Friday, 24 November 2017

Latest From Napo 166

Here we have the General Secretary's speech from todays PSO conference:-

GS Speech to the Forum Conference – London 24th November 2017

Welcome to everyone who has taken valuable time out to be here today and especially those contributors who have offered to share their knowledge and experiences with us it is hugely appreciated.

We meet with the theme of the conference being Professional Training in a changing landscape, and so this is an opportune time for us to reflect on what has happened in probation, what is happening and what Napo’s agenda for improvement actually looks like.

The reasons why we are in the post-TR situation have been well rehearsed and its why I hope to be able to provide further evidence to the Justice Select Committee following that which I gave in person in March about the current problems being faced by our members.

Because it’s you, the lifeblood of the probation service whichever employer you work for, who tell us that probation isn’t functioning anywhere near the standards prior to the introduction of TR in 2013 when we had uniformity of standards and training programmes that were far more effective than this government is prepared to make available now, all of the probation service in England and Wales were performing to a high quality. NOMS own ratings in July 2012 showed 31 of 35 Probation Trusts were in Band 3, ‘showing good performance’ and four were in Band 4 ‘exceptional performance’. Its glorious history now, to recall that in October 2011, the service won the British Quality Foundation Gold Medal for Excellence, hardly a word I would use to describe the outputs offered by all too many of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies despite the dedication of our hard working members in sometimes desperate circumstances and Alex, (Alex Osler Essex CRC) who we especially welcome today, let me say that I have made it very clear in countless media and TV interviews that not all of the problems are of the CRC owners making, having been put into difficulties that were not made clear by your contracting body.

But for anyone who says, well he would say that wouldn’t he. Then check out the fact that the HMI Probation has produced 14 Quality and Impact Inspections of probation areas since April 2016, with all bar two being pretty damning in their assessments of the private sectors incursion into interventions. Napo absolutely applauds the critical role that HMI Probation has played in independently assessing the performance of the NPS and CRCs.

And as we have seen, the overwhelming majority of the HMIP reports highlight significant operational problems in the CRCs, particularly in those areas raised by Napo as not likely to work from the outset, which remain a cause for serious concern.

I don’t want to dwell too much on specific examples of operational failures of certain providers otherwise this speech would last 15 hours instead of minutes, but Napo’s central message which we are taking to politicians is that the taxpayer cannot be asked to continuously fund failure and I am proud that we have been able to secure commitments from Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the Labour front bench justice team that when we have a Labour Government then steps will be taken to restore probation where it belongs and that is firmly back into public control and ownership.

And for those failing contractors who don’t much like that prospect then we say that’s ok , we get it, probation practitioners are trained to recognise that people make mistakes so if it isn't really your bag do us all a favour and pass the keys back.

Not that the NPS is anywhere near to being out of the woods, where performance has been seen by the Inspectorate as mostly “satisfactory” with common references to staff doing beyond what could normally be expected. Napo believes that this state of affairs is neither stable nor sustainable. And Yannick (McKenzie HMPPS), please don’t take this personally as I know how committed you and your team are to a progressive agenda but you also suffer from the current malaise in the NPS.

Napo has predicted much of this and have identified a number of factors underlying these problems, including:

Poor financial planning where it was originally expected that the workload split would be 70:30 in favour of the CRC estate, but where in fact it is nearer 54:46% the other way, and despite having a greater staff need, the NPS has consistently suffered from serious problems in respect of unfilled vacancies and excessive workloads, amplified by consequential increases in sickness absence and staff turnover

And then there are the shared services problems in the NPS where desperately poor HR processes and failings in service delivery have been as comical as those videos of Eddie the Eagle (remember him?) gallantly traipsing up to the pinnacle of the Ski slope and slaloming down to perennial crash followed by hospital mode. Very funny, unless you are among the 1 in 5 staff who have either not been paid accurately or are still awaiting what you are owed in allowances or holiday pay or, as in the case of scores of new starters this year, were not even paid for several weeks. Oh yes Pay, let me not go there, except to say that my mail out to NPS members this morning gives you news of an NPS Zero pay offer for 2017, yes brothers and sisters that’s nil, zero, diddly squat. So much for the appreciation of Ministers for the hard work of staff.

Her Majesties Prison and Probation service? For to me it looks like Prison, Prison, and Prison. Someone is having a laugh at our members’ expense, but it’s not funny. As you will see we are making high level representations but essentially the message is pay our members and pay them now!

All this of course compounded by pension contributions not being collected for over 1,500 staff; contractual sick pay and maternity pay processes being bungled and the approach to paid notice and ill-health early retirement being utterly shambolic.

Of course you can always phone a friend in such situations, but news that the taxpayer is now subsiding this incompetence by paying for a premium help line at up to 55p a minute is akin to seriously kicking that poor but much loved Eddie the Eagle even harder when he is down, and it will be Napo who intends to call this shambles to account before the ongoing Justice Select Committee inquiry.

So why does all this matter in the context of the need for high quality professional training?

Well it does; and desperately so. Because while our members struggle in the morass that useless, no nothing politicians and some privateers who saw probation as the new Klondike gold rush created, little time or consideration was given to the challenges around organisational design and training that ensued.

In addition to the deleterious impact on standards and delivery as a result of failing Graylings meddling, it is also Napo’s view that the logistical, structural, organisational and cultural impact of the Offender Management in custody model has not been fully understood or addressed. Many significant questions remain unanswered such as where will the experienced probation staff come from when there are still swathes of staff shortages and workload challenges; how will the Prison service and NPS teams be managed when their HR systems are misaligned and so dysfunctional; and increasing and well-founded fears amongst our practitioners about prison safety and the impact on our work in community rehabilitation. And our brothers and sisters in the POA have their own understandable priorities in the form of personal safety, numbers on the floors and the prevention of psychoactive substances.

In the Courts, Probation Services which remained with the NPS at the implementation of TR have also suffered following the impact of E3, causing huge pressures on court staff which in turn has impacted on the quality of reports. This, in parallel with everyday staffing pressures, and cuts in court funding.

The corollary to this is that Probation training and professional standards are seriously suffering and whilst a national training programme remains in place for a variety of grades of staff in both the NPS and the CRCs there are major concerns about the effectiveness of this training, how accessible it is, and whether the perennial quest for cost savings has overridden quality. The lack of any national oversight and the unwillingness of some CRC owners to sign up to national standards also increases the risk of further fracture.

A lack of clear, national, professional standards developed in partnership and monitored independently to empower staff to protect themselves and assert their professionalism is also undermining staff confidence across both arms of the service. Napo members constantly feel they are being “de-professionalised” and that’s why Napo supports a national license to practice and are willing to explore opportunities to work in partnership with Helen and her team at the Probation Institute.

Look, and not withstanding our principled opposition to the disgraceful carve up of your profession, Napo must still stand ready to work with NPS and CRC providers to explore ways to improve service delivery, capture those examples of good practice and utilise the considerable skillsets of our members to try and improve the operational landscape that has developed since the implementation of TR while the politicians hopefully come up with the right answers for once.

For this to happen, we will need a huge increase in investment in the reward package for staff and improved engagement with trade unions under a Professional Practice Forum as well as the joint development of a Licence to Practice.

Finally Chair, I want to also set out why these aims and objectives need to go hand in hand with Napo’s own growth strategy.

For despite the unfortunate propensity of Napo’s enemies to talk us down to the effect that Napo is broke and rudderless, the truth is entirely the opposite.

Sound financial management and a now stabilised membership base, showing encouraging signs of recovery has created a platform for us to now look seriously at investing in state of the art communications and ICT to improve our ability to reach you collectively and individually. To better inform you and, just as importantly, seek your views about professional as well as bargaining issues. Better ways to generate safe and constructive debate between you and your colleagues about the issues that matter and an investment in the way that Napo central, under my and the Officer Groups leadership, can better assist our loyal and highly valued activists and members to get involved in the campaign for a stronger Napo.

But for that to be successful we need to grow in density across the NPS and CRC ‘s because if we want to raise professional standards alongside the imperative to improve our members pay, terms and conditions, we need to influence the employer more effectively.

And yes of course we can use the flowery language of partnership as a key driver for the delivery of our agenda and I have secured more agreements in this respect than anyone in this union, but you know its a fact of life that partnerships break down, (and relying on partnership alone can cause complacency) and when they do you need something else in your locker, which is unity of purpose and determination to stand your ground, so that any employer who takes you for granted knows that they run the risk of a strong collective response from their workforce (not necessarily by way of industrial action but we must always have that option) as we take steps to secure the respect and dignity and fair reward for your efforts that you deserve.

So lets move forward today with a commitment to work together to achieve that. For my part I made it very clear at the recent Napo AGM that, subject to the will of the membership I am fully committed to serving another term as your General Secretary, a position that I am very proud to hold and one that I want to continue doing, working with you as well as for you in the challenges ahead of us.

Thanks for listening, but most of all thanks for being part of Napo.

Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary

--oo00oo--

Statement issued today by Napo and Unison:- 

NPS PAY TALKS BREAK DOWN 

It is with great regret that we have to inform you that talks over the 2017 NPS pay award between NPS and the probation trade unions, broke down this week. This was because the NPS negotiators stated that they were unable to make a pay offer to staff this year. This week’s discussions followed the earlier meeting on 2 October when consideration was at last given by the NPS to the unions pay claims for this year. 

As members will be aware, the NPS awarded all eligible staff their increment back in April. This is a contractual entitlement and was not subject to negotiation. 

WHY HAVE TALKS BROKEN DOWN? 

At the pay talks on 22 November, the NPS informed the two unions that: 

• The cost of the prison pay award this year means that there is no money available for anything other than the contractual increment to be given to probation staff.
 • If this remains their position then: 
  • NPS staff on the top of their pay band will get nothing, whereas in previous years they received a non-consolidated payment to reflect the fact that they are not eligible for increments 
  • There will be no increase on London Weighting, or any other NPS allowances and, 
  • Pay points will not be increased 
WHAT DID PRISON STAFF GET THIS YEAR? 

HMPPS paid the recommendations of the Prison Pay Review Body in full, which amounted to: 
  • £400 minimum increase in the pay of most Prison Officers, including those at the top of their pay bands 
  • Plus at least one pay increment 
  • 4-6% pay progression for Prison Managers 
In announcing the pay award for prison officers, Michael Spurr said that the pay deal addressed the ‘...challenges the Prison Service is currently facing in relation to motivation, recruitment and retention, and the competitiveness of the remuneration package, at a time of significant operational challenges.’ 

Napo and UNISON made the point that the NPS faces exactly the same challenges and yet our members have been offered nothing by comparison. It seems evident from the pay talks what value HMPSS places on the NPS workforce compared to the HMP workforce. 

UNIONS DEMAND URGENT MEETING WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE 

As members would expect, the Unions have reacted with serious anger to these developments and immediately demanded a meeting with the Secretary of State David Lidington. We will be following this up in writing. 

Meanwhile, a meeting was arranged with senior HMPPS management in the form of Michael Spurr, HMPPS CEO, and Martin Beecroft, HMPPS Executive Director HR, on 23 November. They have undertaken to take a number of our very forcibly made points to the appropriate decision makers in the Ministry and wider Government. 

Given that we await the outcome of these discussions, the unions have agreed that for now we should update our NPS members about these difficulties, which we will also be reporting back on in detail to our respective NEC and Probation committees. 

We appreciate that members will be particularly angry at what has transpired, and further updates will be issued to members about the response to our representations as soon as they are available.

Power Of The Press

Some remarkable insights into the murky world of politics and the press barons is emerging from the on-going investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority into Rupert Murdoch's bid to take full control of Sky. It would appear we could have had prison ships re-introduced courtesy of the Sun.  This from BuzzFeed:- 

Ken Clarke Says David Cameron Did "Some Sort Of Deal" To Win Rupert Murdoch's Support

Ken Clarke has claimed David Cameron may have done "some sort of a deal" to win the support of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers in the run-up to the 2010 general election, culminating in senior executives at the Sun demanding the government introduce prison ships to the UK because the newspaper was running a campaign on the issue. Clarke, who served as justice secretary in Cameron's first cabinet, said he found himself lectured by Rebekah Brooks, the former Sun editor who later became chief executive of the newspaper's parent company, on the need to put prisoners on ships off Britain's shores.

"Quite how David Cameron got the Sun out of the hands of Gordon Brown I shall never know," the veteran Tory MP said. "Rupert would never let Tony [Blair] down because Tony had backed the Iraq war. Maybe it was some sort of a deal. David would not tell me what it was. Suddenly we got the Murdoch empire on our side."

He continued: "We won in 2010 and I found myself justice secretary, lord chancellor. Within a week or two we had got Andy Coulson on board – I think he was Murdoch’s man, that was part of the deal I assume – as the press officer. I am not being totally indiscreet. Nobody seemed bothered by it very much."

Clarke made the comments earlier this month while giving evidence to the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into Murdoch's bid to take full control of the broadcaster Sky, but they have only just been released. The Tory politician went on to describe efforts by senior management at Murdoch's UK news operation to introduce prison ships.

"Within a few weeks of taking over my prime minister arranged a meeting with Rebekah Brooks. Rebekah Brooks described herself as running the government now in partnership with David Cameron. I found myself having an extraordinary meeting with Rebekah who was instructing me on criminal justice policy from now on, as I think she had instructed my predecessor, so far as I could see, judging from the numbers of people we had in prison and the growth of rather exotic sentences. 


She wanted me to buy prison ships because she did accept that the capacity of the prisons was getting rather strained, putting it mildly, it was not the way I described it. She really was solemnly telling me that we had got to have prison ships because she had got some more campaigns coming, which is one of her specialities. I regarded this as a very amusing conversation and took not the slightest notice.As long as I was justice secretary we would not have any of this. I do not think my successor needed any promoting from Rebekah so it all went back to the norm."

Labour peer Lord Falconer, another former justice secretary who was also giving evidence to the investigation, expressed shock at the revelation and said he had been the subject of similar lobbying while in Tony Blair's government: 


"When I became the lord chancellor responsible for prisons I was rung up first of all by the prime minister, then by the chancellor of the exchequer, then by the home secretary, separately, all asking me why in the face of the prison crisis I was not considering prison ships. That was 2007. That is an amazing piece of information, the extent to which the Murdoch press was able to get, at least, for all the reasons that Ken said. Let me tell you prison ships are a very bad idea!" At the hearing Clarke also mocked the idea that Murdoch would maintain existing standards at Sky News if he was allowed to take total control of the news channel.

The idea that we allow the owner of Fox News to buy Sky News, assuming he will resist the temptation and be a changed man who will carry on running according to British broadcasting standards, entirely impartial ... Believe that, you believe anything. We do have a particularly low level, a ridiculous level, of public debate in this country at the moment. It does become ever more tempestuous, scandal ridden, shock horror crisis and all the rest of it. It would be a great thing if we could stop and protect objectivity."

A spokesperson for Rebekah Brooks declined to comment.


--oo00oo--

According to the Independent, Ken Clarke added:-

Mr Clarke said he did not know how often Mr Murdoch now visited Downing Street, but suggested he believed Prime Minister Theresa May would still be in contact with influential media proprietors. "This rumbles on through politics. It still does," he said.

"I do not know how often Mr Murdoch goes in to Downing Street. He does not come to England as often he used to, pretty regularly before, I think. "The Prime Minister, and Ms May's advisors, would tell her that she cannot possibly stop seeing those people. Gordon Brown used to prefer being on the phone to them all day. The idea that they are not influential is certainly absurd."

--oo00oo--

Clearly the stakes are pretty high and Murdoch is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. This from the BBC website a couple of weeks ago:-

Sky has threatened to shut down Sky News if the news channel proves to be an obstacle in Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox bid.

Regulators are investigating the deal amid concerns that Mr Murdoch's media empire could become too powerful. Sky told the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that the regulator should not assume "the continued provision" of Sky News. BBC media editor Amol Rajan said it was a "credible threat".

Fox owns 39% of Sky but wants full control of the satellite broadcaster. In a submission made to the CMA last month, but published by the regulator on Tuesday, Sky said it "would likely be prompted to 'review' its position if "the continued provision of Sky News in its current form unduly impeded merger and/or other corporate opportunities available in relation to Sky's broader business".

This would particularly be the case if shareholders objected to the merger not happening, Sky said. Closing Sky News would only be an option of last resort, and the broadcaster would try to find a buyer for the media company before that eventuality, the BBC understands.

--oo00oo--

We're all familiar with Liverpool still being effectively a 'no-go' area for the Sun as a result of that paper's disgraceful coverage of the Hillsborough disaster and here we have Owen Jones from the Guardian discussing the recent success against the Daily Mail brought about by the increasing power of new media:-  

Paperchase rejecting the Daily Mail is another victory against hatred

Paperchase bowing to pressure from campaigners and committing to no longer advertising in the Daily Mail has upset all the right people. It is a victory for basic decency. Britain’s tabloids are among the most hateful and vicious in the western world. They have long dictated what is deemed politically permissible – rallying behind policies that benefit the country’s rich elite, and either ignoring or demonising ideas, individuals and movements that challenge our unjust status quo. One of their key roles has been to deflect anger at injustice away from the powerful vested interests at the top, to scapegoats instead: immigrants, refugees, public sector workers, benefit claimants, you name it.

This bigotry has attracted the particular ire of activists, who set up the Stop Funding Hate campaign last year. Its premise is straightforward: if leading brands wish to advertise in and thus associate themselves with tabloids that whip up hatred against, say, Muslims or trans people, then they must be held to account. They are, after all, financially sustaining these hate campaigns. Stop Funding Hate had an early triumph when, last September, Specsavers pulled an advert from the Daily Express, a newspaper that has treated us to such headlines as “One in five Britons will be ethnics”, “Muslims tell British: go to hell” and “Britain must ban migrants”.

Now Paperchase has apologised for advertising in the Daily Mail, this hate-filled rag has the chutzpah to accuse the company of having “allowed itself to be bullied into apologising”. For the Daily Mail to accuse anyone of bullying reveals an intriguing lack of self-awareness, to say the least. This paper, whose less than glorious history includes cheerleading for the Nazis and Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts, is one of the most vindictive bullies in Britain. It whips up and legitimises hatred. It denounced judges ruling there should be parliamentary oversight of Brexit as “Enemies of the people”, a term you might expect to be bandied around by a totalitarian regime. When Theresa May announced her fateful snap election, the Daily Mail celebrated an opportunity to “Crush the saboteurs”, demonstrating its utter intolerance of political dissent.

But there is a wider story here. The power of the rightwing press is in a death spiral. It once believed it could dictate election results; during the general election, it did indeed pour unprecedented vitriol on a Labour party it tried to delegitimise as terrorist-loving extremists. And what happened? Forty per cent of the electorate voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s party and deprived the Tories of their majority. And the tabloids’ online influence is not growing enough to make up for falling print sales. The average age of a Daily Mail reader is 58, while a younger generation emerges that is well disposed to Corbynism and increasingly hostile to the sort of bigotry peddled by these rags. Don’t get me wrong: this cabal of hatred still wields huge nefarious influence, far more so than Russian bots on Twitter. Leftwing voices are still woefully excluded from the British press, despite the election result. But the corset is loosening: the stranglehold of the rightwing press over our democracy is weakening – and what’s more, it knows it.

Owen Jones


--oo00oo--

Finally, back to the Murdock Sky investigation, I spotted a reference to this bit of evidence  on twitter which gives worrying confirmation of the Establishment at work:-

"During the period News of the World operated Rupert Murdoch took a direct, personal interest in that newspaper, looking at key news stories especially political ones. He personally authorised a number of payments for politically oriented ‘news’ and checked all payments over £100,000 in later years. 

There was a direct link between M15 and the NOW editor, allowing that agency to drop off tips that, ultimately, were used for political blackmail. The sudden closure of NOW had two hidden objectives. First to conceal the scale of political surveillance by the paper, and the de jure blackmail operated by the paper. Secondly, to conceal the link with the Security Services and the Whips Offices in Parliament. 

Between 2009 and the closure of the paper extensive ‘weeding’ was undertaken in order to eliminate signs of blackmail, especially in relation to political stories. Rupert Murdoch’s personal interest in his UK media is political, not journalistic. This is evidenced by both the way he handled the NOW in particular but also in the news agenda of the Sun, Times and Sunday Times. All run a right wing agenda but more profoundly all ignore, most of the time, stories that might expose this bias and which might damage or embarrass parties Murdoch is supporting in Government." 

Former News International Employee.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Politics of Inspection

We are all familiar with a series of recent negative inspection reports of CRCs confirming what we all knew to be true, namely that TR is proving to be a complete disaster. It's all been getting a bit embarrassing for the MoJ and the question thus begged is, what is the government going to do about it?   

As we know, Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, recently announced a 'Consultation on standards and ratings for inspecting probation services', with a deadline for responses by 8 December. An important contribution to the discussion sees the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies today publish a briefing paper by probation insider and former Inspector Joe Kuipers 'Enable and Ensure: The role of inspection in probation'. The introduction is provided by Richard Garside, Director:-

Foreword

Probation in England and Wales is in crisis. Since the ill-conceived privatisation of most probation functions under the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ programme in early 2015, the various parts of a now fragmented system have declined alarmingly. 

This decline has been chronicled in a series of reports from the probation inspectorate over the past few years. The Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, has also made a number of critical interventions. In a speech in September this year, cited at the start of this briefing, Dame Glenys stated that the private probation companies were ‘not generally producing good quality work’ and that ‘the benefits that Transforming Rehabilitation promised’ were yet to be realised. 

The private companies, she also noted, were ‘financially stretched’. The government sought to allay these financial pressures earlier this year, with a financial bail-out to the struggling companies. Dame Glenys was publicly supportive of these moves. Others are less sure. As Joe Kuipers asks in this briefing, ‘how bad does a transformation have to get before those with power and influence actually advise that the plug needs to be pulled’. 

In contrast to these big policy issues, the question of the appropriate standards and ratings for probation work will strike some as rather narrow, possibly arcane. But as Joe Kuipers shows in this briefing, effective inspection is essential to ‘enable improvement and to ensure that what a service is expected to achieve is indeed being achieved’. Setting the bar too low risks offering an overly generous picture of a service facing systemic problems. With the Ministry of Justice wishing to reduce its own oversight function, the role of independent and robust probation inspection is that much more important. 

Effective inspection also has a political dimension. The proposal, highlighted in this briefing, to conduct separate inspections of the National Probation Service and the private probation companies could risk consolidating the fractured and disjointed service that many consider to be at the heart of the current problems with probation. 

The future of probation inspection, as this briefing makes clear, is key to the broader debate about the future direction of probation delivery.

Richard Garside, Director

--oo00oo--

The Probation Inspectorate (HMIP) Consultation on standards and ratings for inspecting probation services – launched on 8 November, with a deadline for responses by 8 December – is comprehensive, necessarily quite complex, and well referenced. It has already been subject to detailed discussions, meaning that this consultation exercise is quite limited. It appears that much has been decided. Responses are focused on nine questions; question nine does open the way for more general comments. The formatted response document is described as needing just 15 – 20 minutes to complete, quite a challenge if serious and detailed commentary is being sought. The consultation document itself is 44 pages long. 

This briefing addresses some key background information and then asks questions of the consultation document, and tries to provide some ideas for improving the proposed HMIP approach. In many respects I cover all nine questions, but maybe not as neatly as HMIP might like. I make no apologies for this. HMIP is asking about complex issues.

--//--

The briefing paper is obviously worth reading in full, but this seems to be absolutely key:-

Probation oversight 
Paragraphs 1.5 – 1.8 set out the HMIP role in probation oversight. The focus will be on inputs and activities, in some way separated from outputs, outcomes and impact. This raises two questions: 

Dame Glenys has been critical of standards that she describes as ‘processy’. Surely looking at inputs and activities requires a degree of specificity? As a general critique of the standards, many of the prompts leave far too much unspecified and do not state clearly exactly what is required of providers. Many of the qualitative questions in relation to offender assessment are excellent and remind me of those asked when we undertook the work on pre-sentence reports (PSRs) and offender assessment inspections some years ago, but there is no specificity about by when such an assessment should be completed. It seems unwise to leave this wholly open-ended, especially in terms of risk assessment and planning, most concerning with the more regular absence of good PSRs. Quite properly in the section on implementation the issue of timely commencement of the sentence requirements is acknowledged, but what is meant by ‘promptly’ or ‘at an appropriate time’? 

Inspectors’ interpretations will be open to challenge when, with managerial consent, either commencement or assessment may be delayed beyond a specified period. And, should HMIP not establish some minimum requirements concerning levels of contact, which again can be varied with managerial agreement? What constitutes prompt allocation of a PSR? What is a timely resettlement plan? What is acceptable in terms of failed appointments? I could go on, and my concerns relate to lack of clarity for providers, inspector and inspection variability of approach, and most crucially failing to provide key stakeholders (sentencers) with grounds to be confident in probation service delivery. Discretion is a wonderful thing, but it also poses great dangers for individual staff facing a serious further offence investigation. Some stakes in the ground would at least enable inspectors to ask why supervision falls outside the perimeter. And, the ‘liberation’ from national standards after TR has no doubt contributed to the very variable and generally very poor inspection findings. 

Secondly, how will HMIP marry up inspection findings to outputs, outcomes and impact? Further clarity on this aspect would be helpful. I presume if a sentence plan refers to accommodation or employment needs then their achievement might be recorded and should be measurable elements of inspection?

--//--

Conclusion

As stated at the outset, there is much to commend in the HMIP proposals. Not least of all, it has produced a very comprehensive document for consultation. However, I have raised a number of questions and suggested various remedies that would enable HMIP to achieve the impact it is seeking. It will not achieve any impact if an overgenerous system is put in place, a system that potentially satisfies the MoJ and providers but one that fails to properly highlight that which is just not acceptable. Dame Glenys refers to inspectors being able to see the wet paint in terms of how services prepare for inspection. I sincerely hope that HMIP does not apply more gloss. 

Dame Glenys asked if probation services can deliver what we all want and expect. Her affirmative answer was predicated on the right conditions, amongst other factors. Regrettably I do not share her optimism. Despite what will be the best efforts of HMIP, and the best possible methodologies, those conditions will not exist whilst probation remains fractured and disjointed.

Joe Kuipers

--oo00oo--

To help put this into political context, thanks go to the recent contributor for locating the following from official Parliamentary sources. (I've left in the contributors comments and they appear in italics.)

Excerpt from Lords' Hansard for 31/10/17:

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
My Lords, we undertook an internal review of the probation system and, as a result, made changes to ​community rehabilitation company contracts in the summer. Details of these changes were contained in a Written Ministerial Statement from Minister Gyimah on 19 July. We are continuing to explore further improvements that could be made to the delivery of probation services and will set out at a later stage any changes that are made as a result of this work.

Lord Ramsbotham (CB)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Clearly, all is not well with probation. Following a whole series of disappointingly and devastatingly bad reports by the chief inspector, the Justice Select Committee launched an inquiry. Following the bad contracting, during the summer the Ministry of Justice had to bail out community rehabilitation companies to the tune of £277 million, which it can ill afford. Many of the warnings in the official impact assessment that the rushed Transforming Rehabilitation agenda had a higher than average risk of failure have been proved correct. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government are going to do about probation? Will they make time for a debate on the subject before the end of the year?

Lord Keen of Elie
On that last point, I cannot say that the Government will be able to make time for a debate on the subject before the end of the year. On the suggestion of bad contracting, I would point out that contracts were entered into with 21 CRCs, and that those contracts encountered some financial difficulty for one particular reason—namely, it was originally anticipated that some 80% of those undertaking probation would be referred to the 21 community rehabilitation companies. In the event, only about 60% of those subject to probation supervision were referred to the companies, and that impacted directly upon their financial model as determined under the original contracts. For that reason, interim arrangements were made with the CRCs in the year 2016-17, and in the current year. However, the figure of £277 million referred to by the noble Lord is not a fixed figure: it may have to be met, depending on the performance of the CRCs.

Lord Beecham (Lab)
My Lords, morale in Northumbria’s probation service and CRC is at a low level because of understaffing, with 50% of officers leaving the service, excessive workloads, less supervision and the need to concentrate on high-risk cases at the expense of other cases. This is exemplified by case loads of 40, including four to five high-risk cases, now being replaced by much higher case loads, with a greater proportion of high-risk cases and problems with escalating cases from the CRCs to the National Probation Service. What do the Government regard as a satisfactory case load for officers to manage in terms of overall numbers and the balance between high-risk and other cases?

Lord Keen of Elie
There is no fixed proportion as between officers and the number of persons being supervised. That will depend upon the particular CRC and the circumstances in which it is engaged with the individual. The National Probation Service is in the course of recruiting 1,400 additional staff. In addition, the CRC contracts require providers to ensure that they have sufficient adequately trained staff in place. ​Indeed, results tend to bear that out. Nearly two-thirds of CRCs have reduced the number of people reoffending in the past year, according to statistics up to June 2017.

Clearly probation is not a pressing issue & all is well. *HMI Probation reports were manna to Lidington (post to follow)*

Commons Hansard, 31 Oct 2017:

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
But is it not the case that according to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, there is a direct correlation between the length of a prison sentence and the likelihood of an offender reoffending? In other words, the longer that somebody spends in prison, the less likely it is that they are going to reoffend.

Mr Lidington
It is true that short-term sentences appear to have the least effect in reduced reoffending, but the comparison with them is with alternative community sentences, which are available for that similar type of crime. Those community sentences work best when they link up with services such as drug and alcohol treatment programmes sometimes provided by other authorities in the community.

Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
I think the whole House will agree that community sentences function only when magistrates have trust in the people supervising them. Last year, thousands of community sentences were served in London alone. Will the Secretary of State therefore commit today to an urgent independent review of the performance of the London company responsible for supervising many of these community sentences in London, following the revelations in last week’s “Panorama” investigation that the London CRC—community rehabilitation company—had failed to act on 15,000 missed appointments over 16 months?

Mr Lidington
Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the company responsible has denied some of the claims that were made in the “Panorama” programme. None the less, it is quite clear that missed appointments are a serious matter. We expect the London CRC, like other CRCs, to take appropriate action. I believe that in the independent inspectorate of probation we have precisely ​the kind of independent body that he has called for. It is currently looking again at London and we look forward to its next report.

Richard Burgon
I hear the Secretary of State’s reassurances about the delivery of community sentences by the so-called CRCs, but for us to be absolutely sure about this, I argue that we need to know the advice that the Minister has had about the failure of the CRCs. The “Panorama” documentary revealed an in-house MOJ paper warning of the risks of handing much of the supervision of community sentences to the private sector through the privatisation of probation. Will the Secretary of State make that memo public so that we and the House can ensure that those flaws are being tackled?

Mr Lidington
I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to a document that was produced some years ago. It is important now that in addressing the underperformance of some areas of the probation service, we act on the recommendations from the independent probation inspectorate and seek, through the contractual mechanism, to drive up standards to where the public would expect them to be.

So Dame Glenys is Lidington's escape route - and her insistence on increasing funding for the CRCs completes the feedback loop. And Sam Gyimah doesn't shy away from using Dame Glenys either; this from Written Answers:

Richard Burgon:
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the criticism of the use of booths in probation work contained in the HM Inspectorate of Probation report, The effectiveness of probation work in Cumbria, published in October 2017. 

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the settings used by community rehabilitation companies to meet service users; and if he will make a statement. 

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the potential effect on public safety of the use of booths by probation services; and if he will make a statement.

Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice
In her report, the Chief Inspector of Probation found that the work of probation services in Cumbria was good, with exceptional practice at the CRC, and that the work of the CRC was the best they had seen since the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms.

We recognise that it is important that offenders and probation staff can meet in an environment appropriate for their specific needs, and that public safety also forms part of those considerations. I expect the CRC to take note of, and act on the Chief Inspector’s recommendations. Our contract management teams will continue to monitor and robustly manage providers closely to make sure they fulfil their contractual commitments to maintain service delivery, reduce reoffending, protect the public and provide value for money to the taxpayer.

Again Dame Glenys is being used to justify CRCs, but her glowing words are presented without context. I think we ought to know who are these mysterious, robust 'contract management teams', & what do they actually do? Cos there aint no sign of any robust contract management yet... unless it's handing over untold £millions of public money when the CRCs plead poverty?

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

News Roundup 14

Having failed to find a buyer for their secure training facilities, the government seem loathe to take action against G4S despite another alarming inspection report. This from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies:-

Comment on damning new report on G4S-run Oakhill

The controversial security company G4S should be stripped of its contract to run Oakhill secure training centre, the Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Richard Garside, said today, following a damning Ofsted report on the institution. Richard also called for the government to close the three secure training centres – Medway, Oakhill and Rainsbrook – as part of a plan to end the imprisonment of children.

The damning report on Oakhill is only the latest scandal to hit the controversial security company. G4S lost a contract to run the Rainsbrook secure training centre in September 2015, following a critical Ofsted report earlier that year. In July 2016, the management of another G4S-run secure training centre, Medway, was handed over to the Youth Justice Board, after a BBC Panorama programme exposed widespread abuse of the prisoners by G4S staff.

Earlier this month the Justice Minister, Phillip Lee, told the House of Commons Justice Committee that he was satisfied that G4S was fulfilling their contractual obligations at Oakhill. He also told the Committee that G4S was 'passionate about doing a good job at Oakhill' and were 'determined to continue to deliver a service'.

But he told the Committee that he would not rule out forcing the company to surrender its contract to run Oakhill if there was 'any doubt' about G4S' ability to fufil its obligations.

Speaking today, the Centre's director, Richard Garside, said:

"This is the third secure training centre in as many years where G4S has appeared incapable of running safe and secure services for imprisoned children and young people. It concerns me greatly that the Justice Minister, Phillip Lee, told MPs earlier this month that G4S was providing a 'satisfactory' service at Oakhill. This was clearly not the case when he made this statement. He now needs to make good on his commitment to end the G4S contract. Secure training centres are neither secure for the children imprisoned, nor do they prepare children for adult life. The government should end this failed experiment and close all three centres. It would be a fitting legacy if Oakhill, and those other children's prisons, Rainsbrook and Medway, were razed to the ground and something fit for human habitation built in their place."
--oo00oo--

According to this in the Law Society Gazette, one wonders how the cash was recently found to pay extra to the failing CRC privateers:-

MoJ reveals massive budget cut as new advice deserts open

The deeply worrying scale of the budgetary pressures bearing down on the Ministry of Justice is laid bare in new figures which will dampen already faint hopes of public funding reform. In a written parliamentary answer, justice minister Dominic Raab revealed that the MoJ will have suffered a cumulative 40% real terms cut in its budget over the fiscal decade ending in 2020.

Current projections show the departmental spending limit will be £5.6bn by 2019/20. In real terms, the comparable budget in 2010/11 was £9.3bn and in the current financial year it stands at £6.4bn. This week’s budget is unlikely to see any change of heart over spending plans, with justice secretary David Lidington confirming to the justice committee last month that his department faces ‘real constraints’ on resources.

He told MPs: ‘I would always welcome being given a crock of gold by the Treasury, but I am conscious too [that] I sit around the table with ministers for departments of health, education, defence and work and pensions – all, like me, could make the argument ‘we could really use some extra money’.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, whose question prompted Raab’s release of the figures, said cuts on the scale indicated threaten to take the justice sector from ‘repeated crisis to a full-blown emergency’.

The impact of cuts continues to be felt keenly in legal aid, and further evidence has emerged of ‘advice deserts’.

The Legal Aid Agency said last week it had identified an ‘access’ issue for housing and debt services in the Buckinghamshire area. Since last year the agency has had to plug gaps in the provision of housing and debt services in at least seven procurement areas. A Law Society infographic last year showed that nearly a third of legal aid areas had only one solicitor provider who specialised in housing and whose advice was available through legal aid. The agency has also identified access issues for the Blackpool and Preston, and Milton Keynes housing court duty schemes.

The MoJ revealed last week that 36 offices advertising themselves as a law centre withdrew from their legal aid contracts between April 2012 and April 2017. Raab said: ‘The Legal Aid Agency regularly reviews market capacity and accessibility to make sure that there is adequate provision of legal aid around the country, and moves quickly to safeguard provision where gaps may appear.’

--oo00oo--

Finally, Penelope Gibbs provides some further evidence as to why video links are damaging to effective practice, especially that of probation:- 

Video links make court into "another virtual experience" - a prisoner speaks

This week is a guest "blog" from a serving prisoner who wrote to me about his experience of video hearings having seen a Guardian article about our report "Defendants on video - conveyor belt justice or a revolution in access". He is serving a sentence for a non-violent offence:

"I am not arguing either against my conviction or punishment, but the way I was convicted and the severity of my sentence were both influenced by the use of video technology.

My first court appearance was via a video link from a police station. I was in shock. I did have a duty solicitor but she was not with me. I knew nothing of "the system" as this was my only offence. I was in one room, the magistrate in one small box on the screen, my solicitor in another. The images were OK but tiny, the sound quality poor and we all waited for one another to speak or tried to do so at the same time. The magistrate kept taking advice from a person I couldn't see, and necessary documents were not available. The whole process was both frustrating and surreal. The outcome was that I was remanded to appear in a couple of weeks.

The second appearance took place without me - I never discovered why! The third appearance was again via video link before which I had 15 minutes to speak to my barrister who I'd never met before. The judge then offered for the next "proper" appearance to be via video link. I believe her intention was to benefit me as she'd been told that many prisoners prefer a video link.

As I was offered the choice, I opted for a personal appearance at which I pleaded guilty. This was not at all a pleasant experience, and it would certainly have been less stressful for me to have simply had 30 minutes out of my cell for a video appearance in a prison room, rather than all day in a court cell for a 20 minute appearance in a real court. Hearing the prosecution listing his understanding of my thoughts and actions, and the judge reiterating them and then condemning me, had an effect no video link would ever have had. From even my brief experience of video links it was clear that I could have convinced myself that this was all merely another virtual experience. It was the real court experience that made me face up to my crime.

My assessment of the virtual court process is that the only people who could benefit are the truly hardened criminals who know the score, have little respect for the system and just want to get the whole thing over and done with. I doubt there are many who really fit this stereotype".

The prisoner has also been forced to communicate with probation on video link.

"It is hard enough to talk about having committed a crime, but when technical inefficiencies and the difficulty trying to establish some sort of rapport with a complete stranger many miles away are added, the whole process becomes almost impossible. Once I had pleaded guilty I was remanded for a pre-sentence report. This again took place over a video link. Naturally I was anxious and had no idea what was expected of me, or of the role of the probation officer. I was in a small room, much like a cell. The probation officer was in a similar room which sounded as if it was in the middle of a building site, with mechanical drills and hammers. Whether it was this noise, a delay in the audio feed, or the lack of clear visual cues, I found myself not knowing when to speak, interrupting her questions and rushing to fit in answers in any available gap. I'm sure I came across as an out of touch, incoherent person. That session was cut short when the officer said my time was up. As a result of this premature end, another session took place but this was a disastrous repeat of the first.

I feel the whole video process introduced a disconnect between me and the probation officer. It made it impossible for me to see her as a real person. One indication of her failure to understand my attitude towards my crime, was that in her report she said I was "in denial". This despite the fact that on arrest I'd admitted everything, given a full and open life history and, of course, pleaded guilty. As a result of this pre-sentence report, produced only from video interview, I was given a much harsher sentence than predicted by my legal team.

Since being sentenced eight months ago I have spoken to my appointed probation officer only once, again by video link. For this one interview I arrived late because of "operational reasons" within the prison, and again the link was ended before she could begin to know me - I certainly don't know her. I understand that it is a foundation of the probation service to "aim to reduce offending by establishing positive relationships with offenders..." I do not see how this can ever be achieved by using a video link with someone you have never met. I fear that the sentence plan my probation officer is producing, my time in prison, and my future on licence and thereafter will be determined by the flawed view she has of me as a result of relying on video technology".

I'm really saddened by this testimony. This prisoner's experience of the criminal justice system has been mediated by video, through no choice of his own. Who knows how typical his experience is? At no point since 2000 have defendants/prisoners been asked their views on video links. To say prisoners prefer them because they are more convenient patronises prisoners (who wouldn't "prefer" not to travel for hours in a disgusting van) and denies the importance of effective participation. Until we know through research how video links really effect participation, we should pause any programme to increase their use. Trust in our justice system is too fragile to risk damaging further.

Penelope Gibbs

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Forensic Tests Suspect : Shock Horror

In astonishing news, it turns out there's evidence of "manipulation" by some of the private companies set up following the privatisation of the Forensic Science Service. This from the BBC website:-

Drug driving cases dropped over forensics

Around 50 drug driving prosecutions have been dropped because original test results may have been "manipulated". More than 10,000 cases involving drugs - including violent and sexual crimes - may have been affected, according to the National Police Chiefs' Council. It looked into Randox Testing Services in Manchester after two men were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in February. Re-tests will have been carried out on 1,500 cases by the end of the year.

Lawyers for two people convicted over road deaths are now seeking to take their cases to the Court of Appeal. Concerns have also been raised about thousands of drug test results relied on by the civil courts to determine child custody issues and employment cases. A total of 42 police forces across the country sent data to the laboratory for testing. The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said that of the 10,000 cases that could have been affected, 75% were traffic offences, such as drug driving. Other cases included violent crime, sexual offences and unexplained deaths.

So far, retests on samples involved in sexual offence cases, violence or homicide have showed no change. James Vaughan, from the NPCC, said of 50 cases dropped that were due to go to trial, some were down to no sample being available to retest or the sample being insufficient in quality or quantity. Not every court was sympathetic to requests for proceedings to be adjourned, which in turn led to more cases being dropped, he added.

However, only 70% of the cases sent to the laboratory have been retested so far - which the council deemed the highest priority cases. The other retests should be completed by the middle of 2018. Potential data manipulation at a different facility, Trimega Laboratories, is also being investigated by Greater Manchester Police, according to the NPCC. In these incidents, child protection and family court cases could be affected.

Nick Hurd, the minister for policing, fire and criminal justice, said all tests carried out by Trimega between 2010 and 2014 are currently being treated as "potentially unreliable". He also said due to "poor record-keeping practices", it may not be possible to identify all the customers affected.

The Forensic Services Regulator said it had asked all major centres to carry out an audit of their cases to look at whether the issue was more widespread, but no evidence was uncovered. Gillian Tully, from the regulator, said: "If there was large-scale manipulation going on across the board I do expect it would have been found during that audit."

Nick Freeman, a solicitor who has defended clients who were inaccurately tested for drugs by Randox, said: "It's absolutely imperative that the public have total confidence in a thoroughly reliable forensic science service, because we need to be sure that the results that are produced are 100% accurate. "If they're not, innocent people are going to lose their children, be incarcerated, have their lives destroyed, on the basis of an entirely false premise."

Mr Hurd added: "The government recognises the seriousness of this issue and the potential impact on public confidence in the use of forensic science within the justice system. The senior judiciary are aware and government officials are working with the police to monitor the scale of the issue, as information emerges."


--oo00oo--

The full statement from the MoJ website:-

Forensic toxicology tests

Advice for those concerned about potentially unreliable forensic toxicology tests.

Introduction

The government has been made aware that the police are investigating potential manipulation of forensic toxicology test results at 2 private companies. The test results were used as expert evidence in England and Wales. We are unable to comment on the on-going criminal investigation. As a precautionary measure, we are currently treating test results from the laboratories of these 2 companies as potentially unreliable. Results from other forensic test providers are not believed to be affected. The information below gives examples of where toxicology tests may have been used as part of decision making.

We recognise the seriousness of this issue, and the concerns people who have used the courts may have about its implications for them. The information below is aimed at helping people understand where toxicology tests may have been used as part of decision making in court cases, and to guide them on the next steps.


Family cases involving decisions about children

Hair strand testing for drug and alcohol use was undertaken by Trimega Laboratories Limited between 2010 and April 2014.

Family court proceedings

These are cases where the court was asked to make decisions about a child’s upbringing and may have ordered a toxicology test to be carried out to help it make decisions. Court proceedings may either have been started by the local authority, by parents, or others. A local authority may have made an application to ask the court for an order, for example, to place a child into local authority care or under the local authority’s supervision. A parent (or other person) may have made an application, for example, for a child arrangements order (previously known as a contact or residence order) or special guardianship order.

If you believe that a test by Trimega was carried out in your case and may have materially affected the decisions made in respect of your child(ren), you can:

  • contact your local authority
  • contact your original solicitor from the original court proceedings
You may also wish to seek legal advice about other options available to you. A legal adviser will be able to tell you about the merits of making any application to the court. Legal Aid may be available to you. Individuals will continue to be assessed for their suitability for legal aid on a case-by-case basis.

Court staff are unable to give legal advice, which includes advice on what type of application you should make and the likelihood of any application being successful. Organisations like Citizen’s Advice may also be able to provide you with assistance.

If you are concerned that the final order made by the court in your case was affected by an unreliable test result you can ask the court to consider changing or setting aside that order.

Local authorities may also have requested tests as part of their decision-making before court proceedings. Local authorities have been asked to review their files to ensure that the basis of decisions about children’s safety and wellbeing is not now questioned.

I want the court to review my final order

If you wish to ask the court to change or set aside your order(s) you can complete a special form C650 ‘Application notice to vary or set aside an order in relation to children’ that has been created specifically for this purpose. The form and any attachments can be sent by e-mail or by post. Details are provided in the form. No fee will be payable if you use this form.

The availability of this specifically created form does not prevent you from making any other application to vary, discharge or appeal your order, that you may wish, or be advised, to make. The relevant court fee will be payable for any other type of application.

Criminal prosecutions and coroners’ cases

These are court cases where Randox Testing Services carried out testing of blood, urine, and other bodily samples for drugs on behalf of the police between 2013 and 2017. Potentially affected cases are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis by individual police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Where it is possible to do so, samples are being re-tested. Priority is being given to cases where individuals are in custody or where court proceedings are on-going. Members of the public do not need to take any action at this time. Those affected will be contacted by the police or CPS in due course.

A similar approach to independent re-testing is being applied to cases which have been referred to the Coroner, in particular following an investigation by the police into a suspicious death. Coroners are reviewing potentially affected cases and will consider the outcome of any re-testing and what steps need to be taken. Members of the public do not need to take any action at this time. Anyone affected by this will be contacted by the coroner’s office in due course.

Civil cases

There is no information that any civil case is affected. However, if you were involved in proceedings where expert evidence following hair strand testing for drug or alcohol use was relied on, and you are concerned, you may wish to obtain legal advice about the available options either from a solicitor or an organisation like Citizen’s Advice.

Other types of cases

If you believe forensic laboratory testing for drug or alcohol use has been undertaken by either of these laboratories (Trimega or Randox Testing Services) which have not resulted in court proceedings as set out above, you should contact the party who commissioned the test and may wish to consult a legal adviser, your union or professional body or an organisation like Citizen’s Advice about the options available to you.

If you have any questions which have not been addressed above about the court process, and do not fall within the remits of legal advice, you can send these by email to forensictesting@justice.gov.uk.

Latest From Napo 165

Regular readers may well have noticed that there's been a paucity of Napo updates for some time. Mostly, but not exclusively, I tend to cover the General Secretary's weekly blog, but only if I feel there's something new or of particular interest contained in it. Here we have a slightly edited version of the latest blog post from last Friday:- 

FAILING CRC’s HIT THE REDUNDANCY BUTTON AGAIN

Just when you thought the probation crisis had reached a nadir comes news that two CRC owners have decided to make further cuts to staffing in a desperate attempt they tell us to keep their front line operations afloat.

Interserve, following another profits warning to investors and a share price that plummeted by 50% has announced that they are going to close the Fareham PSC (probation support centre). It is anticipated up to 10 CRC staff seconded to the Fareham office could be effected by the closure of the Fareham PSC as will a further 13 members of staff directly employed by Interserve.

National Official Sarah Friday reporting to this weeks Napo Officers and Officials meeting said that the unions were told that it will also mean Intervention Managers/SPOs in the CRCs taking on additional corporate service functions in addition to the HR responsibilities that have been added to their job descriptions. This in turn will impact on their pivotal role for the Interserve Justice Interchange flex team model to work.

In the West and East Midlands the Reducing Reoffending Partnership (RRP) are currently going through a second wave of redundancies, this time within corporate services as opposed to frontline staff. They state that despite receiving additional money from the Ministry of Justice in the summer, there are still significant shortfalls in their finances. As such they are reducing corporate services to avoid having to make further cuts to the frontline. There are currently 50 posts at risk of redundancy, although it is hoped this can be reduced to 30 if internal opportunities are utilised.

A further exercise to reduce costs is being carried out with RRP’s estates. They are in the process of closing down all of the probation offices in the Black Country with the exception of Wolverhampton. National Official Tania Bassett has told Interserve that Napo is deeply concerned about the impact this will have on staff due to travelling, especially those with caring responsibilities or disabilities. More worrying is the impact this will have on service users who will be expected to make much longer journeys in order to comply with their order.

These are but two more examples of the disastrous impact of TR on what was once an award winning service. Many CRC’s are holed so far below the waterline that no amount of taxpayers cash will save them from sinking later if not sooner.

In other areas such as the CRC’s operated by Working Links we are seeing significant numbers of experienced Probation Officers jumping back to the not exactly green and grassy pastures of the NPS telling reps that they have had enough of the incompetent regime that is presiding over community safety.

Napo submits its evidence to the Justice Select Committee

Sorry, but Parliamentary protocols prevent us from providing you with sight of this until the Committee give their permission, but take it from me its a high quality offering that reflects the massive amount of work that your employees and Officers are putting in to help hold the MoJ and CRC’s feet to the fire.

Not that it is all negative; as we have suggested steps that can be taken to restore morale to staff, embed ‘good practice’ benchmarks and how a licence to practice is a ‘must do’, along with creating greater transparency and accountability by involving Police and Crime Commissioners and metro-Mayors to monitor performance.

The submission is supported by detailed appendices that provide a withering critique of the post-TR landscape and where we make it clear that failing contractors should be shown the door marked exit.

PSO Conference next Friday 24th November

Really looking forward to my speech to next Friday’s PSO conference to be held at the NUT, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place Kings Cross, London WC1H 9BD. Registration opens at 10:00am and the conference formally starts at 10:30am.

Professional training in a changing landscape is the theme, and I have been asked to make a keynote address. Here I will be sharing my thoughts on the steps that Napo needs to take to bring about a greater focus on training and development among NPS and CRC providers and how this sits with Napo’s own strategy for growth and my intention to see our practitioner members paid a proper rate for the job (a key trade union objective that is often forgotten in the world of corporate speak that is regularly spewed out from the MoJ and politicians). Even more reason why our members, whatever job they hold within the justice system, should be afforded the respect and dignity that they deserve.

More news next week, telling it like it is.


--oo00oo--

I'm aware that the General Secretary has given another interview to Russia Today and his contribution can be viewed from approximately 13 minutes in. As always, there is concern amongst some members as to the wisdom of helping to legitimise what many feel is a pretty much unvarnished propaganda machine of the Russian State. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Some TR Insights

I never quite know where this blog is going to take me next. Saturday's off-piste foray into economics opened up some absolutely revelatory stuff for me which I intend to revisit at some point. But most surprisingly, in the process of my researches, it threw up a significant character in the TR saga whom thus far had not appeared on our radar - one Stephen Muers. 

Seeing as he held the key post of Director, Sentencing and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Justice at the time, I'm somewhat bemused that his name hadn't surfaced before. Anyway, I've always wondered what key people at the MoJ actually felt about the whole TR project and especially their reflections on the subsequent omnishambles. 

Well, such is the wonder of the internet that I've been able to track down three articles, the first of which was written when Mr Muers was still in post and published by the Civil Service Quarterly blog on 15 October 2014. The whole article can be viewed here. It's a bit esoteric for my liking, but I've pulled out what I feel is the most relevant and telling for us:-   

Is your policy a dodo?

Speeding up the “evolution” of policy could help promote the survival of the fittest in policy solutions, argues Stephen Muers, Director, Sentencing and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Justice.

Talk to any worker in the public sector and there is a good chance they will say they face never-ending change. But an analysis of Queen’s Speeches showed that many of the same issues keep coming up. Sometimes it is only when looking across many decades that very large shifts in policy become apparent, such as changes to the way services are provided by the state.

The tendency is for constant small-scale change but overall stability in the short term, coupled with large, unpredictable shifts in the long-term. This can also be seen in another environment: the natural world. Can we learn lessons from Darwin’s theory of evolution to improve how we develop public policy?


--//--
Evolving the policy process

If there is value in this comparison between the natural world and the policy one, what does that mean for our policy making practice? Organisms that reproduce fast and rapidly eliminate unhelpful mutations are best at succeeding in changing environments. The continual rapid changes to the influenza virus are what make it such a formidable opponent.

To improve policy development, we need to make it quick to get a new policy into implementation but equally quick to kill it off if not successful. Small experiments that can be scaled up and down rapidly are the best way to replicate this behaviour. A good example of experimentation is the series of pilots as part of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which looked at new payment methods for reducing re-offending. Some demonstrated results worth scaling up because they showed a significant fall in reconviction rates against a comparable group. Others demonstrated that ideas were not worth pursuing: offering additional money to providers of employment support, under the Work Programme, would not significantly prevent reoffending because there were too few prison leavers joining the programme.

A larger version of the experimental approach can be seen in the “What Works” movement. For example, the Education Endowment Foundation is involving more than two-thousand schools in over seventy controlled trials that test alternative ways of increasing the educational performance of disadvantaged students. Results are published and head teachers can use them to decide where to invest Pupil Premium funding.

In the private sector, competition, entrepreneurship and take-overs force the pace of change. However, many public service markets feature long-term contracts and high barriers to entry. Such an environment suits incumbents, and does not encourage experimentation. Despite this, it’s possible to create a broad and flexible supply chain. A key part of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, for instance, is to make sure that smaller voluntary sector organisations are equipped to participate, and that there is a diverse and competitive market.

Another approach would be to lower the barriers to introducing small, innovative policies. There are clear processes through which any policy has to go, but could more approval processes be subject to thresholds, enabling small experiments to be launched more quickly? Any failures could be nipped in the bud by applying strict time limits to these projects. Communicating that some policies are pilots and are expected to fail could help manage the expectations of stakeholders. By presenting a series of experiments under an overall ‘brand’, success is tied to the brand rather than individual components. The Innovation Fund led by NESTA in partnership with the Cabinet Office works along these lines. Government departments could put teams together specifically to launch and then kill off experiments without developing an institutional interest.

And while the legislative process is (for good reasons) time-consuming and pushes government towards specifying detailed plans early on, there is scope for speeding things up. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 created a power to allow small experiments in benefit rules. This opens the door to more rapid experimentation, and is an approach that could be used more widely. Above all, policy makers need to view the public policy environment as a complex and shifting ecosystem and let this guide their approach.

The technology industry uses ‘Agile’ techniques, characterised by rapid rollout of rough prototypes and constant feedback from users. The Government Digital Service and others are already using Agile techniques in a government context. Invariably, boundaries and roles will shift as policies develop. So incentives for the system as a whole need to work however individual parts develop. In education, for example, there are clear incentives set by the funding and inspection regime, which push the overall system in the desired direction. This is regardless of the different models of schools and their relationships with the Department for Education or their local authorities. However, this approach must be supported by transparency about performance.

Thinking about what makes organisms succeed in the battle of evolution and natural selection suggests ways to improve policy making. If we speed up the “evolution” of policy and recognise how public sector organisations compete with one another, we could promote the “survival of the fittest” in policy solutions. There will be small variations in policy and implementation, but by embracing such differences and learning from them, we can deliver continuous improvement. Such an approach requires a focus on the empirical evidence of what actually works, and an acceptance that we do not know what is best when we start the policy process. But it offers the prospect of accelerating evolution and improvement across public services.


Stephen Muers

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It's interesting to note that Mr Muers subsequently decided to 'move on' from what looked like a promising civil service career:-   

Stephen joined Big Society Capital after series of senior roles in government. Most recently he was Director, Criminal Justice Policy at the Ministry of Justice, but has also worked in the Cabinet Office, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Homes and Communities Agency among others. He has been a non-executive director of an NHS trust, a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Policy Research, University of Bath, and has published several papers on policy making and public services. He is also a Trustee of the Friends Provident Foundation.

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Big Society Capital improves the lives of people in the UK by connecting social investment to charities and social enterprises. We know that investment can help charities and social enterprises achieve more. We believe the greatest chance to improve lives comes when investors and enterprises are both motivated by social mission.

We engage with investors, fund managers, charities and social enterprises to make it easier to use social investment. With our co-investors, we have made over £1bn of new capital available to organisations with a social mission, through investments into fund managers and social banks. We have a special focus on: providing homes for people in need; supporting communities to improve lives; and early action to prevent problems.

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Having become the CEO of Big Society Capital, here we have an article published on the University of Bath IPR blog website on 12th August 2016. Again, I've selected what I feel are the most relevant sections for our situation, but even the sharp-eyed will search in vain for any mention of TR, but surely it is being alluded to?

Culture comes first: putting culture and values at the centre of public policy

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How to promote value systems

The most obvious way to create a culture that supports positive change and learning is for government to send messages through its words and actions that this is desirable. This would include launching and welcoming experiments in policy and practice and being open to learning from failure, to bottom-up innovation and to constant iteration rather than over-specifying plans from the start.

Such an approach can, however, seem rather intangible. The obvious way to give it harder edges is to use incentives to reward service improvement and thereby encourage innovation that delivers such improvement across the system. This is the philosophy behind recent school reform; the changes gave schools autonomy to innovate, and strong incentives to do so, by introducing a rigorous performance regime.

However, performance incentives alone are unlikely to engender the culture of wholesale creative experimentation discussed above, for several reasons:

  • There is a long-standing body of literature which argues that it is hard to design incentives which can’t be gamed and that do not lead to distorting behaviour. There is always a risk that hard performance measures produce great innovation in the management of the measures themselves, rather than genuinely improving services across the board. Classic examples include hospitals meeting the four-hour A&E waiting time target by creating other queues elsewhere in the system, and schools focusing their efforts on pupils around the borderline of exam targets at the expense of the less able, who were never likely to make it.
  • Problems that require collaboration between lots of agencies, with the costs and benefits potentially falling asymmetrically, are difficult to address through performance incentives. While it is theoretically possible to design an outcomes framework that pulls all agencies together behind a common goal (the UK model of joint PSA targets, for example) it is hard to do so in a way that isn’t highly complex and bureaucratic. Simple measures of their own performance will tend to have more traction with service managers.
  • Measuring and rewarding performance as a way of promoting innovation has the downside of pushing innovation towards current problems that we know how to measure. The most valuable feature of a dispersed system is, in fact, its ability to react quickly to a changing situation, beginning the task of innovating to respond to new challenges before the central authority has even clocked their existence. The makers of Blackberry phones were proud of the way they encouraged employees to innovate and improve keypad mobile phones – but missed the real innovation of moving to touch-screens and disposing of keypads altogether.
Service outputs, or even outcomes, are not the only objective of public services in a democratic state. Such services also need to operate in a way that is recognised as fair and legitimate, and which promotes trust between citizens and institutions. While trust and legitimacy is, in some cases, measurable, it is much harder to target with performance incentives.

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Stephen Meurs

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Finally, here we have another article published on the same academic website this year on 23rd June 2017. Again, I have only selected what I feel is relevant and any reference to TR is very conspicuously absent, but I get the distinct feeling some inferences can be drawn:-

Accountable for what?


Accountability is fundamental to democracy. Holding decision-makers to account for what they do and the impact they have can be seen both as a good in itself and a way of aligning their choices with the interests of the public at large. So effective democracy needs effective accountability, defined here as a system that holds decision-makers to account for things they control in a way that is meaningful and legitimate in the eyes of the public, and which is likely to promote desired outcomes. In turn, therefore, accountability needs to be based on an understanding of what different decision-makers can and should be doing, to fit with public expectations and to promote effective outcomes. Without such an understanding there is a risk that the accountability framework creates the wrong incentives and promotes neither legitimacy nor the right decisions.

What should decision-makers be doing?

In a previous piece I argued that policy outcomes are heavily influenced by culture and value systems, that governments are part of the prevailing culture and, crucially, that they can also affect it. Therefore a critical role of decision-makers is to embody and shape a culture that supports the outcomes they (and in a democracy those who elected them) desire.

One of the most important ways in which culture and values shape policy outcomes is through the individual choices and decisions made every day by the people responsible for implementation: teachers, social workers, employment advisers, police officers and so on. They interpret and act on policy according to their values and the values embodied by the organisations they work in. As I argued in another previous piece these front-line decisions create constant mutation and evolution in what policy means on the ground. As with evolution in the natural world, the resulting pattern is one of periods of stability interspersed with large and often unpredictable shifts. Decision-makers need to recognise this unpredictable dynamic of front-line evolution, and use their position to shape a culture that supports positive experimentation and learning.

If this understanding of how policy works is correct, then central decision-makers should be focusing on shaping a culture that promotes desired outcomes, and that supports front-line decision-makers in a process of learning that leads towards those same outcomes.

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And what are they not held to account for?

Therefore there is a fit between what it makes sense for leaders to be accountable for, given how we know policy actually feeds through into practice, and what voters use as the basis for deciding how to cast their ballots. So what is the problem?

There would be no accountability problem if political leaders did indeed devote their efforts to affecting values, culture and the overall properties of the system within which they sit: voters are good at holding them to account for that. The problem arises in that in practice they do a lot of other things. Political leaders devote considerable time and effort to designing and implementing detailed policy changes. Democratic accountability for such changes is weak. This is for two reasons.

First, a policy change can be completely disastrous in its own terms without seriously impinging on the welfare of individual voters. Very large sums of money lost to the public purse are hardly noticeable to individuals, especially if such losses are from future potential value rather than current income. A good example would be under-valuation when privatising an asset: no voter feels an immediate loss even if they are in fact worse off because their share of a valuable asset has been given to someone else. But this is true of any large policy failure that wastes money, makes a large service incrementally worse or damages the environment in lasting but not immediately apparent ways.

Second, even if voters are aware of a policy (usually not the case) and are affected by it, it is unlikely to change how they vote. In fact there is evidence that the causation often runs the other way: how someone is inclined to vote affects their understanding of what a policy has achieved. Whether or not someone is aware of a policy and what they believe its effects to be are influenced by their political starting point. This is down to confirmation bias: we interpret information in line with our starting positions. A recent piece of research showed that people’s ability to interpret statistics correctly is dramatically worse when the same statistics are used to describe a divisive political topic (immigration) rather than a neutral one (effectiveness of a skin cream). When political control changes after an election, partisan perceptions of other events changes dramatically. To use another contemporary US example, there was an 82% net positive swing among Republican voters in perceptions of how the US economy was doing in six months Trump’s election as president, at a time when objective economic indicators were fairly stable. So if we believe a political leader is acting in line with our values, that shapes how we see policy and we will tend to register information that implies they are being successful. This dynamic gives politicians considerable leeway to implement policy that is damaging as long as a majority believe they have the right values.

In an attempt to remedy this weakness, we have created a structure of accountability intended to expose policy failure and thereby create incentives for politicians to do the right thing. In the UK this includes the National Audit Office and Select Committee scrutiny. The media also performs an important function in exposing policy failure. Part of the thesis behind such structures is that the appearance of competence is vital to politicians and so methods that expose the opposite will create a strong drive towards successful policymaking.

These structures are, however, unlikely to succeed. Media coverage of a damning NAO report on a multi-billion pound policy will still go unnoticed by the vast majority of the population. And there is no evidence (or even a very plausible theoretical case) for arguing that such a report is likely to contribute to any significant change in party perception and voting behaviour. Confirmation bias is important here too: even if a hypothetical damning audit of a policy became widespread news, people would interpret that news according to their existing cultural framing of the political situation and use it to confirm their existing biases about what policies are or aren’t desirable. It is much more psychologically plausible to believe that a report is biased or wrong than to change your view of a policy and political leader with whom you identify in a deep-seated cultural sense.

Audit and scrutiny take a long time, because of the understandable desire for thoroughness and rigour. This creates two further difficulties. The first is that, because ministers and civil servants – especially in the UK system – move around frequently and fast, by the time a major project or policy is evaluated, those needing to explain it are probably not those responsible for implementation. Again, this means that the incentive to make good policy created by this part of the accountability system is limited.

The second is a more fundamental point. I argued previously that the evolutionary nature of policy means that rapid feedback is critical. It is important to know immediately whether a deliberate or inadvertent change has started to make a difference, allowing the front-line policy implementers to adjust accordingly. The clearer and faster the feedback, the more likely it is that people will learn and iterate towards improvement. In technology projects it has become the norm to use “agile” techniques: build something small, test it with users, learn fast and make repeated small changes. Such techniques have evolved as a way of coping with uncertainty about how people will behave in the face of change and the fact that requirements and goals shift as we find out more about what the front-line users actually want. Such uncertainty and changing goals are a strong feature of policy implementation and so these techniques, and the rapid feedback on which they depend, could have major benefits. However the norm in the public policy field is one of long-term detailed studies that aim to assess, retrospectively, the impact of a whole programme against its stated objectives once enough time has passed to measure progress against them.

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Stephen Meurs