggressive tax avoidance, which, he believes, denies the public purse at least £50 billion a year. “If you think that the entire prison service, which is bursting at the seams, costs only £3 billion a year to run, can you imagine how much good could be done if we collected that money?

“The criminal justice system, likewise, is starved of cash: lots of people can’t get legal aid now, and many bankrupt themselves proving their innocence. The whole benefits system is terribly hostile. I’ve written a paper on social housing, I feel so strongly about that. In all of these things, the poorest and the weakest in our society are treated very badly.”

He speaks with even greater passion about his new campaign against imposed zero-hours contracts. “Maybe a million people are on zero-hours contracts that they don’t want. Never mind the poverty it causes: just think of the daily misery of not knowing if you’re going to have enough money for food or rent. And women being sent home early — ‘We don’t need you today, love, it’s quiet’ — and they still have to pay for the child care they’ve arranged. It absolutely burns me up with anger.”

In February, with support from the CBI and the TUC, he launched the Good Business Charter, an accreditation scheme that requires businesses to make a commitment to ten specific pledges: a real living wage; fairer hours and contracts; employee well-being; employee representation; diversity and inclusion; environmental responsibility; paying fair tax; commitment to customers; ethical sourcing; and prompt payment.

Common to all of these concerns is fairness, he says, and he intends also, when the coronavirus allows, to set up a fairness foundation. “I want the greatest thinkers and writers of the day to contribute to a debate about how we can improve our society, and hopefully start a groundswell of public opinion.”

In the past, he has made donations to the Conservatives, but he is “absolutely determined now” to be non-party-political. “Everyone has got good in them, and I’d rather look for that. I’d rather find areas of commonality where we can work together and bring different sides together. Let’s not be tribal: let’s just try to make the world a better place.”

Wednesday 14 April 2021

End of an Era

I notice the indomitable Frances Crook is handing over the reins at the Howard League. Boy, probation could have done with someone like her over the last few years, but such people are always in very short supply. We've covered many aspects of her campaigning work on the blog over the years, such as here in 2019 on the future of probation. Michael Howard famously refused to meet her and she irritated the hell out of failed politician and former Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, just one of many badges of honour. 

My life’s work, my mission, has been at the Howard League

I have been at the helm of the Howard League for Penal Reform for more than three decades. I was once on Radio 4’s Today programme when they joked that I was destined to do this job, as my name means ‘free the prisoners’. And it feels exactly like that.

My working life has been spent in working for social justice. I started teaching children in Liverpool who faced challenges, did five years campaigning at Amnesty International for people who were tortured and imprisoned for their beliefs and am now working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. Along the way I have had some non-executive roles helping to sort out school food, being part of the governing body of Greenwich University and overseeing the NHS in Barnet, my local borough. I was elected twice as a local councillor.

But my life’s work, my mission, has been at the Howard League.

I want to pay tribute to the many people who have worked and volunteered with me at the Howard League. They are the most talented, hard-working and joyful people I have ever met.

The Howard League is a special organisation; it has always held a central place in the political and justice landscape of the country. We contribute to the public discourse on the most important issues facing a government – how to keep people safe and how to respond to challenges to public order.

Since Socrates, the question ‘What is Justice?’ has characterised the nature of the state. A country at ease with itself, with economic and social equality tends to use prison less. Sadly, that is not the case with the UK with its central focus on punishment.

In the face of challenges, the Howard League has an amazing track record of success.

During my tenure we have worked with the police to reduce child arrests by two thirds. This means that hundreds of thousands – yes, I do mean that huge number – of children have not suffered the trauma and life damage of arrest.

Contact with the police is a route into crime for children, so the reduction in arrests has reduced crime and prevented people becoming victims – as well as saving the public purse from unnecessary expense.

We set up an in-house legal service for children and young people some 20 years ago. Hundreds have been helped with support on release from prison and getting justice inside prison in the face of systemic abuse.

We have taken test cases that achieved reform, forcing the government to recognise that children in prison should have the same legal protections as all children and we are currently challenging the use of solitary confinement on children.

We have run successful campaigns that have changed public attitudes. When the government tried to ban prisoners’ access to books, we mobilised writers and actors to publicise our campaign.

In the last few weeks, hundreds of our members and supporters have contacted their MPs to oppose the building of more prison cells for women.

We use mainstream and social media to talk about prison use and conditions, community responses to crime and better sanctions.

The charity’s mission is primarily to achieve system reform and contribute to public education on penal issues, and we achieve this with a mixed toolkit of research, policy development, campaigns and legal help for individuals whose lived experience informs our work.

On a personal note, when I took over, although the charity was well respected, it was almost bankrupt. I am grateful to the trusts and individuals who allow me to celebrate the fact that the Howard League is financially stable, owns a headquarters building and has a range of funding streams that means we are not beholden to one source of funding.

People sometimes say that fundraising is problematic, but I have not found it so, as I have enjoyed working with donors who have been supportive and creative.

I have taken an organisation that was on the brink of being wound up, to one that is vibrant, benefits from an amazing staff team and is facing the future with energy and vision.

I am proud of what I have achieved and thankful to the many people who I have worked with. It has been an honour and a joy.

Thank you, it’s been a blast, and I will miss you all.

Frances Crook

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Probation Officer Well Being 2

A few weeks ago we covered a webinar on the subject of well-being and burnout and it seems it prompted a number of questions to the presenters. I notice these have now been published along with the responses:- 
  • Did you categorise respondents by NPS region/LDU to assess whether there were burnout hotspots? 
Thanks for the question – I have had a quick look at this. Burnout is highest in London and the North East – I’d need to do more to work out whether this is statistically significant, but it looks like it is. We didn’t collect data at the LDU level. It would be interesting to look at caseloads and workloads in the context of this data. It’s probably also worth thinking about the idea that burnout can be ‘contagious’. 
  • Would you consider burnout worse in CRCs? 
We don’t know the answer to this but it would be good to know. I know that caseloads are higher in CRCs which may lead to higher burnout but the workloads are so different that I expect this is not a particularly helpful way of thinking about. There will be different demands around emotional labour, different anxieties around risks, different perceptions of organisational support all of which will have an impact. Our survey could easily be used with CRC staff so we could do a comparison fairly easily. 
  • From your analysis so far, have you noticed any impacts of budget cuts (and wider austerity) on burnout? 
I think the main impact here would be around workloads – stemming from TR. From other research I’ve been doing, I know that cuts to other services in the community have been felt acutely by probation staff as it makes it harder for them to do their job – which will put additional pressure on them. Our survey data don’t show this and it’s not a theme which has come out of the interviews – although they have been very organisation focused. 
  • Was any consideration given to interviewing/sampling CRC staff? 
We did this work as part of a request by the NPS to look at the implementation of the SEEDS2 training and new supervision framework (although we weren’t commissioned by the NPS and it has been carried out independently). Because of this, we did not sample CRC staff. However, we could easily adapt our survey to CRC staff and it would be very interesting to do so. From our previous research on emotional labour we found a lot of similarities between CRC and NPS staff in terms of the work undertaken. 
  • Has any comparison been made with results from staff surveys, which covers wellbeing?
No – but this is a good point and we’ll see if it is possible to do this.
  • The problem is that probation will highly unlikely deal with high caseloads - has been like it for a long while. 
Agreed – but this may provide additional evidence for why workloads should be reduced? It also means that providers must take some responsibility for burnout and not leave staff to deal with it. There are also potential implications for recruitment and retention of staff if the relationship between caseloads and EL is better understood. It’s also worth remembering that caseloads were not the most significant factor when trying to predict burnout.
  • Per head of staff population, did you look at why women have higher burn out. I.e. why high % 
In the broader literature on burnout, women are more likely to suffer from emotional exhaustion and men are more likely to become depersonalised and this was also the case here (the mean average for depersonalisation for men is 1.40 and for women is 1.38) but this is not statistically significant. We’d need to look at this more to find out why this is. There is an important gendered angle here which we need to look into more. 
  • As an SPO - SEEDS is great and I always enjoy this with my staff, but it needs to be given to SPOs too in my opinion 
Yes – this is one of the strongest themes to come out of our interviews and we’ve already fed this back to the NPS. 
  • Would job satisfaction help to an impact on burnout, knowing that some people stop offending etc.… ? 
Job satisfaction is a protective factor for burnout – we’ve got some data on this but haven’t managed to look at it. But we will. In terms of improving job satisfaction – yes, a better understanding of the effects of probation would help because people may be able to have higher levels of job satisfaction if they know they are having a positive impact on people’s lives. People tend to try and find job satisfaction where they can – I think there’s scope for the organisation to do more here. Something which has come out of interviews is the focus on ‘small wins’ which contribute to higher levels of job satisfaction. 
  • [Comment rather than question]: As a former head of a Probation Service (Ireland), there is a huge amount of food for thought (and action) from this research. As a former service director, (and don’t want to excuse anything!) I am very conscious of the challenges of managing an organisation and its demands, while trying one’s best to support staff. Many thanks for highlighting these issues. 
Agreed… this why we’re in academia and not heads of probation services! 
  • Has this study been compared to any previous data relating to emotional labour in probation practitioners and if so what has been the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation for example been on the experience of probation staff? 
This is the first study which has attempted to quantify emotional labour and burnout amongst probation staff in England and Wales (as far as we know!). We have written a little about the impact of TR on NPS staff in our article here.  We will be looking at comparing what we’ve done with studies from other countries.
  • Has your research been shared with NPS senior leaders? 
Not yet, but it will be. 
  • Clinical support is provided via PAM. Did staff find this helpful? 
Generally – no. PAM assist was seen as too generic. People have complained that when they ring them up they have to first of all explain what probation even is before getting the support they need. Participants have compared PAM assist with the support available when they were in a Probation Trust and say it is not specific enough to probation work and so doesn’t fare well. A small number of people have been more positive. People are more positive about the insights sessions with clinical psychologist and everyone who is eligible is very positive about the clinical supervision provided through the OPD pathway.

Monday 12 April 2021

MoJ Proved Wrong

We've covered the astonishing decision by the MoJ to defund Circles of Support and Accountability before and this evaluation report serves to confirm just how bad decision-making is at Marsham Street:-

An Evaluation of the ‘Completing the Circle’ Project 

On 25th November 2020 Circles UK hosted a seminar to launch the results of an in-depth, independent evaluation study undertaken by a research team at the Sexual Offences, Crime and Misconduct Research Unit (SOCMRU), Nottingham Trent University. The evaluation study captured the findings of a four-year project entitled ‘Completing the Circle: A Community Approach to Reducing Sexual Abuse.’ Over 100 participants attended the event, representing agencies and organisations from countries as far afield as Sweden, Canada, and New Zealand. 

What was the Completing the Circle Project? 

Loneliness, isolation, and alienation are known high risk factors for sexual recidivism. Circles are a unique programme for reducing these risks. Circles work with high-risk sexual harm causers to augment stretched statutory provision for this group of offenders and so help prevent further sexual abuse. 

In a Circle, 4-6 local Volunteers work with an individual who has been assessed as a high risk. The ‘Circle’ meets for at least 12 months. The person who has committed a sexual offence/s – known as the Core Member – is supported by the Volunteers to reintegrate safely into the community. The Volunteers also hold him/her/they accountable for their past and future behaviours. 

In 2015 the National Lottery Community Fund awarded a grant of £2,040,394 to a consortium of Circle Providers brought together and led by Circles UK. The Consortium was tasked to establish delivery in parts of the country where Circles did not exist. These areas were Merseyside, London, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Northamptonshire. 


Results were impressive. In just over four years, Circles Providers were set up in all previously ‘un-served’ areas, 188 Circles were delivered and almost 800 Volunteers were recruited, trained, and supervised. Together these Volunteers spent nearly 40,000 hours engaged in Circle activities. Qualitative results, drawing from a thematic analysis of reports compiled at the end of each Circle, along with interviews with a sample of key participants, produced evidence which markedly illustrated the complexities surrounding the Core Member client group, the individualised and distinctly ‘person centred’ character of the Circles model and the skill and tenacity demonstrated by Volunteers.

A number of statistically significant findings were also identified: 

Risk Reduced 

The risk of sexual reoffending presented by Core Members declined. Shifts in dynamic risk factors were measured using an established tool called the Dynamic Risk Review (DRR). Analysis revealed that the risk associated with ‘dynamic’, changeable variables reduced after three months involvement with a Circle, with further dynamic risk reductions over time. Impressively, Core Members in the study demonstrated an 18% reduction in dynamic risk scores over the course of their Circle.

These incremental reductions in dynamic risk over time reinforce a long-established understanding that effecting change among the serious sexual harm causers targeted by Circles requires time, commitment, and persistence. There is no ‘short fix’ when it comes to supporting Core Members to alter damaging and often deeply entrenched behaviours. However, relationships developed over a prolonged period have a demonstrable and positive effect. 

Reintegration Improved 

Protective factors known to inhibit the risk of sexual recidivism also showed significant improvement across a range of variables, including accommodation, the number of stable, emotional relationships, employment and purposeful activities and hobbies. 

After only 3 months on a Circle: 

• 96% of Core Members were in stable and suitable accommodation; this increased to 100% at 9 months. 

• 26% of Core Members were in paid or voluntary employment; this increased to 42% at 9 months.

Wellbeing Increased 

Emotional wellbeing is an important protective factor which research has shown contributes to desistance from sexual offending. The study results demonstrated that Circles significantly improve the emotional wellbeing of Core Members. At the start of their Circle, each Core Member had significantly poorer emotional wellbeing than the average person. Their emotional wellbeing improved significantly, however, throughout the duration of their Circle. The data demonstrate an 18% increase in wellbeing scores, with 67% of the Core Members demonstrating significant improvements in wellbeing by the time their Circle came to an end.

The Wider Benefits 

There was also a pay-off for local citizens and communities. As well as the improved community safety afforded by Circles, the evaluation highlighted the reciprocal nature of volunteering in a Circle. Findings taken from comparisons of pre- and post-training questionnaires revealed that the training delivered to Circles Volunteers was informative and impactful. Furthermore, over time, the confidence levels of Volunteers increased, and they acquired transferable skills which sometimes improved their employability, as this quote demonstrates.


‘Completing the Circle’ was an ambitious four-year project which set out to end the ‘postcode lottery’ of access to Circles. It achieved this objective and generated fresh evidence of the far-reaching community safety and rehabilitative benefits of Circles. 

Circles UK wishes to express its sincere appreciation to the National Lottery for funding the project and the research team at the Sexual Offences, Crime and Misconduct Research Unit (SOCMRU), Nottingham Trent University. We also wish to pay tribute to the Circles Providers that participated as delivery partners and whose commitment and expertise were instrumental to the project’s success. These were: 

Circles South East
The Safer Living Foundation
Change, Grow, Live
Re:shape (organisation has ceased operation)
CROPT (organisation has ceased operation)

Leah Warwick
National Development Manager Circles UK

30th March 2021

Saturday 10 April 2021

Antidote to a Scary World 4

"When was the last time you actually ‘published’ or even tweeted about anything remotely positive ‘Jim’? Happy to contribute but you need to drop the shit cloud image first."

Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham is a very special place and from Monday 12th April you can once more visit, having first booked a ticket online. During lockdown work has carried on behind the scenes with the Remaking Beamish project, making sure that this extraordinary living museum continues to keep people of the North East in touch with their cultural roots and heritage. The replica Welfare Hall opened before lockdown and gives a flavour of what's to come in the 1950's town extension.

From Wikipedia:-

Beamish Museum is an open-air museum located at Beamish, near the town of Stanley, in County Durham, England. The museum's guiding principle is to preserve an example of everyday life in urban and rural North East England at the climax of industrialisation in the early 20th century.

Much of the restoration and interpretation is specific to the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, together with portions of countryside under the influence of industrial revolution from 1825. On its 350 acres (140 ha) estate it uses a mixture of translocated, original and replica buildings, a large collection of artefacts, working vehicles and equipment, as well as livestock and costumed interpreters.

The museum has received a number of awards since it opened to visitors in 1972 and has been influential on other living museums. It is an educational resource, and also helps to preserve some traditional north-country and rare livestock breeds.

Thursday 8 April 2021

Best of the Week 2

I started a 15 year career in Probation after securing a Trainee Probation Officer position in 2001. I largely enjoyed my time in Probation. I think the increasing time sat pounding away putting information into a computer to the detriment of working with people, the cut backs meaning a sweated stressed workforce and Grayling's vandalism of the Probation Service was why I have since pursued an alternate career. Good luck to the new recruits I say, they are clearly much needed and represent the future of Probation.

I got a job in Probation almost by accident, it was going to be a tide-over thing, and I knew nothing about it. What I encountered was a vibrant, inspiring institution which rang lots of bells in my then very immature philosophical head about the need to extend dignity and compassion to those who fall through the cracks and make terrible mistakes (and yes, do terrible things). 

I got stuck in and have been there ever since. I was so proud of "my" institution, and so enriched by both colleagues and clients. Several decades later, that has turned to dust. I cannot and will not recommend a career in the tatty remains of this profession to anyone, and personally am just plain embarrassed by what it is now (and its not a profession). 

On a brighter note, this aged old hack is encouraged by conversations with new recruits: they joined with basically the same idealistic principles in mind that I had. They are knackered and disillusioned with the MoJ and NPS, and looking for exits, but there is still a flickering flame on the candle of what I believe are the basic values and ethos. How to fan/protect the flame in the whistling cold gale of the current political climate is the question. 

Pearly Gates

I see colleagues becoming ill with the job. You are lucky if you have a good manager but senior management could not care less about the staff or diversity or welfare. They are there to be used as robots spout the policy line to keep their jobs and to blame when the lack of proper staffing, tools, training, time bear down. If you want nil work life balance, stress and very likely anxiety or mental illness, then come work for this organisation. Find another union rather than Napo as Napo management could not care less about individuals just in keeping their job roles. Anyone who has not experienced this lucky you. It is and has been a very real predicament for many.

I am reading about “what works” and “end to end offender management”, which probation officers have done for 100 years, which HMPPS have stopped probation officers doing under the banner of OMiC. This is what happens when politicians, civil servants and profiteers meddle with public services, the actual core services become bid candy for charities and private companies seeking financial contracts. If wasn’t muffled by red tape and bureaucracy the probation service and probation officers would be talking and writing about real probation work.

Switchback really is a great charity/programme and I had great success with one person who was very committed to seeing it through. That said, another of mine wasn't so great at attending their work placement and kept telling me he didn't like his mentor - after a few three way meetings he was kindly asked to leave the programme. I always wondered if he counted towards their highly dubious 9% re-offending rate - I presume this is 9% for those who complete their programme, rather than the ones they give up on, though I'm not sure. This was many years ago, perhaps they have changed now - but in my mind if you give intensive work and training to very motivated offenders, it's not rocket science that these are the ones who re-offend at extremely low rates.

End to end not that old at all and what works not so very old either a bit of USA Ross and plenty of adapted priestly and Maguire. All mid 90s actually. Before the managerialist generation it was Home Office sponsored PO structures and that was an awful period of the 50s do as your told labelled and heavy use of surnames or criminal delinquent. It is important [to] get the facts right. What probation did in the 60s 70s awful. Not so cool 80s and fallen over now regardless.

From the beginning Probation began with receiving and supporting offenders from courts. Helping those released from prison has been part of probation for a long time. What works and end to offender management have been concepts that describe this. The point is, every charity, academic and his dog wants to teach Grandma Probation to suck eggs.

There are some important discussions & challenges to be had in the coming days which have implications for probation work. The new 'Bill' plays a serious part.
"Vaccine passports are just the start – we increasingly have a state that thinks it can do as it pleases"
And, as has been said on here by many before, the behaviour of 'The State' is used as a model & determines what lead the country follows - a concept the self-defined 'elite' seem unable (or unwilling) to grasp when they behave so appallingly with impunity, yet call for the head of anyone else who transgresses the rules/laws/guidance. In doing so they undermine the authority of 'The State' and of its Civil Servants - and of those imbued with responsibility for enforcing the rule/laws/norms decreed by 'The State'.

Towards the recent end of my probation career I found increasing levels of contempt and disregard for authority were commonplace; not just from those with generations of entrenched criminal beliefs handed down (grandfather, father, son) or those who chose to live alternatively out with society, but an unrest and irritation that filled seemingly more 'everyday folk' with overt attitudes that displayed a general lack of respect for others, a self-centredness, a sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement which fuelled their victimhood at the unfairness of not having.

* yet this government and its cheerleaders are seen to fill their boots and fuck up with grotesque consequences, but fail to accept responsibility or resign;

* their civil servants are seen feathering their nests, speaking in forked-tongues at parliamentary committees yet achieving nothing;

* chums are given unlimited access to the public purse, for no good reason or purpose

So why can't we, the people, behave the same? Why can't we, the people, lie and cover up? Why can't we, the people, behave badly? That makes for a more difficult and confrontational supervision session, doncha think?

I agree with you. We live in a very broken world. I feel that whilst everyone wants the benefits of living in a society with its organisation and social structures and protections, more and more people want to individual entities, think, say, and do whatever they want, regardless of the impact they might have on the collective.

I think there's many reasons for that, but much of it is about money rather then values. There seem to me to be an attitude that as long as we all pay our taxes that's enough to keep society operational. However, there seems little consideration that 'operational' is only half what's needed to make society function well. A collective sense of social value is also required, and an understanding (and acceptance) that to make everything work, a certain degree of 'me, the individual' may have to be conceded. 

I think more and more that concession is becoming a reluctance rather then a willing contribution. It's that reluctance that fuels the feelings of victimisation and marginalisation, and creates the sense of entitlement. For society to function healthily it has to be more then a mass of individuals only concerned with their own individual life journeys. 

But that's not the sermon being preached from the pulpits of government. They preach the virtues of individual freedom and rights because its beneficial to them, it allows them to carry on doing whatever they want. After all they're extending the same privilege to everyone. But their little corner of society is far different to the society the rest of us live in. It's snake oil and deceitful and they know it's harmful and disingenuous, but as long as they can keep getting what they want, why concern themselves with the great unwashed? Unfortunately, that's a very pervasive attitude that appears to be leaking into everything.


I've worked in prison and personally I would rather be given time with the offenders rather than this be outsourced to officers. The officers don't seem to know what we do exactly and prison can't be arsed to brief them on this as part of the training. With the term offender manager it means all issues they are unsure of come to us. Waste of time. We are probation officers not responsible for issues which prison system have areas to deal with. Plus huge time cost in answering a discussing whatever the issue is bypassing the app system sometimes rather than spending this directly with the person we should have contact with.

I rather think that those who design and develop these changes to probation services start from a base point of somehow viewing probation in the same context as one big offending behaviour programme. An all inclusive, multi disciplined programme that everybody who enters the CJS must be subjected to. Hopefully, some might gain some benefit, but the important thing is that they MUST do the course.

I think "knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing", has never been a more appropriate saying in today's CJS. I wonder too, with recent reports that people who go through particular offending behaviour programmes are actually more likely to reoffend then if they hadn't been through the programme, if the same might be true for those subject to probation? Just a thought. 

Everything has become just a process, compartmentalised to create greater opportunities for 'Outcome Mining'. I get the sense that OMIC is just a rehashing of the failed TTG, big idea, great rhetoric, but no foundation. 
OMIC? The upshot is that people will still be released with £46 in their pocket (ever noticed that the £46 never increases with inflation? Been the same amount for 30 years!), and have nowhere to live. Perhaps even more so now, because NFA might mean being able to circumnavigate tagging! I'm just wondering this Good Friday morning, if those making the "machines" actually know what the "machines" as supposed to do anymore?


Next time any of our senior leaders talk about professionalising the service, please could you ask them why they think it's ok to employ people with no probation experience as trainers in the national training team who will deliver mandatory PQiP training.

It may be because people are so sick of the cover ups scapegoating and lies that more of the same evokes further feelings of powerlessness. Alison Moss's experience shows they do and don't do just what they like. By they I mean senior management and the organisation as a whole. They have browbeaten down so many staff that survival means not reacting perhaps or internalising feelings. I would have thought a few comments would come though as clearly what they are spouting is not the reality for many many staff members.


Not passive: traumatised. TR was traumatic. I opposed it to the best of my ability and beyond my capacity and the impact of that on me is lasting and profound. Sounds self-indulgent? If I were a surgeon/GP/nurse and said that the privatisation and ruin of the service to which I was devoted had been decimated and it trashed me, that would be easily understood and would invite empathy. If an NHS worker said that their identity was tightly bound to their profession that would be accepted, applauded (literally).

Since TR the impossible demands on probation staff have piled on and on. Ludicrous caseloads is but one aspect. The “reunification” is, I think, a vaguely positive move, but we are back into “sifting” and yet more upheaval and individual colleagues living on the edge. HMPPS is an appalling organisation to work for, and while the long game might be to fight for a public probation service to unshackle itself from the clutches of this awful department, dominated by political imperatives and the prisons end of business, the short term is so bleak. And exhausting: if I was busting a gut at work to make a difference to public safety and towards my clients living peaceful and fulfilling lives, I would be motivated and uplifted, but that is not the game in town.

Some strong and clear leadership would be a thing to hang some hope on. Employers are failing here: if they were “leading” this profession they would be defending it, not jumping through barely legitimate hoops. What can the Unions do? Nobody is watching or listening. Good MPs -seeing as we are politically driven- would be an asset, but none of the good MPs are in power, not even the Tory ones. 

Pearly Gates

Hi, I will be retiring soon. Had I known what was in store for me ten years ago l would have left Probation. I remained but have been staggered by the hollowing out of Probation. I see other workers who look to me scared, demoralised, worn down and with little fight left in them. Some of my younger colleagues think I am lucky to be in a position to retire early. I am guessing that people will retire or quit Probation once the Coronavirus working changes and re-joining of CRCs with NPS has happened. The rosy picture the Senior Managers paint is unsurprising. In order for a profession to be properly dysfunctional it needs to deny and gloss over problems and especially to blame individuals at the bottom of the food chain. Not one Senior Manager has confirmed or even suggested that the Probation profession has died on its feet on their watch.