Thursday, 6 March 2014

A Grand Day Out

As we know from comments left on this blog, and that includes Ian Lawrence because he mentioned the 'democratic' nature of the internet, there were many who were sceptical about the need for this bit of introspection focused as it was on the constitution. But despite the pedantic and at times chaotic, confusing and arcane discussion of amendments to amendments, there are times when it's important to be reminded that being a member of a union means collective support and action. 

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Spending 10 minutes of the lunch break gathering around Queen Victoria felt good and not only served to make sure the picture made it on to news bulletins, it also sent a none-too subtle signal to the MoJ who coincidentally were holding a bidders event at the Thistle Hotel nearby.   

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I'm sure some constitutional amendments did get passed, but like many I'm not sure what exactly, but I do know Owen Jones electrified the auditorium with a barn-storming speech that earned him the only standing ovation of the day. This is clearly a young man who is going places and his oratory skills unmistakably invoke memories of great public speakers of the past and before the advent of TV made everything so damned anodyne.

His message pretty much echoed that of the Ken Loach film mentioned yesterday and he reminded us that voters of all political parties continually favour reigning back the privatisation of public services when asked by opinion polls. I honestly think his contribution alone salvaged the day in terms of confirming the worth of mixing invited speakers with the arcane business agenda. 

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It's always good to hear from Frances Crook of the Howard League, another loyal Napo supporter, together with Harry Fletcher who continues to undertake sterling work behind the scenes in Parliament. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill returns to the Upper House for debate on 12th March and Lord Ramsbotham hopes to repeat his famous government defeat, thus triggering a highly embarrassing game of ping-pong with the House of Commons. 

Harry also reminded us that the indefatigable Margaret Hodge, Chair of the influential Public Accounts Committee, intends to get her teeth stuck into officials of the MoJ next week. Witnesses include Michael Spurr and Dame Ursula Brennan, Permanent Under Secretary, and they are to be asked to outline exactly how much the TR omnishambles is costing. The latter has somewhat of a reputation for being a bully and it's widely believed it was her who was responsible for the most recent delay in the TR timetable. It seems she was able to stand up to that other bully Chris Grayling and refused to sign off TR on the basis that it failed the key Business Readiness Test. It may still do of course! 

In this regard we were reminded by Assistant General Secretary Dean Rogers that government contracts normally take at least 2 years to prepare and negotiate, and longer if complicated. Those for TR are being rushed through in less than 9 months from start to finish, despite the MoJ repeatedly demonstrating their poor track record on such matters. And the clock is ticking inexorably towards the period of purdah prior to the General Election when all such actions must cease. The problems keep growing, the costs are escalating and potential bidders keep asking awkward questions that have no answers. The omnishambles is on track even if TR is not.

The big news of the day was the announcement of further strike action on March 31st and April 1st, Chris Grayling's birthday. Going on strike is pretty much anathema to probation staff steeped as they are in a strong public service ethos and it always strongly divides opinion, as demonstrated by these comments from last night:-

So we're going on strike again. I feel so despondent, I simply don't have the appetite for this. I can fully understand why they chose those dates but I'm so stressed I'm not sure I can cope with this as well. It's too little, too late. 


2 days is not enough. No one will care that we are striking for 2 days. More to the point, we ourselves feel that 2 days is apathetic. 2 weeks would be more of a statement and a stand. 2 weeks would show guts and determination and would leave the government floundering. 2 days is barely more than the 2 half day dithering we did before. Grayling is determined to privatise probation. We have to match that determination with our own. If we do not, we deserve to lose.


If I'm honest, in my heart of hearts I have no appetite for another strike. But I will still be on the picket line because it's the right thing to do. For me, being in a union is more than paying my subs every month, it's about taking collective action because - and I know this sounds cheesy - we are stronger together. 

The big question remains, where the hell is Unison in all this? Sadly there doesn't seem much sign of fraternal support from them and the uncomfortable truth maybe that they're biding their time in the hope of poaching members.

In his speech Ian Lawrence brought up the issue of the Judicial Review. Many of us have been wondering what was happening and I'm aware that at least one external unsolicited offer of legal assistance has recently been made. As with all things legal there are differences of opinion as to the strength of the case and it would appear advice from Napo's Counsel is that there are also significant financial risks involved. Given that Napo has money in the bank and this is a fight for professional survival, I think many members will feel that the matter must be tested. 

(pics courtesy Effie Perine) 


  1. "I think many members will feel that the matter must be tested."

    This one most certainly does!


    1. Grayling day.

    2. Lawyers fiercely opposed to Chris Grayling’s legal aid reforms could bring the court system to a halt on what they are calling Grayling Day.

      Epsom’s MP unveiled his final package of legal aid reform last week, in his capacity as Secretary of State for Justice. The reforms include proposals that would see prisoners’ access to legal aid limited and a reduction in fees paid by the taxpayers to criminal solicitors and barriers for advocacy.

      "Grayling Day" on Friday is being billed as a "demo to save legal aid" with a large demonstration expected outside Parliament.

      On its website, the Justice Alliance - a group of legal organisations, charities, community groups, grassroots and other campaigning groups, trade unions and individuals - which formed in response to the reforms, states: "The Justice Alliance has called a demonstration against the sell-off of legal aid.

      "The Justice Alliance has managed to bring together a significant section of lawyers, legal workers and barristers and have consistently spoken out against Grayling’s attacks on Legal Aid, so it’s well worth getting behind.

      "’To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’ - Magna Carta, 1215."

      Other organisations supporting the demonstration are the Criminal Bar Association, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association.

      The nationwide protest is expected to bring the court system to a halt.

      But London’s Crown Prosecution Service has written to barristers warning them that they may lose future state prosecution work if they choose to demonstrate.

      The demonstration will take place on Friday, March 7, at 10am, outside Parliament at the Old Palace Yard in Westminster. This will be followed by a march to the Ministry of Justice.

      Speakers on the day will include Paddy Hill, a member of the Birmingham Six; Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty; and Ian Lawrence of the National Association of Probation Officers.

    3. Probation workers in England and Wales are to go on strike in protest at plans to outsource parts of the service.

      The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) said its members would stop work for 24-hours from midday on Monday 31 March.

      Napo said plans to outsource 70% of the work of the service were "recklessly dangerous".

      But the government criticised the "unhelpful" announcement and promised contingency arrangements.

      It will be the union's second strike over the reforms since November.

      'Social experiment'
      Under the Ministry of Justice's plans, most probation work, supervising low and medium-risk offenders, would be outsourced to private firms and voluntary groups.
      Under the Ministry of Justice's plans, most probation work, supervising low and medium-risk offenders, would be outsourced to private firms and voluntary groups.

      Napo has been running a fierce campaign against the proposals.

      Speaking at a campaign rally in Birmingham, the union's general secretary Ian Lawrence said: "The coalition's plans to sell off the management of offenders to private providers so that they can make a profit from the justice system is a recklessly dangerous social experiment that presents massive risks to the safety of communities."

      The strike call came as the National Audit Office warned there must be contingency plans in case the outsourcing arrangements failed.

      An NAO report said there were "generic risks" associated with the reforms, adding that the "management and supervision of offenders is a crucial public service which cannot be interrupted for any reason".

      The spending watchdog said the probation sector had been performing effectively and found no weaknesses in the accounts for all 35 trusts.

      Probation trusts will cease operation on 31 May and will then be wound up.

      More than 700 organisations from across the world have expressed interest in the contracts, including hundreds of British firms.

      Responding to Napo's industrial action announcement, Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: "This is a strike in favour of the status quo which is high reoffending rates and no support for 50,000 short sentenced offenders."

      He said the union had recently ratified an agreement giving staff "a series of protections" under the new arrangements.

      Mr Wright said: "We are therefore surprised that they have now chosen to adopt this unhelpful course of action.

      "It is even more disappointing when we are making positive progress towards the mobilisation of the new rehabilitation arrangements.

      "We have well established contingency arrangements to deal with any potential action and will continue to support staff and engage with unions as our reforms move forward."

    4. Wright is the master of weasel words.

  3. Yesterday someone flagged up a very interesting article regarding Buddi walking away from a state of the art tagging contract.
    I highlight this article, not because of the news content, but because of the language used, and the very obvious upset felt by the MoJ.
    It can also serve as a warning to other bidders for MoJ contracts of just what may be expected of them and what unacceptable demands they may face.

  4. I was at Birmingham yesterday. Hope remains that the timetable may be delayed and that more lobbying will make a real difference. It's all too human to pin hopes on miracles when morale is flatlining and the end of the world seems nigh.

    A strike on Grayling's birthday will probably get a little publicity but it's not going to turn any tides and there may well be even more resistance this second time to losing a day's day. Once again there will be the lamentable sight of members of a sister union who work alongside Napo members, crossing picket lines. The absence of Unison strike action is a gift to the MoJ and reflects the divisions at the leadership level. Why did that part of the strategy go off the rails? There will be an unholy battle for members once the dust settles. Working and negotiating on behalf of outsourced labour is no big deal for Unison and to Unison probation work is one little corner of their vineyard. The consequences of the deprofessionalisation and casualisation of the probation workforce.

  5. Hey Unison, do you even understand probation???? This is the time when our sister union MUST demonstrate solidarity not in words but by coordinated action.
    I was at Birmingham yesterday and it was powerful to see people desperate for any glimmer of hope and well, to be honest, really sad about what this Government is doing to destroy a brilliant profession. Yes, there was anger too and I am not sure most of it was appropriately directed.
    The single biggest thing we can do now is to UNIONISE they all fear this and it says in one easy way that we are increasingly not happy and will not be complicit with this crap!

  6. Netnipper in the end we will have to fight, when things get so bad that we cant feed our families. Those in charge will not stop, their logic of more profit for themselves and their shareholders is driving the whole omnishambles;. Therefore if there is going to be a fight lets call it now; we need to simply tell it like it is and reinvigorate the resistance. There is no running away this is the truth of our situation.

  7. I wasn't looking forward to the SGM but to my surpise I enjoyed the day. The boring business (well most of it) got done & the contributions from Ian L, Harry F & Tanya B helped to inform & clarify exactly what NAPO has been doing & restored my faith a little.......and if you ever get the chance to listen to Owen Jones don't miss it - as JB stated it was an electifying speech.
    As noted by other contributors the most glaring omission in all this is Unison - OK they missed the first strike day but why oh why haven't the leadership managed to resolve any differences - we should all be out together on 31st March.....Bobbyjoe

  8. Can we have some support please UNISON ?????

  9. Omg I've just realised that te proposed strike is 2 half days again?! Napo ... What the hell? Staff will just be expected to do a days work in the half day like last time, and te daily commute will cost the same for half the hours. I won't be striking. It's a joke I'm sorry to say . I'm gutted . For gods sake get some guts and organise full days for the strikes.

    1. If you cannot work out how to honour the strike, manage the ongoing work to contract and not cram two days work into one, how the heck can you work n-delius??!!

    2. That's a trick question - it's not possible to work n-Delius, it's a cruel April Fool's joke foisted upon us.

  10. Two half days will save you from losing a day's pension contribution ! It reduces the cost to you and not all colleagues undertake the same roles. For example, Court teams have a significant impact especially given the disruption caused by the legal profession taking strike action too.
    The biggest impact will be upon the bidders who are getting very jittery and really have started to have cold feet. This really is worth it.

  11. O dear tokenism again. 2 half days might protect your pension but will it really help keep your job and prevent TR now? How about NAPO withdrawing from probation institute immediately, lead by example napo leaders. The PI is an important part of TR so withdraw NAPO, pull the plug. As for as striking napo will need to do a massive piece of campaigning work to get members on side. I can see NPS going in and CRC coming out. Most admin going in because they are mostly Unison. Still no co ordination with strike day and others in CJS who are facing attacks. More divisions amongst staff which will cut even deeper than before and last longer. These divisions will definitely compromise NPS/CRC communication practitioner to practitioner, and indirectly and I guess directly in some situations compromise public safety in the future. So the message is, napo leaders get in line with your membership, totally withdraw from PI, seek to co ordinate with other workers in public sector. And potential bidders if you take any probation trusts over, you are taking over an absolute mess on every conceivable level.