To be honest my recent sojourn got me mentally preparing a valedictory script as I've no stomach to preside over a long lingering blog death, but then I've been reminded of some unfinished business. I hope regular readers will recall that, although I've always sought to be supportive of my union, on occasion I've been somewhat forthright in offering criticism and what I thought was constructive advice. As far as I can tell it has had absolutely no effect and the existence of this blog has still never been officially and publicly acknowledged by the Napo high command.
Some things in life just beggar belief don't they, such as Sepp Blatter doing a fine impression of being King Canute, but managing to hold the tide of change back single-handed at FIFA, or should that be FEEFA? Some might be tempted to see certain similarities with Napo. On numerous occasions I have stated that the organisation and its leadership is completely dysfunctional, in the naive hope that this clearly obvious fact might resonate with someone in authority, with the result that something might happen. But no, it seems everyone at the top prefers to play dumb instead and pretend that things are just fine - maybe a tweak here or a tweak there, but nothing major needs to change.
Despite everything that's happened over the last few years; the shenanigans; the resignations; the rows; the failed campaigns; the incompetency; the unaccountability; the communication disaster, etc, etc, there's not been the slightest sign of the need for some considered insight; enquiry; analysis; post mortem; soul-searching; or serious internal review as to how to approach the future in a dramatically changed environment. Ok there has been a re-alignment of branch boundaries and a 'staffing review' as reported recently in Napo news:-
"At the time of my election as your General Secretary in 2013, I indicated that I wanted to be at the forefront of enabling Napo to adapt and change to the challenges ahead. Since then we have seen the restructuring to our branch network and the NEC, the creation of a new approach to the bargaining environment forced upon our NPS and CRC members and an improving partnership relationship between Napo and Cafcass senior management. We have done all this against the backdrop of a TR campaign.
Recently we have reviewed how we can best utilise our Full Time Officials and nationally elected Officers to ensure that we rebuild our engagement strategy with our members as well as their employers, and underpinning this are ongoing reviews of our finance systems, membership services portfolio, our communications strategies and our relationship with the excellent National Representatives Panel.
We have also now formally commenced a consultation process with your staff here at Chivalry Road (and the UNITE union) following the publication of Napo’s Staffing Review. This has produced a new operational template for the way in which we will try to deliver services to our members in the future. More details will follow once we have brought the NEC up to speed and answered the initial feedback from staff, but the key features include the creation of some development opportunities which will be open to our Administrator grade, no redundancies or detriment to pay and terms and conditions and a guaranteed role for each of your employees in the proposed new structure which will be based around three core functions of: representing members, professional support and campaigns, and Finance and services to members."
But this is just tinkering at the edges and hardly a thorough structural review of the organisation and how it works. The fact is it's fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. A good place to start is at the top and the role of Chair. There is an inherent conflict of interest by nature of the dual role as both employer and representative of the membership and it makes no logical sense. Over recent time there have been repeated demands from the membership for information, but the Chair is prevented from saying much due to legal obligations as de facto employer.
Obviously the NEC will be privy to much of the information, and are hopefully involved in key decision-making, but are similarly bound by the need for confidentiality. In a situation like this there is an absolute need for the Chair, and ideally the NEC, to be on top of their game and able to effectively line manage the paid staff in the form of the General Secretary.
Especially in an information vacuum, there must surely be complete confidence in the 'top table' by the membership, but increasingly I don't sense this. Worse, in everything I've ever seen about this set-up in Napo speaks of ineffective line management of the paid staff, resulting in the tail continually appearing to wag the dog. Splitting the Chair's role in half was simply a barking mad idea that has compounded matters and must surely have been seen as an absolute gift to a patently unsuitable General Secretary intent on resisting being managed.
It should be obvious to all that there is a serious disconnect between the ever-shrinking membership and those at the top, amply demonstrated by the matter of pay. Although I'm led to believe a pay increase for staff was rejected as being somewhat difficult to justify in the present circumstances, I wonder who thought it a wise move to simply 'divi up' the surplus in the staffing budget caused by recent leavers? At one time I'd have felt some qualms about bringing all this up in public, but it seems hints and subtleties are just lost on certain people and a slightly more forthright approach is required.
As far as I can see, all the chickens are starting to come home to roost. The money is running out and some drastic action is now required. Unfortunately the time for an in-depth enquiry has now passed and it's hard to see how disaster can be avoided without some heads rolling. The problems are mounting up with 'check-off' about to cease, causing an inevitable further drain in membership. The communication strategy is laughable with no emails from the co Chairs for months, the Napo forum is dead and buried and still nobody seems to have a clue how to use social media effectively.
Then there's the whole matter of professional issues. It could be argued that over recent time Napo has become more concerned with trade union matters than professional ones. Recruitment seems to have been geared towards people with trade union experience rather than professional knowledge and the 'top table' have become increasingly unbalanced in that regard. I've heard reports that at Officers and Officials meetings, professional items on the agenda are met with glazed looks, it being felt to be only relevant to the elected officers and a distraction for the officials.
Of course this was amply demonstrated during the TR campaign with the General Secretary insisting that he front all media appearances, despite his extremely limited professional knowledge becoming all-too-painfully obvious. Some would say Napo is now a professional association in name only and could quite easily lose the Probation Journal to the likes of the Probation Institute.
It was always going to be a tough call fighting TR and Napo's strength was never going to lie with industrial action, but rather in the power of effective argument, skillful campaigning and networking with senior figures in Parliament, the profession and wider community. Sadly Napo just wasn't geared up for the fight, had a completely dysfunctional management structure and arguably didn't have the right people for the job. To this day I understand the MoJ were astonished that there was no effective Judicial Review mounted and the blame for that lies squarely in my view with the General Secretary and the inability of the Chair to effectively manage him.
Like it or not, there is a head of steam building for change and Napo really would be wise to take serious note. All this from yesterday:-
No doubt whatever information and data are deduced from the survey will be of such a confidential nature its findings can't be shared with the membership. But don't worry! NAPO are doing a number of things, and badgering away at getting any issues uncovered by the survey, resolved. Unfortunately, NAPO cannot reveal to its membership the avenues of resolution it is taking. Clandestine don't you know?
If NAPOs efforts are successful, then they may enter into agreements with CRC owners and the MoJ. However, because of the confidential nature of those agreements, NAPO will not be able to inform its membership of what those agreements are. In the event that the CRC owners or MoJ do not keep to those agreements, NAPO will not be able to inform its membership either. However, rest assured that if this should occur, NAPO will take the strongest action it can. Unfortunately however, NAPO will not be able to disclose to its membership what form this action will take! I'm beginning to think that all NAPO exec meetings take place in room 101.
This satirical piece is all the better for the fact that it does not depend on anything surreal: it all rings true. And it's telling the leadership of Napo that the old script does not work anymore. The members are wiser, more cynical, less trusting, less deferential to the Napo establishment. I agree the shock may come when it comes time to set up direct debits for subscriptions. Will a membership that is generally apathetic, and financially depressed, be much inclined to signing off direct debits?
Mocking the union may not be helping anyone's ability to feel confident and get on with the business of supporting staff and representing members. What this leads to for now is who is doing what at Napo? What are their credentials for the tasks, who supervises, assesses and nurtures the energies in the right direction? Does the line management within the union have the right abilities and what are the job descriptions?
This whole situation makes you wonder exactly what we pay for in subscription? Is the money effectively spent or is it used to pay useless staff not really able to do a proper job? We are all under pressure to perform yet how are we confident what we fund is fit for its purpose in the climate we work today? This whole TR thing may well see NAPO as a union\professional body as the real casualty. Napo has to face up and the Chairs need to get a grip on the truth not what appears to be more collusion to stifle genuine member interest. That said, the delay will cost us our union because when the check off for subscriptions stops from employers there will be very few preparing for direct debit mandates given the current state of play. Come on Napo get a sense of urgency and come clean over everything. Integrity may well be something missing in many peoples opinions, but you can restore it through honesty.
NAPOs whole existence has until recently been a very comfortable one. It's never had to deal with major trade disputes and the issues it has had to get involved with are pretty small scale individual disputes, where rules regulations, accepted working practice and conditions are well defined and clear cut. Their opposition has always been a government department that have really presented no great opposition at all as everything is pretty clear cut as rules regulations and policy have defined the outcome.
They've been too comfortable in truth, because when the battle horn was blown, they didn't have a clue what to do. The reality is NAPO are out of their depth with TR and the new world of private enterprise. Having always served as 'the home guard' they're just not equipped to serve on 'the battle front'. Maybe with that in mind, the membership may seem to have been pretty hard on their union of late. But it's hard times for the membership, and they deserve a lot better from the union then they've been getting. If NAPO are out of their depth on this, they should step forward and say. They may even be surprised at what support may rally as a consequence.
The sad thing reading this is that all the above is true and that Napo will not grace us with a response. I do hope Napo sorts itself out but I think it is rotten at the core and there needs to be immediate changes at the top first which must also filter through into local arrangements - some local branches have rot too.
Instead Napo will tell us how well it's fighting for probation but cannot tell us what the methods or results are. How much we're benefiting from Napo decisions but cannot tell us what those decisions are. And that Napo members money is very well spent but cannot tell us what the actually costs involved are.
It's all very strange as usually when organisations use members money to pay themselves huge salaries, have few results, and shroud 'decisions' in secrecy, either people are sacked or arrested for corruption. What Napo will tell us is that "a union is as good as its members". The truth is that Napo has been losing active members for years because many of us see little that is inviting in Napo to be part of.
Once again, I do hope Napo respond to the membership and make immediate changes one way or another. The cynical person I am suspects Napo will do nothing and run itself further into the ground and merge or close when the money and property is gone.
I think a problem for many who attend branch meetings is that manager Napo members also attend. Managers do not seem to see the conflict of interest issue, or the inhibiting effect on member contributions. Apart from this I do support the notion that dissent re Napo staff should be put to branch meetings. You cannot expect Napo hierarchy to respond to anonymous comments here - some could be Sodexo in disguise, out to cause mischief.
We want a union that actually attempts to do things properly, not behave in a way that has generated all these questions. The void in the information is what drives posters concerns. The rubbish same phrase the GS espouses like you would want me to do and I am accountable to the NEC, doing their expectation and that old classic you professionals would require of me. All straight out of the Narcissist "how fool People and believe in your own Greatness" fools nobody anymore.
The trouble we're having is that even the branch execs don't have confidence in Napo at the moment and it is hard to motivate members to get involved.
Several staff in our area (myself included), were quite excited about the proposed £300 payment for those of us who haven't had increments for several years as we were on the top of our scale. We felt shafted when we discovered we hadn't been given a vote on accepting this and found Napo had kindly turned it down on our behalf. £300 May not seem a lot to Lawrence et al, but to those of us who haven't had an increment for years it would have paid for the car service! Thanks Ian for acting in my interest!
If I recall correctly though there was a vote on this pay offer. My area voted for the offer although I don't know when the vote took place as I had no opportunity to vote, despite asking our rep when there would be a vote. I can't remember the exact voting results nationwide but I did see an email/communication about it and I think it was Napo areas in the Midlands and Yorkshire that voted against the offer and that swung the balance for the offer to be rejected. So in this case Ian did represent members.
FOR 360 AGAINST 412 Representing what this turnout was hardly reliable and in my area a series of the worst office based meetings that really caught a few people at lunchtime. The problem is this sort of vote needs some real attention to modernisation and a reasonable ballot should be managed electronically surely? Either way NAPO may be a little too short-sighted to have ventured the appropriate investment. It will mean a defence based on data protection, but I don't think that it cannot be worked around.
It is a shame that we lost a pay deal as the voting appears to be hit and miss. It just shows you though the absurd situation we are in. Members have real disappointment in not being able to have a small treat as noted above. Car service is important it's no luxury these days but essential. A pair of shoes or a domestic appliance all important and whilst our members are working harder for less. It was reported on this blog on the 20th that the NAPO staff had been given extra monies which has to be agreed by the chairs. So how in touch are these people handing out more NAPO cash when staff ask for it yet no one seems to realise how insensitive this is to us, the bill paying membership. Sure, no problems when we are all doing well and pay rises with increments were the norm, but that is not how things are today.
If what we are reading is true about membership figures in decline, also the failure of the General secretary and his team to actually do anything that has helped our situation, I would think the NAPO office has less to do than ever before. So have they had a pay rise or more money in some way or not? I have seen the post on here from one of the Vice Chairs so any chance they come back and declare the position?
Yesterday's questions have been lost yet they raise the issues that most are concerned about. It is clear there is little confidence in the current General Secretary so what do we need to do to replace him? Napo is not MI5 or dealing with national security issues, it IS accountable to the membership who pay their salaries. Evil can only prosper while the majority stand by and watch - time for action ... anyone else agree?
To round off, I say this one more time. Napo is dysfunctional at the top and something has got to change, or the union is finished. But is there anyone listening? Or do those in charge really feel all these necessarily anonymous voices can be ignored for much longer?