I wonder what it must be like to work down at MoJ/Noms HQ at the moment? Not knowing from one week to the next what's happening and trying to make sense of the Minister's latest barmy ideas when you know they won't work. One week HMP Dorchester is scheduled to be part of a grand plan for 50 resettlement prisons. The next week it's closing. One week, there is no alternative but to impose legal aid Price Competitive Tendering. The next there's a u-turn. One week the split between the CRC's and NPS is 70/30. The next it's 50/50.
We know they're working really hard down there at HQ because Probation Trust chairs were told this during a hastily-arranged teleconference yesterday. Joe Kuipers, Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, revealed the gist of the conference call in several tweets and the message is firmly that 'TR will happen!'
Such a statement has the ring of Chris Grayling about it when he's angry and at his most defensive. When it all goes pear-shaped, as it most surely will, his humiliation will be that much more complete. I think the alarmingly-frank admission from officials that 'many questions remain' should send a shiver down those at HM Treasury and the No10 Policy Implementation Unit and set alarm bells ringing.
Of course the Trust Boards still have a key role to play in the whole omnishambles saga as each has to decide whether to accept the contract changes being imposed by the MoJ, and we will be watching and holding each to account as they consider the matter. How fortunate we are that one Trust Board broke ranks from the Probation Association over TR and are prepared to continue ploughing an independent furrow.
Apparently mention was made of the union negotiations at the teleconference, but its passage towards acceptance looks to be even more bumpy with at least one Napo branch losing patience and beginning the process to try and ensure that matters are deferred until the AGM at Llandudno in October. I understand that certain key documents are still not available, despite the NEC decision date being barely 10 days away.
Despite the 'upbeat' nature of the spin coming out of MoJ/Noms HQ, word is that there are unmistakable signs of interest waning amongst potential bidders for the work, and especially 'primes'. People are getting jittery as it becomes ever more clear that the MoJ don't really know how it's all going to work, a situation completely mirroring that found by the recent National Audit Office report into the Universal Benefit project. Can a government really afford to have so much going wrong at this point in the electoral cycle? A beleaguered Prime Minister will be considering a reshuffle of his cabinet soon and it will be very interesting to see how this pans out.
Staff continue to jump ship in considerable numbers and I've recently been in offices where those remaining are rattling around amidst a sea of empty workstations. Workloads are becoming so critical that I hear questionable practices are being adopted in certain Trusts, such as the so-called 'cold OASys'. It would seem that staff are being directed to complete OASys assessments based solely on other colleagues FDR paperwork, but with clients unseen by the assessor. I know OASys is basically crap, but this practice strikes me as both completely unprofessional and useless.