Another damning HMIP report on Working Links
Union claims Probation services in Gloucestershire are in crisis
The leader of the largest trade union representing Probation staff in England and Wales today claimed that service provision in Gloucestershire, part of the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) owned by Aurelius/Working Links is in a state of chaos and represents a danger to public safety.
Ian Lawrence, General Secretary of Napo (the trade union for Probation and Family Court workers) said: “The release of yet another damning report from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Probation (HMIP), about inadequate service provision in Gloucestershire is further proof that our predictions prior to the privatisation of the probation service have proven to be correct. This must raise serious questions as to whether Aurelius/Working Links ought to be stripped of its contract and the supervision of its clients restored to public control.”
The HMIP report by Dame Glenys Stacey says that higher risk individuals within the management of the National Probation Service (NPS) were well served, but that the picture is altogether different for clients posing a medium and lower risk of harm in Gloucestershire who are managed by the Bristol, Gloucester, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company (BGSW CRC).
The inspectorates report highlights systemic failures in managing the risk of harm, applying measures to help offenders move away from crime, and inadequate delivery of Court sentences. The inspectorate also says that despite the ‘heroic’ efforts of staff, the service provided by the Aurelius/Working Links enterprise was nowhere near the standard expected.
The inspection looked at the quality of probation work carried out by the CRC and the NPS and assessed the effectiveness of work undertaken locally with people who have committed crimes. This was the second inspection of adult probation work under the control of a CRC owned by Working Links and the first covering the NPS South West & Central Division.
Ian Lawrence added: “This independent report is among the worst I have ever seen, but I am not all surprised. Napo and our sister unions have been in dispute for well over 18 months as we have tried desperately to get proper engagement with the employers who have refused to recognise the myriad problems that we have been raising and which have now been identified in the HMIP report. How this company has just been given another £4.5 million of taxpayer’s money is beyond belief.
Our members report the sheer exhaustion of trying to maintain an unsafe operational model which offers minimal face-to-face supervision of clients. There are also huge problems as a result of staff cuts of around 40%, resulting in high absence figures, massive caseloads and a damaging loss of morale. In short, our members are telling me that their employer is unfit for purpose.”
The union is calling for a full Parliamentary enquiry into the impact of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme implemented by former Secretary of State Chris Grayling in 2014, which allowed private companies to manage probation services.
From the report:-
We report here on our inspection of probation work in Gloucestershire.
According to published performance reports, the division of the National Probation Service (NPS) that includes Gloucestershire was not meeting all the targets, and on some measures results were lower than in other divisions. On the other hand, the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) was performing well compared with other CRCs. However, we found a more nuanced picture on the ground.
When we looked at the quality of work undertaken, we found that the NPS in Gloucestershire was performing reasonably well in many respects. The court team was providing a good service, and cases were then allocated correctly. NPS case assessments were thorough, and plans realistic. The public were protected from harm. Those under supervision were seen often enough, with any failure to attend dealt with appropriately. But in the majority of the cases we reviewed, NPS efforts to rehabilitate offenders often came to little or nothing, either because the offender disengaged or because, in those cases where specific interventions were planned to help the offender turn away from crime, the interventions were not actually delivered.
We did not find such a coherent picture at the CRC. At the time of the inspection, Working Links had not been able to implement its plan (as set out in the contract bid) that a single responsible officer would support the offender throughout. Instead, offenders were being transferred between workers for operational reasons, and also as a result of painful staff reductions. Yet desistance literature emphasises the value of strong, meaningful relationships; our 2016 desistance thematic inspection (for youth) found the same, and practitioners know this from experience and professional studies.
What is more, the operating model was not even working as it should. The proposed Community Hubs are so promising, but at the time of the inspection they had not been established. The interventions team that was to deliver rehabilitation activity requirement days was not fully functioning either. The Operational Hub was not managing the proportion of cases expected. Unpaid work was not being provided as it should.
Caseloads were plainly unreasonable. As we have come to expect in such situations, managers and staff were making heroic efforts, sickness absence levels were high, and the quality of work was poor overall because staff were over-burdened and not given the professional support expected. The quality of assessment and planning was mixed, but in any event, plans were not being followed through anywhere near well enough and some offenders were not being seen often enough. As a result, the public were more at risk than necessary, and offenders who could turn their lives around were being denied the chance to do so.
This is not as government intended, and I hope that remedial action is taken by Working Links and by government.
Dame Glenys Stacey
HM Chief Inspector of Probation