Sunday, 20 April 2014

Press Release

Subject: Jonathan Aitken and the privatisation of the Probation Service

The 'On Probation' blog continues to attract in excess of 3,000 hits daily and is rapidly becoming the platform for disgruntled probation staff to vent their anger at Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's plans to privatise the Probation Service.

May 31st sees all Probation Trusts abolished, to be largely replaced with a rag bag of private companies and inexperienced charitable bodies who will have to increasingly rely on an army of 'old lags' in order to undertake the supervision of offenders in a cost-cutting exercise.

It is interesting to note that disgraced former Tory Minister Jonathan Aitken in a recent report written for the right-wing think tank 'Centre for Social Justice' attempts to argue the case for 'mentoring' or probation on the cheap, but can only offer hope and not action.

Many probation staff are becoming increasingly alarmed at the potential risks involved in this completely untested so-called 'Rehabilitation Revolution', but having been effectively 'gagged' by the Ministry of Justice, can only speak out anonymously. An exception and regular contributor to the blog is Joanna Hughes, an experienced Probation Officer with 17 years service under her belt.

Joanna is so outraged at the destruction of a world class and Gold Award winning public service that she has taken the extreme step of resigning her post from 1st June in protest and is willing to explain publicly her reasons and particularly the risks to the public that will invariably flow from the government's privatisation plans.

Joanna is available for interview and can be contacted here: 07854 668050

Jim Brown can be contacted in relation to 'On Probation Blog' here: 

Immediate release - no embargo


Mentoring - Probation Light

Well what a surprise! At a key moment, up pops Jonathan Aitken, disgraced former Tory cabinet minister and now firm supporter of yet-to-be disgraced Tory cabinet minister Chris Grayling and his plans for a TR omnishambles. He's written a report for right-wing think tank Centre for Social Justice arguing that what we need is an army of mentors to take on all the extra work coming the way of the CRC's.

The foreword is predictably written by Grayling and the content is all the usual repetitive stuff about 'leaving prison with only £46 in their pocket'. According to the introduction:-
"This report has been researched and written in the spirit of idealism without illusions. We know that the mentoring of offenders is challenging. We know it works in an impressive swathe of individual cases, small though the present numbers are. The fact that these cases have never properly been counted, measured or expanded on a wider scale is a fault line in the present criminal justice system. The TR strategy is a courageous attempt to correct such past faults.
Implementing the TR strategy, specifically in the area of mentoring, will have its difficulties. Initially this may be negatively reported, for the world of Criminal Justice commentators is overcrowded with pessimists prophesying doom for every fresh effort to reduce reoffending. Yet TR is a bold and original strategy. Its emphasis on the wide-scale mentoring of offenders creates a new game changer that can massively increase the chances of making the strategy succeed."
Make of it what you will. Here's how it ends:-
Mentoring stands at a crossroads of opportunity. It is paradoxically the most hopeful and the most neglected weapon in the arsenal of rehabilitation. The neglect is history. It is uncomfortable to have to remember that rehabilitation has only recently started to edge up the agenda of criminal justice policy (although it was a high priority in Victorian times), and that mentoring has been an unfunded and almost invisible item within rehabilitation.
Two pessimistic mantras have far too long clouded the landscape of mentoring. The first was‘leave it to the Probation Service’. The second was ‘there’s no such thing as a magic bullet’.The Probation Service has many virtues and many fine officers. But mentoring has not been their priority for at least two decades. Indeed you have to go back half a century to find a time when probation officers routinely empowered volunteers to make regular visits to offenders and their families. In those days ‘mentoring’ was not in the vocabulary of criminal justice, but ‘befriending’ and ‘caring’ were words which had a resonance that meant something human to offenders. Probation volunteers were an important part of that humanity. But, alas they were pushed aside by jobsworths whose bureaucratic expansionism made them determined to suppress the work done with offenders by anyone not on the official payroll.
Despite hostility from ‘the system’, charities and volunteers crept back into the thin front line of rehabilitation. In the final years of 20th century, when probation officers were being dragooned by Whitehall away from befriending and towards box ticking, a door began opening to voluntarism. One politician who understood this was the former Prisons and Probation Minister, Sir Peter Lloyd. He realised that the first stirrings of the moves towards mentoring were coming from offenders. As he put it:
‘Prisoners respond most readily to unpaid volunteers who they can see are giving their time because they really want to help their prisoners individually to find themselves and sort out their lives, not because they are agents of the State to fight recidivism in general.’
After leaving government, Sir Peter Lloyd implemented the philosophy of mentoring summarised in the above quote as chairman of the New Bridge Foundation (NBF) – the UK’s oldest mentoring charity. Founded by the late Lord Longford in 1956, NBF has a long track record of organising voluntary mentors for prisoners. As early as 2001 NBF received funding from the Youth Justice Board to run mentoring projects for young offenders and in 2007 it won a three-year grant from the National Lottery for its London Through the Gate (LTTG) scheme to deliver resettlement services for some 360 short-term prisoners released from HMPs Brixton, Holloway, Wormwood Scrubs, Pentonville and Wandsworth.
Although LTTG was evaluated by ARCS (UK) Limited and judged to have been successful, the statistical outcomes were characteristically confusing, not least because they relied on erratic ‘self-reporting data’ from clients disinclined to report on themselves even when their progress was good. So the system pigeon-holed this and several other examples of impressive mentoring by charities, often deploying the cliché used to justify so much inadequate action on rehabilitation. ‘There’s no such thing as a magic bullet.’
Leaving aside the fact that the imagery of firing bullets is inconsistent with the gentle spirit of mentoring, it is undoubtedly true that there is no single route to rehabilitation. Mentoring in particular is a bespoke and highly personalised process. It needs the consensual engagement of the offender just as much as the thoughtful support, advice, and care of the mentor. We know it works in many individual cases. But will it work when rolled-out nationally in 21 CRC areas?
Never before has there been any political will to encourage mentoring as an operational arm of criminal justice policy. Transforming Rehabilitation changes that historic negativity. From 2015 onwards all CRCs will have to demonstrate a positive willingness to provide mentoring services to their areas. This is an exciting opportunity.
Whether the opportunity flourishes or falters depends on many of the key ingredients described in this report. But the most vital ingredient of all is people.
We take great hope from the fact that so many people – in fact a surplus number of people – are potentially willing to volunteer to be mentors or to become professional mentors. We believe that a sizeable number of people coming out of prison actually want to go straight and will appreciate the help that mentors can give them. We think that the main providers of CRCs will be infinitely more capable and more motivated mangers of mentoring than ‘the system’ has ever been. And we think the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda, led by any positive government, will change the landscape, the culture, and the practice of how our society responds to released prisoners with the objective of changing their lives. 
The present reoffending statistics can hardly get any worse. For instance, 58 per cent of those serving sentences of less than 12 months go on to reoffend within a year of release. If mentoring is allowed to play a meaningful part in the implementation of the TR strategy these depressing reoffending figures might become encouragingly better with great human benefits to the individuals concerned and to society as a whole."

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Some Plain Speaking

The time has come to speak a little plainly I think. It can't have escaped many readers notice that a huge debate has been raging here and on Facebook since the Chair of Napo Greater London Branch, decided to make public the existence of a confidential email to all NEC members from the National Chair. They knew perfectly well that it would ignite a storm of unsettling negativity, and some might want to ponder the motives.

I have to say that I'm getting just a tad fed up with this diversion from the main job in hand, namely the campaign to defeat Chris Grayling's TR omnishambles and the destruction of a proud profession and public service. To be very blunt about it, I'm not hugely bothered about the internal politics of Napo or upsetting the sensibilities of various people in positions of authority at the top. All I'm interested in is defeating TR, and by whatever means possible. 

Now it may well come as a surprise to some, but I'm going to be absolutely clear about saying that calls for the immediate resignation of the National Chair are a very big mistake indeed and would probably prove fatal in terms of Napo's recently re-energised fight against TR. 

As I have already commented, many will feel that the National Chair recently made a somewhat surprising and unwise decision in relation to their future, but right now all I want them to do is make the right decisions in relation to fighting this bloody campaign. If they are forced from office at this absolutely key point, the campaign to fight TR will not be advanced one jot and I honestly believe we'd have had it.

We know from painful past experience what effect a vacuum can have at the top of a union and although obtaining a resignation might be felt to be therapeutic for some, it would be Pyrrhic and utterly counter-productive in terms of the job in hand. As it is, come June 1st, Napo will be losing it's National Chair for 50% of the time as Jeremy Wright has made it abundantly clear NPS will not allow 100% facility time, and the National Chair was sifted into NPS.   

Right from starting this blog my aim has been to try and be as truthful and honest with readers as possible. Lots of you have repaid the compliment by telling me stuff either privately or by means of skilfully-crafted comments and as a result I probably know way too much for my own good. But it means I can't always share the information publicly, either because it would breach confidentiality, or would in my view harm the fight against TR. 

I can assure people that things are going on behind the scenes as a result of readers and union members taking direct action and by using this blog as a vehicle and platform in support of union activity and to influence decision making. Yes it's probably wrong, undemocratic, unaccountable, etc etc, but this is a bloody war here, and we want to win, right?    

Many times over the years I've often jokingly said to friends, family and sometimes clients, 'trust me - I'm a probation officer'. Well, dear readers, I'm now saying it in earnest via this blog:-

'trust me - honestly it's far better that Tom stays in post a while longer'. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

All Going to Plan 2

Whilst I'm rolling with the changes and making the best out of a bad situation I've noticed in the past week I've drastically changed my working practice. My caseload has increased by 20 so I'm on 60 cases and still have more to come. All I can say is that everything is rushed - I even saw a client in reception today and just got him to sign his next apt, another client who's a pensioner and likes to use supervision as a 'chat' was hastily curtailed after 10 mins - I'm not a social worker and so long as I'm content his risk is stable then I've little interest to hear about his daily routine that has absolutely nothing to do with Probation. 

I find myself being more intolerant of the tweens who moan they cant get work but then find every excuse in the book to avoid engaging with ETE - if they cant be bothered why should I - so long as they're not going to re-offend then all I care about is that I can prove to auditors that I've referred them. I've also started putting loads of them on monthly and any that don't come in then I cold call and hope they answer so that I can re-engage them - the last thing I have time for is recall or breach. I don't like my job anymore, it's too much of a gamble, it's not forcing people to look at their offending behaviour but I'm hoping once I've got my full caseload I can start revisiting some of my reporting decisions and reel some of them back in. 

One thing that concerns me is some of my caseload do a 30 mile roundtrip for supervision which even in the car is not far off a 2 hour round trip - on public transport add another hour and the most common complaint I hear is the distance they have to travel - whilst it saves money having large Centres it forces people to struggle to comply - if you're on Programmes and work then some of mine report not getting home until pushing 10pm again because the Progs department is another 10 miles further up the road!! 

To top it all we have a new management and I just hope and pray they are not to pernickety over accepting absences or offenders re-scheduling appointments because the last thing I need is a manager breathing down my neck - flexibility is the key in this brave new world. Despite everything tho I enjoy change, I'll do what I can to make it work because what else can we do?

It sounds incredibly stressful, rushing around to do things with very time to do it. I feel that experience is now all very common across the service throughout different Trust. We are now in the danger zone where something is likely to happen very soon. I worry for myself and my colleagues. I went to see my manager today regarding a sex offender who turned up to report after being sentenced from Court yesterday. There was no paperwork, no information, no induction packs, nothing recorded in Delius regarding what was said to him, by whom, where he was living and with who. I was instructed to see him and I had to refuse. I’m sorry but I don’t get paid to see people without the proper risk assessment procedures and paperwork completed, as I'm not going to take responsibility in case after he sees me, does something and I get blamed for it. I ‘told’ my manager he needed to see the client. He did not. Instead (to my amazement) another officer volunteered to see the person which left me feeling flat. My manager has referred my refusal up to the ACE level. We will see what happens next. 

At the moment I'm not finding it stressful but I've noticed this afternoon I was really tired and had backache - something I don't suffer from. Considering this is only for me week one of the new working practices I wonder how I will cope in the next few weeks, all I know is I've got to morph into something that's alien to me but on the other hand something that my employers encourage - they only want us to target resources at those who's criminogenic needs dictate so. The problem I've got is learning to stagger cases throughout the month so they don't all come in the same week. I'm very relieved not to be doing anymore reports, I do feel as though a bit of a weight's been lifted and it's one less deadline hanging over my head. The next thing they need to look at is a short format oasys - far too laborious and time consuming in its current state especially for CRC cases - no point doing fabulous war and peace sentence plans if I'm not going to be seeing people and carry any of the objectives out!!

I'm more likely to be killed on the roads of Britain than by a punter at the moment. Been in shadow working since Monday and I've already driven more than 200 miles in the huge rural area I work in. I'm rushing around with a head full of stuff, not knowing where I'm going or who I have to see. Tireder than a tired thing in a tired place. Just completely exhausted and stressed to pieces.

Ah Jim, it’s truly mental. We are beside ourselves with confusion. 6 of us from Weary Town have been sent to Dreary Town. 2 from Dreary Town have been sent to Weary Town. We took all our stuff: files, stationery, phone books, chairs, mouse mats, mugs etc.... Unfortunately all the clients have stayed in the same place so we are going to work in the morning, driving back to our old office, sitting in our old desks but with none of our resources or equipment. I feel like I’m going mad in a parallel universe.

If I were a company considering bidding for a CRC I would consider in great detail the way that NOMS and the MOJ meddle in everything, embrace bureaucratic systems and move the goalposts at every opportunity. They will demand minute detail of all that the CRC do.
Just a warning we already know in the Probation service how it works on a micro level - total unbridled chaos and weak management.

Quote: "The staff list for the CRC is full of so-called back office staff with frontline workers as rare as hen's teeth, whereas the NPS is mainly made up of practitioners. Do bidders know they will inherit a load of IT staff and office managers-that will supervise them a lot of offenders?" 

Bidders should not assume that the staff list they are given by MoJ is accurate. These lists were very hurriedly compiled, barely checked, and I know for sure that the one from my own PT had plenty of mistakes and, crucially, lots of missing detail and context. For example where there are act-ups or secondments the lists bidders see might show who is in the substantive posts instead of the actual ones, but without actually highlighting this difference. So bidders might believe they are getting a particular staff mix, when actually they will get a significantly different staff mix. Let the bidder beware!

My organisation was a potential Tier 2/Tier 3 bidder for CRC work. 

Reading this site persuaded me not to be part of this process. It also gave me the information I required to go to my Board of Directors and say “don’t get involved” and we withdraw from the process. 

Be critical of many things but not of this site.

I'm in exactly the same position. Have refused offers from a number of Primes to support their tenders as 'bid candy' and the information gleaned from this blog has given me much information to justify my decision to the Board. In fact, we intend to close the organisation rather than become involved in TR, with that decision being made both on 'business-case' and moral grounds.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Is Anyone Listening?

I notice that Pat Waterman, Chair of Napo Greater London Branch, emailed this to all her members yesterday:-

Rumours and facts 
Members of this, and other branches, have been asking me in recent weeks if it is true that our National Chair, Tom Rendon, applied for a job as an ACO in the London CRC. 

It is true 

An assessment centre took place at Mitre House for ACO posts in the CRC on the eve of the Special General Meeting in Birmingham at which it was announced that the union would be taking further strike action. 

I am informed that our National Chair has written a letter to all NEC Representatives which seeks to explain his decision to apply for this post. I am also informed that the recipients have been asked not to forward or otherwise distribute this letter but, if they have any concerns or questions, they are advised to either contact the National Chair directly or their link Officer or Official. 

Members who have sought my advice about appealing against their assignment, usually to the CRC with a view to being re-assigned to the NPS, will know that I have told them to be careful what they wish for as there are pros and cons on both sides. 

I am in no doubt that all members of this branch wherever they have been assigned are as skilled and professional as each other and despair at the false dichotomy thrown up by this insidious sifting process. 

Members will also know that the London CRC is full of vacancies and anyone who has been assigned to the NPS and wishes to transfer to the CRC can still do so. 

Any members who are considering asking for re-assignment, or are considering applying for any of the vacancies currently being advertised, are welcome to seek my advice at any time. 

Pat Waterman 
Greater London Branch NAPO

It's incredibly sad that during probation's darkest hour we have to waste time discussing Napo's internal politics at the top, but it seems we don't really have any alternative. As well as venting their anger, frustrations, thoughts and concerns, pretty regularly commentators on this blog say things like this:-

Perhaps NAPO HQ might let us know what the legal advice is regarding the legality of the way in which the split has been done so we can make our own minds up. Given that we seem to be left on our own to deal with these battles it would help to know what the ground looks like in terms of employment law.

so why can’t NAPO or Unison approach Thompsons? It shouldn’t have to be union members that think of these things!?

What do the unions know about this and if they don't know why don't they as we have been asking for help for long enough. Come on unions help us out here!

It is worth looking at. However, one of the benefits we are supposed to get from paying our subs to NAPO is legal representation on employment matters, when in fact local branch officers (myself included) have been left to muddle through as best we can. NAPO advice along the lines of "well it is complicated" does not help.

These comments were left yesterday, but similar turn up most days. Probation is a relatively small community and the blog has evolved into a space for discussion, comment and support during a period of extreme crisis. I'm very proud of the way it has developed and embraced all manner of disparate views, in a generally tolerant and understanding discussion with the shared aim of defeating TR. So what could possibly be wrong with that?

Unfortunately it has come to my attention that Napo at the top are not in fact reading this blog. I know this because I'm led to believe that in the email sent by the National Chair to all members of the NEC, and referred to above, the blog was effectively rubbished.

I have no idea why at this key moment in our future such a view has been taken because I rather naively thought the fight was with TR and we all had a shared aim in that regard. I think the time has come to hear exactly what Napo's view is of this forum and say whether they are reading what colleagues, clients and ordinary members of the public are saying all over the country about probation and TR. 

As I have said many times before, I don't like knocking Napo for no good reason and I want any comment to be constructive, but this is surely all too serious to let a few ruffled ego's at the top get in the way?       

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Latest From Napo 25

This was emailed to all Napo members earlier today:-

Members will be pleased to hear that Napo has authorised our Lawyers to serve a Pre-Action Protocol letter on the Secretary of State. This seeks to lay the final groundwork prior to consideration of the case for a full application for a Judicial Review of his Transforming Rehabilitation disaster. As we have previously explained, Napo sent a pre-protocol letter just after the AGM last year as part of our efforts to explore whether the Secretary of State had the power under the Offender Management Act 2007 to  fragment the probation service. We have previously reported that we have recently taken a second opinion on the OMA 2007 question so that we could be fully satisfied that we had left no stone unturned in our efforts on behalf of members.
Our latest legal advice confirms that we were right to  have embarked on our current strategy which includes the gathering of a compendium of evidence on the methodology that the Secretary of State is using to implement his TR agenda, which we believe falls short in a number of areas.

What does the letter say?
For legal reasons we are advised that we cannot publish the18 page letter at this stage but we are arguing that the serious risk to public safety that will be posed from 1st June 2014 means that no reasonable Secretary of State would proceed with the transfer on that date without first piloting and properly analysing the results of his plans, and that among other things he has not ensured that proper regard has been given to the particular needs of women offenders as well as those who are mentally disordered or who have particular learning difficulties.
The supporting arguments will in themselves be no surprise to members, covering as they do the whole range of activities typically carried out during the process of managing offenders across all tiers of risk. The letter also directly references the evidence given by Government representatives to the recent Public Accounts and Justice Committees and public concerns as expressed by a range of potential witnesses and asks whether the whether the decision maker has addressed the right questions and gathered enough information to reach a rational and informed conclusion on them.  Needless to say we don’t think that Grayling has done either of these things.

What happens next?

The letter to the Secretary of State seeks a substantive reply by 22nd April, and as you would expect, calls upon him to postpone the date of transfer from 1st June until such time as the questions we have posed are properly addressed.

We will be reporting progress to the next meeting of the NEC at the end of April and, as previously indicated, we intend to pursue a JR application subject as always to taking account of the expert legal advice that we receive about the prospects of success, but we will issue further news and copies of the exchanges to members just as soon as we can.
Exposing the real truth about TR

Just a word to let you know that we are picking up considerable interest from the media about the contents of the letter to Amy Rees that we reported on last week. The continuing flow of information that is coming in to the inbox has been extremely useful and has allowed us to attain a better perspective of the chaos that you are working under.

This is being brought to the attention of a wider audience and will not have gone unnoticed by prospective bidders for CRC contracts with reports suggesting that a number of them have declined opportunities to visit offices and have expressed doubts about the efficacy of the TR project. We also hear that as some contractors have been invited to visit probation premises that staff have walked out the other way, and we are sure that members will express appreciation to their Napo comrades in Rotherham who took that step!

We also need you to maintain the pressure by working to your hours and not undertaking sessional work. You can still make a difference!

Tom Rendon                         Ian Lawrence
National Chair                      General Secretary

All Going To Plan

News is coming in from all parts of the country that the TR omnishambles mobilsation plan is, well, all going to plan:- 

TR is a two tier system. We know it can't work, and evidence is already emerging within the first week of operating the systems in out Trust that it's not just about refining the processes given, but that the processes won't work in any way. The PPO issue is a very interesting one, as all PPO staff in our Trust were sifted to CRC.

So, NPS will have all MAPPA, most PPOs, large number of IOMs, High Risk, ALL reports (every single existing one, plus some new ones especially for TR), all Court and enforcement work, risk escalation decisions and takeovers, all prison secondments and all YOS secondments, public interest cases, approved premises. Clearly it isn't going to work. It's madness. CRC are left with interventions (UPW, Programmes and Skills4Work), low and medium risk cases and head office and back office functions. 

In our Trust the operational CRC functions have already been pared to the bone. It's only the 'back office', non frontline services which our Trust has sought to protect. So, although I'm not looking forward to TR and don't think it could work, or will happen as the govt want it to, I will certainly not be mourning the end of my Trust, and to be honest I don't want their head office led enterprise (sorry 'mutual') to win the contract for our CPA - an existing outsourcer would protect the frontline better. And I think that will be the obituary for the Trusts - "should have thought about services, could have done better".

However, unlike others on this blog, I am full of admiration for the SPOs in my office. They are in an invidious situation and doing exceptionally in such difficult circumstances. There is little wrong with the front line, only that we have to work with terrible systems - OASys & NDelius - the systems that made us so inefficient, and remember the creation of these came from the same people who lead our Trusts.

The Chief Constable was off on a right one last week when I informed her of our new 'working practices' and the fact that T4's will now be seen as/when, with her staff (Police) now having to pick up the majority of appointments. Suffice to say that her view of both TR and our Trust is very much jaundiced. Still, she cannot say she was not warned.

I've had a day from hell at the other end of the justice sausage machine. Many, many years a PO, now allocated CRC because apparently that was how it panned out on 11 Nov. This week seems to be the start of some unofficial trial of the split as I get handed case after case sentenced from court based upon a range of reports written by nps-allocated staff. I am sitting here on the commute home heartbroken and shocked at the appalling quality of those reports. Atrocious grammar, spelling mistakes galore, judgemental opinion, assumption and condemnation. Everything I was taught not to do when writing a report. And they are a mix of PO and PSO - this aint no purge on any grade.

Without fail the cases seem to all have received what I would regard as a requirement too many (5 in one case) or Orders far longer than I would have suggested.

I hadn't realised how dire things had become. Why are the courts accepting such poor quality documents? How has it become so bad? Where did all the gatekeepers go?

Senior managers destined for the NPS are making decisions about the CRC-why? The staff list for the CRC is full of so-called back office staff with frontline workers as rare as hen's teeth, whereas the NPS is mainly made up of practitioners. Do bidders know they will inherit a load of IT staff and office managers-that will supervise them a lot of offenders?

As a team manager with 35 years plus in the service I was automatically assigned to the CRC-no one has asked me what I want, the decision has nothing to do with my working record (I have managed every type of Probation team other than an AP) and selecting people for compulsory redundancy has a greater element of fairness to it than selecting people on the basis of what they were doing on a retrospective date. 

I am amazed that the whole premise on what sifting has been based, along with automatic assignment has not been challenged legally. I am looking for another job and if successful my resignation letter will cite TR and the impact of sifting as the reason. We need to get mileage into this, in other walks of life it could be construed as constructive dismissal. If everyone who leaves the service as a result of TR gives this as the reason in their resignation letter you are registering your grievance for the future and making it a public record. Send copies to the Chair of your Board (whether defunct or not) and Grayling.

At the moment I feel exhausted, drained and to he honest destroyed by this job. As a CRC Officer, I'm being allocated more cases than I know what to do with, yet all my time is taken up with my NPS caseload and PSR's. I can barely face going into the office, I feel physically sick every morning, I'm not sleeping and am suffering from excruciating headaches. I don't feel well enough to be in work, but I' m too scared to see my GP. Being nowhere near retirement age VER is not an option. If I see my GP and am signed off will this be held against me by my future private sector employers? If there's a chance of moving into NPS, will a previous GP note go against me? All I can do is haul myself into work every day and pray it gets better.

Won't be long now before someone is killed or seriously hurt as a result of this TR bullshit. The momentum is building. It will most likely, in my humble opinion, be the (ex-) partner, or a probation staff member, or a prison officer. It will be at a time when anger and emotion and fear are funnelled into an explosive response to the wrong question, the wrong facial expression. I was told I'm a fucking cunt today... Duty call, no delius because of a server failure, no managers in the building (TR training event). No more team meetings/briefings means no shared information. TR is the final nail in that coffin. Nothing shared, commercially sensitive, what price humanity?

Got into work at 8.50am. Saw 12 cases today - 5 newly allocated inductions (3 of which I wasn't even aware of until they arrived because newly devised system didn't allow for notification of sentences out of area), 6 existing cases who I had to see to break the TR transfer news to, and 1 duty call. Also had to squeeeeze in a hurried oasys for an emergency transfer, complete a written witness statement regarding a police investigation, deal with an inbox of 75 overnight emails (mainly crap), wrestle with delius to try & input what had happened that day - plus I spent 45 mins of my lunch hour with IT support trying to locate an oasys that it turns out never existed. Got home at 7.45pm, fell asleep within minutes. Just woke up after dreaming about work. Haven't seen or exchanged a single word with partner this evening - I'm just about to tiptoe into the box room so I don't wake them.

TR has fucked up everything, even the simple existing and very basic allocation of cases, because some daft *#%$ has decided they have to redesign everything to meet the TR brand. "Fit for purpose" was one of those bullshit made up phrases of the 90's used to excuse poorly designed, expensive packages. Then we had "it'll do" solution-focused ideas. Now we seem to have "make it work regardless, stupid".

TR is just crass stupidity. Its been an oft- used analogy, the emperor is bollock naked yet everyone is fawning over the platinum threads in the finest golden weave. Meantime the charlatans, the snake oil salesmen and the corrupt are filling their pockets. Those who should have raised the alarm, i.e. The Trusts, have been guilty of dereliction of duty.

Time for bed said Zebedee.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Trusts - Good Riddance?

With less than two months before Probation Trusts are abolished, one recent commentator speculates on how history might record their demise and whether we should lament their passing:- 

Was away yesterday so only just catching up. Cagney and Lacey !!!! Do they have any idea how offensive this is to staff ????? NO, because they don't care... bet they all laughed uproariously at that one! Utter bloody fools.......

Having reflected on where we are I actually do not see the existing trusts as worth preserving. Looking at my own area I see a management team utterly detached from its staff, with the first rule of management being identify only with only managers as this is now where your loyalty lies.

I have watched patronage flourish as the means of attainment and the promotion of people "like us". This restricts intellectual rigour and allows for little challenge of a Chief Executive in cases where virtually the whole staff body feel poor decisions are being made. It allows a Chief Executive to become despotic, when perhaps that was not the original aim. Staff then dare not speak out.

In my experience any sense of governance by a Trust Board is ill-conceived, look at the example of TR, where was dissent given how obvious the risks where from the very outset? Where was protection of the public or indeed protection of the staff who attain all targets sets for them and still manage to uphold probation values? Where were the clients in this utter capitulation? This is a system not worth saving.

I have seen managers resign from NAPO (not representative of managers needs, as they are no longer POs, really!) I no longer have any respect for managers in my trust at any level although, now all seems lost in terms of their careers, some are starting to speak up but sadly it really is too little too late.

I really believe that there is an argument for probation wholesale to become the NPS to promote more professional management. The sad truth is that those CRCs that may get through as staff mutuals are not what it says on the tin, but rather a continuance of the existing management structures with real risks in terms of the continuance of the business.

There is a strong argument for better governance of probation but the services we offer must remain a unified core for all clients, for the sake of the communities we serve and so that justice is delivered uniformly. NOMS is not the vehicle for this and has never delivered good governance for probation given the dominance of prison staff who understand containment but not rehabilitation where the risks move to the community.

So, when the primes fail to deliver, when SFOs create public dissent, when more and more clients move back to the NPS and stay there due to risk management, the government of the day will have no choice but to unify service delivery and take back into the NPS what should have moved across from the outset. Then, from a unified consistent core, with the confidence of partners in the criminal justice system such as police and courts, appropriate planning can be made.

As it stands, TR WILL FAIL.

Employing Trusts still have a duty of care towards staff, and yet this is going on:-

I have arrived home distraught about my behaviour today. I am a CDO and I can only describe today as fraught. I literally had to run along between courts trying to provide updates, takes results and explain to clients what their sentence entails and book first appointments. A warrant produced a problematic breach with little time to liaise with the OM about what was going on and I fear my lack of time to talk in detail must have sounded awful, but how to explain? The client was waiting in the dock already and the court is clearly losing patience with probation now.

I have always believed that it is the first interaction with court staff that starts the supervision process and relationship between clients. I couldn't answer the questions of one bewildered man and he became increasingly angry until security staff were called. This never would have arisen in the past and although I was able to prevent matters getting further out of hand, I feel very uncomfortable.

When I tried to explain to a colleague how I was feeling, she just shouted at me to get on with it and in effect, stop moaning. I have been in tears and do not want to go back. That's the reality of what we are becoming under the weight of this TR crap.

At the moment I feel exhausted, drained and to he honest destroyed by this job. As a CRC Officer, I'm being allocated more cases than I know what to do with, yet all my time is taken up with my NPS caseload and PSR's. I can barely face going into the office, I feel physically sick every morning, I'm not sleeping and am suffering from excruciating headaches. I don't feel well enough to be in work, but I'm too scared to see my GP. Being nowhere near retirement age VER is not an option. If I see my GP and am signed off will this be held against me by my future private sector employers? If there's a chance of moving into NPS, will a previous GP note go against me? All I can do is haul myself into work every day and pray it gets better.


Cagney and Lacey - where are you? 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Clients and TR

As has been noted by some, since humble beginnings four years ago, this blog has changed significantly from one grumpy person's self-indulgent moanings, to having pretty much morphed into a campaign and crusade solely against the TR omnishambles. Of necessity it has dwelt principally upon the trials and tribulations of probation staff, but on occasion has discussed things from a client's viewpoint.

I'm extremely grateful to the Editor over on the hugely successful Prisoners Families Voices website for re-publishing some of my recent blog posts, but what's particularly interesting is that as a result she tells me she is getting lots of emails from concerned clients about the effects TR is having on them already. I guess it should come as no surprise that they are noticing changes, but they're getting vocal too, as these recent posts demonstrate:-

Dear Editor PFV.

I am a fan of your blog and have noticed that you are publishing quite a lot of posts by the On Probation Blog. My name is, Ex Offender, as I have been labelled one now after serving a 7 year sentence for armed robbery. I had never been in trouble with the law previously therefore I consider myself NOT a career criminal. I screwed up and regretted it ever since.

I am on probation now and I have a good relationship with my probation officer. He does the best he can under pressure and by meaning under pressure, I mean that he doesn't often see me and is bogged down with paperwork. One day whilst I was waiting to see him, I was chatting to a guy who was a career criminal. He was grumbling about what a waste of his time it was sitting there to see his probation officer for only 5 minutes. He had also told me that years ago, probation officers spent time with offenders supporting them with their rehabilitation and that these days, that doesn't happen.

I told him that it doesn't happen because their job now consists of paperwork - which is what I have been witnessing over the past 6 months. I just want to clear this up by saying that I know for a fact if my probation officer had the time, he would support me and he has even said this himself. He has tried by giving me telephone numbers of employers who take on ex offenders and phone numbers of other support groups, but other than that, he does not have the time. I am not here to slag probation off, they have a job to do and it must be frustrating for them, especially mine who cannot give me the time to advise me.

I am an ex con who does not want to be like the other man sat in probation, I want to make something of myself and put the prison issue well behind me, but it's hard when there is no support on offer. I see young lads going to probation and I see that in no time they will be back in prison as they treat their appointments as a joke. A couple of them were smoking a joint outside whilst waiting to book in which in my opinion shows no respect for the people who are monitoring us. I am finding it all a bit depressing because I take my appointments and what I did very seriously in order to change my life around. 

Luckily I have a great girlfriend who supports and helps me with online job applications and things, but what about those who haven't who want support changing their life's. I remember in prison when a member of staff said to me, "you have to take responsibility for your own actions." Which yes is very true, but if the likes of probation do not have the time to support ex cons on release then how is the prison revolving door going to slow down? Do the Government want more people in prison? It appears that way because they are/have stripped the services for ex offenders in my opinion by taking the real job of a probation officer from us. 

Regards Andrew B.


I have notice that you have been publishing stuff on your blog about probation lately. I have been out of jail for 13 weeks and I am on licence.

The 5 minute appointments are true and are a waste of time. In those 13 weeks, I have seen about 7 different probation officers and every time I try and ring my probation officer, I get told that she is either on annual leave or is in a meeting and that is more or less every single time I try to phone her. Don't get me wrong, she is a nice woman but I am in a dilemma at the moment and could do with a chat with her. But she isn't around for me to do that so who the bloody hell can I turn too? 

My family turned their backs on me when I went to jail and I have one pal who is supportive but works full time and I don't want to burden him. I have been reading a lot of online stories about ex cons who have turned their life's around with help from their probation officers but these seem to be older people, no offence, but they are getting on a bit and were in prison years ago. Even when I was in prison it was proper hard for me to get to see my probation officer. I genuinely need some advice. If I am on licence I would have thought I would have got some help and support from my probation officer but it just isn't working out. 


PS I saw this on Facebook recently and it must be something being repeated up and down the country:-

Told a lifer yesterday that I would not be his officer by the time he had his next ROTL because he is NPS and I am CRC. He said he was 'devastated' saying how well I knew him, his OS in prison, his family-I've even seen him at work on ROTL. Now I don't doubt that whoever gets his supervision will be a good PO but bloody hell- what ever happened to end to end supervision? (not going to lie, nearly had a little cry)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Might of Mitie

Again from Facebook, I notice that Napo Greater London Branch are continuing their discussion of possible bidders for probation work and as a consequence have turned their attention to the largely unknown cleaning company Mitie. 

Now this outfit used to have a cleaning contract at my office after our faithful band of long-serving ladies got the push some years ago. I think I'm right in saying they had a contract for 'facilities management' right across the whole probation estate, including hostels, following our nationalisation into the NPS first time around. They proved to be broadly useless and vastly expensive amid stories of huge round trips to change a light bulb if I remember correctly, so what's the story behind this lot? 

The Wikipedia entry says of them:- 
Mitie Group PLC is a British strategic outsourcing and energy services company with their head office in Bristol, and more than 200 smaller offices throughout the UK and Ireland. Mitie operates mainly in the UK and Ireland with a growing presence in Europe. It provides infrastructure consultancy, facilities management, property maintenance and a range of energy management services to its customers. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.
Mitie was founded by David Telling and Ian Stewart as MESL in 1987. It was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1988. It merged with Highgate & Job in 1989 and was renamed the Mitie Group.
Their strategy of growth through acquisition has seen Mitie acquire several businesses over the past few years and in 2006 it acquired Initial Security, a leading security business. Following on in 2007 Mitie acquired Robert Prettie & Co. Ltd for £32.7m and incorporated the specialist plumbing, heating and mechanical services business into their Property Services division. In 2008 Mitie continued its acquisitions strategy through the acquisition of Catering Partnership, and DW Tilley. The purchase of DW Tilley allowed Mitie to extend their roofing services nation-wide. 2009 saw the acquisition of Dalkia Facilities Management for £130m to bolster its Technical Facilities Management capability and an expansion into Social Housing with the purchase of Environmental Property Services (EPS) for £38.5m. In 2010, Mitie acquired the integrated facilities management business of Dalkia in Ireland.
Mitie stands for Management Incentive Through Investment Equity, and the company's managers own a substantial minority stake in the business. Mitie's business model is based on taking 51% equity stakes in start-up businesses that fall into its broad fields of activity. The management of the new business invests the remaining capital and if certain targets are met they may sell the balance of the business to Mitie after a fixed period for a sum based on the profits achieved (an earn out). Payment is made in a mixture of cash and Mitie shares. The managers usually remain with Mitie after the earn out.
As a result of this business model Mitie has a large number of group businesses that have significant managerial autonomy but share internal systems, Human Resources and marketing resources.
The outfit is run by Ruby MacGregor-Smith and her Wikipedia entry tells us:-
Ruby McGregor-Smith, CBE, is the CEO of Mitie Group PLC, a strategic outsourcing company headquartered in Bristol, UK. She joined Mitie as Group Financial Director in 2002 and was appointed CEO in 2007. She is the only Asian female chief executive of a FTSE 250 company. She was awarded a CBE in 2012 for services to business and promoting diversity. Her ten years at Mitie have seen a £1.5bn rise in the firm’s turnover, which passed the £2bn mark for the first time in 2012.
Following university McGregor-Smith trained for six years as an accountant at BDO Stoy Hayward. After qualifying, she joined Serco Group PLC, an outsourcing firm, in 1991, and worked there for nine years in a range of operational and financial roles.
In 2002, after a brief spell at the facilities management firm Service Group International (SGI), McGregor-Smith joined Mitie Group PLC as Group Financial Director. In 2005 she was promoted to Group COO, and became CEO two years later when her predecessor Ian Stewart retired to take over the role of Deputy Chairman. As the first Asian female chief executive of a FTSE 250 company, the appointment received extensive press coverage.
McGregor-Smith’s tenure as CEO has seen Mitie’s top and bottom lines grow every year, boosted by strong demand for energy efficiency services. She was quick to identify energy management as a source of future growth: the 2009 acquisition Dalkia UK, a facilities management firm specialising in energy services, significantly boosted Mitie’s strength in this niche market. Internal initiatives at Mitie in which McGregor-Smith has personal involvement include ‘Mitie’s Got Talent’, a company-wide talent contest; and ‘Mitie Millions’, at which she and finance director Suzanne Baxter judge budding entrepreneurs with up to £5m to invest in the winners. The only non-executive directorship she holds is on the board of recruitment firm Michael Page.
A recent article entitled 'Fail and prosper : how privatisation really works' on the OpenDemocracy website dwells quite a bit on Ruby, Mitie and how they fit into the great privatisation scam, sorry plan:- 

Ruby earns more than maybe anybody you have ever met. She is not an Oscar-winning movie star. She hasn't won Wimbledon. Ruby McGregor-Smith is an accountant who runs a British company called Mitie (pronounced Mighty). She pays herself £1.4 million a year. Her Mitie shares, worth £2 million, bring another £60K in annual dividends. On the side, as a part-time director, she picks up £60K more. Last September she 'bought' more shares. They cost her absolutely nothing. She sold them straightaway, making £730,000 in a moment. And now, thanks to British taxpayers, Ruby is about to get richer.

On the eve of her 51st birthday last month, the Home Office gave her a gigantic contract: eight years' work, worth £180 million, running two immigration lock-ups in West London. Mitie got the job — holding 1000 men at Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Removal Centres — only three years after entering what Ruby calls the "market". What's Mitie's experience? They run buildings for Lloyds Bank, clean Odeon cinemas, print and distribute documents, and maintain school buildings under Private Finance Initiative contracts.

For almost three years they have run Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, near Oxford. It isn't going well. Last October one suicidal inmate set fire to his cell. The blaze spread quickly — there was no sprinkler system. Ten fire engines rushed to the scene; 180 people had to be evacuated. Seven years ago, after a similar fire in the same Campsfield block, Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Services strongly recommended sprinklers. It didn't happen. Mitie are experts in fire prevention. They tell potential clients: "our fire and security team can integrate fire prevention, detection, and suppression with your security equipment, including fire detectors, fire alarms, extinguishers, sprinkler systems . . ." Why didn't Mitie heed the Fire Service's warning and install sprinklers when they got the Campsfield contract? Phil Miller, a Corporate Watch researcher, asked Mitie. They wouldn't say.

How does this 'market' work? Less than three years' experience of guarding immigration detainees. One massive fire. And then a gigantic government contract to run two more detention centres. Why didn't the work go to a company more experienced than Mitie?

Ruby McGregor-Smith became chair of the CBI's Public Services Strategy Board last year, not long after she'd scooped that £730,000 windfall. “UK business plays a hugely important role in delivering many public services around the country," she said. And:

"It is crucial, at a time when private provision is under intense scrutiny, that we demonstrate the positive impact that the private sector can make in transforming services and generating value for taxpayers through greater competition."

Four years ago she was one of 35 business leaders invited to sign a letter in the Daily Telegraph, urging Chancellor George Osborne to cut public services. Reducing the budget deficit quickly, they claimed, would "deliver a healthier and more stable economy". They said: "everyone knows that when you have a debt problem, delaying the necessary action will make it worse not better." The BBC's Robert Peston noted: "there is a whole school of economists . . . who would describe that statement as laughable."

Austerity politics creates work for outsourcers regardless of whether they do things more efficiently than the public sector, or not. The PFI model that accountants have dreamed up keeps capital spending off the government's balance sheet, making the official budget deficit smaller. Pushing public money into private hands shrinks the state and weakens organised labour.

Ruby McGregor-Smith's £730,000 windfall is unlikely to be her last. On top of her £1.5 million-a-year, and assuming Mitie's share price keeps rising, this year she is due another mighty windfall. Next year, same again . .