Friday, 23 February 2018

The Dangers of Burnout

When training as a social worker, the danger of 'burnout' was a subject routinely acknowledged and discussed, but strangely hardly ever referred to when I joined the Probation Service. Like many colleagues, I eventually succumbed to 'work-related stress', although my employers seemed loathe to agree that explanation lest they might feel compelled to accept some responsibility. 

It's been a common story, especially in the early days of the blog, and I discussed the issue in 2011. The unrelenting stress of only managing high risk cases in an NPS field office will be making the situation that much more critical. In the CRCs, although supposedly only dealing with low and medium risk, the caseloads are high and we all know it's from this group that most SFO's are likely. As this recent Guardian article makes clear, the phenomenon of burnout is widespread and increasing and at the last count there had been 897 responses logged:-   

How burnout became a sinister and insidious epidemic

Half a million people in the UK suffer from work-related stress, and psychological breakdown can creep up without warning. But what, exactly, is this ‘state of vital exhaustion’, and how can you come back from it?

In a bedroom in North Yorkshire at 2am, Sara Cox lay next to her sleeping husband in the dark, her eyes open and her jaw clenched shut, anxious thoughts whirling. For the previous two years, the stress of her job at an independent local pharmacy had gradually become intolerable. That night, in June 2013, she made a plan. She crept out of the bedroom and sat at the kitchen table with a pen and a piece of paper. She says now: “I just thought: ‘I can’t do this any more, I need a safety net. I’m going to write out my resignation letter, keep it in my handbag, and if I have another really bad day, I’ll just quit.’” She wrote it out by hand and put it in an envelope, signing herself a cheque for freedom that she could not yet give herself permission to cash.

Over breakfast, she told her husband what she had done. “He told me: ‘That day has come. I’m going to drive you to work and you’re handing in your notice today. We will cope,’” she says. “So that’s what I did.”

In September 2017, in the headquarters of a London high-street bank, Adam was celebrating having completed a major project on deadline. But, moments later, he felt a sharp pain in the side of his abdomen that went on to keep him up all night. The next day, he took 30 minutes to walk from the station to the office – usually just a 10-minute journey. A colleague sent him home, and later that week he found himself rolling on the floor, clutching his stomach in agony. The following week, he was back at the office. “Even though, physically, I was better, I couldn’t focus or think straight,” he says. “I would stare at my screen, unable to engage my brain to send a simple email. I couldn’t remember how to solve a simple problem on a spreadsheet, or who to call – all of which would have been instinctive before. I had blurred vision, like a fog hovering over me. That’s when I realised that what I was experiencing was mental burnout.”

Burnout is what connects Cox, 51, with Adam, 32, both of whom contacted the Guardian in answer to a request to hear from readers who have experienced psychological breakdown following stress at work. They were among 80 teachers, accountants, social workers, architects, students, lawyers and more, aged between early 20s and late 60s, and drawn from all over the UK. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 526,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, and 12.5m working days were lost as a result over that period. The independent watchdog’s researchshows that workers in health care, social care and education are more likely to suffer than those in other industries – a recent review found “a worryingly high rate of burnout” among UK doctors – and women are more likely to suffer than men. Clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew finds that burnout-related symptoms are taking up more and more of her time in the consulting room. “I have certainly seen more of it over the last 15 years that I’ve been practising, and I’ve particularly seen an increase in men,” she says. “I don’t think that’s a negative thing; I’m seeing it earlier on, and seeing more men talking about how they are feeling.”

The most poetic definition of burnout appears in the ICD-10, the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Disease, which characterises it as “a state of vital exhaustion”. Although burnout manifests in our mental health, says Kate Lovett, consultant psychiatrist and dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, “it is not considered to be a mental illness, but rather a form of chronic workplace stress”. It encompasses a spectrum of experiences, says Andrew: “At the extreme end there are people who entirely shut down and end up in hospital having physical investigations; at the other end is someone showing signs of anxiety, low mood and feeling detached from day-to-day life.” In the ICD-11, due for publication this year, the condition is described as “not a single event but a process in which everyday stresses and anxieties gradually undermine one’s mental and physical health”.

That’s what makes it so insidious, says Brian Rock, psychoanalyst, clinical psychologist and director of education and training at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. He describes it as, “a drip, drip, drip. Patients will say: ‘I didn’t know this was happening to me.’ It’s like a mission creep of sorts, where you find yourself working a bit later, taking calls on weekends, being less inclined to play with your children or feeling more isolated and irritable.”

When Adam was promoted in the summer of 2015, he says: “I knew it would be a great opportunity, but I also knew people in similar roles had suffered burnout – you would hear horror stories about the pressure and the hours. My reaction, instead of saying, ‘I need to be careful and have open and honest conversations with my employer,’ was to say, ‘I’m going to do it better than everyone else. I’m going to be the guy to buck the trend.’” And, at first, he thrived. “I loved being the last man standing in the office, when the lights turned off around me because no one had moved on my floor, and even the security guards had gone home.” But, two years later, he could see the damage he had done. “I definitely wasn’t happy,” he says. “It was such a warped mentality.” He started drinking every day, and neglected his marriage. “I was so irritable and grouchy, my wife was afraid to talk to me,” he says. “She really suffered for a long time.”

Before stress overwhelmed her, Cox had thrived on the challenges of working in a community pharmacy: “I liked the responsibility, the learning and the knowledge, and I was so proud to have that career,” she says. But after nursing her mother for her final two years, she had only one week off to arrange the funeral. Around that time, an experienced colleague left and was replaced by well-meaning but inexperienced staff, so Cox felt she was having to help them with their jobs as well as doing her own.

She says: “It wasn’t the hours; it was the nature of the work. Time away didn’t alleviate it. Every Sunday, I had that feeling of dread that the next day I was going to have to juggle everything all over again. I put on weight. I’d wake up exhausted, it felt like every day I was walking through thick mud.” She would grind her teeth until they cracked and she had to pay for expensive night-guards and remedial massages to alleviate the pain in her jaw. “All I was doing was masking the problems caused by the pressure I was feeling at work,” she says.

Andrew understands burnout as a defence against intolerable pressure and stress: “In the people I have met, it can be quite functional – the only way your mind and body have left to keep you safe, of protecting you when there are no other options available. But it’s not a decision that you make; it happens unconsciously.”

So whom should we blame? The experts warn against leaping to conclusions about incompetent and aggressive management, or “snowflake” employees with no resilience. Rock argues that we need to think in a systemic way, and see experiences of burnout as symptoms of an ailing organisation, rather than a sick individual. To this end, the Tavistock also works to support organisations in the corporate sector. Robyn Vesey, organisational consultant for Tavistock Consulting, says the question of blame itself is symptomatic of a burnt-out workplace: “Blame is indicative of the problem in the first place: there can be an atmosphere and a system which is supportive of collaboration, sharing out the stress of the team and creating a sense of shared purpose and healthy interaction – or there can be one that leads to blame and people reaching a point where they can’t carry on.”

Beyond the workplace, we live in an age when society itself seems to be burning out, with austerity, rising poverty and the uncertainty caused by Brexit pushing people to and beyond their limits. “Burnout could be seen as a condition of our times,” Andrew agrees, as cuts to services are making it harder and harder for people to cope: “Alongside cuts to social care, there are cuts to the voluntary sector, projects around domestic violence, for parents, for older people. Stopping a group for carers of people with dementia might seem like a tiny thing, but we have reached a critical point of extremely limited support, and if you’re in that situation, over a period of time, it makes complete sense that your body and mind would shut down. I see strong, capable, independent people who have reached a stage where there is no other option.”

There are certain factors that protect a workplace from burnout, says Vesey – a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a management style that finds “a balance between clarity and presence, but also offer people autonomy to allow them to get on with what they need to get on with”. Without these, a business and its employees are more vulnerable. Rock is realistic that businesses need to prioritise performance, but says: “It’s about thinking how you get the best performance out of your people. We should not move the way a charity operates into the financial sector – it would lose its competitive advantage very quickly – but there are things managers can do to support their staff, such as creating an environment where people can talk about what’s happening in the organisation, what’s happening for them.” What Cox suggests a boss should say is: “We recognise you’re having a tough time. What can we do to help you?”

After working her notice, Cox took 10 months off. A counsellor helped her grieve for the loss of her mother and of the career she had worked so hard for. “It helped me see that I hadn’t failed,” she says. At first, she was scared to leave the house, but she forced herself out for a walk each day. She went swimming. She says: “I thought I’d walk into the pool and it would be full of gorgeous people with great bodies, and they would see this frumpy woman plod in. It was mortifying. But as soon as I got in the water, the sun shone through the glass walls and I could feel it warming my skin. It felt so good.” She learned to knit: “It’s so therapeutic; doing something with your hands and counting the stitches with your brain. If anything pops into your mind that’s stressful, it can’t stay there long.” A few months in, she says, “I turned to my husband in the kitchen and he gasped and said: ‘You look 10 years younger.’”

Adam was signed off work for two months with stress-related illness on the understanding that he would have a phased return to work and find a new role within the company. He took short-term medication to help with anxiety and insomnia, and for two months saw a counsellor, who challenged his beliefs about success and failure. He spent time reading, visiting family and cooking for his wife, making time to reconnect.

Now back at work, Adam has been helped by a supportive team, but says: “Being rescued by colleagues was humbling for me and difficult to accept. Looking back on it, I realise I should have been relying on them much earlier and accepted the fact I’m not Superman.” He has thought about how to protect himself in future: next time, he says, he will notice the warning signs. He will rest. He has removed all phone chargers from the bedroom so he cannot check his email in the middle of the night. He now gets his adrenaline from playing regular tennis games rather than working until the early hours. “My wife and I are going to see a movie tonight – I can’t remember the last time we did that,” he says.

But he doesn’t have it all figured out. “I still feel broken – I’ve got a broken mindset,” he says. “I’m aware of what the issue is, but the issue is still there. Everyone’s got a boss, and if the top man is stressed, the people below get stressed. I do know people who have somehow found a level of tranquillity in that environment, who don’t let that get to them – that’s where I aspire to be. It’s a difficult journey, but if I want to make it to 40, I’ve got to do it.”

Cox now works in a small museum, running the shop and admissions desk. “I bounce to work now,” she says. “But there is a sense of loss, and regret. I had to mourn my old job.”

This attitude is crucial for recovery from burnout, says Andrew. “Your body and mind are saying: stop. You need to take a break and have the space to reflect on how you have reached that point, either on your own or with support.” The danger, Rock says, is when people come back fighting. “If you say, ‘I’ve had burnout but I’m going to get on top of this, beat the burnout and get back to work; people may have lost confidence in me, so I’ll work even harder to prove them wrong’ – well, you can tell that’s not necessarily going to end well.”

Rock sounds optimistic when he speaks of recent developments: there is the new network Minds@Work, while Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, have published Thriving at Work, an independent review of mental health and employers. Both emphasise the responsibility of employers to take care of their employees’ mental wellbeing. “I think that is resulting in a change about how people think about limits and vulnerability,” says Rock.

A senior colleague recently told Adam: “I saw that coming, I’m sorry I didn’t intervene.” Can we all learn from his regret, to support our colleagues, to notice if someone is struggling and to offer support? Rock says the right approach is the same for a psychoanalyst, supervisor, colleague or partner: “Being open.” That is why Cox and Adam have spoken out; they want to be open about their experiences, so they can help others. Cox says: “It’s one of those hidden things in the workplace, that people are suffering with stress and pressure, and they’re ashamed to talk about it because it’s seen as a sign of weakness, and it shouldn’t be.”

This is about all of us. As Andrew says, “People say that one in four people suffer from mental health difficulties. It’s time to move away from that thinking. It’s not ‘us and them’; it’s each of us living a life with peaks and troughs, and anyone suffering from enough pressure could be at risk of developing burnout.”

Five signs you could be suffering from burnout

People in the throes of or heading towards burnout might experience the following symptoms, say psychologists Rachel Andrew and Brian Rock:

  • You feel exhausted, with no energy to do anything. You might experience disturbed sleep, and some flu-like symptoms.
  • You have difficulties concentrating, and feel as if your mind is zoning out, going into a daze for hours on end.
  • You feel irritated and frustrated, often becoming self-critical.
  • Supermarkets and similar places begin to feel overwhelming – the lights are too bright and there is too much noise.
  • You feel detached from things you used to love.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Wrong Kind of Help?

No doubt connected to schools and half term breaks, there seems to be a bit of a lull in activity at the moment, so I've been looking back at stuff there wasn't time to mention over the last few weeks. First off this comment piece from the Guardian's Public Leaders Network of 7th February would seem highly relevant:- 
Too many public services provide the wrong kind of help

Public professionals can do more harm than good if they fail to motivate vulnerable people to change

Ryan had been on and off the streets for 12 years. He was dealing with addiction after being in prison and felt misunderstood by the people who were meant to help him. It wasn’t until he met Aisha from the Mayday Trust that his life started to change. She was, he says, the first person in a long time who stopped, listened and didn’t judge.

Some help, like that Aisha gave Ryan, supports people to feel hopeful, purposeful and take action confidently. This kind of support is core to the work of many community and voluntary organisations, which understand that good help, at the right time, can transform lives. In contrast, the wrong kind of help can too often undermine people’s confidence, sense of purpose and independence.

Sadly, mainstream public services often inhibit this kind of help. To deliver it, staff need to be supported and have the right balance between autonomy and accountability; they need to be able to put service users first; they need technology to make it easier to share data; and they need to feel part of something bigger – that individual and collective action are inextricably linked. This partly explains why many professionals, including nurses, social workers and teachers, are so frustrated. They have been trained in good help but aren’t able to provide it in today’s cash-strapped, target-driven, restrictive work environments, with ever-increasing workloads.

A new report from innovation foundation Nesta, and social impact lab Osca, where I’m director, has investigated the differences between good and bad help. Researchers found that many of the public services designed to help people actually undermined their ability to take action. This can exacerbate acute and obvious issues, such as homelessness or addiction, but also have chronic and more subtle effects, which erode confidence and mental health.

The probation service, for example, is failing to help people lead more positive lives and stop reoffending, with concerns recently raised about, ex-offenders being supervised by phone rather than at face-to-face meetings. Work coaches at Jobcentre Plus have been criticised for undermining claimant trust and confidence, punishing unemployed people rather than helping them find jobs. They, in turn, point to a stretched system where there is no time to provide good help.

Under the cash-strapped conditions in which many public services operate, integrating good help may seem impossible. But it can actually lead to substantial savings, not least by alleviating pressure on other services. The report highlights several projects that have succeeded, for instance, in reducing A&E attendances, avoiding the need for expensive healthcare, and reducing the number of arrests and frequency of imprisonment. 

Groundswell, which supports homeless people to deliver their own solutions to homelessness, reported a 68% reduction in missed outpatient appointments after establishing a peer health advocacy programme. Homeless people were connected with someone to help them address their health needs through new structures and habits, and who attended GP and hospital appointments with them. The scheme also led to a 42% reduction in unplanned care activity, and saved public services £2.43 for every £1 spent on the project. Other charitable organisations, including the Liverpool Waves of Hope project, AgeUK, the Mayday Trust and Community Catalysts, have reported similar savings.

Despite the difficulties, many public service professionals are applying good help methods, including GPs like Doug Hing, whose patients reported greater satisfaction after he started asking them what they wanted to get out of their consultation, and recommending actions they could take in their own time.

Other examples of good help include Brightside, which provides online mentoring to disadvantaged youths, pairing them with volunteer professionals in an industry that interests them. There’s the peer support network Club Soda, which supports people who’ve decided to make changes to their drinking; and Grapevine, which supports young people with learning disabilities to break free from service dependency and realise their full potential.

What all of these organisations and professionals have in common is their ability to use a flexible, rational approach to connect people with their own motivations for change. Our research highlights seven characteristics of good help, including the ability to recognise individuals’ own influence; encouraging people to feel safe and ready to act for themselves; and helping people define their own purpose. It also means stepping back as their confidence improves. Supporting people to develop peer support; cutting through barriers that prevent change; and sharing information between people and practitioners are also important.

The simple truth is we cannot afford to keep providing bad help. The social and financial costs of doing so are huge.

Richard Wilson is the director of Osca. Some names have been changed.


From the Executive Summary:-

How do you provide ‘good help’? 

We highlight seven characteristics of ‘good help’ that can be built into public services and social programmes:

1. Power sharing 
The relationships between professionals and people should allow power to be shared rather than ‘directing’ people to do things. An adult-to-adult relationship needs to be established, in which each person’s knowledge and ideas are considered equally. 

2.Enabling conversations 
The way that conversations are structured and that questions are asked can help people to think through what’s important to them and to come up with their own solutions. These conversations build a sense of safety, trust, ownership and motivation for action. 

For help to be transformational, it needs to be personalised. This can be achieved by helping people to define their own purpose and goals. This might sound obvious, but many programmes offer a standardised approach that can feel impersonal and mechanistic. 

Practitioners can start to step back as the people they help build enough confidence to take action alone. This ensures that change is sustained. Help may need to be ongoing for some people, but should create opportunities for people to take action themselves where possible. 

5.Role modelling and peer support 
Positive relationships expand our sense of what is possible and help us do things we wouldn’t attempt alone. Often the most powerful relationships are with people we consider similar to ourselves. 

6.Opportunity making 
Sometimes opportunities need to be created or barriers need to be removed to help people take action. This may require help from an external source. Examples include brokering relationships which lead to new voluntary or paid work, or other health creating or educational activities. 

7. Transparency 
Professionals (and their organisations) often have access to information about people that is not routinely shared with people themselves. Having open and shared data is an important part of building an adult-adult relationship and supporting people to make informed decisions.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

A Price On Your Head

With recent interest and contributions from either current or former service users - 'clients' in old money - I've often wondered if they are ever conscious of the fact that in this surreal TR world, each has a price on their head. According to the architects of this crazy scheme, each is in fact a commodity, a potential 'profit' centre that has a value that can be traded between NPS and CRC according to a price on a 'rate card'.  

One aspect of the TR omnishambles that we've not touched on much is that of the 'rate card' - the price list that each CRC has for services on offer for purchase by the NPS. Right from the beginning of this ludicrous attempt at introducing a 'market' to rehabilitation services, NPS staff were instructed not to buy services from CRCs because a) they were expensive b) would eat into NPS budgets c) were crap. 

Although we all know TR isn't working, politicians are especially stubborn at admitting they've got things seriously wrong and have made a mistake. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the policy at the MoJ and a succession of ministers is to continue the pretence that there's just a few teething problems and with a tweek here and an amendment there, everything will be fine. In fact chaos reigns and last year the CRCs threatened to walk away unless they were paid more money. 

The MoJ eventually caved-in and gave them all a 'bung', but it's proving nowhere near enough, so another way of bailing-out the failing CRCs had to be found - a way of shovelling shed loads of public money in their direction, but hopefully without it being that obvious. The 'rate card' is the method now being adopted. Suddenly, hard-pressed NPS probation staff find themselves being urged and bullied into buying expensive services from the CRCs, in complete contrast to previous instructions. The tone of this NPS missive is clear:-         

Offender Manager (Bands 3 and 4)

What do I need to do?

The main expectation is for you to ensure your offender's needs are met through commissioning via the rate card or through accessing free services available by your local directory. On the rare occasion where it is assessed that no commissioning or referral activity is required, this must be with the approval of your SPO and recorded on Delius under a 'management oversight' entry. 

Having identified offender need through completion of OASys, ascertain if those services or interventions can be accessed for free by existing community provision. If not, you must consider accessing provision via the Rate Card.  

'Top-up' services not included or met by the mandated TTG package, will need to be purchased via the Rate Card. Programmes such as BBR and TSP can be delivered under the generic licence condition of 'address your offending behaviour'. 

Once you have identified a suitable Rate Card service, raise a 'discretional services NSI' and transfer this to the CRC provider. You should continue to liaise with the CRC to monitor the rate card activity, support Offender Engagement and enforce non-compliance as required.  

So, what are these 'rate cards' and how much do the 'services' cost? Essex CRC is a Sodexo company and their menu of services and how much they cost can be found from a link here. There's a wide variety of programmes on offer such as TSP and BBR priced at £2,596 per start. Yes that's right - turn up for the first session and no more and the full fee is payable.    

"In understanding the unit cost of services, as outlined in the brochure, it is important to recognise that the price is inclusive of ancillary costs incurred outside of direct delivery to service users including consumables, facilities, resources, staffing, logistics and administration."

"This brochure contains information on each service that the CRC offers; this includes the geographical coverage, service highlights, cost and how to purchase. It outlines the universal Through the Gate offer available to all offenders and the ‘fee for use’ offer, namely services which are purchased by the NPS from the CRC."

How is unpaid work (UPW) charged? 
The CRC are paid for the total number of hours of an unpaid work requirement, providing the service user attends their first hour of unpaid work. (induction does not count as the first hour). 

How are Accredited Programmes charged? 
The CRC is paid for Accredited Programmes by ‘Starts’. Only programmes where the service user attended the first session will result in payment. 

If suspended or deselected are service users put back on for a further fee? 
As above however if a service user drops off a programme, the CRC will attempt to enrol them onto the next programme under the same requirement, at no extra charge. The provision of catch ups remains unchanged. 

Where are programmes delivered? 
Programmes will continue to be delivered on CRC approved premises. For services where the CRC use a supply chain provider, these will either be delivered on CRC or NPS sites, community venues or the providers own premises. Mentoring support is predominately delivered out in the community. There also continues to be a wide range of UPW sites used which is reviewed on a regular basis. 

How are quality, integrity and performance measured? 
All services are subject to regular review of their performance and quality regardless of who this is delivered for. Supply chain services also are subject to a stringent contract management framework which sets out a process of service review designed to continually drive high quality. CRC will work closely with NPS operationally and strategically to review delivery, feedback, the service offer and processes in the hope we continue to develop services for offenders. 

What if I have an issue or feedback regarding a service? 
In the first instance if an issue cannot be resolved locally there is a formal reporting structure in place so that this can be escalated and addressed during the NPS and CRC interface meetings. In cases such as this please alert your manager who will escalate appropriately. 

What are the obligations to communicate updates on the service being delivered, record sessions and feed issues back? 
CRC will provide updates both verbally and via the use of formal reporting mechanisms such as NDelius. The expectation is that all interventions delivered are recorded onto NDelius which includes services provided by supply chain providers.

We know from several HMI Probation inspections that services are not being purchased and the reason given has been that staff don't understand the system, not that they have been discouraged. It will be interesting to see how the situation changes in light of the clear policy shift from NPS and MoJ towards the rate card.


Speaking of HM Inspectorate, I was astonished to learn that the demands of Brexit sees Dame Glenys Stacey having to take her eye off the ball with a bit of moonlighting:-

Farm inspection review announced

A comprehensive review of farm inspections to remove bureaucratic burdens placed on farmers has been announced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove today.

The review, to be led by Dame Glenys Stacey, will look at opportunities for improving regulation and enforcement pre and post EU Exit, seek out ways to reduce duplication and allow farmers to concentrate on upholding key environmental and animal welfare standards as they produce fantastic British food.

For example, the current inspection regime can result in farmers being visited by as many as five different bodies - the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England, the Animal Plant and Health Agency, the Environment Agency or their local authority – all asking for similar information.

Each visit adds to the burden on farmers, and rigidity of the Common Agriculture Policy rules require inspections of precise criteria such as field margin dimensions and the specific placement of trees in fields. Equally, inspections over lapses such as slurry management and welfare standards are often haphazard.

The review comes as the government is preparing to publish an agriculture Command Paper that consults on future policy in this country after we leave the European Union.

Speaking at the NFU Conference today, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

"The rules associated with current subsidy payments are unwieldy and, very often, counter-productive. They require farmers to spend long days ensuring conformity with bureaucratic processes which secure scarcely any environmental benefits and which, in turn, require a vast and inflexible bureaucracy to police.

As does the current farming inspection regime, which, despite several recent attempts at simplification, remains as unwieldy as ever. Every year, farmers are confronted by a barrage of inspections from different agencies, often duplicating costs in both time and money.

I am delighted to announce that Dame Glenys Stacey will be conducting a thorough and comprehensive review of this regime, seeing how these inspections can be removed, reduced or improved to reduce the burden on farmers, while maintaining and enhancing our animal and plant health standards.

This review is not only long-required but also very timely as we guide our future approach and maximise the opportunities of leaving the EU. It will provide answers to some key general questions to guide our future approach, subject to the outcome of our negotiations with the EU."

Dame Glenys Stacey said:

"I am delighted to be asked to lead the much needed review of the farm inspection regime. With farming at the heart of the quality and safety of the food on our plate as well, and central to the stewardship of our wildlife, land and rivers, this is an excellent time to be working with farmers and their representatives, and all those who inspect farms, so as to get to a sensible inspection regime, post Brexit."

Dame Glenys has over twenty years’ experience in driving reform within public sector organisations. As a former Chief Executive of Animal health, a precursor to the current Animal and Plant Health Agency, she is well versed in the inspection challenge facing our farmers.

The Command Paper will provide further detail on government proposals to design agricultural support fit for the future after we leave the EU.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Probation Staff Sharing Thoughts 2

As new potential recruits to NPS get excited on Facebook as to whether they've passed the online test and can move on to an assessment centre for the PQiP, elsewhere on the same social media platform, news of yet another year with no pay rise leads to discussions of a very different sort:-

Getting ridiculous!

Just disgusting! For me it’s not just about the fact that I get fed up of struggling (I do appreciate that there are lots of people worse off) but I just want to be appreciated/valued for the fact our job is hard. We work with some of the most difficult and sometimes disturbing people. At the bottom of the pile again. I love my job but I am so fed up. If we all downed tools they’d be in a mess then but I guess they know we ain’t going to do that.

And... 17 yrs qualified and not even half way up the scale.

Haha and there was me being proud of 10 years.

What about refusing to do the SPOC roles that we are being expected to do, MARAC, MAPPA, Adult/Children safeguarding etc, which are basically extra unpaid roles to free up time for management to concentrate on managing us! What about refusing to do these extra things? People are told they are good for experience, career development, their appraisal etc. In fact you are taking on extra roles and responsibilities for no extra pay with a small incentive of some workload relief if you are lucky!


Not gonna happen. Not enough of us in the Union and people are "too poor to strike" so will continue to be paid less and less. It's called future discounting. The money in my pocket now is worth more to me than the money I will not get in future. That is why we are all still here. Cept for those here for their pension.

I know. What got to me and still does when we last went on strike was there was those who did and those who didn't because they didn't think it would make a difference or couldn't afford to despite being trade union members and happily crossed lines. Now I can fully and totally appreciate that every ones circumstances differ and that people have different outgoings and commitments, but some of those who chose not to go on strike are now the ones who keep going on about how bad things are and what is going to be done about it!!!! Was it not better to have tried and failed (or succeeded) than to have failed by not trying?

And I'm not pointing fingers at anyone on here. xx

There has to be something we can do collectively to voice our concerns.

Also we have to remember that to a lot of the new people in post (who have come from the charity sector often) they cannot see what we are going on about. You get paid well above median wage, have a stack of holiday and a pension that is worth something if you stick around. There are known conditions and a measure of job security (over here in the NPS at least) If you have never had any of that then you don't know what you have lost.

Watch out for them trying to offer us something to "modernise" our pay and conditions. I don't want "Modernising" I want what we had 3% a year progression plus uprating on all scale points. 7 years from top to bottom on main grade. 33 days leave a year (36 having gone the way of the dodo) and all the other stuff we had as a right.

The problem with the last strike was we didn’t join forces with unison which was a farce. And we didn’t strike for long enough. If you’re going on strike you need to be prepared to down tools for at least a week. But people are too short sighted and feeling so down trodden they’ve got no fight left.

Absolutely and there is no point doing it half hearted. I cannot afford to lose a days pay like most of us but I might as well lose a weeks pay and I’d take the hit If we were united about it.

Modernising pay will mean basic pay and target related commission. Watch this space.

Based on appraisals. With a cap on how many people can get top billing. My advice to you all is find a mediocre team to be a beacon of brilliance in. Oh and suck up to your boss.

My advice is man up and leave. Best thing I did!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Prison Crisis - MoJ Economical With Truth

You've got to hand it to the Guardian, they're really doing a good job reporting on all aspects of the mounting criminal justice crisis and over the weekend, published two articles highlighting the dire prison situation. Here's the first:-  

Are Britain’s prisons facing a meltdown?

Few in government can now deny that our jail system is in severe crisis. Yet no one seems to want to tackle it

It is highly likely that Khader Ahmed Saleh felt fear in the weeks before he was murdered. And if he did, the wiry young father from London’s tight-knit Somali community would not have been alone. In a recent survey, more than two-thirds of his fellow inmates inside Wormwood Scrubs prison admitted feeling unsafe. That finding was published weeks before Saleh was stabbed to death on the afternoon of 31 January.

Last Thursday Saleh’s family and friends assembled outside the west London prison, demanding answers in relation to another violent tragic episode inside the UK penal estate; one that has left three inmates charged with murder. As they protested and mourned, the distinctive Victorian towers of Wormwood Scrubs loomed large. Behind its high, weathered brick walls, living conditions have plummeted to a level which should shame a wealthy 21st-century society.

According to a report by the chief inspector of prisons published 53 days before Saleh, 25, was murdered, rats and cockroaches routinely gorge on litter dropped from broken windows into the prison yard. Conditions in the Victorian-era C wing, where Saleh died, were so chaotic that food routinely ran out and inmates survived on “mountain survival” dried-food packs.

Those who have observed Britain’s prison estate at close quarters have been uniformly shocked by what they have witnessed and what they have been told. Peter Clarke, a methodical, down-to-earth detective who once ran Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, was asked by the Ministry of Justice in 2016 to investigate the prison estate. He notes as a matter of “particular concern” the 40 to 50 violent incidents each month. Every two days a member of staff is assaulted.

Prison officer David Todd has patrolled both Wormwood Scrubs and served in the British infantry in Derry during the Troubles. The 47-year-old has little doubt which was the more intimidating. “I feel more vulnerable walking the landings in British prisons than I did walking the streets of Northern Ireland,” he says. Even after 27 years of life as a prison officer, Todd describes the narrow walkways of Wormwood Scrubs as “very daunting”. In some jails, he adds, one officer is left to oversee 100 inmates. Organised gangs hold huge power. It is, says Todd, the precise opposite of a controlled environment. Or at least of one controlled by the state.

Ex-offender and former drug abuser Mark Johnson founded the charity User Voice to encourage prisoner rehabilitation. “Being incarcerated in this country at the moment,” he says, “is being in a system tantamount to torture. You’re in a place of chaos. You may have left behind a life of chaos but it’s like going from frying pan into the fire.”

Overpopulated, under-resourced, drug and pest-infested and terrifyingly violent, no public institution in England and Wales, according to expert consensus, has deteriorated more dramatically and more profoundly in recent years than our prisons. Todd has seen many things he wants to forget but cannot. Once he watched an inmate smoke spice, the synthetic drug that renders users catatonic, before flinging himself headfirst off a second-floor landing, arms by his side, making no attempt to break his fall. He found a prisoner in the kitchen in a Kent jail with his stomach sliced open. He remembers an inmate with mental health problems who would sit in his cell, silently eating his own faeces.

Government data published six days before Saleh was murdered confirmed that prisons in England and Wales have never been more dangerous. Assaults and serious assaults are, according to the Ministry of Justice, at record levels. In the 12 months to September 2017, 28,165 incidents were recorded – a 12% increase. Of those, 7,828 were assaults on staff. The rate of attacks continues to escalate. During the last quarter of 2017, another high was set with assaults rising to 86 a day, 24 of them against staff.

Independent analysis by the Observer of 220 official prison inspections, covering 118 adult jails in England and Wales, found that more than two in five were unsafe for prisoners. Self-harm inside prisons has also reached record levels – there were 42,837 incidents during the year to September, an increase of 12%. On an average day, there will be 117 such incidents. Eight inmates will be hospitalised. Someone takes their own life in prison every five days. Todd says prison officers quickly become accustomed to dealing with the “shocking” loss of blood after an inmate slices their wrist with a razor.

Since October, the parliamentary justice committee has been investigating what no one now denies is a crisis in our prisons. According to Bob Neill, the committee’s Conservative chairman: “We really need to have a serious conversation about what we use prison for. Society has to think about that.” Neill cited a vignette from a recent inspection of HMP Liverpool as illustrative of the challenges facing the penal estate. “The inspector went into one cell where the shower wasn’t working, the lavatory was broken and flooding. There was a mattress with a guy on it with mental health problems who had been there for six weeks. How much of our prisons now are just warehousing for people with mental health and other issues?”

One answer to that question comes from the Criminal Justice Alliance, which estimates that 21,000 mentally ill people, a quarter of the current jail population, are currently imprisoned, competing for just 3,600 high-security and medium-security beds reserved for mental-health patients in English prisons. The British Medical Association says the average life expectancy of a prisoner in England and Wales is 56, less than conflict-ridden, poverty-stricken South Sudan. The statistic, warns the BMA, is “a worrying reflection of the overall wellbeing of those in the secure estate”.

At the root of so much squalor, violence and distress is one inescapable truth: we are as a society incarcerating too many people. Official data revealed on Thursday that the number of prisoners in England and Wales rose to 84,255 – the highest imprisonment rate in western europe. A quarter of a century ago in 1993, the prison population stood at 44,552. Two-thirds of prisons are officially overcrowded.

Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice who wrote the report on the 1991 Strangeways prison riot, said that a complete government rethink was required, beginning with the need to address overcrowding. “I’m afraid we’ve got to have a complete reassessment of the situation. Although you can’t change the situation overnight, there has been a complete breakdown in recognising the fact that serious action is needed and recognising that the only way to do it is to have a long-term plan.” If any plan is to succeed, the prerequisite will surely be a reversal of the deep cuts that have stripped away thousands of experienced prison staff. Between 2012 and 2016, as the prison population rose, frontline staff fell by more than 7,000. A commitment to recruit 2,500 new prison officers has since been made, but Todd feels it is nowhere near enough.

Between 2016 and 2017, 57 prison officers left their jobs but only 21 were replaced. On C wing, where Saleh was killed, supervision problems were noted. Lack of staff meant too many prisoners were locked up in their cells, some for as long as 23 hours a day. Denied any purposeful activity, prisoners become desperate to kill time. Drug use has escalated, in particular the use of spice, the synthetic cabannoid described by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman as a “game-changer” capable of quickly transforming a passive inmate into a dangerous aggressor. Todd said: “It makes someone who is normal into an absolute animal. It’s hideous.” Clarke found drugs were “easily accessible” inside Wormwood Scrubs. The wing where Saleh died contained the prison’s unit for dealing with inmates needing help with substance misuse.

Given what amounts to the slow-motion meltdown of the prison estate, Rory Stewart, the new prisons minister, faces instant pressure to make an impact. Battle-hardened observers are already sceptical. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform charity which campaigns for change, recently met Stewart. “As he pointed out, this is his fourth or fifth job in two years. He says he doesn’t know how long he is going to be there – and we’ve had six secretaries of state in seven years. “No wonder the system is in chaos. It’s a shambles.”

Many agree that Stewart’s initial challenge is to somehow cap, then lower, a prison population which is proportionately twice that of Germany’s. In the longer term, other issues require fixing: namely how to deal with the specific challenges of a fast-growing group of older prisoners aged over 60, largely driven by historic sex offending. Other demographic issues also need to be addressed, the chief of them being why there are so many black and ethnic minority people among the prison population. If the demographic makeup of inmates locked up reflected those of England and Wales, there would – as the Labour MP David Lammy recently noted – be 9,000 fewer black and ethnic minority people in prison, the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons.

Stewart must also urgently examine future prison privatisation. The Ministry of Justice expects the private sector to play a role in running prisons, but after a period of cross-party consensus, support for this is now waning. Among one of the less reported failures of Carillion, the government contractor which folded last month, was its role in maintaining Wormwood Scrubs. So hapless was its performance that the firm was deemed to represent “a threat to the security of the prison”.

On the basis of his visits to HMP Liverpool, Peter Clarke made a series of recommendations for improvements in our jails, emphasising among other things the urgent need to address the issue of overpopulation. On Friday a justice committee report condemned the government for failing to act on his advice. He is reportedly exasperated by the lack of a coherent response from Whitehall. Campaigner Mark Johnson said simply: “Report after report of evidence is being unearthed and yet nothing is changing. We need to start asking the question: what is prison for? We need to talk about what is happening.”


In another article, the Observer goes into some greater detail:-  

Exclusive: shock figures reveal state of UK’s brutal prisons

Observer analysis of inspection reports shows two in five jails are unsafe and inadequate conditions prevail in over two-thirds

The scale of the crisis engulfing Britain’s prisons can be revealed, after an Observer investigation found that two-thirds are providing inmates with inadequate conditions or unacceptable treatment. An analysis of hundreds of inspections covering 118 institutions found that a staggering 68% are now providing unsatisfactory standards in at least one respect, with two in five jails deemed to be unacceptably unsafe. Rory Stewart, the prisons minister, described the state of some jails as “deeply disturbing”. Writing in the Observer, he concedes that prisons are rife with psychoactive drugs, and see “increasing levels of violence committed by prisoners, and horrifying rates of self-harm”.

Speaking to the Observer, Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice – who oversaw an inquiry after the notorious Strangeways riot in 1990, in which two people died – warned that there was a real risk of such an outbreak happening again. “[If] you ask me whether we have gone back to where we were pre-Strangeways, I think we are there in that sort of territory,” said Woolf. “It is not confined to one of our prison establishments. It is across the board. There has been a complete breakdown in recognising the fact that serious action is needed, and recognising that the only way to do it is to have a long-term plan, with somebody in charge of it throughout the term.”

All prisons are tested to see if they satisfy basic standards for safety, respect for prisoners, access to purposeful activities and help when they leave the institution. In each area, they are deemed as being good, reasonably good, insufficient or poor.

The Observer investigation found that in the most recent inspections of adult prisons in England and Wales, 80 out of the 118 jails examined were providing insufficient or poor standards in at least one area. Only 7% of prisons – just eight – received a “good” rating across all four categories. An alarming 44% were providing poor or insufficient safety, and almost half (47%) offered insufficient or poor access to meaningful activities – often leaving prisoners locked in cells for very long periods. Two in five prisons were providing inadequate assistance to prisoners as they left – a major problem in tackling reoffending.

As many prisons were deteriorating as improving, with conditions worsening in 41% since their last inspection. The worst-performing prisons, such as Bristol, Guys Marsh, Liverpool, Nottingham and Wormwood Scrubs, were also overcrowded. The government is attempting to reduce the prison population by exploiting an underused scheme to release thousands more prisoners early. Governors have been told to review cases of inmates refused release under a home detention scheme, allowing them to stay at home under curfew and with an electronic tag.

The latest official figures show that self-harm and assaults in prison are at a record high, with critics blaming cramped cells, a shortage of staff and prisoners spending too long locked up in poor conditions. The chaos has seen self-harm reach a record high of 42,837 incidents in the 12 months to September 2017, up 12% from the previous year. Assaults have reached a high of 28,165 incidents over the same period. Serious assaults are up by 10%. Of these, 7,828 assaults were on staff.

The judiciary, MPs and campaigners are calling for a wholesale rethink of what is expected of the prison system. Bob Neill, Tory chairman of the justice select committee, said: “This shows the system is in a state of crisis. We really need to have a serious conversation about what we use prison for. Society has to think about that. “The immediate issue is that we’re failing to provide decent conditions in too many of our establishments, [and] as many are getting worse as have improved.” He said too much money had been taken out of the prisons service under the coalition government. While a plan to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers was announced at the end of 2016, the measure only partially made up for the 30% cut in numbers suffered since 2010.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, a charity that campaigns for change in prisons, said that the revolving door of political leadership for prisons was a big part of the problem. “We’ve had six secretaries of state in seven years,” she said. “No wonder the system is in chaos.” Woolf said that overcrowding urgently needed to be tackled. “I’m afraid we’ve got to have a complete reassessment of the situation,” he said. “Whenever there is a particularly nasty crime, what parliament wants to do is have a new offence and put sentences up – and so we go on.”

Stewart, who was appointed prisons minister last month, writes that he wants to tackle the flow of drugs into prisons and improve basic cleanliness. “Criminal gangs have become ever more skilled at pouring new psychoactive drugs into prisons,” he writes. “And partly as a result of these drugs, there are increasing levels of violence committed by prisoners, and horrifying rates of self-harm. Half of prisoners reoffend within a year of leaving custody – costing billions to the economy – and, more importantly, ruining the lives of tens of thousands of victims. “But I strongly believe we can improve our prisons and that we can make progress at pace.”

"The government is attempting to reduce the prison population by exploiting an underused scheme to release thousands more prisoners early. Governors have been told to review cases of inmates refused release under a home detention scheme, allowing them to stay at home under curfew and with an electronic tag."
Despite the MoJ wanting to try and play down the situation, many have been saying that several times the pressure on prison numbers has been so severe that there were only days away from declaring an emergency which would involve prison use of police cells. Maybe they need to liaise with their Home Office counter-parts because, due to police cuts, there are far fewer custody suites of any kind nowadays. 

I'm reliably informed that the situation had become so desperate that suitably-qualified HQ staff have been involved in touring prison establishments in order to facilitate executive releases. Of course we are all now aware that prisoner release of any kind has top priority, hence the rush to re-write the HDC process, referred to above, and announced last month. There are grave dangers in what is being proposed as the changes pretty much remove probation involvement around risk assessment:-  
"The Revisionistas strike again. i.e. in the same vein as their Glorious TR-iumph of kicking fiendish social workers into the gutter, they have now re-imagined HDC as being previously a grey, onerous task that has been magically freed from red-tape & drudgery by the courageous, swash-buckling MuskeTories. Huzzah! Gins all round!!"
"Also not good that risk is not a reason to refuse HDC! Where previously supervising officers were asked their views on whether they support (or not) release, this is no longer a question asked on HDC forms. The only issue is whether they have a suitable address. You can comment on risk but it's abundantly clear that release will happen if that address is deemed suitable. I'm currently on my 4th HDC report for the same high risk case. They really want every one with an address out asap."
"Words from HDC Clerk (similarly unimpressed with the change in decision-making process: “it’s a right now, not a privilege... I can’t think of many occasions where someone wouldn’t get it.”
Some have high hopes of Rory Stewart, the new Prison and Probation minister (although he's chosen to drop the 'Probation' bit), but sadly he talks a lot about drones but neglects to mention that most drugs get into prison via staff and pedals two lies in his Observer article:-
"In order to help this and many other things happen – such as increasing the quality of education in prison, boosting employment prospects and ensuring accommodation on release – we are recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers. The recruitment is going very well, and we are close to hitting that target ahead of schedule."
It's news to us that there's any "ensuring accommodation on release" because we all know TTG is just an urban myth and in relation to prison officers, "The recruitment is going very well"  comes as a surprise to many, including Civil Service World who thinks he's been caught out telling porkies. This from their website:-

MoJ accused of ‘misleading public’ on prison officer recruitment

The Ministry of Justice has been accused of misleading the public over the state of staffing levels in UK prisons, following its announcement that a recruitment milestone will be reached nine months early. This week the department said its target of delivering a net headcount increase of 2,500 staff by the end of 2018 – set by then-justice secretary Liz Truss in 2016 – was on course to be met within the coming weeks, showing that the drive was working.

But union the Prison Officers’ Association said the MoJ was “massaging prison officer recruitment figures” in a way that gave a “massively false impression” of a service that was still in crisis after years of budget cuts. The latest figures, released by current justice secretary David Gauke, showed a net increase of 1,970 officers between October 2016 and December last year, with numbers up from 17,955 to 19,925 across bands three to five.

The MoJ said a further 1,582 new recruits had been offered roles and booked onto prison officer training courses, meaning the government was on target to recruit the 2,500 officers “nine months ahead of schedule”. POA general secretary Steve Gillan welcomed the increase in officer numbers but insisted that the current drive would not be enough to “undo the damage of years of cuts” that began under the coalition government.

He said that the government figures were “smoke and mirrors” that did not properly reflect the changing nature of the prison workforce since 2010 – particularly for entry-level grade prison officers in band three, whose numbers he said had fallen by 16% over the past eight years. According to the MoJ, there were 24,831 prison officers in bands three to five in March 2010, of whom 983 were custodial managers at band five, and 3,940 supervising officers at band four. The remaining 19,908 were prison officers.

Gillan said the MoJ’s latest dataset included 3,333 staff in bands four and five, meaning that POA estimated there were 16,592 band three prison officers. “In March 2010 there were 19,908 prison officers [at grade three] and as of 30 December 2017 there were 16,592 – a cut of 3,316,” Gillan explained. Further, in March 2010 there were 7,698 operational support grades and as of 30 December 2017 there were 4,422. That’s a cut of 43%." The union said it was calling on the government and the MoJ to “stop misleading the general public”.

Truss’s recruitment drive – announced at the Conservative party conference in 2016 – came against the backdrop of concerns over violence and suicide rates inside prisons, and has not been helped by staff turnover levels. The latest figures show the annual turnover rate among band three to five prison officers is 9.7%. Lauding his department's recruitment “milestone”,​ Gauke acknowledged that prison officers often worked in “very challenging, difficult and dangerous circumstances” and that issues in the secure estate needed to be dealt with “head on”.

“I am determined to tackle the issues in our prisons head on and I am committed to getting the basics right so we can focus on making them safe and decent places to support rehabilitation,” he said. “Staffing is the golden thread that links the solutions we need to put in place to drive improvement, so I am delighted our recruitment efforts are working.”

Civil Service World offered MoJ the opportunity to comment on the POA's observations. It declined.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Pick of the Week 43

I didn't rate the Guest blogger who wants the world to know how horrible it was to be on licence. He says his experiences of the probation service are 100% genuine and therefore all his following tendentious points are legitimate. The truth is the views expressed are based on personal experiences - how far the experiences are shared by others is anyone's guess. There is far too much extrapolation, generalisation and axe grinding. If you are going to write about personal experiences, stick to the facts and don't confuse them with opinions. We all have bad experiences at times and a little perspective helps us to understand what went wrong, why it went wrong and what could I have done, if anything, to have made things go better.

Actually I think there can be a lot of justified generalisation on the other side of the desk and rightly so. Try and Imagine it from their point of view.


‘Man down the pub’ saying last night most probation offices nowadays propped up by temps, trainees, PSO’s with few weeks training and handful of old PO workers waiting to retire. Temps there for the money (can’t blame them) hit targets to ensure time sheets are paid. Trainees mostly teenage girls with life experience of getting wasted at uni and work ethic of make up, nails and whining about parents. 

Many PSO’s fall into this group have less education, work experience and common sense than the first lot. Surprised at amount of offenders seen bringing in presents for young naive probation staff dressed for clubbing in work hours, and Court attire now become a little black dress. Young male trainees/PSO’s no better and just as arrogant, but few and far between. 

Old PO’s spend life gossipping in tea room and when put out to pasture return as temps. Staff sickness rates high, bullying managers ever present, and directors sending “what a great service we are” emails whenever taking a break from head up backside of Ministry of Justice. 

Probation now redundant and hides behind meaningless “risk management”, MAPPA, OASys, SARA, RM2000, SOTP, TSP, ARMS, NPS, CRC, HMIP. Not surprised offenders feel threatened by recall because probation no longer designed to build relationships, support, advise, assist, befriend. It’s a tick box exercise where offenders expected to nod and agree, and probation staff only there because they want to exercise power over people and pat themselves on the back.


As a newly qualified male PO via the PQIP route (having previous work experience as a PSO and in prisons) I would disagree strongly, as well as being concerned at the questionable and borderline chauvinistic comments regarding make up and getting wasted! I accept that the influx of newer inexperienced PSOs is a worry, however would attribute this inexperience not to a lack of work ethic, but rather a lack of appropriate training that was afforded to previous ‘generations’. I also feel that the older generation have a valuable role to play (when tearing themselves away from the tea room) in ‘mentoring’ newer members of staff; if you have issues with their work ethic and knowledge, help shape it in a positive manner!


'Man down t' pub' at risk of being kicked in the dry roasted peanuts, but probably not too far off the mark as things stand.

Ho ho. Most of us with experience of team management will have their own stash of amusing memories of having to take someone on one side and deliver the "Appropriate Clothing Talk". Up there with the "Personal Hygiene Talk". Happy days.

No manager has this talk nowadays from fear of being outed on a #metoo campaign. Nobody seems to care too many pquip trainees and new probation officers are young white women under the age of 25. It’s not the age, race and gender that’s the problem, it’s the lack of life experience. Those that haven’t lived life and still making mistakes shouldn't be telling others how to live theirs. With no experience to fall back on they hide behind probation-speak and what-the-computer-says. 

Most are professional and prime candidates to become automated-nodding-dog-managers in 2 years but it’s not a representative workforce when most offenders are males aged 21 - 40 and disproportionately ethnic minority in some areas. Add in the manipulative, predatory, abusive nature of some and you can see the problem. The prison service has this problem too. Ask a prison officer what life on the wing is like to bang up 60 men when your back-up is a pretty young male or female on a gap year.


At the risk of being shouted at, and with one eye on the comments made, isn't the brutal truth that actually 'probation' doesn't exist any more? It's now a post custody and parole management service? Probation has long left the building but no body's got around to changing the sign on the shop front.

Have to say from across the desk (or in the library) this seems about right! Although the two on our reception desk were young 'n dumb looking, but turned out they were the most knowledgeable and 'polite' of the lot. Of course one day they suddenly disappeared (too talented 'n informative) and were replaced by a couple of young ladies who didn't have a clue about having a clue, thus chaos. I did mistake our ETE man for being a homeless person. No wonder he looked at me funny when I said 'have you got yer food bank sorted mate?' Anyway, while I am between inevitable recalls due to your wonderful CRC incompetence, we gotta have a laugh eh? PS send stamps.

Interesting read about OASys. Always thought that having an evidence based assessment tool was very important. However, always thought OASys was over the top, not particularly easy to navigate and use, unnecessarily time consuming and not easy to share with the person it was written about. The contributor is suggesting that it has become more time consuming. If this is true then this is a backward step, particularly when it means that the emergent risk management and sentence plan does not have time to be fully implemented. I note NPS public protection/risk management well regarded by Inspector, but questioned rehabilitative aspect. In addition, very frequent complaint by Probation workers about excessive time sat inputting information into computers. I wonder how much extra time might be had by simplifying OASys and having a better database IT system for it?

Before TR, the third sector was part and parcel of the delivery of statutory probation services, which were managed locally. There was never any resistance to commissioning services and forming partnerships to address the rehabilitative needs. Even before there was a statutory obligation to use a proportion of budgets to commission, the probation service was always open to partnerships with other agencies because it was well-understood that effective probation work needed to work with housing, mental health, drug and alcohol, prisoner support and any other service that had something useful to offer. It was always a mix of statutory and voluntary services.

Elements in the third sector arguably did themselves harm when they became bid candy, seeing business opportunities rather than any need to wholeheartedly oppose TR. We need probation services with local governance who can then make decisions about commissioning. I don't think probation needs lessons from Clinks about innovative rehabilitation. It's easily forgotten that during its long history the probation service was a grassroots innovator – from the early days of victim support, joint working pre Mappa and innumerable initiatives throughout the country.

There was also local commitment embedded in the historical funding arrangement where the local authority was a 'stakeholder' in the local probation service. This allowed for those pioneering innovations to be tailored to local need as opposed to being imposed by external organisations in order to meet contractual obligations. Its all gone arse-about-face, tail-wags-dog, beancounter-determines-intervention, etc.

Could the 21C equivalent of historical local authority funding = Council Tax precept & under umbrella of PCC? It's a question, not a policy preamble.

Thing that strikes me is that this is all about rehabilitation rather than risk management. Seemed to me all the answers were in the room and all the blocks (brick walls) are in the current structures in both sides of the split. Somebody better do some serious planning before these contracts end... or just fall over.

If I were a dedicated Interserve employee I would be considering diversifying my business if I were sub contracted, less exposed to their perilous financial position. Or if directly employed, considering my options. Surely this is a problem with certain public services being provided this way? If the state does not underwrite the liabilities, then the service is not on a sound footing and subject to flight of all kinds with the risk of a service in tatters and adverse consequences for those dependant on those services.

Interserve have a loaf and two fish and got until the 30th of March to make a miracle worth almost £200m, not to get them out of trouble but just to keep them limping on. The government can say what they like, but they wouldn't have made the embarrassing move to call in Deloitte if they didn't have grave concerns over the future of Interserve.

If Interswerve collapses what would happen to the CRC's that they are contracted to manage? My hope and prayer would be that we would be handed back to the NPS. Can't wait till March.

I couldn't agree more to put us out of our misery of having to endure Interserves "Interchange Model" which insists that we do not see service users on a weekly one to one basis (heaven forbid should we try and actually get to know people) but put them into groups in order to complete their RAR days.

Is the very senior NPS managers' lack of relevant comments on twitter uncharacteristic? As civil servants who have signed something promising to keep stum, I would be under the impression that any work related comment in public on social media would not be allowed. In any case, allowed or not, has anyone lately met a senior NPS manager capable on or off record of making any comments relevant to the many current criminal justice crisis covered in the media?

I think Worboys, the Parole Board, Venables, pictures of Liverpool prison with rats and cock roach and reports of rising crime rates all touch an emotive chord with the general public. But they're never long lived. However, the collapse of Carillion has done something else. It's focused the public on the whole privatisation debacle. 

The privatisation of public services, sold on the premise of efficiency and savings, was by many accepted as just part of the governments austerity programme, a necessary process to drive down the deficit. (When was the last time you heard a Tory mention the deficit?). But Carillion has shown the world that really austerity doesn't apply to the privateers, and the attention of the public have been drawn like never before to the privatisation of public services.

People are waking up to the fact that the privatisation of public services aren't making efficiency savings - they're costing more, and the services being provided are continually declining. A point well made in the FT yesterday pointed out that central government cuts to public services have now become so severe that its impossible to run them any cheaper. The reason for privatising public services must therefore be for other reasons and not about savings. The public can make their own minds up about what reasons they might be, but they can't be fooled any more about it being for efficiency savings and the best value for the public purse. 

People are becoming painfully aware what the consequences and impacts of privatisation are having on their lives, and their attention has been caught and focused. They've been sold a pup, and one that's not very well. And the more the government try to hide it, the more focus it will bring, and the more lies it will uncover.

The expenses scandal was not so very long ago. When it suits them - MP’s demand that tax payers know how their money is spent. On other occasions it’s not so important depending on the issue it seems....

In terms of privatisation in sectors that do not lend themselves to being run in a capitalist market, a lot of tax payers money goes on competition lawyers during bidding processes and compensation payments to rich organisations like Virgin when they throw a tantrum about not managing to secure a contract! Not sure how the rest of the population feels, but I for one don’t want my taxes spent in this way! I would much rather it go out to charities to go and support people. Despite this recent scandal that may or may not have been hushed up.

Interesting to read how pro-privatisation defend the status quo or more privatisation. They point to the past and belligerent and powerful unions frustrating progress, the dead hand of the state and inefficiency. The argument does not wash with Probation people. Union membership was part of a professional association and union services for its members on the whole. The Unions stated their case in respect of TR, protested minimally by work to rule and a couple of half day withdrawal of labour. Beyond that they worked to protect members terms and conditions. 

Probation culture itself had a history of innovation, adaptability and supportive of progressive changes. It must be clear by now that Probation in its former guise was non too shabby in its own efficient running and more than capable of managing further efficiencies given time and some investment. A whole system agenda of bringing core services together around common goals, possibly co located and/or development of joint working protocols would have been one way of delivering results. No different to calls now for social and healthcare to do the same. 

It is difficult not to view privatisation of Probation as myopic and ideologically driven with the present consequence of the fragmented parts all crying foul of their own misfortune. The call from many now to come together against a recognition that the parts of the former whole are now becoming shattered. Leadership from on high is urgently required.

A study found that when the police wore body cameras, complaints fell by 93%. A camera is a better means of achieving peaceful outcomes than a clicking baton.

Cameras do not work either and prisons already have cctv. The police were more mindful of their behaviour because they knew they were being cctv monitored.

Yes because the police were more mindful of their behaviour because they knew they were being cctv monitored. Ask any prison officer, unless you’re Bruce Lee, a clicking baton doesn’t do much against in terms of instilling fear or protection. Let’s see the figures in a year from now as to how many officers have been beaten with their own baton. What works is staffing, resources, humane treatment and rehabilitation. Actually scratch that, why not the officers guns and then we can really join USA at the bottom of the barrel.

I really worry about culture of video recording absolutely everything. I really don’t know where it will lead. People tend to jump on the bandwagon until it’s them that are being recorded. I seriously doubt many probation officers would be that keen on all their sessions and interviews being recorded.

Probation staff would not take kindly to body-worn cameras, but then probation, unlike the prison and prison service, does not have a history of being assaulted or doing the assaulting. Cameras make a positive difference and they need to be body-worn because there are too many blind-spots with CCTV, as undercover journalists have documented when exposing abuse in different types of institutions. Whenever there is a suspicion by relatives that loved-ones are being mistreated by a care worker, the first step is always covert cameras. Cameras have been trialed in many prisons and they improve behaviour.

The MoJ have today responded to the prison inspectors new urgent notification powers raising dire concerns over HMP Nottingham. One of the actions taken is to remove 50 18 to 21 year olds from the prison and locate them elsewhere. That actually equates to the loss of 100 places for operational capacity. 50 places not being used at Nottingham and 50 places having to be found to accommodate those being moved. With an overflowing prison population already, that's a sore loss for the prison service, and it won't take many more decisions like it before the prison estate is housing prisoners in police cells once again.

The long-term solution is to abolish mandatory supervision for short-term prisoners. We know supervision is cursory, that there is little on offer in addition to the notorious £46, so it's no wonder there is disengagement. But while the state offers little by way of rehabilitation, it's quick to get probation to do the dirty work and punish those who do not engage with a hollow service. The fact that there is a postcode lottery element evident in disparate recall figures, makes the whole process arbitrary and even more worrying.

I couldn't agree more. If supervision for some boils down to a phone call every 6 weeks, you have to question the merits of being on supervision at all, and consider how much that phone call every 6 weeks is really costing the taxpayer? Maybe if those that don't really need supervision and those who will receive no benefit from being on supervision were weeded out, then the resources that would be saved could be redeployed reducing redundancies and freeing up staff to spend more time and resource on those that actually need it.

Scotland have, I think, abolished prison sentences of under 3 months. Not rocket science, could be done in England and Wales, but does require a smidgen of political courage.

Yes, Darren McGarvey (Scots) talked about this at the NAPO event at the Welsh Assembly last week. Probation integral to Social Services, Social Work training and values, and Government legislating away from short term custody in favour of community rehabilitation. I was thinking of moving to Scotland, then I thought I might just sit tight in Wales, where this sort of thinking seems to be catching on.

Pre-TR, my Probation Trust had a fantastic relationship with a really excellent local women's organisation. Its reach wasn't as wide as the Trust's area. The Trust commissioned the organisation to do the work with ALL women offenders in the patch. It was great: the work was gender-specific, and at arms-length of the state. Then the whole competitive tendering for huge geographical patches came in, then TR, and all that progress, and healing, and rehabilitation, was dust.

This is clear evidence that women are getting recalled for ridiculous reasons that have nothing to do with increased risk or committing further offences. When I raised the issue that women were being recalled for spurious reasons, I was loudly shouted down by people stating that such things would never happen. Eat your words people cos the evidence is now in that this is exactly what is happening.

Given the massive gender imbalance in probation, it's likely that in most cases a woman is being recalled by a woman. There is evidence suggesting women are more risk averse than men, so if the probation workforce was gender balanced, recalls may fall.

"The government should urgently look at differences in current local practice and encourage greater emphasis upon community interventions to stem the growing numbers of people ending up back behind bars."

Which is yet another irrefutable argument for consistent practice, the key to the argument for a unified single service & NOT 21 crc's sending HMGovt monthly invoices with spreadsheets as proof that enough targets have been met; NOT sending £m's of taxpayer money into the pockets of, say, Fairburn, Green, Spurr etc.

For CRC staff now remaining in their teams this must be an endurance and faith test, one I myself have recently failed. Endurance in the face of excessive workload, the knowledge that no matter how hard you work, you still can't cover it to a standard that satisfies anyone. The knowledge that all your efforts still don't do any of the work you would love to do, ie support and rehabilitation.

You're just a small dysfunctional misfiring cog in a massive machine of nightmare nonsense. Your purpose becomes one of survival, how to avoid being taken for capability or disciplinary by manager with a ladder to climb (or with his/her own survival agenda), how to preserve self respect and work life balance, how to explain to service users that the whole thing has gone to pot and how they themselves can best survive the joke that is now the criminal justice system. How to keep believing that if you hang in there for long enough change will come. 

What little signs to watch out for here in the deep midwinter that spring is on its way. Are the senior managers beginning to take cover? Are they moving from operational roles into administrative ones? Are edicts and decrees being issued with no authority, no insistence, no following through? Are the new senior managers looking younger and more inexperienced? Is there more awareness in the press, are private providers of public services beginning to go to the wall? Yes, these are all signs. But how long still? Will I last?

When I joined the service in 1990, one of the things that attracted me to the idea of training to be a PO was the variety. I worked out that the various disciplines offered sufficient variety to allow me to experience 2 years in each role without repeating myself for 16 years. Courts, Hostel, Prison, Programmes, Family Court Welfare, Community Service (then headed by a PO), Supervision and Throughcare. I then thought I would have had the option of being an SPO for the same teams. 32 years of variety!

Fantastic. Since the creation of NOMS, however, the jobs have got smaller and smaller and most of these disciplines no longer exist. One programmes SPO in each team? Now there is only one in each region! One SPO per hostel? Now there is one per four hostels. One Court SPO per Court? Now it is one per county. The job, as a career choice, has lost a lot of it's variety and, consequently, it's job satisfaction.

I largely accepted the message of tough choices given the dire straits of public finances in the wake of the financial crisis. I expected fewer public sector workers, building/office rationalisation and considered filtering to use resources to best effect. I expected a prolonged pay freeze. I expected to work harder. I expected areas merging and finding savings through efficiencies of scale and synergy. Tough choices are choices nonetheless and prior to 2015 those in respect of Probation were made hastily and recklessly.

Significant problems were predicted over and over from the majority of expert opinion but dismissed as having vested interest, being old school and akin to 'the blob'. Now we have a wake of a different kind and it comes with a visceral sadness and anger at the predictable dysfunction that has emerged. It seems to me that the government is wedded to the idea of persevering with the fragmentation and incoherence of the privatised probation services.

They appear to still believe that the problems are transitional, a tweak here and there, a few extra millions allotted forensically, will provide a foundation for the market in Probation services to flourish. It won't. The problems are systemic, any amount of lubrication, work arounds, extensions, unplugging and unblocking the connections, outlets and inlets will I fear always return more problems. On that cheery note, here endeth the sermon. Love and peace to all :)

The Revisionistas strike again. i.e. in the same vein as their Glorious TR-iumph of kicking fiendish social workers into the gutter, they have now re-imagined HDC as being previously a grey, onerous task that has been magically freed from red-tape & drudgery by the courageous, swash-buckling MuskeTories. Huzzah! Gins all round!!

I am being told that a number of staff were ordered to attend an open day at a prison in Lancashire this week but after being bullied, coerced and dragooned, not a single one expressed an interest in working there. Meanwhile, in another part of the area, rumour has it that some staff are being directed out of prisons so that others, who have no interest in doing so, can be pushed or forced to take their places. Meanwhile, staff are leaving in droves and coming back on agency rates of pay whilst dictating where and when they will work. What say our great leaders?...,.Nowt!

“Facebook remains a relatively safe place for probation staff trying to survive in the TR omnishambles to share thoughts, concerns and seek advice.”

Wrong. Many staff are being pulled up for social media comments, particularly NPS as they’re meant to be “impartial”. Managers use Facebook and twitter, some are in the Facebook groups too. I never comment in these groups because of this.

“The Ministry of Justice has issued revised guidance for its home detention curfew (HDC) scheme, which sees eligible prisoners released under strict monitoring conditions, including a tag and a requirement to be home between 7pm and 7am.”

Oh dear. Not another early release scheme!!! Yes it’s good people are being released and can get on with their lives. It’s not so good there will be no additional probation officers and resources to support/supervise them, no housing support, no employment support, nothing.

Also not good that risk is not a reason to refuse HDC! Where previously supervising officers were asked their views on whether they support (or not) release this is no longer a question asked on HDC forms. The only issue is whether they have a suitable address. You can comment on risk but it's abundantly clear that release will happen if that address is deemed suitable. I'm currently on my 4th HDC report for the same high risk case. They really want every one with an address out asap.

I heard that the Napo officials want more pay too, how can that happen? Surely more pay to fund it has to come from a pay increase to subscription?

You will never get a pay rise this century. Probation is now dominated by robots with degrees in criminology ... in London the YOT I work in, YOS Officers earn more than SPOs.  Jump ship asap!