Sunday, 8 September 2013

Are we too late to save Probation?

Saturday’s Guardian includes a review of a 500 page study of “the most egregious blunders committed by British Governments over the last three decades”.  There are many, myself included, who believe that the next edition- there will be a continuous need for updating- will include a section on Transforming Rehabilitation, aka selling off the Probation service.  There is simply too much which is likely to go wrong with what is an ideologically motivated policy in a politically sensitive area, being implemented in a rushed and untested way. But Governments, as the blunders study says, ignore well informed critics whom they treat as political enemies or defenders of producer interests.  And as we saw last week in respect of Universal Credit, when things do go wrong, risk assessment or not, civil servants can be blamed for implementation failure, whether or not the policy is capable of implementation.
So what can be done at this late stage to halt the headlong rush to disaster? I’ll be reading the blunders book to see if it has any insights. In the meantime a Probation blogger has made a useful list of what members of the service should do to save it.

In addition , if they have not been done already, Probation organisations  need to :
a)      Get legal advice on whether what the government is doing is watertight.

TR relies on the Offender Management Act 2007 for the powers to contract out Probation services. Are there any elements of that Act that need to be amended to fit the TR agenda and if so are they all in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill? Even if they are, that Bill is not yet law. Should the government not have to wait until it is law before letting any contracts or incurring costs on doing the preliminary work? If they seek to rely in any way on the Bill as it stands to support their case for moving the agenda forward, then thanks to Lord Ramsbotham , they are stuck with the requirement that “no alteration or reform may be made to the structure of the probation service unless the proposals have been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament”.  

b)      Press for urgent Parliamentary scrutiny of the proposals.   The Justice Committee has been very disappointing in its failure to ask the Government about either the rationale for or consequences of such a wholesale reorganisation of a key service. It should hold an urgent meeting – why not this week-, particularly in the light of the G4S/SERCO investigations and their implications for outsourcing, the risks to the policy outlined in the leaked  register and the frankly unreliable cost assumptions in the government’s plans.

c)       Go for the post –Teather Lib Dems.  The Lib Dems have been silent so far. Maybe they have to pick their fights and this one is too small.  Perhaps Vince Cable likes the idea of   opening up a new market for British business. The government has made much of the alleged economic benefits of new electronic tagging contracts and the North Wales super prison. The Coalition after all is committed to rebalancing the economy in favour of the private sector.  But could calling a halt to TR – perhaps by way of a Task Force as with the NHS- be a way of shoring up some of their support among the members of the party more sympathetic to probation and what it stands for .

Before he entered Parliament in 2001, Chris Grayling worked for Burson Marsteller and declared in the Parliamentary register of interest that he undertook occasional consultancy work for his old employer advising companies on communication with their employees. This he stated was “a core area of my pre-parliamentary professional expertise.” Reports of morale in the probation service fly somewhat in the face of Mr Grayling’s claims.

He made clear that he had no involvement with Burson-Marsteller's public relations business. That may well turn out to be a pity for him as their area of expertise is high profile crisis management.


  1. I think high lighting the support that might yet come from those who favour a traditional public probation service is a good idea.

    However, we need to remember that apparently, if what I have read is correct the LD leader Nick Clegg personally endorsed the Offender Rehabilitation Bill and the Transforming Rehabilitation plans before they were started in earnest.

    In a speech to Nacro in May 2013 he said

    "What we want to see is something that takes and builds on the best from the public sector, the best from the private sector and the best from the voluntary sector to break the cycle of crime for good.

    That is why we are reorganising the Probation Service, so that the public, voluntary and private sectors can work more flexibly and effectively side by side.

    We want to extend the good work that is taking place all over the country, including right here. And we want to ensure that all of those with a strong track record in this area - including smaller regional rehabilitation charities, social enterprises or entrepreneurial staff from Probation Trusts interested in starting an employee mutual to bid for work - are able to get involved

    That is why I'm pleased to announce today a package of tailored support to help fledgling mutuals and smaller rehabilitation organisations bid for contracts.
    This includes access to around £7 million worth of funds to help these groups bid and support their work in communities. This is addition to the £10 million mutuals support programme, which is open to probation staff.

    We are also making available to these groups valuable financial tools, legal advice, coaching and training and a network of peers and expert contacts to help take them through the bidding process.

    We are serious about getting those who know what they are doing involved in our rehabilitation revolution.


    So in conclusion, let me be clear, I am wholly committed to that Rehabilitation Revolution. And we are putting in place the legislation, innovative policies and providers to deliver solutions that work. That will tackle, for the first time ever on a mandatory basis, the complex issues and drivers behind the persistent problem of reoffending.

    And provide the support needed to fundamentally change the lives of those released from prison.

    As a society, I believe, we're more progressive and we're more liberal. These are the best conditions in which to cut crime. A society, in which the Government and public can bring about the necessary changes that will ensure a future, where more people are free from crime and the fear of crime: in short - a stronger, a fairer Britain.",1600,NAP.html

    AND one of the most senior LDs in Government was the minister who took the very flawed Offender Rehabilitation Bill through the House of Lords - Lord McNally

    Andrew Hatton



      The LDs in Government if not their wider parliamentarians and members are already signed up to TR as sadly is NACRO - I suspect NACRO are a charity which greatly depend on Government funding for their very survival. I think it was at a NACRO meeting years ago I heard Jack Straw, then Home secretary give a speech that gave a very twisted view of exactly what the then Labour government were doing with Cognitive Behaviour programmes in prisons.(NACRO are financially almost required to be friends with whichever government is in power).

      NACRO of course have always had an uneasy relationship with probation, especially in London, because way back in 1967, much of their predecessor organisation NADPAS, work was statutorily taken over by probation.

      So firstly I think public probation supporters need to make the ordinary LD members aware of just how impractical and illiberal are the TR and particularly ORB plans.

      Impractical - because it is too big a job to recruit enough ex-offender mentors and arrange the prison establishments so that all prisoners can have a pre-release visit and be met at the prison gate and be taken immediately to accommodation so they are not homeless on day of release. It is a worthy aim and one I support. To announce it will just happen by 2015 is plainly ridiculous, and I have not mentioned the Government is simultaneously going to cut the rehabilitation (probation) budget by a third - despite a major reorganization taking place at the same time.

      Then there is the illiberality of the ORB that unless amended will require EVERY prisoner whether sentenced to 'sit at the back of the court' - (a 1 day sentence) up to 364 days to exactly the same length of enforced supervision with the extra punishment of a return to prison for non-compliance. That illiberality (stupidity I call it) was challenged by amendments in the House of Lords but resisted by the Government - thereby revealing a real lack of awareness of the lives of ex-prisoners. Remember The Government Minister on duty and justifying all this nonsense in the House of Lords was a very senior Liberal Democrat Peer!

      Perhaps I should have written a blog piece myself - but hopefully Rob Allen will publish it and anyone in doubt will get to see some of the practical shortcomings of what is planned - or if I am wrong, point out what parts I am misunderstanding:- please.

      Andrew Hatton

  2. A Probation Trust Board Chair writes as a BIG week begins.

    Might this be the most important week EVER for the future of the true spirit of Probation in England and Wales?

    Come what may I hope the work of Joe Kuipers is long appreciated.

    Andrew Hatton