Friday, 29 April 2016

That NAO Report Explained

Key findings

The performance of the reformed system


6 23% of service users note things have got worse, they are particularly upset with housing, employment and having to repeat themselves.

7 Data collection is inaccurate and difficult to gather making it difficult to see how successful this has been. There will be no re-offending data for at least 8 months.

8 Contracts are tightly controlled in the CRC but the CRC are kicking back. The NPS has not got a clue what it is contracted to do.

9 The two organisations have conflicting objectives and are bickering with each other and pointing fingers.

10 NPS are over worked now, CRC will be once they have laid off enough staff to make a profit.

11 IT systems are a joke, inefficient, late and not fit for the job.

12 Phew. Some how the wheels did not come off. Lets give 'em a gong. There is a lot of rubbish we kicked into the long grass and the bidders did not have a clue what they were buying. Lets hope we have bought enough time. Fingers crossed.

13 We got our split numbers wrong meaning that the CRC's have not got enough work to make a profit from. If one of them gives the contract back WE ARE FUCKED.

14 Payment by Results. See the bit about long grass at 12. Also Innovation...we were joking. Lets put some guff in here about fees for service "Incentivise" is that a word? Who cares the policy wonks like it.

15 The NPS - too many cases, managers drowning, systems in flux, lots of inconsistent policies inherited. We have a change programme, somewhere over there in the field.

16 Through the gate...Well on track..Sorry cannot keep this up, it's a mess. We have a thing called "Through the Gate" in the prisons but what it is, how it works and when it will make a difference, who knows.

17 Voluntary sector. Well, come on, that was just bid candy. Sadly they all seemed to see that we had just put lipstick on the pig and they laughed and left. Never mind, the boss was able to stand up and talk about it and in any event we were always going to sell it off to the French and the yanks Brexit anyone?

18 Well, we got away with it so far. It did not fall completely to bits. Lets give the credit to the staff at NOMS, not the idiots with vocations who kept the show on the road while we shafted them all (Sorry people, but this is me and I do have a reputation to uphold PC)

19 But you know we are not out of the woods and it will just take something we have buried to start to smell and we are fucked.


Recommendations

a You know the problems with this are exacerbated by the fact that it was rushed and done half arsed to a stupid timetable. But hey we got away with it. Please take more care from now on. (Key point with any report is that the most difficult to understand sentence is the one where they are trying to cover up something).

b Ask the CRCs what they need in order to stay the course. If they leave WE ARE FUCKED

c GIVE THE CRCs MORE MONEY

d Reform the NPS and for gods sake sort their IT and back office.

e The best way to ensure CRC buy-in is to give them more money and less oversight. Cannot see a problem with this, it worked so well with the SERCO tagging contract.

f Try and count things monthly. If we are constantly updating our numbers, then we appear to be doing more work.

g When giving more money to the CRCs (see c above) say it's for innovation.

That is what I got from that document. They have managed to write up "We avoided total disaster" as this is a great success. Its like Dunkirk, we get 300k soldiers off the beach but not a single gun, no tanks and no artillery. The Germans ran us into the sea in six weeks and knocked out our major European Ally. But when you read the reports its all plucky little boats and British grit and stiff upper lip. Be ready though from now on this will be used to counter any suggestion that anything is less than rosy.

(Thanks to 'Pina Colada')

--oo00oo--

Rob Allen had this to say:-

The Invisible Transformation

Back in January 2013, then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was admirably clear about what he expected his “revolution in the way we manage offenders to achieve”. "My vision is very simple", he wrote . "When someone leaves prison, I want them already to have a mentor in place. I want them to be met at the prison gate, to have a place to live sorted out, to have a package of support set up, be it training or drug treatment or an employability course. I also want them to have someone they can turn to as a wise friend as they turn their lives around”. The private Community Rehabilitation Companies which were contracted to provide 70% of probation work were supposed to implement this simple vision.

Three and a half years on, the National Audit Office today reported on how Transforming Rehabilitation has been going. It includes this gobbledygook.

“Through the Gate’ resettlement services began on 1 May 2015; there have, however, been some initial problems associated with the ambitious delivery timescales. For example, some providers encountered challenges in accessing prisons and mobilising their resettlement suppliers. NOMS’ assurance checks found that providers initially focused too much on whether offenders complete the process, which is one of the CRC service levels, rather than the quality of their resettlement plans. NOMS has worked with CRCs to clarify what more they must do for offenders beyond simply completing an offender’s resettlement plans within a five-day period (20 of the 21 CRCs were meeting this target in December 2015) and signposting them to services”.

If you have trouble understanding what that means, you can find an illustration in the Prison Inspectorate’s report on HMP Lewes published earlier this week. They reported that 30% of prisoners were released homeless.Their survey of prisoners (carried out at the end of last year) found that a much lower proportion knew anyone in the prison who could help them on release than in 2012- whether with problems relating to accommodation, employment, finance, education or drugs.Somehow however the Inspectors reached the conclusion that “CRC arrangements had developed well”.

In similar vein the NAO flies in the face of their evidence by highlighting the successful restructuring of the probation landscape “within ministerial timescales and without major disruption to services”. The report makes much of the fact that more than three-quarters (77%) of service users said they had not noticed any change in the overall service they personally received. In fact more felt that the overall level of support and help with housing and accommodation had got worse rather than better.

But isn’t it a strange revolution when most of the people its designed to influence don’t notice any difference?

--oo00oo--

This is Richard Garside's take on things:-

Probation reforms looking dicey

A couple of years ago I argued that the privatisation of the probation service – the so-called 'Transforming Rehabilitation' programme – would be something of a slow motion disaster. Ministers might push through their ill-thought-out plans, I wrote. The problems would come in the implementation.

A report out this week from the National Audit Office (NAO) notes that the Ministry of Justice 'successfully restructured the probation landscape and avoided major disruptions in service'. But it goes on to add that 'this is only the beginning' and stresses that the the Ministry of Justice needs to 'stabilise and improve' how the new system is operating.

The most striking finding in the report is the yawning gap between the estimated caseload volumes the new private 'Community Rehabilitation Companies' (CRC) used to cost up their bids, and the actual caseload volumes they are currently working with.

Among the 21 CRCs, four have caseloads one tenth lower than their estimates; eight have caseloads a fifth lower. A further three are falling short by a quarter and five have a shortful of a third.

The CRCs are paid according to the number of cases they manage. Fewer cases therefore means less money.

This may be something the CRCs can manage in the short-term. Over the lifetime of their contracts these shortfalls could place them under significant financial pressure.

As the NAO report points out: 'CRCs had proposed to raise significant levels of external debt to fund transformation activity and bridge their financial position during the first two years of their contracts. Lower than expected revenues increase the risk that CRCs may breach the terms of their debt facilities'.

This is polite auditor speak for 'looks a bit dicey to us'.

There is little glory in claiming success over the implementation of a badly thought-through set of reforms, and the Transforming Rehabilitation programme was particularly badly thought-through.

Ministers and civil servants would do well to place a premium on stabilising the current system in the short-term. It is also to be hoped that the NAO report will act as a spur for a longer-term rethink.

--oo00oo--

Sadly my car giving out on the Motorway prevented me getting to Paul Senior's valedictory lecture yesterday. Would anyone who attended be kind enough to consider writing a guest blog piece? Alternatively, leave some thoughts/reflections here? Thanks. 

Latest From Napo 103

No doubt as a result of numerous things going on, the Napo General Secretary's blog was published a day early this week and contains some important information:-

NAO report reflects reality

Today’s publication of the National Audit Office Report into Transforming Rehabilitation https://www.nao.org.uk/report/transforming-rehabilitation/ has mirrored everything that our members have been saying about life post-TR.

We will be studying this carefully in terms of how we engage with Michael Gove on a range of issues and we have already served notice that we would welcome an invitation to appear before the Public Accounts Committee scheduled for July.

The essence of the report is that there are now a number of clearly identifiable areas, where the NAO agree with Napo’s analysis, that need serious attention from Ministers and NOMS. These include: service delivery and performance data, staff well-being, ICT and workloads.

It was also interesting to note that two CRC providers have been pulled up by the MOJ contact compliance team and been handed down some £78k in fines (service credits). Somehow I don’t think they will be the last.

We will issue more news once we have had a good look at what the NAO have said, but meanwhile I would welcome any observations that you may have about their findings especially in advance of our meeting with the Secretary of State later next month.

VLO and AP Job Evaluation – Important clarification

I have issued the following self-explanatory Branch Briefing today.

It has come to Napo’s attention today that many members are expressing confusion about the appeals process due to some erroneous communications that are circulating (these were not seen or issued by Napo). In light of this we feel that we need to clarify exactly what is happening and where we are in this process.

At the moment the NOMS unions are involved in a brief and specific consultation with the employers about the process we should use to help individuals move forward with appeals following the above Job Evaluations. This consultation is NOT the appeal process itself, but a discussion as part of the wider E3 negotiations, about how to moderate the system following Napo and the probation unions having secured a halt to the appeals system after the unsatisfactory outcomes from these and other Job Evaluations.

Do not submit an Appeal!

The deadline of the 10th May which appears in these communications is the date by which the Unions have been asked to respond collectively to the employers about this consultation. No individual appeal process has started, and Napo members are not required to lodge individual appeals.

Napo are working to ensure that the views of our VLO and AP members are incorporated into the response, and we are currently seeking 3 Napo volunteers from each group to work closely with us to ensure that all of the issues helpfully raised by members are properly covered and incorporated into our response to NOMS.

Please be reassured that you do not need to take any action at this point unless you have been specifically approached by Ian Lawrence or Katie Lomas.

This situation is not of Napo’s making but we felt it important to issue this clarification.

Napo tells the TUC - this ‘deal’ is just unacceptable!

The heat has been turned up a few degrees in the ‘in or out’ Euro referendum debate following the joint article by former TUC Chief Brendan Barber and David Cameron in yesterday’s Guardian. This promoted the cause of the ‘remain’ camp and among other things proffered a view on how the rights of working people would be better served by staying in the EU.

Napo has adopted a neutral position on Europe absent any debate by our members - although staying in is actually TUC policy. Nevertheless, an alliance of this nature was always going to create controversy and the situation has become more complicated following extremely well informed speculation that it was part of a ‘Faustian’ like deal which has led to some late concessions on the wretched Trade Union Bill, this now being the subject of ‘ping pong’ between the Lords and Commons.

Two issues here for me. One being the legitimacy of engaging with the leader of a government whose policies have created such societal division and even if that could be at all justified as the basis for concessions on the TU bill, it hardly presents as the greatest bit of backroom negotiation since what is supposedly on offer in return for the obvious leg up for ‘remain’ falls woefully short of being anywhere near acceptable.

Here’s what we have said to Frances O’Grady following views expressed by the FBU

Frances O’Grady, 

General Secretary TUC
Congress House
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3LS

28 April 2016

Dear Frances,

Guardian Article and the EU debate

I am writing to you with regards to the letter that Matt Wrack sent to you yesterday. Napo would like to join the FBU in expressing our concerns about the Guardian article and to have those concerns formally placed on record. Napo is not mandated either way in the EU referendum but we feel it is deeply inappropriate for Brendan Barber to use his previous position as TUC General Secretary to promote an alliance with David Cameron's 'Remain' campaign.

At a time when the media are already speculating that a "deal" has been done with the Trade Unions in order to secure so called concessions to the Trade Union Bill, this publicity, in our view, damages our campaign. No real concessions have been made to the Bill which is still currently being debated, and those which have been signalled as possibilities, are of little help to Napo who have incurred substantial expenditure to prepare for our current Direct Debit switch campaign as a result of the cessation of 'checkoff'. Aligning ourselves with a Conservative driven 'Remain' campaign undermines further the work that affiliates are doing to stop the Bill and to the wider fight to protect the rights of working people.

The implication in the Guardian article to the effect that the TUC supports Cameron's EU campaign as a 'quid pro quo' for some minor concessions, implies that the movement supports their continuing systemic assault on workers and trade union rights. Napo urges the TUC to publically distance itself from this article and the views expressed by Brendan as a matter of urgency and to reinforce the view that trade unions have not "done a deal" nor will we with this Conservative government.

As always I am happy to discuss the situation at your convenience
Yours sincerely,

IAN LAWRENCE
General Secretary

Thursday, 28 April 2016

NAO : Problems with TR

Every now and then regular readers are irritated by bald statements on this blog saying things to the effect 'TR is a success' . I normally delete them. Well, here we have the key findings of today's National Audit Office report and despite some brave attempts at positive spin, I think it's pretty clear as to how TR is doing:-

Key findings 

The performance of the reformed system 

6 Services have been sustained throughout a period of major change, with users reporting that services had stayed the same or improved since the reforms. Based on survey data from service users across four CRCs, overall 77% of service users considered they had not noticed any change in the overall service they personally received. However, users also provided views on specific services they received. User dissatisfaction was highest in obtaining help with housing; having to repeat information to different people; the level of support that supervisors provided to offenders; and help with finding employment. Such aspects are in part influenced by wider factors outside the control of probation bodies (paragraphs 3.14 to 3.18). 

7 The performance of CRCs and the NPS remains unclear given limitations around data quality and availability. Until data on reoffending are compiled in late 2017, data on performance are limited to information on service levels for the completion of probation activities. The Ministry allowed eight months until September 2015 before performance of CRCs would be open to contractual penalties.
  • As at December 2015, NOMS has no data for three of 24 CRC service levels and assurance metrics, and insufficiently robust data in another two. Nationally, CRC performance is at or above target levels in seven of the remaining 19 measures, including positive completion of court orders, seen by the Ministry as a leading indicator for future reoffending. However, performance varies significantly across CRCs and the contracts require that CRCs achieve all targets by February 2017. NOMS is currently only applying service credits for poor performance against one level, due to data availability and quality for others. To date some £78,000 in service credits have been applied, at two CRCs. 
  • The NPS has similar issues including currently no data for five of 25 NPS service levels and insufficiently robust data in another two. Performance is at or above targets in seven of the remaining 18 measures. However service level agreements require that NPS achieves all targets by April 2017. In the important measure of positive completion of court orders, NPS performance is lower than the equivalent performance by CRCs (70% versus 80% in December 2015) (paragraphs 2.2 to 2.8). 
8 NOMS has established robust and thorough contract management and assurance arrangements but has no plan for moving to a more risk-based approach as delivery under the contracts matures. NOMS has applied lessons from previous failures and has invested heavily in robust CRC contract management, which accounts for 2.1% of contract spend. However, many staff in CRCs were concerned about the extent and trajectory of contract management and operational assurance activity. NPS has much more limited contract management capability, albeit for much lower-value contracts. It is currently trying to identify all the contracts it holds, establish precisely what goods and services it is paying for and revise its approach to commercial activity (paragraphs 2.9 to 2.19). 

Meeting current operational challenges 

9 The reforms have established new organisations with different incentives, creating unsurprising frictions between CRC and NPS staff at working level, which will take time to work through. Close cooperation is essential to handle the transfer of offenders between CRCs and the NPS when their risks change or when they breach the terms of their probation. Many junior staff we spoke to in CRCs considered their NPS contacts were often unduly critical and dismissive, while many junior staff in the NPS thought that their CRC contacts were often not providing them with necessary information and had become too focused on their commercial interests as opposed to the best interests of offenders. We saw efforts by local CRC and NPS managers to address such differences and build trust, but at this early stage the organisations have more to do to ensure that they work together more effectively to improve case management (paragraphs 3.1 to 3.4).

10 Concerns over probation workloads are not new, although staff in both the CRCs and the NPS considered that high workloads have reduced the supervision and training that they receive and the service they provide. CRCs are reducing their workforce in advance of transformation while the NPS is increasing staff. There is no single ‘right’ number for workload, which depends on case risk and complexity. In the four CRCs we visited, only three provided individual caseload data and these were presented as an average, which masks any variation within and across CRCs. While the average caseload was between 34 and 42 cases, we met staff handling significantly higher caseloads, which they considered prevented them providing an adequate service. The NPS has been operating above recommended capacity in two of its seven regions, although ongoing recruitment of some 650 trainee probation officers should help address shortfalls in the medium term (paragraphs 3.8 and 3.9). 

11 The various ICT systems used in probation casework create severe inefficiencies. New tools used by the NPS for assessing and allocating offenders are cumbersome and require repeated data re-entry. Staff also attributed several hours per person per week of lost working time to nDelius, the main probation case management system adopted before the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. The NPS expects to continue using these systems for the foreseeable future. All CRCs planned to replace existing ICT systems once they could develop new case management and assessment systems, but NOMS was delayed in developing and implementing the interface (the Gateway) required for CRCs to share data on offenders. The interface was originally planned for delivery in June 2015, but was delayed due to other priorities and increased scope. At the time of finalising this report the Ministry advised us that the Gateway had been developed and was awaiting joint testing with CRCs’ systems. As CRCs consider such links as essential to their transformation plans they have estimated consequent costs, which are subject to ongoing negotiations (paragraphs 3.10 to 3.13). 

Ensuring that transformation is achieved 

12 The Ministry did well to sustain competition and conclude deals for all 21 CRCs within the cost limits and timescales set by ministers, but the procurement has left some difficult issues to manage. The Ministry attracted interest from many providers new to probation and as a result secured affordable bids for an expanded range of services at all 21 CRCs by February 2015. Selected bidders offered cost savings sufficient to fund the expansion of supervision to short sentence offenders, and to fund an estimated £259 million of success payments over ten years for reducing offending. Offers were received from a total of 19 bidders, down from 30 originally invited to negotiate, as the Ministry maintained its position on key contract terms. This reduction in bidders resulted in only one compliant bid for five of the 21 CRCs, although these all met the qualitative and financial thresholds required by the department. Completing the procurement in a challenging timetable, combined with uncertainties arising from the concurrent changes in the probation system, limited bidders’ understanding of their exposure to business risk (paragraphs 1.5 to 1.10).

13 CRC business volumes are much lower than the Ministry modelled during the procurement, which, if translated into reduced income, would affect the ability of CRCs to transform their businesses. The volume reductions vary greatly, from 6% to 36%. The Ministry attributes the volume reductions to fewer cases going through the justice system, including fewer than expected low- and medium-risk cases for CRCs, and the declining use of certain sentences, which was accentuated by new deadlines for allocating cases. Income shortfalls, which are under commercial negotiation, would affect CRCs’ capacity to bring in new ways of rehabilitating offenders, introduce new ICT systems, implement estates strategies and reform corporate support services. They also increase the risk of underperformance or default. The Ministry has contractual powers to help it mitigate some of these risks, although having to replace a failing provider would be challenging and disruptive. Its insights into CRC finances and funding challenges are still developing (paragraphs 4.1 to 4.10). 

14 CRCs are paid primarily for completing specified activities with offenders rather than for reducing reoffending, which also risks hindering innovative practice. This was a realistic choice, reflecting the limited appetite of providers to accept a higher element of payment by results. But given the limited weight of payment by results, it is critical that these fees for activities (‘fees for service’) better incentivise CRCs to adopt innovative approaches to reduce reoffending, and not just established practice (paragraphs 1.14 to 1.19). 

15 The NPS has higher than predicted caseloads and faces a difficult further period of change if it is to play a fully effective role in the transformed and national probation service. Its front-line managers face increasing pressure, including dealing with higher than expected workloads, now of high-risk offenders, while assimilating a heavy influx of trainees, who will take time to become fully effective professionals. At the same time, probation managers are acquiring new responsibilities for managing support services, such as human resources and office management; a key source of dissatisfaction among staff we interviewed. The NPS’s new change programme, announced in November 2015, is attempting to tackle regional variations in probation practices but has not focused specifically on support services (paragraphs 3.6 and 3.7). 

16 Arrangements to resettle offenders ‘Through the Gate’ are still in their early stages. CRCs delivering resettlement services in prisons have been focused on commencing services and meeting contractual measures based on completing processes, rather than on service quality, which we understand varies significantly across prisons. To date, it is unclear what new processes CRCs will introduce into resettlement services and the impact these will have on providers’ overall payment by results (paragraphs 4.15 and 4.16).

17 The Ministry has more work to do to sustain the supply chain of mainly voluntary sector bodies now working to CRCs and the NPS. Although the Ministry put extensive effort into attracting voluntary sector bidders, these largely lost out to private sector contractors when bidding to lead CRCs, due to their more limited resources and appetite for risk. The voluntary bodies still have a major role as suppliers to CRCs, although recent surveys of the sector indicate increased uncertainty and instability in funding of their work with offenders. Similarly, the Ministry has identified gaps in provision, which it and CRCs will need to address (paragraph 4.11). 

Conclusion on value for money 

18 The Ministry has successfully restructured the probation landscape, avoiding major disruptions in service during a difficult transition period. But this is only the beginning. If the Ministry is to stabilise, and improve, the performance of CRCs and the NPS it needs to continue to address operational problems, such as underlying capacity issues, weaknesses in ICT systems and performance data, and improve working relationships between NPS and CRC staff – some of which are unsurprising given the scale of reforms. 

19 Ultimately, the success of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms will depend on the extent to which they create the conditions and incentives to reduce reoffending. While NOMS’ oversight of CRCs is robust, significantly lower levels of business than the Ministry projected will affect some CRCs’ ability to deliver the level of innovation they proposed in their bids. Furthermore, the NPS is not yet operating as a truly national, sustainable service. Achieving value for money from the new probation system will require resolving these fundamental issues, and ensuring the right incentives for all participants in the system. 

Recommendation to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority 

a The Authority should ensure that its guidance to departments outsourcing complex transformed services considers how to mitigate or reduce risk and uncertainty from concurrent changes, including through different phasing. High uncertainty over future business can reduce competition during procurement and cause later problems. Key issues affecting Transforming Rehabilitation during and since procurement are due to outsourcing immature CRC businesses within a changing new probation system.

Recommendations to the Ministry of Justice 

Sustaining the new market 

b NOMS should combine its ongoing analysis of the CRC supply chain with feedback from voluntary organisations to identify and address gaps in provision in consultation with CRCs. 

Achieving business transformation 

c NOMS needs deeper understanding of the financial and service viability of CRCs. It should focus its analysis on CRCs’ financial capacity to sustain their full transformation and service delivery plans. 

d The NPS should expand its change programme. The programme should be expanded to include corporate support services and establish an operational assurance function to assess the quality of work and regional compliance with the new ways of working. 
  • NPS risks being left behind by CRCs’ investment in new offender management systems; it needs to replace its own unfit and inefficient systems, learning from CRCs’ progress in making replacements. 
Contract management 

e NOMS should map out the trajectory of its investment in contract management and how that will impact its CRC contract assurance functions. NOMS should also give CRCs a stronger incentive to improve the rigour of their own performance and reporting systems by offering reduced contract management oversight to proven robust systems. 
  • The management of NPS’s CRC contracts should be delivered by the existing teams in NOMS who already manage CRCs. 
Managing and incentivising performance 

f The Ministry should, as a matter of urgency, ensure data are available to support the contract and performance management of CRCs and the NPS. Performance against all service levels should be based on at least monthly data. 

g The Ministry should regularly review the composition of the fee for services to ensure that it incorporates and incentivises innovative approaches to reducing reoffending.

Time to Reflect

On the day that probation stalwart Professor Paul Senior gives his *valedictory lecture before retirement, it seems appropriate to highlight the following blog post published recently on the Probation Institute website, together with just two contributions from yesterday's debate that particularly struck me:-  

Reluctantly retired member speaks out against the new world of the CRC

Handing my resignation letter to the CEO was a strange experience: a mixture of heartfelt regret with an eagerness to simply get out from my CRC. In the weeks leading up to this, a couple of my friends were worried I’d made a big mistake and were asking questions….

“Why would you do such a thing? You haven’t been made redundant, you haven’t taken a payoff and you even made it through the restructure – so why would you resign?”.
“You mean you’ve quit your job and you’ve taken a lower paid job somewhere else…. are you mad?”
These were all good questions to ask and, to be honest, they were the kind of difficult questions only a true friend would have the courage to ask. So here’s a few thoughts on why I threw in my probation career.

What works
Perhaps like many other colleagues in the Criminal Justice System, I remember my early years in Probation during the 1990s; I grew and matured on the What Works philosophy. This really made an indelible impression on me and it made so much sense i.e. you do what is proven to work and in the right way. Nowadays that all seems to be forgotten, evidence-based practice seems less important and the spectre of privatisation has wrecked the Probation Service. Despite this, you may wonder why I would leave. After all, with over twenty years service paying into the LGPS and of early retirement age, you’d think I ought to stay a while longer….

Let’s go back in time, to those 1990s and What Works. Comparisons were made with the medical profession in providing treatments and medications in the right dose, according to what is needed to treat a person’s condition. During those years staff room conversations were all about evidence based practice, programme integrity, change control and the like. Home grown group work programmes were replaced by Accredited programmes, underpinned by research to prove their effectiveness. Considerable skills were demanded in making sure the right people attended the right programmes and this was informed and supported by the right OGRS scores. Hazel Kemshall’s diagrams were on notice boards, loads of colleagues enthusiastically attended Maguire & Priestly based training and this whole movement shaped Probation practice in those days and well into the new century. Sure, it wasn’t perfect but everyone agreed the principle made complete sense.

While the What Works strictness and rigour were occasionally seen as restrictive and ruled out a certain professional judgement, there was a compelling case for the approach. Arguably it was simply a case of using the What Works principles and applying it in a common sense approach, recognising this may need a little time to work through the system and the very individual culture of Probation. What Works went further into other areas of Probation practice and even saw the rise of regional What Works Managers at lofty ACO salary levels. It all seemed to make sense and some great work was done.

Sure, the What Works mindset has evolved; we have a greater emphasis on professional judgement, a less automated sentence plan and a sense of on-going commitment to many of the What Works principles. A classic example could be Integrated Offender Management. While IOM may allow some greater flexibility from case to case, it is supported by the principle of aligning intensive resources with those who commit a disproportionate number of offences and have a higher level of need.

Roll forward to 2016 and we see the new Transforming Rehabilitation agenda bedding in and the true horrors becoming apparent. You wonder if the whole world has gone crazy. The What Works research has largely flown out of the window and replaced by something else. This “something else” is little more than an eloquently worded fag packet design, or possibly of the “back of used envelop” variety. CRCs have been established and sold off to owners who, in my experience, persuaded the Ministry of Justice to let contracts whereby all kinds of unproven work would be carried out right across England and Wales. Naturally it was Chris Grayling, former Justice Secretary who was driving the change and, it seemed, civil servants had been sucked into this new mindset and were tasked with the job of rushing the reforms through. I remember seeing how each of the civil servants I knew, one by one, were outwardly brainwashed into obediently doing their own part to see the TR plans take shape. 

New owners
I was utterly dismayed at how convincing the new owners thought they were. Frequently the new owners reminded us that many of their high level folk had grown up in Probation and apparently “seen the light”. Did that make it all okay then? Absolutely not.

It was frightening how flimsy plans and ideas were foisted onto my CRC and we were simply told to “get on with it” and implement the new working model. Office moves were planned and filled with delays and snags, IT delays were always predictable and gradually the new owners were changing from their initial introductory words of “light touch management” through to having complete control of the CRC. You might question the point in having a CEO at all. In fact I remember having a good measure of sympathy for the CEO (who was a very decent colleague) and yet gradually having any power or authority down graded to the point of becoming a figurehead only.

Change within? Nah….
I remember thinking amidst all the madness, whether I should dig my heels in and become a thorn in the side of the TR changes. My modus operandi was to be a persuader, not a dissident or an outright rebel. I tried to question things, to point the new owners to What Works, the merits of pilots and controlled reform. I even remember when the Right Honourable Kenneth Clarke MP was Justice Secretary and his approach. Clarke knew reforms were necessary and there were few who would disagree. The Clarke approach was to try a few new ideas out i.e. pilot projects. While some aspects of the Payment by Results approach may have been dubious, there was at least an opportunity to start trying a few ideas out. Alas all of that was swept aside as a result of the Ministry of Justice – v – No 10 tensions, where Clarke lost out in a reshuffle and Grayling was shuffled in.

Changing direction did not seem to be much of a goer. Many colleagues escaped through a lucrative EVR settlement and others through subsequent redundancies and resignations. The new owners had a firm grip of my CRC and the initial “light touch” was replaced by a wholesale reorganisation which, in my view, could only result in disaster. Even the Ministry of Justice’s contract management staff could see the results of the changes going badly wrong and one can only hope they have the balls to recommend the contract is revoked and the CRC brought back into public hands for some rehabilitation.

And so that’s why I left. Nowadays I question whether I have been unfaithful to those years in Probation which started as a calling, a vocation. I question whether it was right to abandon many colleagues who remain and who are dismayed at the effect of TR. Yet, I know I must move on, albeit with a heavy heart and no pay-off.


--oo00oo--

....but you have missed the 'old days' when we did have fun, and laughed with each other at work and had frequent team nights out, knocking back the beer, the odd vintage wine and even pina coladas.... Now the ramshackle workplaces are so soulless, with people desperately trying to keep up the workload of so many other staff who have left, (in the mad world of deafening office noise, or no office at all). They have no time or energy to have decent pressie collections, and great leaving do's, as every time someone leaves, that's someone else's case load rising.

*******
We all need to conserve as much energy as possible to survive the tremendous changes happening in the Probation world. I work for a CRC and feel as if the whole organisation is perched on the edge of a cliff - the operating model is due to be published and the tension is palpable. Having worked through so many changes in 20 years in Probation, this is definitely going to be the most far-reaching in terms of changes in organisational culture and identity. Staff are worried, nervous, anxious, angry, complacent and in denial. Turning up for work on a Monday morning and surviving the working week from one weekend to the next is an important goal for survival. Maybe things will turn out better than anticipated. Who knows? At least we have a job which pays the mortgage and feeds our children.


--oo00oo--

*This valedictory lecture will explore the future(s) of probation seeking to adjust to the new criminal justice landscape of austerity, plurality in delivery and the consequential loss of direction and purpose for many probation practitioners and managers. This will be Professor Senior's last contribution as a member of Sheffield Hallam University as he will retire from the university after 34 years at this lecture. The lecture will launch a special issue of the British Journal of Community Justice, his last as editor, which will include contributions from leading probation thinkers in the field who will reflect on the future for probation. This will be an important volume and will be available and launched at the lecture. Professor Senior has always been a trenchant defender of probation as an institution and continues to argue for the maintenance of probation as a profession. The lecture will challenge our thinking and will be delivered in a characteristic robust and entertaining manner.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Support For Junior Doctors

I suppose like many of us, I've been mightily impressed with the Junior Doctors campaign and in particular the sheer number of them prepared to be interviewed live on TV and radio. They have more than held their own against some tough questioning and it's understandable to make comparisons between their current battle and our failed one over TR. 

There are some very similar themes, particularly in the government deliberately clouding the issue with the endless repetition of the '7 day NHS' mantra and now trying to say it's all about a pay claim - all aimed at trying to break public sympathy for their cause. I notice a new twist is that the doctors 'are trying to bring down the government' and defy an election pledge for a '7 day NHS'. The latter was in fact just one line in the Tory manifesto, with no explanation.

I heard someone yesterday making the comparison between the junior doctors strike with that of the miners, but the difference 'being we've all met a doctor'. It's a good point and the public are still clearly behind the doctors because, lets be honest, who'd trust a politician in comparison, but just like our problem with the government, I suspect most people don't understand the underlying issues, which suits the government just fine of course. So, with this in mind, I was interested to find the following on Facebook which I feel explains things perfectly. 

--oo00oo--      

I have kept quiet on here until now about the junior doctor's strike but the time has come to stand up and say what needs to be said. Apologies in advance for the long essay, I will try to keep it simple. This is aimed at those of you who are not medical; those who are will know exactly what I am talking about.

If you simply believe what is said in the media, you might think that this is all about Saturday pay or even that junior doctors don't want to work at nights or weekends. It is depressing to overhear people express these views but hardly surprising given the public coverage of the issue.

So what exactly is going on? A junior doctor is any doctor who is not a GP or consultant who is in training to be one of those two. Most doctors spend 8-9 years as a junior but many stay as juniors for longer, especially female doctors who may take time out for families, academics who take time out to do research and doctors in specialities where training in two specialities is needed such as paediatric intensive care. I myself spent 14 years as a junior doctor so was still one aged 37. Junior doctors are the doctors you will see first when you go to A&E or get admitted to a ward and will be responsible for delivering your day to day care when you are in hospital. Junior doctors are covering the hospital 24/7, 365 days a year and always have done. And contrary to what you might believe from the papers, they don't have any choice in the matter, their contracts say they have no choice in working evenings, nights and weekends.

So what is all the fuss about? Well it is about being able to be safe. When I was a JD, I used to work ridiculous hours. In one job in my 1st year, every 3rd weekend I would go to work at 9am on a Saturday and leave at 5pm on a Tuesday. That was 80 hours in a row with sleep grabbed when the chances arose. It was dangerous and dehumanising and the even crazier thing was that I was actually paid at a lower rate for the unsocial hours than basic pay (1/3 of basic in fact).

Fortunately my generation of juniors was amongst the last to have to do that and things slowly changed. Now junior doctors get paid at a higher rate than basic for unsocial hours, that rate determined by the intensity of work in that speciality e.g. emergency room work would be a higher rate than dermatology. Standard hours are defined as 7am-7pm Monday to Friday (which are not exactly standard working hours for most people) and there are rules on the maximum number of hours per week and consecutive hours that can be worked. There are also safeguards in place so that if employers are consistently making juniors work beyond these rules, they can be fined; hence there is a disincentive for employers to overwork junior doctors, therefore they are not tired and dangerous 1990-style.

But work done outside standard hours is NOT overtime. These hours are contracted hours and have to be worked and, quite rightly, are paid at a higher rate than basic pay. In specialities where there is not a lot of emergency work, the majority of work is in routine hours, but areas like A&E, paediatrics, intensive care have a lot of work done in unsocial hours and attract a higher rate of pay for those hours. I stress again that this is not overtime; overtime is work done in addition to contracted hours. All doctors and nurses do overtime - staying late to complete work and ensure patient safety and very rarely if ever does anyone claim for these overtime hours.

But Jeremy Hunt wants to change the contract for junior doctors, his logic being that doing this will help to deliver the “7-day NHS”. Nobody is really sure what exactly this means. It may mean that he wants routine services such as outpatient clinics and planned surgery or scans for non-urgent problems to take place on Saturdays and Sundays, not just Monday to Friday. If this is the case then changing the juniors’ contract is not going to make this happen as without doing the same for (deep breath) consultants, nurses, porters, receptionists, pharmacists, operating department assistants, radiographers, physiotherapists and many other staff these things won’t be able to happen at weekends.

The 7-day NHS may refer to emergency work. If this is the case then it already exists. Junior doctors are already there at night and at weekends. The proposed contract changes are not going to change the numbers who are there as there is no plan to increase the total number of junior doctors. What is proposed is that the definition of normal time changes from 7am-7pm to 7am-10pm Monday to Friday and from 7am to somewhere between 5pm and 10pm on Saturday. This means that employers could make junior doctors work more unsocial hours as they have redefined as standard hours. It is true that the basic rate of pay for standard hours will be increased by 13%, which sounds great doesn’t it? Except that for the emergency specialities as above that routinely have a lot of evening, night and weekend work, what is currently paid at an enhanced rate will be paid at standard rate; even at 13% higher for standard rate, total pay for junior doctors in these specialities will drop considerably, maybe by as much 30% for some. Doesn’t sound so good now really.

And, of course, there will be the same number of doctors but spread over 7 days rather than 5 so there will be weekdays where there will be fewer juniors than there are now. A great analogy I heard was to imagine that you have a 10-inch pizza cut into 5 slices. You decide that 5 slices isn’t going to fill you up so your mum cuts the same pizza into 7 slices and tells you that you’ll be full with that. But she won’t get you a bigger pizza.

So same number of junior doctors spread more thinly is going to reduce cover on weekdays as compared to now. And weekdays are when not only emergency work but also routine planned work that also needs input from junior doctors takes place so this will have a detrimental effect on waiting lists for clinics and operations as well.

Junior doctors with children will be hit particularly hard, especially those who have junior doctors spouses, as more unsocial hours will be worked. Childcare is generally difficult to get hold of outside of 8-5 on weekdays; the department of health have actually said (with no hint of irony) that in this situation, family members who are non-medical and don’t work evenings or weekends should be asked to provide child care to get over this problem! It is very likely that couples could go several days without actually seeing each other or their families if rotas do not coincide.

But what about the increased deaths at weekends we have been hearing about? Actually, the statistics have been completely misrepresented and even the authors of the research paper that gets quoted regularly have pointed this out. The statistic was that if you are admitted to hospital on a weekend, your risk of dying within 30 days of that admission was higher than if admitted midweek. Your risk of dying is very low anyway and that very low risk is marginally higher (but still very low) if admitted on weekends. This is probably because admissions to hospital in the week consist of not only sick people but also well people coming in for routine things, whereas at weekends you would tend to avoid hospital unless you were desperately unwell and most likely would leave things as long as possible and so be sicker when you got there. Interestingly they also showed that if you were already in hospital on a weekend, having been admitted in the week, your risk of death within 30 days was lower than it would have been. Either way, there is no evidence of cause and effect in terms of numbers of junior doctors around at weekends. The so-called weekend effect has also been seen in the USA and Australia too so it isn’t peculiar to state-funded health as opposed to private insurance-based systems.

Interestingly the misrepresentation of this study has led to ill people actually avoiding hospitals on weekends and delaying presenting till Monday with potentially devastating consequences. Have a look online for the ‪#‎hunteffect‬. Scary.

Another worrying thing about the proposed new contract is that it takes away the safeguards against juniors being made to work ridiculously long hours. Whereas currently there is a mechanism that makes it in the interests of an employer to ensure the hours are not exceeded, the new contract removes these safeguards. It does suggest that each hospital trust has a “guardian” to whom junior doctors can flag up concerns about their hours but this “guardian” will also be a senior member of the trust who has no obligation to actually do anything about these concerns. I think back to my days as an exhausted junior doctor and it scares me to think that such unsafe and dangerous hours could make a return.

The pay scales are also changing. There has been automatic pay progression as you gain experience and seniority until now. The new system means that there are fewer points where pay is raised. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it can be argued that you shouldn’t get a pay rise unless you deserve it. But remember that over 10 years can be spent as a junior doctor in which time you are likely to acquire husbands, wives, children and mortgages; many existing junior doctors have made their financial plans for the next few years based on the expectation that there will be pay progression. One part-time junior doctor who has worked with me told me that if the new contract came in she would no longer be able to pay her mortgage and would have to sell her home. 


Bear in mind that these are young people who have spent at least 5 years at university accruing debts from both student loans for living expenses and now also £45000 in tuition fees before even starting work. The new pay scales do not reflect the levels of responsibility taken by junior doctors at different stages of their training at all which makes no sense whatsoever. For female doctors who are likely to take time out to have children and then return to work part-time, the consequences on their income will be huge. The department of health actually acknowledged that women would be hit unfairly but suggested that this had to be accepted as an unfortunate consequence.

The BMA junior doctors committee walked out of talks with the Department of Health because the DH’s definition of negotiation was that they would reserve the right to do what they wanted if they didn’t agree with what the committee was suggesting. In other words, they did not want to negotiate so there was no point in the BMA trying. This is why industrial action was proposed because there was no other way to try to get Jeremy Hunt to talk. Sadly, even when negotiations restarted, he could not see that without a bigger pizza nothing was going to improve patient care and in fact things would be worse and so talks stopped. He has now said he is imposing the contract and that is that, he won’t talk anymore. When a strike ballot (of, let’s face it, intelligent reasonable and educated people) has a 75% turnout and 98% vote in favour, it is clear that there is a serious problem with the DH’s thought processes and they need to listen. It is highly improbable that a small bunch of radical lefties have brainwashed 50000 intelligent doctors who have been trained to analyse information and draw conclusions, much as the press like that idea.

If you have read this far, please take it on board and share with your friends. I’ve tried to keep it simple (even though it may not seem that way!) The public is not getting the full story from the TV and newspapers and if this contract is imposed then we will all be on the receiving end of the consequences eventually.

I’ll stop there for now but will write some more about what will happen on the days of the full strike (April 26th and 27th) and why you should not have to worry about what may happen on those days if you or your family have to come to hospital.


Dr Ravi Jayaram

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Innovation not Soundbites

Just one of the many things that annoyed me about Grayling and his rubbish arguments for introducing TR was the constant reference to how new players to the probation world would bring much-needed 'innovation'. Apart from being the usual political disingenuous crap, it completely ignored the fact that probation has always been one of the most innovative of public services as anyone with time under their belt know full well. 

But the sin is far worse than that because, as the following story from Manchester admirably demonstrates, everywhere innovation is being driven out of a once gold standard service:-  

'It's ripped my heart out': Ex cons' despair as Manchester probation group has Government funding pulled

A group of ex-offenders are fearing for their futures as they stand to lose their beloved Manchester community probation group. The HOPE (Hope Outside Prison Environments) Project, which supports ex-offenders in the community, has been funded by the Government for the past six months, having previously been funded by the NHS. But the decision has now been made to end the project’s financial support, which currently has capacity for 20-30 clients, and it will finish at the end of April. One HOPE client told MM: 

“I feel like my heart’s been ripped out. My life has been turned around by this project. Here you’re being treated like a human being. It has a real impact on your mental health.”
Clients stand to lose a tight-knit support network alongside activities like cooking classes and boxing which provide them with support, builds self-esteem and a routine unlike anything else on offer in Manchester. Another explained he feared his mental health would suffer without HOPE support.

“There’s nothing else like this with good role models and like-minded people,” he said. “The support they give is above and beyond help I’ve ever had before. Without it I would be isolated.”

A weekly reading group currently takes place each Thursday for those who want to give shared reading a try. Due to the cuts, HOPE’s partnership with The Reader, who run the group, will also end this month. Session leader and Reader in Residence for Greater Manchester West NHS, Kate Hughes-Jenkins, told MM: 

“Losing this group is really hard. You get to know them well and develop relationships. It’s frustrating to know there currently isn’t anything we can offer instead.”
The reading group is just one part of HOPE’s holistic approach, which HOPE Project Manager Sue Casey believes is seldom used elsewhere in the probation service. They also welcome back ex-clients who still struggle post-probation. Ms Casey, told MM: 
“The Project gives people hope, belief. I’ve put my heart and soul into this project. Without Hope it’s almost like I have no hope. The project is a life saver. Offending is instant gratification. We provide positive alternatives, like the boxing. With the reading, they hear a voice telling them a story, something many of them never had as children. It’s like putting back that part that is missing. Probation is risk management, and we take risks with people by having them in the community. We see them as a person, rather than a label. But for this government, management seems more important than rehabilitation.”
Ms Casey, who will return to an office role for the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) when the project ends, teamed up with one HOPE client to work out the costs involved if he were to ever end up reoffending. It was around £157,000 for one year.

“They aren’t thinking of the long term higher costs,” she said.

Labour politician and life peer Lord Bradley, who has been a champion of the HOPE, attended the reading group’s penultimate session on Thursday to hear concerns to take to the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). “Invariably the alternative to this group is back through the system, and then there are the expenses involved in that,” he said.

At this point, the group do not know what, if anything, will be done to keep some activities running when the project finishes.


--oo00oo--

By a strange coincidence, I was recently looking around on the internet for something unconnected to probation and I came across the following obituary in the Guardian. I think it not only rather neatly illustrates our proud history of innovating, but also the nature and calibre of leadership in times past:- 

Michael Varah

Michael Varah, who has died aged 62, was the former chief probation officer of Surrey and a Great Britain international 800 metres record holder. He was the eldest of triplet brothers born to Chad and Susan Varah. His father was rector of St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London, where he started the Samaritans in 1953; his mother, apart from raising five children, was the world president of the Mothers' Union in the 1970s.

By the age of 18, Michael was a national schoolboy 800m champion; he later ran for Great Britain in the World Student Games in Tokyo, and the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, plus several international meetings. He went on to captain Loughborough College athletics team, and in 1966, at Crystal Palace, broke an unusual world record by 2.4 seconds in the 4 x 800m relay.

After graduation, he joined Rugby school as the director of physical education. In his own time, he began to work as a volunteer education tutor at Onley Borstal, then decided to train as a probation officer and joined the Warwickshire service in 1973.

The qualities that marked him out as an outstanding athlete shone in his probation career: determination, energy, leadership and the courage to break new ground. Early in his career, he created the Rugby Mayday Trust for homeless ex-offenders, which now runs several hundred housing units for the vulnerable homeless.

He extended his repertoire of experience by working as an assistant chief probation officer in inner-city Birmingham in 1985, when the city was scarred by industrial collapse and racial tension. Michael was impressed by the scale of unemployment, particularly among poorly educated offenders.

After he became the chief officer in Surrey in 1988 he devoted much of his time to setting up the Surrey Springboard Trust, providing training, vocational skills and jobs for unemployed offenders. He played a key role in raising over £4m for this.

In an unorthodox move, Michael sent 32 offenders on community service to work for a fortnight in a poorly maintained children's hospital in Romania, doing essential repairs under professional supervision. None reoffended; two years later, nine of them returned to do more electrical and plumbing work under their own steam.

Michael retired in 2004, having raised the reputation of the Surrey service to the highest levels. He was appointed a deputy lieutenant and was to have been the high sheriff of Surrey in 2008-09. He was a national trustee for Victim Support and the Samaritans and a part-time panel member of employment tribunals in Surrey.

Michael had an extraordinary capacity for friendships - people knew they were special in his eyes - and a scurrilous wit that made him the centre of any room that he was in.

He was disappointed by the government's gradual demolition of the probation service. Not long before he died he noted: "It is a pity successive governments cannot get their act together - they all need to be put on probation and find that change takes time."

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Private Probation - A Soundbite World

Dear Jim,

As a probation 'long-termer' who managed to get out some time ago, I thought you might be interested in some observations from the West Yorkshire CRC Stakeholder event in Wakefield last week.

It's fairly clear that owners Interserve spent a tidy sum preparing their Purple Futures bid to impress the mandarins at the MoJ and of course they were duly rewarded with 5 out of the 21 CRC contracts, including that of West Yorkshire. They were canny enough to get into bed with a number of charities that included Shelter - although they seem to have a very low profile nowadays - and of course we know Addaction didn't like the way things were going and were quick to get out. 

The image consultants gave them some clever slogans that to be honest wouldn't be that out of place with outfits that could range from the Freemasons to Unilever I guess:  
  • Do the right thing
  • Take pride in what you do
  • Everyone has a voice
  • Bring better to life
They also invested in some cool marketing and graphic design for their operating model 'The Interchange Journey - intervene, interact, integrate' and even paid Manchester University to evaluate it. Of course, despite the fancy graphics, to those of us who've been around awhile, there's basically nothing new in the concept, but judging by the enthusiastic presentations by newer recruits to the service, it certainly appears to have captured their imagination.    



Although being repeatedly told everything would be tailored to the individual, the cogs rather give the impression of a machine cleverly designed to process 'service users' through a system that produces rehabilitated individuals as efficiently and cost effectively as possible but commensurate with contract performance and payment-by-result targets, naturally. Something tells me it's not going to be quite as straightforward as the designers envisage, but I can certainly see how the MoJ have been seduced by it.

There was no surprise in hearing that OASys, that all-singing, all-dancing computer-based timewasting device was indeed a complete waste of time and will be got rid of as soon as possible, in favour of a brand new simpler assessment system. Lets hope it works then. 

Despite all the warm words and exhortations of the need to "all work together", I got the distinct impression from some quiet mutterings between 'stakeholders' in the room hoping to get a slice of the action that there was a degree of cynicism regarding Interserve's contracting policies and philosophy. The repeatedly-dangled carrot of lots of cash just waiting to be given away by the 'Innovation Fund' to stakeholders with bright ideas seemed to generate rather more hollow laughter than serious interest.

We learnt that:
  • There's to be a 24 hour helpline for former and current service users
  • A search is on for a bright new shiny contemporary Head Office in Wakefield
  • An online Directory of Services will facilitate 'Pick & Mix' for busy OM's
  • A Rent Deposit Scheme will help with accommodation problems
  • Every service user will get a certificate at the end
  • There will be Service User Councils 
  • Practitioners can share ideas via Panels to be set up
  • TTG 'is a bit of a ropey contract spec'
As always at events like this there were some extremely variable presentations, mostly it has to be said from the more senior management team. But it will come as no surprise to hear that 'Right Direction' volunteer peer mentors proved stars of the show, thus demonstrating to me at least, that in all this sorry mess that TR has generated, the reason many of us got involved in the first place remains exactly the same.  

Friday, 22 April 2016

Probation Realities 2



I left my post because of targets. I could see that meeting the target and getting the payment was the only goal. Innovative ways of working and helping clients to change was not even considered. Examples of fraudulent behaviour included; 
  • a programme was deleted from Delius towards end of the Order, as it had not been completed, and would have been a 'failure', (it had been taken back to court for amendment but the magistrates had refused to remove it), it was not uncommon to have 20 or more acceptable absences as breaching the order may have led to a resentence: another failure,
  • clients not recalled on licence when they commit new offences as this would be a failure! 
  • pretending clients stayed with 'family or friends' on first night of release in order to meet TTG target. 
Working like this became too stressful, and combined with the other pressures of a high case load; 
  • staff sickness, 
  • the threat of what would happen when it became apparent that some of my clients would not complete their programme or UPW (resulting in more failures, and less payment), 
  • the frustration there were no agencies to send them to, to complete their RAR days,
  • the fear of an SFO and the guilt of knowing there was a seriously injured or worse victim, but also knowing that I would have my work scrutinised, and it would be found wanting, as I didn't have enough time to get to know my clients properly, and knowing that management would not back me, 
  • completing OASys in 10 days, 
  • breaches within 8 days,
all became to much. It became a choice of my health and integrity v a monthly pay cheque, my health and integrity won and I now feel like a burden has been lifted from me.

******
Agree. It's ludicrous. We have case loads in excess of 115% no time to see offenders and do what we should be doing. Simply too much work. Yet they want us to fanny about with yet another stupid system that probably is unfit for purpose. These people are just so distanced from the coal face. Don't even get me talking about the ARMS training. 3 hours to complete the assessment. Get real people. Who dreams this shite up?

******
Does it really matter as it won't make any difference! I will still be struggling just to get to the end of the working week, feeling increasingly under pressure and impossible to do all the tasks required to manage a caseload of DV. Worrying about what I'll find they have been up to when I get in on the morning and whether my contacts and OASys will bear scrutiny because everything so rushed. Who will be off sick and how many of their cases I will need to see. Sounds familiar?

******
In a CRC someone who has zero experience of carrying a caseload and who is not PO trained has become a manager. How is this possible? What qualifies them to manage and give advice to PO/PSOs when they've never done the job? Spent warnings (that were questionable in the first place) being used to deny someone a post. Admin all having to apply for posts and then finding out they've not been successful despite doing the job for years. All leaves a bad taste.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Pick of the Week 4

Feeding this monster I've created can be difficult at times and you're never quite sure when or how things are going to 'kick off'. Saturday and Sunday's heated debate as a result of Guest Blog 52 popping up is a classic but very welcome example and I like the blog to be as relevant and responsive as possible. One result has been the postponing of a couple of 'roundup' posts. 

As I've said before, the blog can move at an alarming pace sometimes and I'm loathe to miss some important contributions along the way, so here is what had been scheduled for last Sunday. (By the way, I rather like the banner I nicked from Facebook and hope the clever creater doesn't mind me using it now and then - thanks).     



It is an appalling abuse of power to sell public services off to companies that are not competent to run them. It's THE scandal of this and the previous Tory Government. Taking generally effective public services and replacing them with incompetence and amateurism. It is everywhere. I am an ex-PO who is not working in another field. All the clients I work with are being processed by private companies who have replaced public providers and all of them are basically waiting and waiting and waiting for services that are woefully inadequate and who are proving incapable and insensitive to the needs of their service users. The truth is, we all expected this. We all saw it coming. We all SCREAMED that this was going to happen - it is a matter of record. Despite this, the civil servants, ministers and commissioners all put their own career aspirations before common sense and the public interest.

I heard yesterday that POs in Suffolk (NPS) were being asked to provide reception cover for the office because there were no support staff available to cover it. We all saw it coming. We all said it would happen. Most of these critics have already left and the rest are leaving almost daily because it is a farce that few are willing to continue perpetuating. Agency PO this week (working with the NPS) explained that s/he left the local CRC because s/he was not willing to continue interviewing offenders in these open plan 'booths' that have been installed. It's a professional disgrace and those who facilitated it should hang their heads in shame. As an ex-SPO, I am increasingly embarrassed by the disclosures of those who remain involved.

*******
I left Probation some years ago. Now working for a Social Services department. You can see privatisation slowly creeping in but Social Workers appear to believe it will never happen to them (like many of us before them). At the risk of sounding like a bitter cynic, I see no point in further professional development at the present time as the goalposts are constantly being moved. What is the point in spending 20k plus developing ones practice and studying new qualifications when there is a very real risk of the requirements of having to have any qualification being removed. It's soul destroying. It's the government saying "anyone can do your job".

Whilst I admire talk of standing up to the bullying; it is a lost cause. 'They' have all the power. Just look at the junior doctors. They had public sympathy, a well organised fight with a strong Union and are a profession that has a degree of respect from ministers. They fought the good fight and lost. What hope is there for the rest of us who are even more susceptible to the effective divide and rule strategy? Unfortunately the public on the whole aren't interested. It's the mentality of..... 'I don't get that much in the way of job protection.... pension..... salary... whatever.... so why should you?

Going back to the ambulance issue, in London they have never had so many paramedics leaving. They have had to hire private support in the way of Medicare and have had massive recruitment campaigns in Australia and NZ to try and plug the gaps. Yet no-one seems to be examining why so many are leaving in the first place. Instead of spending money to improve working conditions they would rather fill the void by various private companies filling the gaps or recruiting from abroad. It's a massive false economy. It just goes to show there is no duty of care and ideology rules for the foreseeable future.

********
Did anyone see the recent programme about the PIP scandal? An ex mental health worker went undercover to expose the shameful situation when a private company trains and employs staff to do this work with vulnerable patients. He shadowed a man who was apparently 'the best'. It was sickening. This man gloated about earning up to 20k a month by rushing through reports. Was happy to say that in some cases he had written the report before he met the patient. He ridiculed one woman saying he had turned her PIP down because she didn't deserve it being simply 'too fat to wipe her own *rse'. Thankfully he was sacked but how many more like that? It worries me that we could go the same way. We could be corrupted by being offered bonuses or the like for reaching targets. Pushing through shoddy reports. What sort of people would this attract?

*******
I saw the programme. It was disturbing. Assessors, target-led, adopting exploitative methods towards those hoping for holistic assessments. Totally unethical methods. They sacked the arrogant thug who was in fact the hero of the office, the go to man who was a whizz kid at the assessments. But he was only a symptom of the diseased working culture.

*******
I'm a CRC PO and I was in a meeting recently and when I suggested that we recognise that if we are now a private company that was grossly under resourced to deliver what we had delivered as a Trust and that we should ask the MoJ what it is that must be done and what we can stop doing. Their reply was we must appear to do everything including going through the motions of returning people to court even though we know the applications will be rejected. They also said they were aware things were crap but were in no position to say so.

Yesterday I met a trainee on placement and had a long chat. She told me that she had initially been confused about the difference between proper POs in the NPS and those now called POs (but aren't really) in the CRCs. She said she had been put straight by experienced NPS colleagues and the situation explained to her that all the best staff had been hand picked to go to the NPS and that all those in the CRC were basically rejects who were not fit to hold any real responsibility for high risk or report writing or speaking as a professional in court or at oral hearings. She on the other hand as a recent psychology graduate whose only work experience had been a Saturday job in Boots was more qualified. She accepted some people may have slipped through on either side but her experience of unprofessional CRC staff tended to confirm what she was told. She had noticed they tended to dressed more shabbily have lower vocabularies and appeared to be less well educated and basically a lot thicker than her NPS colleagues.

She was warned not to take too much notice of CRC staff who were no longer considered proper probation staff along with other 'partnership odd bods' like housing association staff who would in any case be made redundant soon as they were not fit to do the job and privatisation was the most efficient way to finally get shot of them. She said she had been told it was very hard for an ex CRC person to join the NPS and if they did, their previous CRC experience counted for nothing and they were at a disadvantage as they had already been rejected. She had apparently heard these kinds of things from several sources.

The most worrying thing she said was that those who were physically disabled had been deliberately left in the CRC because she had been told they were a nuisance and the private sector was more efficient at encouraging them to resign. I was also told that financial institutions now give better rates to NPS staff than to CRC so even the banks think CRC are second class. Welcome to the future.

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Trouble is, this isn't the future, this is the 'now'. Hey ho, I've quickly scanned the E3 blueprint, and noticed in the section on courts that 'POs will support the PSO's in court' with PSO's doing the lion's share of the work. What a turnaround hey, once upon a time it was PSO's supporting PO's in their role. But what do I know? I'm just a badly dressed, less well educated (2 first degrees anyone?) thick CRC PO.

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There is some irony that Amey is also the company that has the NPS cleaning contract as well as being part of MTCnovo in London. The Courts, Police and others have some evidence to think that the CRC is basically a beefed up cleaning company with ideas above its station and beyond its skill set. They haven't even got a proper email address. Some in the NPS have taken a little too eagerly to the notion that they are some kind of elite rather than 3rd class civil servant wannabees and you can spot these by the increase in the number of people now wearing suits to the office. CRC staff on the other hand seem to be reinforcing their identity by dressing down.

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You might want to tell that trainee PO the following: I am a PO in CRC. I have two good university degrees. The latter being a post grad degree in social work with CQSW probation option. I'm better qualified than some Chief PO's. Prior to graduating with post grad degree, I worked my arse off working with children an care. My first ever job was working in a bail hostel at 23 years old! I do not come from an advantaged background and went to an awful school. I witnessed DV growing up and also as a young adult. My first partner died of a heroin overdose. I was the victim of two sexual assaults as a child and had anorexia. I have dragged myself up from my arse and am proud of what I have achieved and the effort I put into my job which I remain committed to. 


I worked in the public protection team with offenders such as NPS now have. I have also worked for YOT and Home Office drugs prevention initiative as a senior practitioner. I chose to go to CRC and turned down a job i was offered at NPS as CRC suited me better. More face to face work. She sounds inexperienced and maybe being fed detritus so I won't take this personally. What I would day is NPS role has a shelf life. How long can the average person cope with working with high risk offenders? My experience is maybe 3 years or so and then you become emotionally drained. Burn out or even PTSD are not uncommon. 

I coped until I had kids and then it began to effect me emotionally and I became hyper vigilant and terrified for my own kids. In this job you need alot more than a professional qualification. My training was great and I consider myself very lucky to have had that opportunity, but life experience and working with relevant groups are also vital. It worries me that newly qualified PO's, some with no previous experience, will be in this position. I don't want to be patronising, but has anyone considered how they will cope emotionally long term and where will they go if they need a break from high risk offenders?

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I completely agree. In NPS and stressed out my box by the relentlessness of what my clients have done. There is no light relief.

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At present we in CRC still have daily contact with NPS. We are in seperate offices but same building. Often discuss the cases I have risk escalated. Are they doing anything different so me? No, we come from similar position so no real difference there. Also frequently converse with NPS court staff when they are dealing with a CRC breach etc. Have never felt looked down on. I'm too much of an old timer for anyone to get away with that. Sadly we will move out to our new offices soon to save some pennies. Our only contact with NPS will be by phone. 

The split just goes on and on. Admin will go to their call centre or whatever and we will be a very small team managing all the DV cases. Any so called low risk will be 'remotely controlled' via a human maybe a robot at the call centre. I must start practicing my new phone voice, maybe a dalek or darth vader would be appropriate! Why even bother having an office..it would be easier to have us working at home making calls all day to people we haven't even met using a checklist devised by..could save even more money if it was all done by phone minus a human or robot..'if you have re-offended please press 1' 'for all other options or to speak to someone with no qualifications or experience on the minimum wage press 4'..otherwise just bog off.

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I like this blog because it very often mirrors my experiences of working in the post Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) apocalypse world. There was a time when it was referred to as a TR revolution. We pointed out at the time that the problem with revolutions was that people often got hurt and post revolution euphoria, the reality was not so pleasant, that voids and divisions would emerge and so the evidence is now presented. Our on message management refer to these as 'transitional issues'. Those of us at the sharp end are not so understated in our sentiments regarding these issues, they were and will continue to be predictable consequences of an extremely bad plan. An appeal then, therefore, to our leaders and politicians, put away your fixed and entrenched positions whatever side of the divide you are on and concentrate on what our common goals and needs are to bring about a settlement that works. Too idealistic and unrealistic?

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I'm fairly certain that, though a staunch neoliberal who would privatise his own grandmother, Gove genuinely does want out of the CRC contracts as he can see a duff deal and will be aware that Grayling screwed them over too. Gove is perfectly aware that he has no real investment in seeing them succeed at any cost as he can blame Grayling for failure. He can't simply end the contracts because of the poisonous clauses, but he does have the option of turning the screw and systematically starving them of funds to frustrate the contract then renegotiate. 

Private probation service providers have made a total mess of everything and no sane person would have suggested such a barmy system in the first place. An idea apparently being given serious consideration and gaining momentum at the MoJ is that it makes sense for NPS and CRCs to be brought back together in the community under the working title of National Community Rehabilitation Service (a public private sector partnership) with larger package areas roughly coterminous with police areas and courts probation to be absorbed by the courts service and prison probation to be absorbed by the prison service. Interestingly, APs would be part of the new NCRS but will be managed by a private prisons contractor. Apparently this is the preferred option at the moment and it's all being kept under wraps so as not to alarm the CRC owners as their relationship with the MoJ is a little strained. Waiting for costings.

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You only have to check your emails from the recruitment agencies to see how desperate both the CRC and NPS are to recruit, here in the South East at least, as they grapple with fire fighting approaches to work demands and how to provide an efficient and effective service whilst valuing their staff because no one from middle managers to directors to CEO's have a proper understanding of what the hell is going on as the private companies take charge. 

It's no surprise good staff are leaving, yet there are huge numbers being forced out without any consideration on how the businesses are going to meet their contractual requirements when skilled, experienced and dedicated staff have walked or been discarded through a redundancy all over the country. I work in the South East for CRC and for the former Trust for over 10 years and the Trust arrangements were always problematic given the restraints on Trusts from the government, despite being told they would have autonomy. Now the CRC's have been created on the premise of more autonomy, only to be at the behest and strangulation of the private companies. Notwithstanding NAPO assisting these pirates in strengthening their hold over the CRC's by attempting to bargain away collective agreements on pay, which will facilitate the race to the bottom on professionalism and skilled labour. 

One day Napo says we want to support the PI and influence decisions to protect the professionalism with a licence to practice and whilst doing so they are meeting with the CRC purchasers round the back of the filing cabinets to sell off the protections we have from the transfer. In the mean time the CRC leaders are unequipped to understand the legal implications and obligations of being a director and CEO of a subsidiary and have handed all the power to the parent company, who also has no idea about how to be a parent company of their subsidiary when they don't 'own' the employees. 

In summary folks there is no one looking after your terms and conditions, not your employer because they are too busy understanding the contract and delivering on their super doopa new delivery models to prevent the pains of a breach, not your union because they are too incompetent to know the difference between the employer and parent company to be able to negotiate with your boss. In the mean time, and I have this on fairly good authority after seeing a friend over the weekend who works for Noms policy department, that they are well aware the CRC's are ticking boxes to be able to report that yes guv course we're doin it right, here's our returns you asked for and it's all goin swimmingly mate. Just anuver 200 staff to get shot of and we should be able to deliver streamline services!!!! 

Local branches haven't the resources to deal with this, there is no strategy to help them from Chivalrous Road only to sell em off. It's a waiting game as far as I can see on the union, the members and the staff but not how long, just when. Ultimately if NAPO stays on this road it will no longer be able to demonstrate it is acting in the interests of its members.

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Totally agree that the owners are calling the shots with a big controlling hand thrust firmly up the rear of the puppets that are the CRCs. If you could find one backbone amongst the CRC bosses to resist staff redundancies, then you would be doing well.

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The next month is going to see a lot of changes in Purple Futures CRC. All staff are being transferred into 'flex teams' and we have it on good authority that PSO (now known as Case Managers) caseloads will be 65 as opposed to current 95-00. 8 office closures in Gtr Manchester; Merseyside HQ closing in May and moving to an already occupied building by Interserve which is in Liverpool city centre and has good bus/rail links. Admin find out this week where they will be based and what role they will do some expecting to leave probation and work for Interserve but all will be revealed. New case management system is called the Interchange model - seems to heavily focus on referring to partnership agencies and groupwork rather than the traditional 1-1 delivery. So we just need to see what the next month or so brings.

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Do you work for the company as this is nonsense. There are always little lying minions of private companies that come here to peddle their wares. The Interserve flex/interchange model is not sound. Use your brain. If 8 offices are closing it means caseloads will increase not decrease. It means admin and others will eventually be jobless and I doubt Interserve will absorb them. Group work over 1:1 work means reduced individual contact with offenders so no need for probation staff. Ker-Ching.

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Replace 1:1 work with groupwork and reporting to other providers? What an absolute farce. I am splitting my sides here. You can try and put a positive spin on it but the reality at BGSW CRC is that service users are routinely waiting 6 to 12 months to get on the BBR group. These are DV offenders and most are classed as medium risk of harm. Who ends up working with them, liaising with DV unit/police intel..even contacting partners to check they are ok..oh and social care if you can persuade them to get involved. 

A real practitioner, be they PSO or PO will know the hard reality of being left holding unpredictable and risky cases whilst they try to negotiate a start date for BBR. Even once they are on the group, do you think we have a break and put our feet up? No, of course not because we are still liaising with the agencies mentioned, checking their progress and seeing them to address any other issues that inevitably come up. I really wish that managers, CRC/Noms etc. would actually speak and take note of what practitioners and service users say. Maybe then they would have a service fit for purpose as opposed to the shambolic mess we are in now.

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I'm currently holding 60* cases of DV and now sex offenders since the Mappa rules were changed!! I've not got time or motivation to even try as I've got 5 ISP's stacking up with no relief of sending these people to anything remotely meaningful. People have moved to our new central it fits all office and are already pointing out the obvious mistakes for example a fire door propped open for the clients to attend and then to be told "it's a brave new world" No it's bullshit of the highest order!! Where the fuck are the union?

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60 plus cases mainly DV and now sex offenders! At BGSW CRC we have also heard rumours that Working Links may want us to take back some sex offenders from NPS. Sex offenders = more cash from Noms. Sex offenders traded for cash in this brave new world of private sector. Do you not have any programmes to send people to? If not, how on earth can you be expected to risk manage so many risky cases? Saying that, there is a huge backlog of service users waiting for programmes in BGSW and we were told recently that we are likely to lose all programmes other than Thinking Skills and BBR. I think we need to think about taking alternative action such as a vote of no confidence, writing to your MP or writing to magistrates (perhaps anonymously) I'm sure the latter would be interested to hear practitioners version of events as opposed to what they are fed by NPS managers at meetings.