Friday, 16 March 2018

Court Closures 2

As the following letter indicates, the Justice Committee seem to have woken up at last to the effects of the MoJ's plans for yet more court closures, together with the wisdom of moving more judicial process online:-  

Lucy Frazer QC MP 
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 
Ministry of Justice 
102 Petty France 
SWlH 9AJ  

27 February 2018 

Dear Lucy,

Ministry of Justice consultation: Fit for the future: Transforming the court and tribunal estate 

Thank you for your letter of 17 January 2018 drawing our attention to your Department's public consultations on the proposed future strategy for the court and tribunal estate, and on proposals to close eight courts in England. Although we do not intend to submit a formal response to the consultations, we would nonetheless wish to draw your attention to some of the issues that they raise. These issues are underpinned by our overarching concern that the impact of any decisions on access to justice be fully understood before implementation, and that measures be proportionate to the policy objectives in question. 

Court closures 
We welcome the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ's) decision to establish clear principles to inform the estates reform programme: ensuring access to justice; delivering value for money; and enabling longer term efficiency. In particular, we endorse the move towards a new design guide, to ensure buildings are appropriate, flexible, effective and sustainable, and the renewed commitment to tackling the estate's maintenance backlog. However, it seems to us that several proposals in the consultation are worthy of further careful attention: 

1. Travel time to court 
The current consultation is seeking views on a modified approach to the travel standard used to determine decisions on court and tribunal locations: that nearly all users should be able to attend a hearing on time and return within a day. Our predecessor Committee recommended maintaining the standard that at least 90% of users can reach the nearest magistrates' court venue by public transport within one hour (The role of the magistracy, Sixth Report of Session 2016-17. October 2016). No convincing policy justification has been offered for the current proposal, which appears to favour the principle of value for money over the principle of access to justice. We dispute the assertion that any particular time standard would be "arbitrary", and we question the assumption that virtual hearings will, and should, increasingly take the place of physical access to hearing rooms- a topic to which we return below. 

The proposal for closure of Northallerton Magistrates' Court provides a worrying illustration of the travel times that may be involved; according to the consultation document, this closure would mean a user from Richmond in Yorkshire attending one of four alternative courts, with public transport travel times - one way ­ ranging from 2 hours 22 minutes (Teeside) to 3 hours 22 minutes (Harrogate). We would like to know to what extent these travel times are based on assumptions that users have easy access to a bus stop - given that, in a rural area, this is often not the case. The equality analysis that accompanies this consultation paper - in common with the other equality statements in this package of consultations ­ makes no mention of the indirectly discriminatory impact of a six-hour (plus) round trip on elderly people or on women, who are more likely to be caring for pre-school and/or school-aged children; nor does it suggest what reasonable adjustments would be made for people with a mobility impairment, in particular wheelchair users - other than a reference to adjustments in court buildings themselves. 

2. Assumptions about the capacity of receiving courts 
We question whether, in all cases, the court buildings expected to receive the business of the courts identified for closure would in fact have the capacity to deal with the additional work, notwithstanding the endeavours of the MoJ/HMCTS Optimised Hearing Capacity project. There appears to be an assumption that spare slots in hearing rooms would be predictable in advance; this is often not the case, as trials may be adjourned or vacated on the day, or may unexpectedly run shorter or longer than anticipated. There also seems to be an expectation that brief gaps in the occupation of hearing rooms, which we assume to have been factored into the MoJ/HMCTS "available hours" calculations, are in practice long enough to be usable for court business. In relation to the proposed closure of Banbury Magistrates' and County Court, which sat for a total of 2,211 hours in 2016/17, we observe that the spare capacity of Oxford Magistrates' Court (one of the two receiving courts) is less than 1,200 hours.

3. Use of alternative court venues 
We accept that services do not have to be delivered from traditional court buildings and we welcome the steps that MoJ/HMCTS have taken to identify and test a range of buildings such as civic centres and community buildings that have been adapted to provide hearing facilities. However, we note that so far the use of many alternative venues is restricted to "suitable" cases - implying that not all cases are suited to such venues. In its report on the role of the magistracy, our predecessor Committee concluded that it was "regrettable" that inadequate forethought had been given to the security implications of holding magistrates court sessions in buildings that are not equipped with a secure dock. If the MoJ/HMCTS has concluded that secure docks cannot be provided in alternative venues, we consider that this should have been stated in the consultation paper and an explanation offered as to how cases demanding this facility will be dealt with once proposed court closures are implemented. 

4. Increasing reliance on virtual and online justice 
The estate reform programme is predicated on an assumption that increasing use will be made of modern technology in the administration and delivery of justice, leading to a reduced need for physical buildings; the main consultation paper (paragraph 1.15) states that the starting point for the MoJ/HMCTS approach is that "only what has to be done at a physical venue - most trials and sentencing ­ will be done there"; however, the consultation does not seek views on this aspect of the reform strategy. We do not doubt that further modernization is needed, and we welcome proposals such as the centralization of HMCTS administrative functions. However, we are concerned about the MoJ/HMTCS's evident preference for virtual and online justice over traditional, court-based models in the absence of recent research, or evaluation of pilot projects. 

We accept that video hearings may suit some court users - including people with mobility impairments who may find it difficult to travel to court. However, we consider it likely that virtual courts will disadvantage some individuals. Focus group and survey evidence from the national charity, Transform Justice (reported in October 2017: Defendants on video) suggests that unrepresented defendants, defendants who do not speak English well, and older and younger court users are likely to be particularly disadvantaged by video hearings; there was also evidence of video equipment failures, poor sound quality and mismatches of sound and image. The MoJ appears to have undertaken no evaluation of virtual hearings since its pilot programme in Kent and London, which was evaluated in a report published in 2010. This found that virtual courts were expensive to set up and to run, that defendants appeared less engaged in the process and that the rate of guilty pleas and custodial sentences was higher than in traditional courts for reasons that were unclear. This discrepancy indicates that further evaluation is needed before moving towards routine use of virtual hearings. 

We accept that some types of case lend themselves to online processes and we do not doubt the success of certain initiatives such as the online service for straightforward divorce, or the Common Platform programme that supports case management in the Crown Court. However, were digital justice to become the norm, we believe that substantial barriers would be faced by non-users of the internet, estimated as 18% of 55-64 year aids, 35% of 65-74 year olds and 56% of 75+ year olds. In relation to socio-economic groups, 16% of C2s and 27% of DEs are non-users of the internet (Ofgem, Adults' media use and attitudes report 2017). We do not consider that the MoJ/HMCTS proposals for providing face to face assisted digital support have been adequately developed, evaluated or costed. If digital justice is implemented more widely without adequate mitigation for those without access to, or familiarity with, the internet, then this would raise a serious issue of discrimination and fairness - particularly for those in older age groups and those who are less well off. The adverse impact may be greater because of the widespread cuts to local libraries which have previously facilitated internet access for these groups. 

In relation to criminal cases, we are not aware of any consultation or piloting of the proposals to introduce online pleas, or the proposals designed to allow defendants charged with certain minor offences to plead guilty using an entirely automated system that would issue an online conviction and penalty; in response to the latter, our predecessor Committee observed (in the magistracy report) that excluding judicial office holders from involvement in disposing of certain criminal case at first sight "does appear to raise some issues of concern". We believe there are particular fears about the implications of departing from the long established principle of open justice - a principle accepted by the Senior Presiding Judge in oral evidence to the magistracy inquiry. In addition, there may be concerns about the fairness of defendants making decisions about plea without the benefit of legal advice.

I look forward to receiving your thoughts on these points.

Bob Neill MP
Chairman Justice Committee

Thursday, 15 March 2018

A Question of the Right Questions

I suspect I wasn't the only one left unimpressed with David Gauke's performance last week in front of the Justice Select Committee. Obviously he can't be fully on top of his brief as yet, but to be honest, I wasn't that impressed by the quality of the questions put to him either and the seeming inability to persue things. Maybe the Committee could do with some help? I notice Rob Allen had a few suggestions:- 

Follow up Questions. What the Justice Committee should ask the Justice Secretary.

Having been greeted on arrival in office by the John Worboys row, new Justice Secretary David Gauke has since kept a low profile. He set out his thoughts on prisons at the RSA this morning, and whether by chance or design will be questioned tomorrow by the Justice Committee. While MPs will focus on his wider departmental responsibilities - the Parole review, court closures, miscarriages of justice and probation failings are likely to come up - Bob Neill and his colleagues have a chance to press Gauke on some of the prison proposals he announced today.

First they will want to know more about his plans to crack down on modern day Harry Grouts - the organised crime bosses who he thinks drive the drug trade inside and its catastrophic consequences. Gauke wants to rethink the categorisation of prisoners so that ring leaders can be “isolated” from their followers. Whether this means a fundamental review of the four tier security classification system or simply tweaks to the criteria for allocation to Category A high security prisons is not clear. Gauke wants categorisation decisions to give greater weight to behaviour in prison - but this would mark a substantial change in policy and practice which needs careful planning.

Second, Gauke wants to change the incentives and earned privileges scheme which Governors tell him isn’t working. This could involve unwinding Chris Grayling’s reforms to the scheme and strengthening carrots rather than lengthening sticks. In the best part of his speech Gauke talked of giving opportunities for prisoners to earn, through good behaviour, greater contact with families and release on temporary licence. Why not permanent release, MPs might ask. This was one of Michael Gove’s ideas which disappeared with him. Gauke indicated that it may be up to Governors rather than Whitehall to reshape the privileges and sanctions scheme. While this might serve to kick start the stalled governor autonomy project, it could bring risks of inconsistency and perceived unfairness on the part of prisoners.

Third, Gauke was clear that he wanted to see prisoner numbers fall but….only as an aspiration if re-offending falls. He talked about the importance of rehabilitation but as befits the views of a police officer’s son, this has to start by playing by the rules. Generally this is not something prisoners are very good at. Gauke offered no guarantee that his department’s spending cuts wont further impact on prison budgets.

Gauke claimed to have persuaded his Cabinet colleagues to join a new inter departmental committee addressing re-offending. While the Justice Committee will wish to probe its terms of reference, it might suggest that its first agenda item should be on finding ways of keeping people out of jail. Gauke's description of the prison system today certainly made a strong case for that.

Rob Allen

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

CRC in Pay Deal

Thanks go to the reader for sending me the following which was circulated yesterday and will surely 'put the cat amongst the pigeons' as they say:-


On the 5th March, the recognised trade unions received confirmation of a final pay offer from MTC Novo management, after a period of negotiations. We are now consulting with members about the offer and ask you to indicate your acceptance or rejection of the offer via the attached link, by no later than noon on 29th March 2018. 

The offer covers both 2017-18 and 2018-19. Therefore, it is a two-year offer, even though the bulk of the 2017-18 element would be made as back pay, as soon as the offer was accepted and processed. 

The key elements of the offer are as set out in the letter from MTC Novo management (see attached). This involves: 
  • A 1.5% non-consolidated pensionable payment for staff at the pay maxima for each of 2017-18 and 2018-19. The 2017-18 award would be made as a back dated one off lump sum payment. 
  • An additional non-consolidated pensionable payment of 0.5% for staff below the pay maxima in addition to their contractual incremental step in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. The 2017-18 element will again be paid in full as a one off lump sum payment. 
The offer applies to all staff whose pay is linked to the NNC pay scales.

After consultation with local elected representatives in the CRCs, informed by input from Napo’s National Officers and Officials, we are recommending that members accept the offer, as the best that can be achieved at this time by negotiation. 

The offer is made at the same time as the NPS have confirmed they will not be making any pay award in 2017-18 for staff – except for meeting the contractual increment for those below their pay maxima. Therefore, although the MTC Novo offer is below the current rate of inflation, it is still better than any offer being presented by the NPS. 

Given the well-rehearsed and increasingly evident financial constraints on the CRC contracts, this is both surprising and welcomed. In negotiations MTC Novo also stressed that they’d have liked to do more. Napo believe that the continuing constraints, and continued uncertainty around the outcome of national pay reform negotiations with the NPS, means they would not be able to go further at this time. 

The unions had reservations about accepting any two-year offer when we were engaged in negotiations around significant pay reform with the NPS, which we believe would directly impact on MTC Novo staff and the MTC Novo contract. In Napo’s claim, we put forward that if the NPS increased pay rates then all of the CRC owners would require additional funding and support to ensure they remained competitive and able to retain staff. 

However, these national NPS pay reform negotiations have stalled, following a breakdown in trust between the Treasury and the MoJ, relating to MoJ performance and the failure to get their accounts signed off. The unions are now pursuing a resolution to this crisis directly with Ministers. Even as we remain positive that the urgent need for this pay reform will be recognised in central Government, the delays mean that in reality, any movement on NPS pay reform will not take place until well into the 2018-19 financial year. Consequently, Napo believe that application of any pay reform in MTC Novo is then unlikely until 2019-20. Accordingly, we have decided that we can safely recommend the two-year deal and bank what money, however limited, MTC Novo can offer members now. 


Alongside this update, you will have received a link to a Napo survey. Click on this link and you will be taken to a page where you will be asked if you accept the MTC Novo pay offer or not. This system ensures each member will only be able to vote once. 

Remember you can get cheaper subs by paying directly through Direct Debit and can also access our extensive new Napo members’ Benefits Package and save the cost of membership in full. 

SARA MASON (Thames Valley Branch Chair) 
DAVID RAHO (London Branch Co-chair) 
DEAN ROGERS (Assistant General Secretary)

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Court Closures

When new Justice Secretary David Gauke appeared before the Justice Select Committee last week it was clear he wasn't fully on top of his brief and resorted to what could best be described as 'holding' answers. For example, he didn't seem to grasp that with the impending closure of Northallerton Magistrates Court, it would be impossible to travel by public transport to Harrogate instead. He effectively just shrugged his shoulders. This from the Guardian picks up the sorry story of court closures:-   

Court closures: sale of 126 premises raised just £34m, figures show

‘Ideological’ sell-off limits access to justice, says Labour, leaving many far from their nearest court

The government’s courts closure programme is creating geographical gaps that restrict access to justice while raising pitifully small sums from the sale of most buildings, Labour has said. According to analysis of newly released figures, the sale of 126 court premises in England and Wales since 2010 has raised a total of £34m – each going for little more than the average house price.

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, has accused the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of pursuing sell-offs aggressively before a £1bn court modernisation programme – relying on remote video hearings and online mechanisms – has proved viable. His comments have been reinforced by the justice select committee, which has written to the MoJ pointing out that plans to change the way in which travel-to-court times are measured may undermine the presumption that defendants and witnesses can attend a hearing and return within a day.

The closure of Northallerton magistrates court could force court users to travel instead to Harrogate, for example, a journey by bus which takes three hours and 22 minutes one way. “We question the assumption that virtual hearings will, and should, increasingly take the place of physical access to hearing rooms,” the MPs on the committee cautioned.

Since 2010, the MoJ has closed at least 230 crown, county and magistrates courts. The initial rationale was that crime levels and the number of court cases were falling. Some of the buildings have yet to be sold. The money raised and savings achieved are being diverted into the court modernisation programme.

A breakdown of the figures, which were released in a parliamentary question, show that £224m has been raised so far. Almost two-thirds of that sum was generated by the sale of just nine courts on prime sites in and around London. Hammersmith magistrates court made £43m, the technology and construction court in central London fetched £25m and Horseferry Road magistrates court went for £20m. At the opposite end of the scale, Ely magistrates court was disposed of for just £1, Rochdale magistrates court was auctioned for £6,316 and Consett country court made only £13,735. The 100 cheapest courthouse disposals, Labour researchers calculated, raised just £19.8m in total.

Many buildings were undistinguished, municipal architecture dating back to the 1970s and 80s. Some buildings have found other uses. Knutsford crown court, which dates back to the early 19th century, was sold for £1.6m and became a hotel and restaurant.

“These figures do nothing to assuage fears that the government’s wave of court sell-offs is driven by blinkered ideology with scant regard for the impact on access to justice in whole swathes of the country,” Burgon said. “Selling off over a hundred local courts each for not much more than the average UK house price piles yet more pressure on the remaining courts and risks hearings being further delayed and rescheduled. This can have a distressing impact on victims and witnesses and creates a justice system that’s less accessible for local people. The Conservatives justify their mass sell-off of local justice facilities with talk of the digitisation of our courts .... Despite awarding contracts worth tens of millions, the government has admitted to not undertaking sufficient research on the effectiveness of court hearings by video link and still refuses to publish the business case for this modernisation programme.”

In the Commons on Tuesday, the Labour MP Ruth George said that the closure of Buxton magistrates court meant her constituents had to travel 40 miles to court. “The police say it now takes a whole day to take someone to court and back,” she said. The shadow justice minister Yasmin Qureshi called for a moratorium on court closures until the new court bill had been debated by parliament.

Steve Hynes, the director of the Legal Action Group, which campaigns for better access to justice, said he feared people would decline to be witnesses or bring claims. “I can foresee real difficulties in witnesses getting to court,” he said.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “This government is investing over £1bn to reform and modernise the justice system – making it more convenient, easier to use, and providing better value for the taxpayer. Since April 2016 we have raised £115m from the sale of underused court buildings – over £34m more than forecast, and every penny of this will be reinvested as part of our modernisation plans. As we increase the use of digital services, it makes sense to consider the wider role and need for court buildings.”


Penelope Gibbs of Transform Justice has written extensively on the subject of court closures and the whole court 'modernisation' programme and has just produced a very thorough briefing document.

Court closures - trying to get a quart into a pint pot?

How many courts do you need to close before the system grinds to a halt? Ever since the government took over the ownership of courts from local authorities in 2005, they have been closing them down at a fierce rate such that there are now 250 fewer courts in England and Wales.

There is a proposal on the table now to close 8 more courts, including relatively new ones like Cambridge and Maidenhead magistrates' courts and Blackfriars Crown Court. The courts service (HMCTS) insist that all the criminal courts being closed are significantly under used and their work can be accommodated in nearby courts. But the calculations are not entirely convincing

- Its assumed that the volume of work carried out now will not increase. This doesn't take account of fluctuations in prosecutions, or that constraints on staff resources currently limit the number of cases heard. When cases can be listed depends on having enough judges and court staff. But the number of magistrates has halved and the number of court staff been cut by a quarter in recent years. So the empty court rooms could be used, and cases heard more promptly, if there were more people to hear the cases.

- They calculate that criminal court work can be divided into units of an hour and thus one hour under-used in a court marked for closure can be slotted into a one hour gap in an existing court. But trials hardly ever take just an hour, so time under-used at Blackfriars Crown Court cannot easily be transferred to Southwark instead. Some spare capacity is needed in courts anyway - to accommodate cases that over-run. As it is, witnesses and defendants who are at court are often turned away because they've run out of time to hear their case that day.

- HMCTS estimate travel times from a court user's home to court on the basis of travelling from one town centre to another. So in the case of Cambridge, whose magistrates' court is earmarked for closure, the journeys are calculated from the towns in Cambridgeshire (Huntingdon, St Neots, Ely), not from the countryside. Someone living 15 miles south east of Cambridge, who might currently be able to get into the city by bus in 45 minutes, will take considerably longer than the 1 hour 10 minutes estimated as the journey time between Cambridge and Huntingdon (the proposed new court) by public transport.

The reason why courts are being closed is because they will in most cases be replaced by virtual ("trial by skype") and online courts, so only those attending and taking part in Crown Court trials will go to an actual court. I'm not clear how this whole proposed scenario will improve access to justice, and the risk is the system will descend into chaos. Pending the development of the brave new virtual world, court users will be expected to spend hours travelling to court, navigating complicated journeys. Witnesses will vote with their feet by not turning up at all, while defendants will be even later than they already are, or fail to appear and have to be arrested on warrant. This is the worst case scenario. I really hope it doesn't happen - which is why I urge all you weary people to put your cynicism aside and respond to one or more of the current consultations on court closures.


Finally, here's a piece from January in the Guardian on the costs of the modernisation programme and the MoJ's by-now legendary ability to waste public money:-

MoJ spending huge sums on consultants to help deliver digital courts

Critics express concerns, pointing to lack of detail about contracts as well as history of failure and delays in government IT projects

The Ministry of Justice is spending tens of millions of pounds on management consultants to help deliver online and digital court programmes that are designed to save money and improve access to justice. The £30m is being paid to PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, as part of a £1bn drive to modernise the courts and expand the types of hearings that can be conducted via computer.

Another major contract, worth £1.3 million, has been won by the consulting firm Methods, which subcontracts some of the work to the outsourcing company Accenture to provide “change management strategy” to help guide the judiciary through until 2022. Additional undisclosed sums have been paid to EY, formerly Ernst and Young. Few details of the scheme, which is being managed by the MoJ’s executive arm, HM Courts and Tribunal Service, have emerged but the tendering contract states that it aims to “transform our technology and to transform our own skills and capabilities”.

The senior judiciary, who will ensure new methods of working are consistent with legal requirements for a fair trial, have become intimately involved in supervising the programme. The large sums are being spent at a time of widespread cuts to legal aid and crumbling infrastructure, with courthouses and prisons in need of repair.

Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice and a former magistrate, questioned whether the scheme would improve access to justice. “We recently learned that there are puddles of urine in the cells of Liverpool prison and Liam Allan was nearly convicted of rape because police and prosecution lack the resources to do their job,” she said. “Meanwhile the Ministry of Justice has paid over £30m to fund external management consultants to support ‘change management’ in their digital court reform programme. The management consultants are focused on ‘successful delivery’ but we don’t know what they are supposed to be delivering since there is no published plan for the digital court reform programme and the PWC contract isn’t published either. If they are being rewarded for increasing access to justice, that’s great, but can we see how that will be assessed?”

Given the history of failures and delays in major government IT projects, PwC’s financial rewards are being made dependent on successful delivery of the online and digital court programmes. It is understood that a considerable proportion of the firm’s £30m fee is being spent on specialist suppliers and subcontractors. PwC will be expected to build up skills among HMCTS staff so they eventually take over responsibility for running the software.

Asked about the contract, an HMCTS spokesperson said: “This is the most ambitious programme of its kind anywhere in the world. We are investing more than £1bn over a six-year period to modernise outdated processes and create a swifter, more accessible and more efficient justice system for the public. Our contract with PwC replaces a number of contracts with external suppliers, and ensures we benefit from specialist skills to deliver our reforms and get best value for money for the taxpayer.”

It is unclear how many cases can be transferred out of the courtroom and on to a laptop screen. Successive MoJ economy drives have led to the closure of about 250 courts across England and Wales since 2011. They have been justified partially on the grounds of falling crime rates and partially on the need to develop more flexible working practices.

Civil cases that have been transferred online include applications for divorce, probate and small claims. Low-level offences such as fare evasion, traffic offences and fishing without a licence are among the first being dealt with online. More than 3,000 members of the public are said to have used pilot digital systems so far.

Asked about the type of cases going online earlier this month, the new lord chief justice said at his annual press conference that a new digital criminal case system had already saved the need to print 33m pages of paper. “When we reach our goal, it should be possible for a very large number of civil disputes to be resolved using online facilities with appropriate judicial input when it is needed, but rarely requiring the parties to attend court,” said Lord Burnett of Maldon.

Whole categories of hearings such as listing cases, simple bail applications and entering pleas will “in future not require the routine attendance of everybody at court on every occasion”, he said. Telephone hearings had been routine in civil courts for 20 years, he added, what was important was that judges retained control of cases even if no one else was in court.

There have been concerns that online justice forms could make it too easy for unrepresented defendants to plead guilty in order to dispose of a court summons without realising that may result in a criminal record. There has been some criticism that the judiciary is becoming too closely identified with the court modernisation programme. Andrew Langdon QC, a former chair of the Bar Council, said: “There is a risk that in the future we will evaluate our judges on their ability to be effective managers rather than fearless independent judges who are independent of the executive.”

Monday, 12 March 2018

News Roundup 17

Here's something from the new Prison and Probation minister Rory Stewart, although it may be some time before we hear him talk about the probation bit of his job:-


I became the Minister for Prisons six weeks ago. When I first visited prisons – teaching briefly in Oxford prison – in the early 1990s, there were 45,000 prisoners in Britain. Today, there are 85,000. This is not because crime has increased – the national crime survey suggests that there was four times as much crime, twenty years ago, than today. It is because we are imprisoning more people for longer sentences – far more than the Scandinavians or the Dutch. (Although far fewer that in the United States).

The MP for Darlington analysed the backgrounds of our prisoners in a speech in parliament this week:

“27% have been taken into care, compared with 2% of the general population; 49% have been excluded from school, compared with 2%; numeracy and literary levels of an 11-year-old or below at 65% and 48% respectively; 72% of men and 70% of women with two or more mental disorders; 83% of men with a history of hazardous drinking; drug misuse at 66%.”

The vast majority of prisoners are there for violent crimes or sex offences, which carry a sentence of longer than four years. Violence against other prisoners, and against prison staff is at a record high, and so are incidents of self-harm – partly because the prisons are awash with new psychotropic drugs. Half of people convicted reoffend within a year – imposing great cost and suffering on the public. And this level of reoffending has remained constant for decades, almost regardless of the resources invested in the prisons, the efforts of charities and reformers, the philosophy of prison management, or whether the government has been Labour or Conservative.

For many prison reformers the key is to have far shorter prison sentences, and to keep far fewer people in jail. But at the same time, there is continual pressure – often from victims – for longer sentences as punishment for crime. (At the moment, for example, you could be sentenced for five years for causing a death by overtaking on the A66; but on Wednesday this week, I heard from MPs who have been campaigning to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to a life sentence). Many critics seem to question whether it is even possible to fundamentally reform the prison system. And having spent a decade of my life trying to disillusion new Ministers who were trying to turn around Afghanistan, I sympathise with their sceptical attitude to a new Minister – and their detailed predictions of how almost everything I suggest has been tried before, and will either prove futile or counter-productive.

But I still believe something worthwhile can be done, and relatively quickly. First, for example, as I have tried to argue in some recent articles, we can clean up our prisons. The inspectors found mounds of garbage rotting in the yards of Liverpool prison. I found almost every window of every cell broken in a single wing. But when I visited Alt Course prison, a mile and a half away – a similar size prison, of the same category, drawing from the same population – I found a clean space, a sense of dignity and purposefulness, and a good preparation for return to the community – centred on impressive metal welding workshops. Alt Course was a newer building, but this did not explain all the differences. Liverpool is comparatively well-staffed, and as the excellent new Liverpool Governor, Pia, has shown in a few weeks, it is possibly to clean up the prison yards simply by increasing the number of prisoners on yard-cleaning duty from three to eighteen.

Again, I disagree with the conventional wisdom that stopping drugs entering prison is a doomed game of ‘whack-a-mole’ (if I stop people carrying them in, they will find another route – in letters impregnated with narcotics, or carried by drones); and that the only way of reducing drugs is to reduce demand. I am confident that by increasing the number of body-scanners and dogs, by fixing the windows (which prevents prisoners reaching out to take drugs off the drones), we can achieve a significant reduction. Hold me to account – look at the drugs testing rates in the worst thirty prisons today, and compare them with the rates in twelve months time. And I believe that if we can reduce the flow of drugs this will have a positive effect on debt and violence in prison, and on the rehabilitation of prisoners.

In order to help these things happen (and increase the quality of education in prison, and linking released prisoners to housing – homelessness among prisoners leads to a very high rate of reoffending), we are recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers. But in the end, success will be about leadership. No minister should pretend to micro-manage 140 separate prisons. The best prison governors already show how to succeed despite all overwhelming problems in our prisons. We need to invest ever more in the training and development of our prison staff, (and consider establishing a staff college for governors). This is only the beginning – there are hundreds of other things that will have to be done over decades – to keep society safe from crime, and reduce reoffending. But my instinct is that with focus and pragmatism, we can make much difference to our prisons than we fear.

Rory Stewart


The Public Accounts Committee didn't mince its words regarding the failure of Learndirect:-

Learndirect case highlights 'too big to fail' concerns in Government contracting

Learndirect performance on apprenticeships in steep decline since 2013

With the collapse of Carillion, questions are rightly being asked about how Government manages companies who deliver our public services. The failure of Learndirect in delivering quality training to apprentices whilst receiving millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money—£121 million in the 2016/17 academic year alone—is another stark example of a poorly performing contractor and poor oversight by Government and its regulators. And another contractor with contracts across several Government Departments.

Learndirect Ltd’s performance on apprenticeships has been in steep decline since 2013. Learndirect failed to address its under-performance, and has failed to act in the best interests of learners.

Ofsted rated Learndirect 'inadequate'

Ofsted had concerns about Learndirect Ltd in spring 2015, but despite the company’s 75,000 learners making it the UK’s largest commercial further education provider, Ofsted decided not to inspect until November 2016. Even then, Ofsted accepted the potential sale of part of the company as a reason to postpone its inspection, and only finally inspected in March 2017.

When Learndirect Ltd found that it had been rated as ‘inadequate’, it launched a legal challenge which delayed publication of the inspection report. The judge ruled fully in Ofsted’s favour, and the report was finally published in August 2017.

Too big, and too important to be allowed to fail?

The Department for Education would normally cancel an ‘inadequate’ provider’s contract and withdraw its funding almost immediately. But Learndirect Ltd threatened that such a course of action would harm its learners and jeopardise its ability to deliver other key government contracts.

The company continues to function, and expects to receive over £105 million of funding from its main government contracts in 2017/18. This apparent special treatment clearly begs the question of whether Learndirect Ltd was too big, and too important to government, to be allowed to fail. The Government needs to learn lessons from the failure of its contractors and, particularly where a company holds contracts across several Departments, ensure it has a grip on how these companies are performing.

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"Outsourcing is an abiding interest for our Committee but recent events have brought concerns about Government’s relationship with its contractors into sharp focus. In the case of Learndirect, thousands of learners have been let down amid poor oversight by Government and at significant public expense. There has been disruptive legal action and, finally, a scathing Ofsted report. Yet still Learndirect appears to hold the whip hand.

It expects to receive over £105 million of funding from its main government contracts for this year, a consequence of assessments made about the risk to public services should Learndirect’s funding be terminated. It cannot be right that individual contractors should command such large sums of public money regardless of their performance. No commercial provider should be allowed to become so essential to the delivery of services that it cannot be allowed to fail. Government has a duty to manage taxpayers’ exposure to risk diligently and we urge it to act on the recommendations set out in our Report."


Civil Service World reported on the use of zero hour contracts by the MoJ:-

Ministry of Justice has ‘employed hundreds on zero-hours contracts’

The Ministry of Justice has admitted to having employed hundreds of people on zero hours contracts, despite widespread political criticism of their use. The department revealed that since 2011, more than 570 people have worked under contracts with no guaranteed hours.

According to its figures the MoJ has been gradually cutting its use of casual contracts since it recorded a peak of 172 zero-hours workers at the department in a snapshot from December 2011. There were 21 people working on a casual basis in January 2017.

In response to a written question from Labour MP Chris Ruane, the government confirmed those currently on casual contracts at the MoJ are scheduled court ushers working at HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

The data comes amid government plans to boost the rights of casual and zero-hours workers, including extending holiday and sick-pay entitlements. Although ministers stopped short of calling for a ban, a review into modern working practices late last year found “too many employers and businesses" rely on flexible contracts.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Telegraph: “While zero hours contracts can offer flexibility, use of zero hours contracts has decreased since 2011, and we will continue to work across the department to cut this number even further. We only use these contracts in exceptional circumstances, with less than 0.1% of the civil service workforce on such arrangements.”


Finally, a charity solicitor ponders on the future for the sector post-Carillion:-

Carillion: Will the bells now ring out for social enterprises?

As UK public procurement failures multiply, lawyer David Hunter believes now is the time for social enterprises to demonstrate they can deliver on budget and with a true commitment to social benefit.

The name Carillion is a corruption of the word carillon, meaning a peal of bells, and that company’s collapse has been accompanied by the metaphoric ringing of alarm bells in many quarters lately. In the febrile aftermath of Carillion’s demise, there are familiar opportunities and threats for the social enterprise movement to be aware of and act upon.

The opportunity centres on the fact that there is an enduring alignment of purpose between public bodies and charities and social enterprises built around their shared commitment to achieving social outcomes. This is in contrast to the purpose driving Carillion (and the other private contractors and funders in public markets),which is to optimise investor returns from public contracts.

The threat is equally familiar: the tendency for the public debate to default to the binary and present a straight choice between private or public provision. The threat is potentially exacerbated in this case, as Carillion (and the PFI contracts which formed the core of its business) are predominantly about public infrastructure not public services and, to a large extent, that infrastructure may continue to be something that private contractors are best placed to provide (albeit by a different contractual mechanism than PFI, or its poor relation PF2).

This is a distinction that has often been overlooked in the public debate, but it is an important one for social enterprises to highlight. Public services rather than infrastructure is where social enterprises' strengths are in delivering social impact; it is where, in many respects, public authorities are ultimately judged; and it is where private providers’ weaknesses are increasingly being exposed, as illustrated by two other current examples.

The offender management debacle

The first is the debacle of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Another public procurement exercise suffering from giantism, it led inexorably to multi-million pound contracts being awarded to the likes of Interserve and Sodexo, corporates with, in some cases, almost no expertise in offender management, but with track records in managing large contracts and cutting costs. Established specialist providers were squeezed out or offered crumbs through onerous supply chain contracts. Unsurprisingly, the programme has failed in social terms, as evidenced by the Chief Probation Inspector in her review published in December 2017 describing a general deterioration in services and outcomes. It has also failed in financial terms, with the TR contractors receiving a £277m bailout from the Ministry of Justice to keep the contracts going. Thus, service users are failed, social and financial costs for society continue to accumulate and there is not even the anticipated short term financial benefit.

The second is the academisation process, by which education is handed to independent providers, technically charities, but – as demonstrated by the "asset-stripping" the failed Wakefield City Academies Trust has been accused of and the spiralling salaries of academy chief executives – the policy has created opportunities to extract private benefit from public assets and service delivery which many have been quick to exploit.

Part of the post-Carillion debate has rightly focused on questions of corporate governance. This coincides with ongoing and growing advocacy for purpose or mission to become embedded in how businesses operate. The same can be said of public bodies: it would be helpful to be explicit about what they believe they exist to accomplish and for this to be a permanent reference point for their activities. Whilst there is scope for variation in the detail, a reasonable general assumption is that at the highest level it is to optimise delivery of social value – not as something that is a minor line item in a procurement exercise, but as the overarching purpose of the public body.

A reasonable assumption is that the overarching purpose of a public body is to optimise delivery of social value
That leads directly into the commissioning function, so that activities are strategically driven around optimising social outcomes within a budget, with money as a mechanism to enable those outcomes to be delivered, rather than the object of the exercise being not to spend so much. Building commissioning practice around purpose will more likely lead to improved outcomes (in turn, over time, reducing pressures on budgets).

These are changes which I propose for the benefit of public bodies and their constituents, not for the social enterprise sector. However, if implemented, they should create more opportunity for social enterprises to win and deliver public services in meaningful ways for the mutual benefit of the commissioning authorities, the enterprises themselves and their service users. The alignment of purpose between commissioners and delivery bodies can enable more relational and genuinely partnership-based approaches to change and challenges as they arise during delivery, rather than presenting more opportunities to extract income from the public purse. This represents a potential shift in contract management enabled to both partners being on the same side.

Proposing such changes should not be seen as radical, though implementing them would feel so and could have radical consequences. Even if introduced, there is still a massive exercise for the sector to ensure public authorities understand and value both the opportunities that alignment of purpose provides and the practical qualities social enterprises can bring.

The best successfully combine the public benefit ethos at the heart of the public sector with the commercial acumen regarded as an attribute of the private sector. This is very different both to grant-dependent voluntary organisations and to private providers with sophisticated CSR arms. We know that, but must assume hard-pressed commissioners do not. The examples not only of Carillion, but of TR and academisation, demonstrate the risks of working with private providers driven by profit maximisation. Equally, commissioners need to be persuaded not to default to the familiar and take services back in-house by demonstrating social enterprise offers the best, rather than the worst, of both public and private worlds.

If the sector can achieve that, it will have its own, positive carillon moment.

David is a consultant solicitor at Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP. He works with charities and social enterprises, social investors and responsible businesses, finding effective and innovative ways to deliver greater social impact, policy change and practice in communities

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Pick of the Week 46

I was a potential new recruit last summer. Potential only as I failed the absurd online situational judgement test. I believed foolishly that the test would relate to issues pertinent to criminal justice. Instead the scenarios in the test related to business, dealing with co-workers, delegating work when a co-worker calls in sick etc. Quite disgraceful, and certainly indicative of the managerialism that seems to have overtaken the probation service. Glorified admin the job seems to have become - not working with offenders, but rather working with offenders' records. I am slightly bitter. I've spent over a year preparing for the application. Their loss..

The financial crash in 2008 was surely about big finance over extending themselves, taking positions and risks. For which, we have spent a decade and by the time it is done a generation or more paying for. Now we have a situation with Carillion where similar short - sightedness has meant we are paying again. Interserve are now faced with banks offloading their liabilities, hedge funds taking a position against the company and one hedge fund seeing an opportunity and buying up debt at 50p in the pound and mounting a rescue plan presumably with returns identified in time. The government will ultimately underwrite public service provision of Probation and other services if needs, one way or another. My question, is this really the foundation on which important public services and public finances can be placed under, at the mercy of those operating in the shadows?


Manchester CRC are doing their bit we have no pens and photocopy on double sides. Don't they have to show their accounts by 31/3.

No phone lines in our area and you can’t order a new toner cartridge for the printer until it commands you to hoping you get a new one In time.

Shameful! So now it's possible to have untrained and unvetted private security guards monitoring high risk offenders. Tell me, what are the chances that you will have a profession to moan about in the not too distant? After all PO's are extremely expensive when compared with staff from OCS or Inter-fail.

So whilst they're constantly cutting corners at the front line, making professionals unemployed & gambling with peoples' lives - Spurr's remuneration as head of NOMS/HMPPS has risen from approx £145,000 in 2010/11 to approx £190,000 in 2016/17 - an increase of more than 30%.

Well that speech was a complete waste of time and money for everyone from Gauke through to the latest person to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. This is the trouble with appointing people with zero first hand experience of the judicial and prison system. Gauke apparently practised as a solicitor in the financial services sector before becoming an MP but that doesn't qualify him to understand the problems with the system any more than Grayling or Truss did because I doubt he even went near a court during his time as a solicitor let alone got his hands dirty in the criminal sector.

I struggle to understand why, when there are a variety of other countries with systems that work and which have been proven to reduce reoffending, our dimwit SSJ's still harp on about the tabloid stuff i.e. fiddling round the edges of the problems rather than taking on board excellent practice proven to work from elsewhere.

"Some of them want to be in prison for a short time so as to make money" - what does that phrase tell you? People are CHOOSING to be in prison so they can make money. Thought you'd be applauding it? It shows strength in depth of capitalism, free-market thinking, the influence of market forces & monetisation of need. All Tory values. Or is the fucked up nature of such twisted thinking starting to sink home? Or, is it that you're just pissed off you can't have a slice of such a lucrative market?

The government have the ability to control the types of drugs being used in the prison system, and because they can't stem the flow of drugs into prisons, controlling the type should be their first priority. Moving prisoners on the basis of their association with 'gangs' will make not a jot of difference to the amount of drugs in the prison system. It will just mean that people will go to different regions to get breached if they are intent on doing so to supply drugs. Get yourself caught pinching a jar of coffee in Liverpool whilst on licence you'll go to Walton, do the same in Leeds you'll go to Armley. In fact moving prisoners in that way is really a return to the old dispersal system disbanded in the late 70s. Primarily it was introduced to keep political prisoners apart in response to the troubles in Northern Ireland, but it was also used to keep the serious armed gang members responsible for the big bank robberies apart. Seven prisons were used, and those within the system were rotated constantly around those seven prisons. But such a move today really puts a nail in the coffin of any notion of TTG and resettlement prisons or locating prisoners more local to their release plans. I think the government are just wasting time and money, and not dealing with the issue at all. Fact is, there isn't any prisons in the country that isn't awash with drugs.

Correct. Not 3 years ago I was allocated 3 out of 7 who had been supplying drugs on a vast regional scale & handed down jail terms ranging from 7 yrs to 18 yrs. All 7 were allocated to geographically diverse but same category prisons (sensible in my view) but within 6 months - despite my protestations - all were in the same jail, & 5/7 were on (some would say 'running') the same wing. Getafix, Frances Crook & many others can all see through Gawke's hopeless bullshit, his political treading water, his massaging of the facts & his fatally flawed 'fix'.

My suggestions, in no particular order:
- More prison staff - asap
- Reduce prisoner numbers - asap
- Scrap TR - asap
- Fix Probation & increase non-custodial sentences - asap
- Suspend prison penalties for cannabis use - once prison drug teams are fully resourced
- Increase prison penalties for Class A, Spice, etc
- Sort out mobile & drone signal issues in prison, i.e. jam or scramble - the technology exists, buy it & use it.

'Gang member' = drug dealer = astute businessman? And what constitutes a "tougher jail"? Liverpool & Nottingham sounded fairly tough - is this a means of legitimising sub-standard prison environments for housing 'gang members'?

a) what a load of absolute bollocks and b) specifically designed to appeal to the tabloids rather than addressing the actual issues in the prison system.

"The justice secretary made clear he believed the prison population of 86,000 was too high but said he would not try to reduce it by “artificial means”. Artificial means... what the fuck does that mean? Magic? Culling? This fits just as neatly into the sentence "legislation that might be unpopular with the Daily Mail". Spineless.

The new SOS was a number cruncher for the DWP in Wales. If they can fiddle the unemployment figures should be a doddle fiddling the numbers of actual prisoners.

"I look forward to the reaction of the high security estate when burglars and other petty criminals serving short sentences start landing at their gates because they have been judged too troublesome by the Governor of some Cat C." Absolutely right, and a new chapter of chaos is set in motion. I find it very disturbing that the only way ever considered with the prison crisis (and social problems on the whole), is the carrot and stick model. Eat your veg or be beaten. Carrots and sticks haven't worked so far, and just changing the proportions is unlikely to achieve very much. Being under threat of sanction or punishment in my view never really achieves much. People don't stop offending because they're rehabilitated or come to the view that their way of life is wrong, if they stop offending at all it's through fear of punishment. Fear of punishment doesn't change attitudes so it might prevent some from offending, but it will never address the underlying factors or the causes of offending.

Utterly dejected reading this. Nothing new here, bar some vague aspirations. This is just marking time when bravery is needed to tackle a humanitarian crisis. There will be no solution until the revolving doors at the top of MoJ stops spinning. In my view, no hope for anything remotely like progress until this government is voted out. This is just a holding exercise in being seen to do something whilst in fact doing b*gg*r all.

'Capitalism has its foot in the door when it comes to law and order where it should have no place.' Agree. I am minded to give the new minister a go. He is setting out some principles, some direction regards prisons which is important. I see what he is doing as repairing damage but better than not. We can hold him and his government to the task they have set themselves so I view that as brave on his part. I am concerned that Probation is not championed at his level and I wonder why given its potential to be full partner in all aspects of his vision. But then Probation is a problem that no one is presenting a coherent vision for at this juncture. This is an opportunity that needs to be heard, soon.

It's A Wind Up! In the spirit of the recently deceased Trevor Baylis, inventor of the wind-up radio, a spokesperson for the KSS CRC Wind Up Centre said "Inventing things is a critically important part of making things up, something we here at KSS CRC are getting very good at." It is believed they will be taking a very different approach to probation practice. Leaked details from the initial research papers suggest that, directly inspired by the work of Trevor Baylis, they may be looking to combine a clockwork mechanism with a probation Officer. A worried team manager, who wished to remain anonymous, told us: "All they need is someone who can wind them up constantly."

Editor's Note: Other CRCs are available and also very good at making things up, selling their ideas to gullible politicians who are up to their armpits in the public purse trying to keep pace with this surge of ingenuity.

What happens when suggestions of what works hits the wall of financial imperatives and share holder value?

Lots of other countries are in crisis on these issues as well. Although some positive noise is coming from New Zealand; to compete in the world they are cutting services and deregulating. In Canada there have been lots of issues with Canadian PO’s and Prison Officers with their T&C’s being eroded and contracts constantly up for discussion. Capitalism has its foot in the door when it comes to law and order where it should have no place. This is not just a UK problem.

Without probation none of these ideas will work well yet no mention of us in the speech indicating that he thinks that we are unworthy of a mention and that we are lower than something he scraped off his shoe.

"That has been done because it is not work that is traditionally done by trained probation officers, but by contracted staff." No! Mr Rory Stewart. No! It was work 'traditionally' done by employed & trained hostel staff &/or PSOs studying to be POs, or those wanting to accumulate the necessary 600 hours' experience within a probation environment in order to be eligible for a place on a CQSW or DipSW course. Please revisit your study-of-history ethics & do not confuse government-imposed practice with 'tradition'.

PROBATION IS DEAD. Probation as a capitalised Noun no longer exists. The Tory assassins have completed their covert task.

Gawke is only the latest in a string of temps who have never mentioned 'Probation' once, let alone 'probation'. Even the other newcomer Rory Stewart - a half-decent constituency MP & an educated man who understands the importance of language in history - refuses to accept 'Probation' as a part of his job title. He knows its part of the Tory narrative to totally erase the left-leaning legacy. He is bright, and he is ambitious; so he plays ball.

The NPS is so very close to being completely absorbed into HMPPS; which will be re-branded - perhaps 'Her Majesty's Prison & Rehabilitation Service' - as Spurr's final spiteful legacy before he sails through the revolving door into a luxurious life of a gilt-edged pension, a knighthood, honorary membership of the LTA & numerous lucrative ACOBA-approved directorships.

The work that a probation service provider does is already being reinvented, diluted & ersatz academics undertaking the KSS^CRC experimental research will unveil groundbreaking revelations in the coming months.

He mentioned the word probation once. You are correct, however, not as a capitalised noun, instead as an add-on to prisons. This shows that the low status of probation under HMPPS is the same as it was under NOMS. Perhaps worse, as David Gauke seems to think probation is an employment/careers service. Here’s what he said;

“The prison and probation service have an important role to help offenders build the skills and experience they need whilst they’re in prison so they can have the right attitude for work and get a job when they’re released.”

Clearly he’s just another tool in a long line of justice secretary’s that have no idea what Criminal Justice System is. Maybe Sonia Crozier can apologise for that too?!

I don't think probation is dead. I think it's confused, dysfunctional, buried under layers of political IDIOTology, and means too many different things to too many different people. It's an identity crisis. I also think that some of that identity crisis is propagated from within the service itself. I personally feel the mantra of 'public protection' advances the probation cause [not] very far at all. I think probation can mitigate some of the risks people may pose to public safety, but really, is its primary function a public protection agency? If it is, should it be?

If it is and should be, then probation have to accept responsibility for everything and every time someone under their supervision offends against public safety. I certainly think probation can mitigate with regard to public safety, but I don't think that should be it's sole purpose. It's much more then that. Maybe a good blog post for the future could be, "What is the purpose of probation, discuss." I'd be very surprised if it didn't show up at least a dozen differing opinions, and legitimately held beliefs.

I think the argument over the term Probation is arguably a red herring. The issue, for me, is what are the needs and who will meet them? If 'Probation' was absorbed into Social Care in the way that Youth Offending is, I would have no problem with that. The service could have the social work base that we have generally argued is necessary to secure change in those we work with. Call it the 'Adult Offending Service' is you want, I don't really mind. What I care about is whether what we are doing in order to secure change in the individuals we are working with is in any way effective. I feat that much of what we are currently doing is not. At best it is the efficient production of an increasingly useless product. Rather like a lot of the superficial work that takes place in prisons.

The elimination of the WORD Probation is something that should have been reasonably easy to secure. The elimination of the IDEA of Probation is something that Government will live to regret. As for 'Left leaning'; it has never ceased to amaze me how the 'Right' can completely ignore evidence of success if it offends their two dimensional sensibilities. Michael Howard said 'Prison works'. Chris Patton said 'if Probation didn't exist, we would need to invent it'. I know which one I believe.

Prison sentences are not here to respond to society’s emotions. I like that. And how about: prison sentences are not here to compensate for society’s lack of thinking skills. Or prison sentences are not here to serve our political ends. The criminal justice system should be free from all these things and regarded as a whole, rather than taking and reforming individual parts of it in isolation from the rest of the system. This is not rocket science. What is standing in the way? We don’t love our electorate enough?

"And seeing beyond the CRC’s extraordinary preparations for our inspection, we are in no doubt that the quality of work has improved from a very low base, and is still improving". But three years in its still crap, despite "extraordinary preparations".

As far as I can tell, probation service provision following 7+ years of Tory policies (in essence, asset stripping to fund a terminally flawed political ideology) now has a baseline where 'Crap' is the acceptable median, 'Dangerously Crap' is indicative of a few hiccups & 'Less Crap Than Before' is grounds for financial reward & corporate bonuses all-round. Dame Glenys, Inspector of Bullshit, doesn't seem to be too concerned at this shift in politically-motivated adjustment bias:

"Public protection and rehabilitative work are still not good enough, but rehabilitative work is at least comparable in quality to the average in other CRCs we have inspected. That is not acceptable – as that average is itself unacceptable, in our view – but it is a notable improvement and achievement for this CRC and its staff. There is much more for this CRC to do, but it has made significant progress over the last year." You've All Done Very Well!!

Load of nonsense - this is a CRC where staff are sitting on massive caseloads - POs with 70 plus cases but deemed acceptable because they strip out the "inactive " cases from that figure - custody. Tell that to the CRC PO who has 2 oral hearings in four weeks, at the prison because parole board says so, not to mention the prep time. And that is the tip of the iceberg on the inactives. No sign at all of these caseloads being reduced. 

As for local partnership working, which we know to be invaluable even if MTCNovo are only reluctantly coming to that conclusion, they are busy planning to move us out of our local areas to a hub in North West to cover a number of Boroughs in a largely industrial area. They went to their extraordinary lengths in preparation for the inspection but it's always been clear that they are not altering their stance one bit. And now SPOs have been told their next gathering is in HMP Brixton. What Probation Service?

I have recently spoken to a colleague in the NPS and am told that the project re Unpaid Work involves 3000 unworked orders pre 1st September 2016!!! Many that have already been extended before! Add to that the unworked orders post Sept 2016 and I suspect you have an unsolvable dilemma. Quite unbelievable.

SL10 delivery of Unpaid work fails at the 12 month point whether it's extended or not. So why the NPS involvement? Also the Order can only be extended once 3 or 6 months so why the comment extended more than once? Just a thought.

Detached duty opportunities I'm hearing about for NPS staff make no sense to me... travel to another city, take on the work (not knowing clients or the local services) for no extra money, whilst own work stacks up back at the office. Genuinely wondering, have I missed something?

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Unison Provides the Evidence!

A long read certainly, but no apologies for re-publishing the latest powerful and detailed evidence submitted by Unison to the Justice Committee Inquiry into the TR omnishambles:- 

Supplementary written evidence from Unison (TRH0102) 

Thank you for your letter of 5 February regarding the above. In answer to the further questions in your letter, I can respond as follows: 

1. Probation Workforce Strategy 

It is very difficult to see how a probation workforce strategy could be developed under the current circumstances, which could possibly cover both the CRC and NPS workforces.

The TR process was predicated on a complete split in the probation workforce between the public and private sectors. Many stakeholders, including UNISON, warned the government about the risks of putting the two workforces into their own silos, but Ministers decided to ignore our pleas. 

TR has erected insurmountable barriers to communication and information sharing between CRC and NPS colleagues and created, as we pointed out in our formal evidence to your Inquiry, a ‘them and us’ divide which has become a major obstacle to joined up thinking and working in probation. TR has also created a divide on pay, terms and conditions which could only be bridged by bringing both parts of the service back together again. 

UNISON therefore believes very strongly that a coherent probation workforce strategy could only work in the context of a re-unified probation service, which is UNISON’s aim and objective. The current structure would prevent any such strategy working in the interim.

Here are some of the employment relations problems which a probation workforce strategy would have to address: 

1.1 Three and a half years on from the split in the probation service and the creation of the NPS, we still have no formal negotiating body for NPS staff. Despite the best endeavours of UNISON, the NPS has shown little interest in moving quickly to replace the Probation Service National Negotiating Council (NNC) which was the negotiating body for probation staff pre-TR. There is agreement that we need a new negotiating body for NPS, but to date we have not been able to reach agreement on its constitution or terms of reference. This means that the NPS has tried to get the unions to make collective agreements on important pay and conditions matters without there being a formal negotiating body to do this. This is clearly not an acceptable way to conduct industrial relations, but is symptomatic of the informal way in which the NPS likes to do business. Some of the CRCs are in the same position, and have yet to agree their own owner level negotiating bodies to replace the NNC. 

1.2 The NPS unilaterally withdrew the facility for trade union members to pay their union subscriptions by deduction from salary. This was in line with the Cabinet Office policy to withdraw all check off facilities from unions in the civil service. The withdrawal of the check off facility resulted in a predictable fall in trade union membership and is symptomatic of a generally hostile environment within probation to the work of the trade unions. Pre-TR there was a well developed social partnership approach to industrial relations between the probation unions and the probation employers. Since the creation of the NPS we have witnessed the collapse of any social partnership approach to industrial relations in favour of a more confrontational approach which appears to have its roots in the way HMPPS does business with the prison unions. 

1.3 As well as creating a professional divide, where previously none existed, TR has set up the CRCs and NPS as rivals for scarce professional skills in a very small labour market. The two sides of the service now compete for these scarce staff in a way which threatens to destabilise the once cohesive labour market. 

1.4 Whereas the NPS offers the final salary Local Government Pension Scheme to its staff, the CRCs offer only inferior defined contribution pension schemes to their staff. Job applicants will naturally ask themselves why they should work for a CRC with an inferior pension scheme, when they could work for the NPS with a much better pension offer. UNISON campaigned to persuade the MOJ to fund the private contractors so that they could offer a decent pension scheme, but the government refused. Putting this right when the service is re-united will be a priority, and one which a future government will have to fund. 

1.5 The MOJ also refused to allow the CRCs to remain part of the Redundancy Payments (Modification) Order which means that local government, police or education staff are unable to carry over their continuous service into the CRCs if they are successful in applying for a job with a CRC. This is another powerful disincentive for experienced public sector staff to join a CRC. 

1.6 The NPS pay and reward structure has been badly mismanaged by NOMS/HMPPS. The following are examples of pay mismanagement: 

1.6.1 NPS has introduced a range of market supplements to attract new starters which has caused HMPPS to overspend its staffing budget. When the market forces supplements were first introduced in 2016, the NPS ensured that existing staff in the locations where the supplements were to be paid were given the same supplements to ensure that they were not leapfrogged in salary by new starters. This practice was discontinued in 2017, because the NPS overspent its pay budget, amongst other things on the market forces supplements, so existing staff are now being leapfrogged in salary by new starters. This has been very bad for morale as you can imagine. 

1.6.2 The NPS used TR as an opportunity to drive down the pay of key groups of operational staff, including: approved premises residential workers, victim liaison officers, business managers and enforcement officers. The probation unions appealed these down-gradings, but we were unsuccessful. The downgradings have created bad feeling and staffing shortages, particularly in approved premises. The NPS is now struggling to recruit approved premises residential workers in London and the South East on the new lower salary rate which it forced through in 2016. 

1.6.3 The NPS has recently confirmed that NPS staff will get no pay rise for 2017 and will receive only the contractual increment to which they are entitled. The value of the contractual increment on the NPS pay bill is well below the government’s 1% public sector pay policy, because 25% of NPS staff are at the top of their pay band and get no increment. Staff at the top of their pay band, who are some of the most experienced staff in the NPS, have therefore received absolutely nothing on their pay for 2017. By contrast, HMPPS paid the 2017 Prison Service Pay Review Body recommendation to prison staff in full, namely an average pay increase of 1.7%. It is hard for NPS staff to not suspect that some of the money, which was put aside for their pay rise, has been given to prison staff instead. Our members also believe, with some justification, that the CRC bail out in July 2017, the cost of which had to be met from existing MOJ budgets, was another pressure on internal costs which led to NPS not offering them any pay rise in 2017. NPS staff are literally paying the cost of the failure of TR. 

1.6.4 The NPS failed to deduct correct pension contributions for key elements of NPS pay for 8 months during 2017. This has led the NPS being reported to the Pension Regulator, as required by law, by the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. The blame for the pension deduction failure, we were told by NPS, lay with the MOJ’s privatised payroll provider SSCL and one of its sub-contractors. The NPS is now deducting the pension contributions, which SSCL failed to collect, from staff without their agreement. 

1.6.5 The NPS has failed to pass on the value of three years pay increments for staff who are entitled to unsocial hours payments, overtime payments and standby payments. The NPS has known about this for 12 months, but has been unable to calculate the back pay. 

1.6.6 The NPS has perpetuated acting up arrangements for staff which have effectively denied these staff, including groups of NPS managers, any incremental pay progression, in some cases for up to 4 years. 

1.6.7 The NPS Shared Services Payroll Provider, SSCL, has in key respects provided poor quality transactional services to NPS staff and this has led to considerable frustration and a drain on productive time for NPS staff and managers. UNISON suspects that this is in part caused by the likely failure of the MOJ to include the a requirement to understand probation pay and pensions in its contract specification with SSCL, and the fact that probation pay and conditions are so different from the prison service, or core civil service. Time spend sorting out interminable payroll problems is time spent away from NPS core business. I have attached comments from UNISON members about the service which they have received from SSCL at Appendix A of this letter. They make for very sorry reading, and UNISON hopes that they provide the Committee with some flavour of just how distressing and distracting the experiences described have been for NPS staff. 

There is no light at the end of this tunnel yet, despite the fact that the NPS acknowledged the problems as follows in December 2017: ‘It has come to our attention that there are some issues with HR processes within the NPS that are causing significant delays and difficulties to our staff. As a result, we are going to review the HR processes concerning starters, movers and leavers. Through collaborating with SSCL and NPS colleagues, we hope to establish which transactions cause the most problems, where faults are taking place and finally what solutions we can design in order to reduce the number of issues arising.’ 

1.7 The pay and grading system operated by both NPS and the CRCs was created in 2006 and is in need of review and refresh. All parties accept that the pay system has suffered as a consequence of the government’s public sector pay policy, which over the last 8 years has damaged the pay progression arrangements within the 2006 model. Whereas previously, staff progressed at a reasonable rate up to the top of their pay band, since 2010 this progression has slowed to a snail’s pace, as the MOJ restricted progression to the bare contractual minimum of one pay increment a year. The unions were expecting pay reform at NPS no later than the coming financial year, but talks on this essential work are now on hold pending a resolution of the stand-off between the MOJ and the Treasury over the Department’s budget going forward. 

1.8 The NPS has acknowledged that the CRCs have an interest in the outcome of the NPS pay reforms and that they will naturally want to reflect on the outcomes, otherwise they could easily find themselves unable to compete with the NPS on new starter salaries. The NPS has agreed that the CRCs can shadow the NPS pay reform talks, although they make the point repeatedly that they cannot influence the outcome of pay reform in the CRCs, as they are independent of government. Despite this stated position, any reasonably informed observer of the government’s apparent willingness to bail out the CRCs financially, would assume that the cash for any CRC pay reform is as likely to come from the public purse, as opposed to the cash strapped CRCs. 

1.9 The Prison Service Pay Review Body has recommended that the NPS pay system and the Prison pay systems are merged. This would be a complete disaster and would confirm our members’ worse fears that the MOJ wishes to subsume the probation service in the prison service and destroy its unique values and independence. In the 2017 Prison Service Pay Review Body report, it was stated: “The creation of the new organisation [HMPPS] has integrated a large, relatively new group of staff, those in the National Probation Service (NPS). This would seem a good time to develop a new, longer-term workforce strategy for the Prison and Probation Service and then review the various remuneration structures to ensure they are best placed to support that strategy. We therefore recommend that HMPPS, in its evidence to us for our 2019 report, presents plans for revised pay arrangements that properly integrate the various different pay structures, allowances and supplements currently in operation across the country. We would expect to be consulted and to contribute to such a review.” 

1.10 Working Links and Interserve, who between them own 8 of the 21 CRCs, have, like NPS, not made any pay offer to their probation staff for 2017, apart from paying staff their contractual increment. In light of the above on-going problems, UNISON believes strongly that only a reunified probation service could provide the basis for a coherent probation workforce strategy going forward. Such a strategy would need to include the following elements: 
  • A return to sector level ‘national’ bargaining in a re-unified probation service, as was previously provided by the Probation Service National Negotiating Council pre-TR. 
  • The reintroduction of the facility for all probation staff to pay their union subscriptions by deduction from salary 
  • A properly funded, modernised and equality proofed pay and grading system 
  • An end to government pay austerity for probation staff 
  • Local Government Pension Scheme membership for all probation employees 
  • Re-admission of the probation service to the Redundancy Payments (Modification) Order 
  • Locally provided and accountable transactional HR services, i.e. an end to the privatised service provided by SSCL. 
2. NPS Undertaking Unpaid Work Orders for CRCs 

UNISON is aware that the NPS has set up specialist unit in London Division, apparently to help the CRC concerned to deal with the big backlogs in unpaid work orders for which the CRC is responsible. We also believe that the NPS is providing a separate funding stream, over and above what was provided in the original contract, to other CRCs to assist them in discharging their unpaid work orders, whilst not actually setting up specialist units in these other Divisions. The Committee may wish to pursue this question separately with the NPS, and also may like to ask the CRCs what changes they have made to their unpaid work teams which may have impacted negatively on their ability to discharge their contractual duties. Some CRCs have cut their unpaid work teams in order to achieve savings. 

The NPS specialist unit in London, recruited from and staffed exclusively by NPS staff, apparently review each unpaid work order which has gone over its 12 month expiry date, contact the CRCs’ offenders and then apply to the relevant courts for an extension to the order so that the unpaid work order can be enforced. On the face of it, this looks like the NPS managing a large amount of the work connected to the CRCs’ unpaid work order caseload. It is not clear what impact this assistance has on the payments which the CRC receives for discharging unpaid work orders? 

In response to an inquiry from UNISON, NPS confirmed the following on 28 February 2018: 

‘The purpose of this project is to help address a backlog of orders in London that are more than 12 months old and which have hours outstanding. These cases are returned to court, which can result in an extension being given or another sentenced being substituted. The NPS’s role is to assist with the preparation of paperwork for court, to ensure it is in good order. The special project applies only to London cases. It has not been necessary for the Authority to step in or to amend the contract. As you know, the financial arrangements between the Authority and the CRC parent companies are commercially confidential. The work undertaken as part of the special project will not impact on the workloads of NPS Enforcement Officers.’ 

It seems likely from this response that NPS is undertaking work which was originally meant to be the responsibility of the CRC concerned. The NPS response hides behind the usual commercial confidentiality clause in order to frustrate proper accountability over the spending of public money, but the response raises a really serious question over whether the contract is still compliant with EU procurement rules. 

UNISON believes that it is possible that the MOJ has amended the original contract with the London CRC owner in relation to unpaid work, to a degree which could leave the MOJ open to legal challenge. The Committee may wish to explore this further with the MOJ procurement team. 

I hope that these answers are of assistance to the Committee in its TR Inquiry. Please let me know if there are any other matters on which UNISON can provide assistance. We stand ready, as offered to the Committee at the hearing on 30 January, to conduct a survey of our members in relation to any questions which the Committee might want to pose directly to the workforce in relation to your Inquiry. 


“My first experience was I asked for a copy of a pay slip that was not on SOP as I needed it for a mortgage application. I was on the phone for over an hour twice and they never sent me it. In fact they sent me a notification saying it was complete when it wasn't! I lost the mortgage and had to apply for another, meaning my credit rating was checked again. The second issue is regarding my pay and too complicated to explain in detail on here. I have been paid incorrectly since April and am now in debt by no fault of my own. The person on the phone was not helpful and kept saying I was wrong when I explained the situation. In the end I had to get my manager to speak to the person. It has been so stressful and I have had to tell my pregnant wife that I don't know what I will be getting paid (Every month my pay is different!). I intend to put a complaint about SSCL.”

“Are happy to try to help but once it is outside their own skills base are only too quick to pass it to someone else to try and deal with - namely myself. Like to also get behind the bit of "a manager is looking at this" but is unwilling to pass on to the person who might be looking at it. Service does not instil a lot of confidence.” 

“Feel like you are just speaking to a call centre rep who has no idea or understanding of individual.” “I was advised that my problem would be escalated to a senior colleague and that someone would get back to me. That was on 8 June. It is now 5 July.”

“They don't seem to have details of past documentation prior to the Probation split in 2014 - this is of great concern.” 

“To date I have not encountered any problems with SSCL?”

“Since its inception, start dates for staff in my office have been incorrect and yet despite repeated requests, this has not been amended. There is no direct point of responsibility. The call centre merely refer staff back to SOP. Emails are unanswered. It is failing staff and there is no support forthcoming.” 

“As soon as you tell them you are probation service they tell you to raise a service request. Totally ignorant unhelpful staff.” 

“Unclear who to contact. SSCL have poor knowledge of Probation policies.”

“Not very good in terms of annual leave calculations - I'm part time and every year it is left to me to calculate my leave allowance - surely this should be done by shared services and we should have an electronic form to record leave not a paper form.”

“We need someone else. They appear to be a filter through which you cannot get satisfaction. Not had an issue - yet!” 

“Information seems to be vague.”

“It took time for them to respond to my email.”

“Had to chase up a response as matter was urgent and resulted in a huge deficit in salary being paid on pay day.” “I had a query about my pay. It took a long time for SSCL to respond and then I was told the yearly backlog increment was £20 which had been paid in December in my salary. However the amount that is normally paid is a lot more than £20. According to SSCL that is what they have on their records and the case has been closed off. I have no contact number to call to speak to the person who handled the query and might not be able to get hold of them, if I called. I once spent an hour and a half being passed from one department to another in SSCL on another query.” 

“My tax code was incorrect due to the split (CRC/NPS) In the end I called HMRC to get it sorted myself.”

“Spend too long on hold and they often have to pass you onto someone else.” “A colleague has had problems which have taken weeks to resolve, for some reason they took a larger pension contribution, leaving her down in her wages and she is a single parent, Fortunately I haven't had issues myself.”

“Any contact with staff at SSCL has been frustrating. Contact with a number of different members of staff, most were unhelpful/couldn't give me a definitive date when the problem would be resolved (& always blamed another department for things not getting done).” 

“I'm not sure they could have ever sorted the TR pay declaration issue out. I had to get Inland Revenue Inspections Team to do it for me. SSCL appears to be more aimed at fudging issues until they get forgotten.” 

“I have seen colleagues go without the right amount of pay for months and ringing up, having to wait a long time on the phone to have a conversation with someone and still not having the issue resolved in the following months.”

“Very slow in getting a response from them if you have query and need to contact them via email or phone. Can take days?”

“I have not had to contact SSCL about pay/pension/ but I understand other people have had problems. My situation has not varied in any way and I do not claim expenses so very limited contact.”

“It doesn't work. Staff on the phones generally don't seem to know what they are talking about. On hold/busy time waiting is unacceptable.”

“The staff are friendly when you speak to them, but I think they are up against it as the rest of us are. I liken the experience to getting blood out of a stone - tiny bits of information were extracted each contact, so it took a long time and lot of effort to get the full picture. Very, very frustrating.” 

“No response to concerns for weeks. Little advice given and when advice given, an inconsistent approach.”

“We need named contacts in named areas to resolve common queries. Too many cooks syndrome!” “Some departments do not have phone numbers so you can’t contact them direct, this is not helpful when they do not respond to emails.” 

“On hold for very long time then given wrong info. Expensive rates - a single call cost over £20 when I called from home due to being off sick.” 

“They can never get it right and always blaming others a very poor service.”

“They do not respond to emails at all!!” “It took over a year to resolve my pay issues. The final person (Tier 2) who I dealt with was extremely helpful and got it sorted, but this took numerous phone calls, emails, and an entire spreadsheet showing that I was owed money from the NPS, rather than owing NPS money. I then received a letter a few months later again stating I owed money, which was incorrect.”

“I had to constantly chase them and when a manager eventually contacted me - they passed the buck. As a result I was late replying to the Inland Revenue. I said I wanted to make a formal complaint - I'm still waiting for a response. Really, really poor service.” 

“It is very difficult to get calls answered, which means that a lot of time is spent attempting contact. Emails are also not answered promptly and when they are they are of little to no help. I have difficulty understanding the new payslips and have also had errors in my pay which meant I did not receive my correct salary for more than one month. I have not received adequate assistance from SSCL to date. I am very dissatisfied with the service.” 

“Each time my temporary role is extended I have problems with my pay reverting back to the substantive pay band which then takes several months to sort out. My manager submitted forms pre SOP to extend my role which was due to end on 01/04/2017 and was told post SOP that she had completed the wrong form. She was told to complete a different form, and when this had been submitted told it was the wrong form she needed to complete another. To date my manager has completed 4 separate forms because of misinformation from SSCL and I am still waiting to receive the correct pay and back pay from April 2017.”

“I received an email saying the matter had been resolved many months after I had raised the had not been resolved but I had completely lost track of where the issue was and how much of a shortfall I'd received in my wage.” 

“It’s slow & difficult to navigate through.” 

“It is very difficult to get hold of anyone and even then you don’t get a straight answer. Processes are complicated, bureaucratic and time consuming. Poor communication.” 

“SSCL are in persistent breach of contract and statutory duty by not taking pension contributions on unsocial hours payments to literally hundreds of staff - they show no sign of urgency in trying to resolve the problem - additionally staff are not being paid for extra work undertaken in the correct manner and many staff not at all - they are a disgrace and their contract should be cancelled.” 

“Three months of no pay, formal complaints made by myself and my director, no responses from SSCL whatsoever.” 

“The service is appalling. They do not seem to care about problems and are very quick to make you think that you have caused the problem. I wonder how they would react in the same situation?” 

“We do not know which 'Instruction' regarding mileage expenses we should be using, resulting in claims being rejected. When asked for copies of whichever guidance is being applied, we have not received the guidance. Also, the way that sick pay is worked out and paid has also, apparently, changed. This has also not been communicated and so staff are in the dark about what levels of sick pay they should expect to be paid.”

March 2018