Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Latest From Napo 77

il/rs/mp 26.8.15

CAMPAIGN FOR REDUNDANCY RIGHTS IN SODEXO

SODEXO VOLUNTARY SEVERANCE/EARLY RETIREMENT OFFER

ADVICE TO UNION MEMBERS

This bulletin updates members on the negotiations between the probation unions and Sodexo in relation to the sub-standard severance offer which has been made by the company to staff in its six CRCs. Talks took place again on 24 and 25 August to see if we could find a way to settle the dispute over the offer. Unfortunately, the talks which the parties were directed to hold by the NNC were not productive and Sodexo refused again to improve its sub-standard offer.

SODEXO OFFER IS VOLUNTARY REDUNDANCY

Napo and UNISON maintain that the severance offer that has been presented by Sodexo is a voluntary redundancy scheme and therefore must comply with the terms of the Enhanced Voluntary Redundancy (EVR) Scheme, as set out in the NNC National Agreement on Staff Transfer and Protections.

Our position is clearly supported by the Secretary of State Michael Gove, who in the attached letter to the trade unions dated 14th August 2014 states:

‘Any proposals to amend these [NNC] terms, like those Sodexo have put on the table, will need to be considered through negotiation with trades union and in accordance with applicable employment law. With regards to the differing Voluntary Redundancy terms that Sodexo are offering, my officials are continuing to work closely with them to ensure that they comply with their contractual obligations.’

The probation unions entered into negotiations with Sodexo in good faith to consider proposals by the company to vary the terms of the EVR. However, Sodexo failed to play their part and have failed to improve on their opening offer. Instead, they have disingenuously, and rather clumsily at the 11th hour, claimed that they are offering an entirely separate voluntary severance scheme. This is in order that they can short change employees and side step their contractual obligations.

UNIONS TO ASK JUSTICE SECRETARY TO INTERVENE

The unions will now be writing to Michael Gove asking for him to intervene urgently: firstly, to ask that Sodexo halt their redundancy process; and, secondly, to ensure Sodexo comply with their contractual obligations to use the NNC EVR scheme in the event of voluntary redundancies.

ADVICE TO MEMBERS

This guidance note sets out advice from Napo and UNISON to any members who have expressed an interest in, and are now considering whether to accept, the Sodexo voluntary severance/early retirement offer in your CRC.

You should be clear that the unions do not support the current Sodexo offer, and do not believe that it represents an acceptable offer for our members. Under the circumstances:

  • it is entirely up to you as an individual to decide whether, or not, to accept the current Sodexo offer
  • Napo and UNISON will offer continuing support to their respective members, as far as we are able, in relation to any potential application for the Sodexo offer, notwithstanding our opposition to it
The Sodexo Offer for the Under-55s

Staff, who are under 55, are just being offered the Sodexo voluntary severance offer of 2 weeks actual pay for every year of service up to a maximum of 30 weeks.

This offer compares very badly with the National Negotiating Council enhanced voluntary severance offer, which Sodexo has refused to offer, which would have given you 4.5 weeks actual pay for each year of service up to a maximum of 67.5 weeks.

The Sodexo Offer for the Over-55s

Staff who are over 55 are being offered a choice of:
  • either the voluntary severance offer (as above)
  • or early retirement with an unreduced pension
Under the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) Regulations 2013, any active member of the LGPS aged 55 or over, who leaves employment by virtue of redundancy, or business efficiency, or whose employment is terminated by mutual consent on the grounds of business efficiency, is entitled to, and must take, immediate payment of their pension benefits without any early retirement reduction applying.

In making your decision you should therefore bear the following in mind:
  • If you are over 55 and want to take the voluntary severance offer, the company will include a clause in your settlement agreement to say that you won’t exercise your right, under the LGPS regulations, to take your pension early. 
  • The unions are currently taking legal advice on whether it is permissible for Sodexo to include such a clause in the settlement agreement.
  • If you stayed with your CRC and were eventually made compulsorily redundant, you would get at the very least both statutory redundancy pay* and immediate payment of an unreduced pension if you are over 55. Of course, there is no guarantee that you would be made compulsorily redundant, so it is up to you to assess the pros and cons of agreeing to leave with the Sodexo offer now, or staying and possibly being made compulsorily redundant with the above benefits.
  • Cumbria & Lancashire CRC and Northumbria CRC have both just unilaterally changed their local redundancy policies which gave staff the same benefits on compulsory redundancy as are available under the NNC enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme (i.e. 4.5 weeks pay for each year of service up to a maximum of 67.5 weeks)
  • Napo and UNISON has advised members in these two CRCs to write to their employer to object to this unilateral change. This is with a view to Napo and UNISON potentially being able to take claims on behalf of members in these two CRCs to enforce the original compulsory redundancy terms in the event that you are eventually made compulsorily redundant. However, we cannot provide any guarantees to you at this stage in relation to the likely success of any such claims, and you should not rely on this outcome in your decision making.
What to do in relation to your Settlement Agreement?

1. Sodexo has confirmed that a member of staff who wishes to accept their voluntary severance/early retirement offer must first sign a settlement agreement. The settlement agreement is a legally binding agreement to waive certain employment/legal rights in the future in relation to the settlement you reach with Sodexo.

2. Napo and UNISON have asked for an extension to the period in which settlement agreements are required to be signed and returned. We believe that the timescale needs to be realistic and consistent across the six CRCs. Sodexo are considering our request and we will inform you about the outcome if we get a positive response.

3. Any member who is considering accepting such a settlement from a Sodexo-owned CRC is strongly advised to seek advice from your respective union in relation to the settlement agreement before you sign.

4. Both Napo and UNISON can provide legal assistance in relation to your settlement agreement via the Settlement Agreement Unit of our legal providers Thompsons Solicitors and recommends that you refer your settlement agreement through your respective union in this way. Detailed advice will be sent to members shortly, on how to access legal assistance from your respective union.

5. Unfortunately, Sodexo is offering to pay only £250 plus VAT towards the cost of your settlement agreement, which will not meet the cost of using Thompsons Solicitors Settlement Agreement Unit. The unions have asked Sodexo to increase the offer of assistance with the cost of the settlement agreement to £350 plus VAT to ensure that you can take advice from the unions’ solicitors. It is entirely normal for an employer to meet the full cost of any settlement agreement required by that employer.

6. Nb: If you choose not to use Thompsons Solicitors and instruct alternative legal representation, in relation to your settlement agreement, it might have consequences for the assistance that Napo and UNISON may be able give you with your case going forward in any matter relating to your settlement.

7. Please speak to your local union representative if you have any questions

*Note: Statutory Redundancy Pay

Employees with at least two years' continuous employment get a statutory redundancy pay entitlement of:
  • 0.5 week's pay for each full year of service while they were under 22
  • 1 week's pay for each full year of service while they were 22 or older, but under 41
  • 1.5 week's pay for each full year of service while they were 41 or older.
Employees can only count a maximum of 20 years' service and the 'weekly pay' is subject to an upper limit.

The statutory redundancy payment is capped at £464 a week. From 6 April 2015 the payment cap will increase to £475 a week.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Latest From Napo 76

I've only just noticed that Ian Lawrence posted a blog on Saturday:-

Sodexo come back to table as Minister responds to unions concerns

At the end of another full on week, and as reported in BR 88-2015, the probation unions have now secured further talks with Sodexo on their early severance scheme. The discussions will take place this Monday and Tuesday have come about as a result of a meeting between the NNC Joint Secretaries the parties, and the MOJ contract compliance directorate.

To recap on how we have got to where we are, members will recall that Sodexo and the unions were directed to enter into negotiations about Sodexo's plans to offer a severance package which had initially been presented as an attempt to vary the terms of the Enhanced Voluntary Retirement Scheme. The unions entered into those talks in good faith but Sodexo decided to offer a voluntary severance scheme in its place which they have refused to improve.

The position has become even more complicated now that we have received a positive response from the Secretary of State to the letter that we sent following our meeting with him last month. I will publish this at the earliest opportunity, but as it raises a number of issues which are central to Napo's approach to next weeks talks I am asking that members bear with us for a few more days.

Unions seek halt to Severance exercise

Given the issues that have arisen over these last few weeks and the Ministers interpretation of Sodexo's contractual responsibilities in his letter, the unions have asked Sodexo to pause all procedures on the severance programme for one month to allow for genuine negotiations. Disappointingly (but somewhat predictably) this was refused, hence our latest advice that members do not sign the settlement agreements yet (the generic document is being considered by our legal advisers).

Sodexo's approach to this whole episode has been a communications disaster to say the least; one which has caused massive confusion and resentment across the CRC workforce within the six contract areas. This was the principle reason for members agreeing to be asked to take part in a formal industrial action ballot.

We have insisted that the talks next week include:

  • The interface between the proposed Voluntary Severance payment and release of pension for those aged over 55. The unions still maintain that Sodexo have got this wrong and that people are being induced to sign away their rights.
  • Serious points of clarification over several aspects of the proposed settlement agreement and the totally inadequate offer for financing individual legal advice
  • The intention to change Compulsory Redundancy terms in Cumbria/Lancs and Northumbria CRC's. 
  • Crucially, Sodexo's contractual compliance with MoJ (Gove's letter appears to raise some questions about this and where it is clear that he has instructed his officials to monitor developments).
  • The overall job cuts agenda and the unions concerns that this is unsustainable in terms of service delivery and public safety.
  • Failure to apply SCCOG/NNC job evaluation procedures to redesigned structures/jobs. 
  • The TUPE implications of the transfer of functions to Sodexo Salford.
Protecting your position


We have told Sodexo that we will continue to advise members who are involved in the expression of interest process add the caveat to all your communications that: "this is without prejudice to any improved outcomes that may emerge from the national negotiations I understand are still proceeding between Sodexo and the unions".

In light of Sodexo's track record for shifting the goalposts, none of us are able to predict what will happen in next weeks talks. We will give you as much definitive information as we safely can, but please bear in mind that our priority is bringing the CRC employers and Sodexo into territory in which we hope it may be possible to find some form of accord.

As always we enter this process in good faith, but remain ready to seek redress via industrial action if members believe that this remains the only other option. Its time for Sodexo to start resolving the mess that they have created.

You can help by sticking with Napo, supporting the work and efforts of your local representatives and telling others why they should sign up with us.

More news on a range of issues will follow later this week

Monday, 24 August 2015

Over a Barrel

Sodexo have started sending letters out regarding severance, but you must get legal advice and are only re-imbersed if you enter into an agreement:-  

Dear Colleague

This is an early email confirmation that your application for voluntary severance package has been accepted, subject to you signing the legally binding settlement agreement. A formal letter and agreement are being posted to your home address. Please note that the agreements will only be printed tomorrow afternoon in time for the post.

The settlement agreement is only legally binding if you have had independent legal advice on the effect of the agreement. The independent relevant advisor must be either: a qualified lawyer; a certified and authorised officer, employee or member of an independent trade union; or a certified and authorised advice centre worker; and in all cases they must have a current contract of insurance or professional indemnity insurance in place covering the risk of a claim from you. Providing you enter into a settlement agreement, we are prepared to contribute up to a maximum of £250 (plus VAT) towards the cost of the independent legal advice you receive and the payment will be made directly to your adviser.

In the agreement you may see a different leaving date to that you requested. If this is the case it is because of wider workforce planning considerations. This leaving date is non-negotiable unless there are exceptional circumstances and will only be considered on that basis.

Also in the agreement is the amount of severance pay you will receive (if any). Please note that any statutory redundancy payment is included in this compensation payment.

Should you wish to accept the offer of voluntary severance, you are required to return a signed settlement agreement. For the settlement agreement to be valid, you must have received independent legal advice. The deadline for the receipt of your signed, original agreement is 4 September 2015 (unless in exceptional circumstances an extension date has been given). If I do not hear from you by this deadline, I will determine that you no longer wish to progress your voluntary severance application. If that is the case then I must inform you that you will be considered alongside others (who did not apply for voluntary severance) in the pool for compulsory redundancy. However, if you are clear even before this deadline that you do not wish to pursue your application I would ask you to inform Anita Dixon, Head of HR, accordingly. In this case you will also be placed in the pool of staff 'at risk' of compulsory redundancy alongside others who did not apply for voluntary severance.

If you have any questions relating to this, please contact your senior manager in the first instance. However, if the question relates to the calculation of your severance pay, then please contact Anita.

Thanks
Nick

Sunday, 23 August 2015

News From the South West

Thanks to the reader for sending me the following:-

Napo Members report from Chair Mixed messages and what directions?

Dear members,

This is the first time in writing as the Chair of the Napo South Sou’ Western branch. The combined areas have just celebrated its first AGM being, just over a year old. Although it did not feel like a celebration it has been a dramatic time for all of us. The speed of this year has gone by like no other and after so many changes. This contrasts with what we know about a week in Politics is a long time. Yet anything might still happen given the up and way this has all been done.

The NPS have moved forward in their new direction as an organisation. Embracing their revised public service identity. It has narrowed their responsibilities for the most serious and dangerous while we know our colleagues there will maintain a cohesion to colleagues in the CRC and wider staff teams. In the change the CRCs now have everything. Within Napo locally, Jill Narin PO NPS has been elected as the Branch Vice Chair and Jill will continue her links and support to the branch whilst ensuring a napo official attendance is maintained in the newly formed and regionalised NPS Joint Consultative Committee.

The reorganisation continues across all the union and the national framework. Many of you will know the Union centrally is currently engaging members in a survey. This is to look at ways to reorganise how NAPO has to change in light of the geographic and regional employers. The consequences of having to manage day to day workings with different employers. What the proposals will look like is fairly predictable but most likely we will have a separate union process to meet the changing needs of members. We wait and see.

The CRC JNCC reps have established the branch within the new national model recognition agreement. I do not think it is as strong a constitution as the previous arrangements but it seems at this time it is the best national NAPO could broker. I have written to the General Secretary on some of the issues and problems it generates for effective negotiation. However, Napo locally remain recognised and continue to protect all the nationally agreed terms and conditions that Members currently have.

My Thanks go to Helen Coley Denice James Napo and Glo Curtis of Unison. Also Paul Sabulis and the Executive team who have kept things moving throughout the difficulties of the year. While on Napo activists, we have two of our long serving branch officials running as candidates for the National Vice Chair elections. Their experience and accumulated knowledge will place them well for election and we wish Barry Adams and Mona Lim our best. This can be better though if you ensure to vote for them both. Ensuring that in the centre we have some voice and reasoning that will help protect all our regions interests and that of our national colleagues. Election papers will be out soon please make sure you encourage everyone to vote.

You will all be aware of what feels like daily changes to aspects of your work. I cannot say how much this is reflected in the NPS other than what is reported in corridor discussion. We have a lot In common though as the target culture language is taking hold. There are numerous new instructions and recording process with N-delius ever hungry for more data entries. This will no doubt continue for a good while, but keep in mind nothing is set solid just yet and arrangements might change. Financial depended issues will drive anything.

We are aware of the bigger changes with the news of the recently appointed Area \Divisional Chief executive John Wiseman. He takes his new role in what has now become a massive geographic area. John will be managing Bristol Somerset Gloucester Wiltshire Dorset Devon and Cornwall CRCs. John is no stranger to traversing geography and he will not consider distances as an obstacle. The combined areas probably won’t cause him many difficulties, however multiple sets of staff may have to work in ways which will consider what our geographic neighbours are doing. John will have his work cut out on that. Also the areas will need to combine Union interests. John was quick to look at ways we need to think about efficiencies for the unions as they dovetail into the separate areas he controls. Many of you know John was formally the Chief of Dorset so he is returning effectively. John has a long history and strong career in the Probation services and there can be no doubt he remains just as ambitious and determined to make things work in his expanding role. Of course, it is to be expected and having had opportunity to meet with John for a short time, he appeared committed to a positive future. He was balanced and open to questions.

John made the usual reasonable and expected political protected answers. His awareness of critical issues which are of concern to the Unions gave me an indication he is astute to the wider implications of all the headline issues. I thought there was a small flicker of empathy for the position while nothing that was said could reflect more than a nuance of opinions. John balanced his views on what was before us now, and the changing political potentials. He did not make any assurances to the needs of the membership and workforce. However, the relationship between professional aspects of the work was touched upon. This will be at the centre of future arrangements. Nevertheless there were no cornering or direct pledges and our future practices may well have a meritocracy base for success. John Takes over formally in September, although, he looked settled and comfortable in Exeter already. He is keen to understand the regional strength of the unions and the efficiencies that might be had for both management time and Napo regional structures. Nothing can be advanced just yet and we wait and see the outcome of the National survey decisions. It was clear a wider dialogue within the territories branches will come in time. A tandem task structure from the employers and management and potentially regional delivery model may well happen. All this is ongoing speculation.

From ongoing issues to those or at least someone in particular who has decided their time for continuity is over. With our new (Chief) or Chief Executive John Wiseman coming in September, I want to ensure we reflect a little on those who have decided a new chapter in their life has come. In writing this section of the report I am genuinely saddened and feel some heartfelt warmth for a man who has dedicated his life to the tasks of caring and looking after people. For those who have less in the lottery of society. Our outgoing Chief Rob Menary, has been ACO, SPO, PO, and so on. His experience and memories go as far back as modern probation took hold. He has the broadest range of experience and has been involved in all the changes over the years in one way or the other. In all that time, whether practitioner or management I know from my experience of Rob he has always wanted to deliver better outcomes for the people we work with. In our cross union relationship I have to be clear we have crossed many times. We have argued at some points unable to maintain a totally objective positions, and test both of our patience come close to the limits. We have shared the contrast of a long night over strike action talks. Then, running into the small hours of the morning seeking resolution. A time when employers wanted to ensure our reputation of good running public services were free of militant strike action. Preventing stoppages in provision was important to avoid. However strong our disagreements have been, Rob has always seen these quickly forgotten. We have been able to move onwards without recrimination. This says a lot to me and members of the Unions negotiating teams working with Rob through difficult issues we have developed a respect which has grown over the years.

In the role of Chair of the branch, the responsibilities of recording and reporting are part of the job. Yet writing the union record for Rob’s departure is something I am glad to be doing. Having worked under and alongside Rob, I have many anecdotal stories. I hope to share these one day but not all can be done here. Many a comedy moment, 1 example, when Rob was an ACO new into the merged Devon and Cornwall. In a briefing we sat in the back row of chairs. Slowly but surely as the hours went on we both slid back our chairs trying to snatch a glimpse each other’s notes. The only thing stopping us eventually, was the 4 yards we had moved as we ended up against the wall.

This, sort of marks us really as we have spent considerable time against the wall. We are sadly a long way from those days their like will probably never return. It was a good time when we were afforded the wider boundaries and mix of interaction.

It is a consequence of leadership that decisions have to be made whether we like them or not, as a Union. Leadership is often isolating and despite many of the negatives Rob has never avoided problems always engaging. He has tried to serve his time well. I think he has achieved just that and exceeded in many areas. Often managing difficult issues into settlements if never full agreement. In the vein of lone decisions he has had many judgement calls. I know from my experience of representing members as a group or individuals he has made some difficult choices. Some of these have been emotionally heartbreaking for those involved. At times requiring the sensitivity and genuine sense to do things right for people. Robs activity here has been welcomed. These silent matters in the lives of people I know have been incredibly tough, yet sound and respectful judgements demonstrate his care and foresight for the well being of others. For some of those I thank him.

I do take this opportunity on behalf of the Union to Thank Rob publicly and on the record. The brief period, overseeing Dorset through the harmonisation process. Previous merger from Cornwall leading D+C. Working with the JNCC, and all struggles and support of argument. For some of the wins and disappointments in representing our members. Rob has many strings to his bow and will no doubt he will have much to do. I suspect he will take long voyages on his Kayak (I call his Yacht) He may well spend some time in his Spanish Villa (he calls a 1 bedroom flat.) Recently a grandfather with a new direction for the future or just relaxing as part of the successful family Rob comes from. Whatever he does he will no doubt do it well. Be well and with the warmest regards from us. I wish all best to you Rob whatever you choose to do and say a final thanks from NAPO.

Other recent leavers have been the Board but not yet mentioned. An interesting point we must credit the outgoing group for last year. In conjunction with senior management we finally managed to agree under the small window of opportunity the harmonisation agenda. We ratified full agreement of our current redundancy policy. The harmonisation process required a no detriment and upwards shift to all merging policies. This work continues to protect staff in many ways. The arrangement helped us move a long fought battle managed over 3 years with myself as lead negotiator. Many letters ignored and rejected from both HR and some senior management. There were times the board agreed with us but the momentum was stalled by the management. Citing hurdle after hurdle policy and beliefs over facts and in date requirements. Despite this, finally the board having had enough of the constant agenda item and ongoing lobbying a principled argument took hold. Along with a few other boards also adopting revised policies under the staff transfer arrangements. The opportunity to formally agree the position on our claim, although, we were never going to achieve our request right for 104 weeks under the LGPS scheme our compromise was to adopted the national EVR rates. This critical important agreement is something we feel the board need public recognition and our gratitude for because as they left they gave membership and staff a helping and decent hand. Not something for us to consider right now but ownership of that agreement is important for us all to remember. For that we thank the outgoing board members.

Finally, most members will not be oblivious to the issues and concerns that are being raised with me about our friends and colleagues in the north. Compulsory threats of dismissal in large numbers is an incredible response from the private owners of the contracts. Planned terminations on mass across all grades is an alarming prospect and send us a clear warning of the potential crisis we could all face. The worst situation for many ever in my 32+ years service. We are rightly concerned for them. Your respective work and those colleagues caught up with the reality that they are not required in the new employers operational model. It will be the worst outcomes set against a cost cutting arrangement by which the dismissals on offer seek to fleece colleagues of their critical redundancy rates. We are marginally better off in the form of our contract holder but we are not complacent. None of the SSW branch executive is comfortable with the growing fears and anxieties. I do not want to see any of our membership experience what is happening in other areas. On that basis we must be alert and stringent in all that we do. Ensure we have the fullest membership signed up to NAPO. Recruit where possible. Strong membership empowers us to negotiate matters on both a local and regional membership basis. We call to you our members to encourage your attendance at all branch meetings across the geography. Ensure you make branch minimum quoracy. Make sure all employment terms and issues are duly reported to the branch executive members or directly to me as Chair. Where colleagues are not members please again encourage them to join the branch NOW! The stronger the branch is the better prospects we have of achieving our stated aims, we have a good mandate on which to act but we can make it stronger. We will keep you posted as things develop and monitor the wider national picture.

The AGM is in October and I look forward to seeing as many of our members there as we can so put the dates in your diary.

Regards

Dino Peros Napo Chair SSW Jncc Rep.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Latest From Napo 75

BR 88-15(a)

21 August 2015

CAMPAIGN FOR REDUNDANCY RIGHTS IN SODEXO

SODEXO AGREES TO RE-OPEN TALKS ON VOLUNTARY REDUNDANCY

As a result of talks which took place between the probation unions and Sodexo today, with the assistance of the National Negotiating Council (NNC) Joint Secretaries, we are pleased to announce that Sodexo has agreed to re-open talks with the unions next week over its previously announced voluntary redundancy offer.

You will remember that the unions had previously asked Sodexo to increase its offer, which falls far short of the NNC Enhanced Voluntary Redundancy (EVR) scheme, but the company refused. As a result, we consulted you on the Sodexo offer, and 98% of Napo and UNISON members voted to reject it and take industrial action to seek to improve it. Sodexo is aware of this.

As responsible trade unions, we have halted any preparations for industrial action pending the talks resuming with Sodexo. We asked Sodexo to halt their redundancy timetable while the talks take place, but the company has not agreed to this at this point in time. We will continue to argue for this, because it makes sense to pause at this stage, particularly if the Sodexo voluntary redundancy offer changes.

In the meantime, members are advised not to enter into any agreements or undertakings with their CRC, or Sodexo, in relation to the company’s voluntary redundancy offer, pending further detailed advice which will be sent out next week following the meetings with the company. 


RANJIT SINGH                           IAN LAWRENCE

NAPO NATIONAL OFFICIAL      NAPO GENERAL SECRETARY

Guest Blog 44

Napo vs the Civil Service?

"You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig."

For a while now I've been thinking about this subject needing a bit of attention. I'm just going to jump in and say it to get it off my chest.

I'm a probation officer and have been with Napo since I started. The problem is that I don't think Napo represent me any more, and I don't believe it's even able to represent me anymore. Before the attacking comments from the technical know-it-all's and die-hard unionists strike me down I'm going to try to elaborate on this. I'm no expert on unions and it may be that I'm saying what many people are thinking. I may be out of line, I may be thinking this due to frustration, anxiety and fear, but I am thinking it.

Let's start with TR as its no use dragging up too much of the past. Napo failed to stop TR and as a result we've been split into two sides, NPS and CRC's. Napo failed to secure a better EVR deal for probation staff in CRC's and so 600 staff are waiting to be shafted with severance payments. As a result many have opted for severance and most of the staff left will probably face compulsory redundancies. There's talk of a strike but nobody can really believe it'll happen, and what's the point striking when the irreversible damage has already been done. Napo has proved it can't or won't fight Sodexo, and can't or won't get the MoJ to intervene either.

I wonder what's going to be the Napo response when all the other CRC's announce restructuring and redundancies too? According to 'Man down the pub' there hasn't and won't be Napo-supported employment tribunals against CRC's because Napo is saving its bank balance for its inner circle down at Napo HQ. Of course I can believe that, it's not like Napo has been anything more than a weak pulse over the last few years.

Over on my side of the divide, the NPS, we really don't know what's coming yet. We've had the civil service code and associated disciplinary policies, also the new targets, a wave of new directives and Probation Instructions, the rumours of directing PO's to prisons, reductions in expenses and mileage rates, rising workloads, threats of justice cuts, and not to leave out the oppressive office cultures, the power-mad managers, the problems with shared-services, etc, etc, etc.

In my neck of the woods we're all concerned that more is being expected for less, and the work is increasing and unnaturally soaked in red-tape, risk management and public protection tick-box procedures. They want goodwill, top quality work and best practice, but from staff who have been used as work horses and set to be pastured and put-down when the work is done. Anyone else in the NPS hearing JFDI quite a lot lately?

So my question is whether Napo can hack-it in the current set up? What has Napo done for the NPS since the split? I mean, Napo has failed big time and yet many of us still pay to be members. In comparison to the bigger unions, including Unison, our Napo is a small fish in a big pond - a small-hitter that seems to charge the highest subscriptions. More so, because Napo is so tiny it has very little weight to bargain and negotiate with the MoJ, and I'm not aware that it even has any bargaining power or rights with the MoJ or Civil Service. This bargaining ability and lack of credibility is not going to improve because probation is a small agency with a small member/staff base, and was made even smaller by TR. I'm not sure how many staff the NPS has, but whatever it is will be insignificant to the existing 400,000+ staff in the Civil Service.

While I was writing this 'Man down the pub' frowned and told me to find a bigger and better union that already successfully represents large numbers of civil service staff and associated professions. If Napo had been smarter it would have created the fallback position to be a professional association for probation. They must be kicking themselves at Napo HQ for handing that role to the Probation Institute which is despised of by most I speak to.

I think now is the time we need to know in plain terms how Napo intends to protect our rights, terms and conditions now we're the NPS and civil servants. It needs to come clean about its place in representing NPS staff and be honest about its limitations. If it can't help us then we need to be looking for suitable alternatives, and for the unions that will best represent us individually as probation officers and civil servants, and collectively as a profession.

A quick read of Wikipedia lists the following (and some are less than £15 a month).

Napo - 9000 members (really?)
Prison Officers Association - (POA) 37,000 members - I doubt we can join this one
Prospect - 118,000 members
Public and Commercial Union (PCS) - 262,000 members
Unison - 1.3 million members
Unite the Union - 1.4 million members

Final thought: Probation has always been the poor relation of the CJS. Without an effective union to represent us we're going to be forced to sit at the 'back of the bus' and will remain in the economy class of the Civil Service. I doubt there're many of us that want to go unprotected in the NPS without having Union representation for the unexpected events that may pit us against our MoJ and government worshipping masters. We need a strong Union for when the new bosses move the goalposts just as we're currently witnessing in the CRC's. Without bargaining power against the Civil Service and MoJ, Napo is effectively firing blanks. Unless I've got it all wrong, I think we'll be smart to be moving on.

Probation Officer

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Morally Bankrupt

Somewhat unusually, whilst at school I had aspirations to follow in my Grandmother's footsteps and become a Civil Servant. Like most of us at the time, I was brought up believing that Public Service was A Good Thing and that we were extremely fortunate as a society to have sound, impartial governance and the highest possible standards of Public Administration. So what the hell has happened that things have sunk as low as this, as reported in The Independent:-

DWP admits making up quotes by 'benefit claimants' saying sanctions helped them

The Department for Work and Pensions has admitted making up comments from supposed "benefit claimants" that appeared in a leaflet about sanctions.The leaflet, which has now been withdrawn, included positive example stories from people who claimed to have interacted with the sanctions system.

In one example, titled "Sarah's story", a jobseeker is quoted as being "really pleased" that a cut to her benefits supposedly encouraged her to re-draft her CV. "It's going to help me when I'm ready to go back to work," the fabricated quote reads. Another, by a benefit claimant supposedly called "Zac", details the sanctions system working well.

But in response to a freedom of information request by the Welfare Weekly website the DWP said the quotes were not actually real cases and that the photos were not of real claimants. “The photos used are stock photos and along with the names do not belong to real claimants. The stories are for illustrative purposes only," the department said.

The leaflet, a copy of which is available in full at Welfare Weekly, contains no suggestion that the stories are not real. The revelation is controversial because the sanctions system has been criticised for causing extreme hardship and being operated in an unfair and arbitrary way.

In March this year Parliament's Work and Pensions Select Committee said there was evidence that sanctions were geared towards punishing people for being unemployed and might not actually help them find work. The MPs said there was evidence that the benefit cuts for unemployed people caused more problems than they solved and might be "purely punitive".

Previous widely-criticised decisions include people being sanctioned for missing jobcentre appointments because they had to attend a job interview, or people sanctioned for not looking for work because they had already secured a job due to start in a week’s time. In one case a man with heart problems was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a disability benefits assessment and thus failed to complete the assessment.

Charities including Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation say the sanctions are responsible for a significant increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in Britain under David Cameron's government.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, told the Independent that the department's actions were "sinister". "It's disgraceful and sinister that DWP has been trying to trick people into believing claimants are happy to have their benefits stopped or threatened. Sanctions are unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive, and should be scrapped," he said.

The DWP added in the FOI response to the website: “We want to help people understand when sanctions can be applied and how they can avoid them by taking certain actions. Using practical examples can help us achieve this. We have temporarily changed the pictures to silhouettes and added a note to make it more clear that these are illustrative examples only. We will test both versions of the factsheet with claimants and external stakeholders to further improve it in the future. This will include working with external organisations.”

Once news broke on Tuesday, the story has been trending on Twitter with many people providing their own comical and sardonic responses. 
This is my favourite:-

"Having benefits stopped helped me get over my obsession with eating, my electricity addiction & the urge to sleep indoors." 

But of course this is serious and particularly sickening in the light of repeated refusals by the DWP to publish details of the number of claimants who have committed suicide over the last few years. I can only assume that the level of bad publicity has helped someone high up to examine their conscience because this notice has recently appeared on the DWP website:-

List of upcoming ad hoc statistical releases

27 August 2015 Mortality statistics: out-of-work benefit claimants Mar 2003 to Feb 2014 

This publication will provide mortality statistics for people on out-of-work benefits in Great Britain by age group and sex, from March 2003 to February 2014. Out of work benefits are Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit /Severe Disablement Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support. 

27 August 2015 Mortality Statistics: ESA, IB and SDA claimants 

This publication will provide information on those who have died after claiming Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance in Great Britain in response to a number of Freedom of Information requests.

No doubt it will make for sobering reading.

Postscript

This from the Guardian:-

Public relations body investigating DWP fake welfare claimants leaflet

The industry body for public relations has launched an investigation following the production of a government leaflet which featured invented quotes from two non-existent claimants talking up their experiences of the benefits system.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) said it had written to all of its members who work at the Department for Work and Pensions to find out whether they had played any part in putting the leaflet together.

Sarah Pinch, the CIPR’s president, said: “Falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support is a naive and opaque technique which blatantly disregards the CIPR’s standards of ethical conduct. It is deeply disappointing if public relations professionals allowed it to be published.”

The official document was pulled on Tuesday after the DWP admitted it had made up supposed benefits claimants “Sarah” and “Zac”. A spokesman said the leaflet was produced in-house by its “communications team”.


The CIPR, which represents and regulates public relations professionals, is responsible for enforcing its code of conduct and can convene tribunals that have the power to expel any members found to have committed the most serious breaches. It can also issue reprimands and suspensions of membership, as well as negotiating settlements where possible.

A spokesman said it would await responses from DWP staff before deciding what action to take. She added: “All CIPR Members are publicly accountable for the standard of their professional conduct, and the conduct of those under their management. This accountability is a valuable asset to the public, to members and to those who employ them.

“Honest regard for the public interest, delivering reliable and accurate information, and never misleading clients, employers or others are vital components of proper professional practice. Any CIPR member found to be breaking any of our ethical principles, will be held accountable for their actions.”

The use of the fake claimants was criticised by Labour’s leadership candidates. Andy Burnham said the DWP had been “caught red-handed”, while both Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall said Duncan Smith should apologise. Jeremy Corbyn said the saga showed “how out of touch the Tories are”.

The DWP did not respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

More From Nick

Latest missive from Nick Hall, CEO of Northumbria CRC:-

Good afternoon everyone,

I wanted to provide you with a further update on where we are now that the window for voluntary severance applications has closed.

Voluntary Severance 


In total we received 120 applications which equates to about 105 full time equivalents. You may recall that in my previous email I outlined that we needed to lose about 105 full time equivalent posts so we are as close as we can be in terms of total numbers. Not all applications coincide with where we need to lose posts and at this stage it is not clear how many applications will result in a member of staff leaving, but if all or most did leave then I am confident we would be able to resolve some of the pools of staff without any further action. We are also working hard to see how we might 'balance' pools where there are too many applications with those where there are not enough in order to mitigate compulsory redundancies. I will ensure that staff are kept fully informed as soon as possible as I realise how important it is.

For staff that have applied for voluntary severance and the application has been approved 

You will be receiving a letter along with a draft settlement agreement to confirm that your application has been agreed, without prejudice and subject to contract. The letter and agreement will be sent by post to your home address and there will be clear instructions as to how to progress your application through to conclusion. This must be by no later than 5pm on 4 September so that we can be absolutely clear how many surplus staff we have prior to making final decisions on any compulsory redundancies. On a case by case basis I will reserve the right to extend this deadline for a member of staff who is out of the area for this period. I must inform you that if you decide to withdraw your application it is likely that you will be placed in a pool of staff at risk of compulsory redundancy.

Compulsory Redundancies 

Although the number of applications for voluntary severance is high, I have to confirm that it is unlikely that we will be able to avoid compulsory redundancies altogether in some pools and therefore have written to the National Joint Secretaries in line with the NNC Management of Change Protocol to inform them of this position. At our last consultation meeting locally I also made our local trade unions aware of this position as well as informing them that we have now introduced our revised redundancy policy which is available on NORIS under HR / Policies and Procedures. For pools where we are not reliant on the outcome of the voluntary severance scheme, we will progress towards compulsory redundancy selection as soon as is reasonably possible using the selection criteria outlined in my previous email. Following the deadline of 4 September we will then look to apply the same selection criteria in order to manage any final selection process required. Where compulsory redundancies are necessary we intend to issue notices of compulsory redundancy by no later than 30 September. An up to date restructure timeline is available on NORIS for information.

Where it is now possible to confirm that staff are being 'slotted in' to their post, you will be receiving a letter outlining this as soon as possible.

For any staff leaving the company there will be a full outplacement service made available. Some details of this have already been placed on NORIS but full details will be made available to all those where appropriate.

In the meantime we continue to consult with our trade union representatives.

Finally, I do realise that we are in a very difficult phase of our company restructuring and want to ensure that you are provided with as much support as possible. In addition to our employee assistance programme can I suggest that if you feel there is anything we can do then please make contact with HR in the first instance.

Thanks
Nick

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

You Were Warned!

I have absolutely no sympathy with any wailing from the Voluntary Sector regarding their involvement with the TR omnishambles, because they were warned! This on the Clinks website:-

WARNING SIGNALS – THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR IN TR

We know that the voluntary sector is central to the genuine transformation of rehabilitation and resettlement services, and although it is early doors, we have heard clear warning signals that many organisations remain on the side-lines, and others are fundamentally questioning their sustainability. Today we have launched the first #trackTR report, led by Clinks in partnership with NCVO and TRSC it provides a glimpse into the reality on the ground as told by charities working in the criminal justice sector.

156 voluntary sector organisations responded to our survey to give their views on the landmark Transforming Rehabilitation reforms that promised to put the sector “at the frontline of offender rehabilitation”. The sector is telling a story of being left in a state of limbo by a slow pace of change, cuts to funding, a lack of transparency, and apprehension amongst funders and commissioners. But others tell a different story, one where new contracts are won, with organisations getting ready to deliver and expanding their work with people in the Criminal Justice System.

A state of limbo

The transformation of probation has been slower than many in the voluntary sector were led to believe. Many are still waiting to see how or if they will be involved in service delivery beyond the next few months, making strategic planning and staff retention difficult. The few voluntary sector organisations that are managing to firm up new service delivery contracts are confined to our larger members with a national, or multi-regional footprint.

“The extent of delays in mobilisation… were not anticipated and this is now having a serious impact on our planning, budget/finances and managing our partners.” - Survey respondent

It is worth noting that the pace of change has been breakneck, and that the expected timescales for the implementation of new services have been much shorter than many would have liked, doubtless including many of the new owners of Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) and the National Probation Service (NPS) who have both had to ensure that existing services are maintained whilst the re-structuring of the probation services continues. This will have had an impact on their collective capacity to focus on an approach that engages the widest range of voluntary sector delivery partners.

So the pace of change has brought challenges to all sides, however, it appears to be having the worst impact on those who have the least capacity to sustain themselves during this time - the smaller organisations that provide local (often specialist) support. It is unclear when, or if, these voluntary sector providers will find a place in the delivery model of CRCs in the months and years ahead. And by the time that does become clear many of these organisations may have had to close their doors.

A lack of transparency

There is little clarity on the role that charities will be playing in new probation contracts; we simply don’t have the detail yet. We don’t know what services the voluntary sector will be delivering, or how they will be resourced to do it.

“Core funding for our Female Offender services expired at the end of March 2015… some of this has been extended by 3 months but we have not got any assurance of continuity thereafter”. - Survey respondent

The lack of clarity makes it difficult to understand the role of the voluntary sector in the new reality, so we will continue to call for greater transparency around the value and quantity of work that gets sub-contracted to the voluntary sector. However, that isn’t our only concern, we have to interrogate what the voluntary sector is being asked to provide, whether it represents real quality, if it makes the best use of the assets and expertise of specialist organisations. Ultimately we should base our judgement of Transforming Rehabilitation on whether it is making a difference to the people who need better rehabilitation and resettlement services, their families, and the communities they return to.

As we continue to monitor the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation we will start to focus in on the delivery of specialist services. For example, we will explore what is happening to women-specific approaches, what is being done to address the disproportionate over-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic offenders, how the distinct needs of young adults will be met, what is being done to support care leavers, or whether the needs of an ageing prison population have been considered.

Apprehension amongst funders and commissioners

The voluntary sector report a sense of apprehension amongst funders and commissioners about what new probation providers will fund (both Community Rehabilitation Companies & the National Probation Service). They report that some independent charitable funders and local commissioners are questioning whether they should continue to fund charities that work with offenders. Additionally commissioners appear to be cutting funding for some offender rehabilitation and resettlement services, especially in areas such as housing.

“We have had grant funding come to an end with the funder assuming that Transforming Rehabilitation contracts would replace this and/or not being comfortable funding work with charitable donations that could potentially deliver profit to private companies. We have also had prisons reluctant to commission work due to being uncertain whether it would be their or the Community Rehabilitation Company’s responsibility to do so.” – Survey respondent

This is making life all the more complicated for a range of voluntary sector organisations, both large and small. Not only does it affect their ability to plan their fundraising strategy, but it is also impacting on local relationships between the voluntary sector and other commissioners and funders. This issue, combined with the slower than expected mobilisation and the lack of transparency is causing widespread confusion amongst both providers and commissioners about who is (or should be) paying for what.

“Services previously funded by the local authority have been decommissioned as there is an expectation that Community Rehabilitation Companies will pick them up. This is particularly true in the case of housing. In reality this has not happened.” – Survey respondent

In the background to all of these funding decisions are the pre-existing cuts to the Ministry of Justice budget, which stands at a 24% budget reduction over the last five years (totalling £893 million). As part of the forthcoming 'spending review' the Ministry of Justice is being asked to make a further reduction of between 25% and 40%.

With cuts across other government departments such as health and welfare, as well as to local authorities, it is likely that services will come under more pressure in years ahead. This will doubtless mean that independent charitable trusts and foundations, who fund such a large proportion of the work done by the voluntary sector in criminal justice, will have to give careful consideration as to where and what they want to fund.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Anyone But Corbyn?

It's Saturday. Lets stick my neck out and talk about something else for a change. I'm not a member of any political party and have resisted the temptation to cough-up £3 in order to help the Labour Party choose their next leader, but I'm certainly watching things closely. 

In many respects the process could be described as somewhere between a grotesque charade and a slow car crash. Whoever thought up the £3 voting scam needs shooting. Oh, it was Ed Miliband? Rather worryingly, career politicians are often not too good at thinking through the consequences of their actions are they? When the dust settles and the Tories have stopped laughing, I wonder how long it will be before that idea bites the dust along with that infamous 'Edstone'.

Ever since certain people in the Labour Party quite rightly thought it would be a jolly good idea to have a proper debate and get Jeremy Corbyn in the race, we've witnessed a most unedifying spectacle of him being comprehensively rubbished. Not only by the three other lack-lustre candidates, but by the Blairite big guns as well, including the sun-tanned multi-millionaire and sad former world leader himself. 

None of them seem able to grasp that the more fervent and feverish the apocalyptic claims are made as to the Party being consigned to electoral oblivion, the higher Corbyn's popularity rises. There's no doubt he's going to win and for the first time we are going to have a real on-going debate as to another possible way out of the mess we're currently in and that alone is surely good for our country and our democracy?

But lets not get too carried away here. Corbyn isn't a potential Prime Minister, but then none of the candidates are. Without even having listened to the guy, I'm going to stick my neck out and predict that, unlike the other candidates, he has sufficient insight and humility to know this. I believe other much more serious and credible contenders will start to see which way an alternative wind is blowing and build upon the barnstorming work already undertaken by Corbyn.

Corbyn has set in motion a fundamental debate about an alternative to Blairite policies and in the process flushed out the apologists and quasi Tories like Yvette Cooper. In the coming weeks I predict some keen aspiring backbenchers will be only too happy to nail their colours to Corbyn's mast and from this bunch will emerge a non-Blairite but credible leader and possible future Prime Minister. I would remind readers that we've yet to see the true cut of Keir Starmers jib for instance.

Without a hint of irony, it's really interesting to hear the likes of Yvette Cooper describing Corbyn's ideas as being 'old-fashioned', when in fact they are novel and refreshingly new to many people and it is she that is stuck in a Blairite past. Here's Corbyn's Manifesto:-   

  • Growth not austerity – with a national investment bank to help create tomorrow’s jobs and reduce the deficit fairly. Fair taxes for all – let the broadest shoulders bear the biggest burden to balance the books.
  • A lower welfare bill through investment and growth not squeezing the least well-off and cuts to child tax credits.
  • Action on climate change – for the long-term interest of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits.
  • Public ownership of railways and in the energy sector – privatisation has put profits before people.
  • Decent homes for all in public and private sectors by 2025 through a big housebuilding programme and controlling rents.
  • No more illegal wars, a foreign policy that prioritises justice and assistance. Replacing Trident not with a new generation of nuclear weapons but jobs that retain the communities’ skills.
  • Fully-funded NHS, integrated with social care, with an end to privatisation in health.
  • Protection at work – no zero hours contracts, strong collective bargaining to stamp out workplace injustice.
  • Equality for all – a society that accepts no barriers to everyone’s talents and contribution. An end to scapegoating of migrants.
  • A life-long national education service for decent skills and opportunities throughout our lives: universal childcare, abolishing student fees and restoring grants, and funding adult skills training throughout our lives.

It's a really interesting list and although I can't go along with not replacing Trident, putting a stop to privatising the NHS is a no-brainer and hugely popular with the general public, across all political parties, as indeed is bringing back the railways into public ownership. I predict membership of the Labour Party will rise following Corbyn's election precisely because there's plenty of blue water beginning to emerge between the two main parties once again.

But lets not get carried away. Despite my theory that Corbyn will be a willing interim leader, there are problems. I think he's dodgy on matters like the IRA and there's the small but important sartorial matter. I'm led to believe that advisers that include our very own former Assistant General Secretary Harry Fletcher have had advice rebuffed, but what might be ok for the Greek Prime Minister doesn't go down well here. Fortunately we have Parliamentary codes on such matters as ties, but surely Mr Corbyn wouldn't want the story to become one about dress as with poor old Michael Foot and the infamous Cenotaph donkey jacket? 

We're in for interesting times and the leadership result will initiate a real shake-up, not just in the Labour Party, but across the political spectrum because for the fist time in a long time, someone is daring to suggest real alternatives. But the naysayers will say but will it win an election? The answer is of course no! But that's because Corbyn has ducked the really big question of electoral reform. 

Our electoral system was designed to deal with old-fashioned class-based politics in a broadly two party system, and both parties felt it suited them for years. That game is over and Labour must start talking about a change to Proportional Representation. No matter how much traction Corbyn's ideas gain, and I predict a lot, it counts for nothing under the present system where the hugely popular UKIP gained 4 million votes, but just a single MP. Come on Corbyn - be really radical!