AGM 2009 Blog
Minister pays tribute to Napo campaign
As reported earlier Justice Minister Maria Eagle attended the AGM and here is what she had to say:
NAPO ANNUAL CONFERENCE
1 October 2009
1. I am pleased to have the chance to speak to you today, to set out what we are about and how we want to take forward the service within NOMS.
2. I know that Jack Straw was keen to be here today but the Lord Chancellor is obliged to carry out various legal duties and is committed to the opening of the legal year today.
3. I always value the opportunity to meet with colleagues in our front line services and hear what you have to say. It is important that all of us in public office take every opportunity to highlight the essential work that probation staff undertake - and the positive impact you have on local communities. This is certainly a part of my role that I take very seriously and Ministers value it.
4. I also want to say a few words about NAPO. Jack Straw and I have valued the contribution that the Union has made over the past year. Under Jonathan and Tim's leadership, NAPO's voice has been heard in government - and listened to - right at the top of the MoJ. This hasn't been just coming in for a cup of tea. , and this has been important. Our discussions with your leadership are what civil servants would describe as robust: tough, direct and sometimes blunt. But they are always open and honest conversations - and they are conversations that have at their heart a shared belief in the importance of effective supervision of offenders in the community in order to ensure we reduce reoffending to protect the public. And I value the openness of the relationship. We might not agree but we know where we stand and can speak without hindrance- that is the best way to do business together.
RECOGNISING THE GOOD WORK OF PROBATION COLLEAGUES
5. When the finalists for this year's Justice Awards were announced I was pleased to see that there are no less then 6 probation colleagues individually or in team that have been shortlisted:
6. Reading through that list, I was struck by the diversity of roles that probation colleagues fulfill, and the many different ways in which they add value to our communities. These colleagues are fantastic advocates for NOMS, and I wish them every success in the Awards due to be announced later this month.
7. NOMS recently launched the first National Probation Awards, in conjunction with the Probation Association and Probation Chief Association. This is one of the few opportunities to honour front line probation staff who are producing exceptional work. These awards are based on delivery, open to all staff and will be judged by probation staff. It brings an equity with the prison service and I welcome NOMS determination to support probation staff in the same way.
8. Whether it be those nominated for awards, Cafcass colleagues supporting children and their families in courts, or probation staff working with offenders and victims, NAPO colleagues should be proud of the substantial impact you have in our local communities.
9. It is the hard work and professionalism of probation colleagues that is central to the effectiveness and quality of our work. This is widely recognised and valued by Government and the communities in which you work.
BUILDING CONFIDENCE IN PROBATION
10. Decisions about sentencing in particular cases must be a matter of judgement for the trial judge or magistrate. Respecting the independence of sentencers to pass the sentence that they believe is appropriate in the individual case is fundamental to the integrity of the judiciary in a free society.
11. We need to make sure we make the best use of sentencing options that will most effectively reduce reoffending and rehabilitate offenders. There are, of course, effective alternatives in terms of non-custodial penalties which have a better record of preventing reoffending than short prison sentences. Supervision, unpaid work, behaviour programmes, drug rehabilitation, alcohol treatment and curfews all have their part to play and we are getting better at understanding what works.
12. We have made significant progress on building up judicial confidence in intensive community orders in the last year. Probation budgets for 08-09 included an additional investment of £40m to build confidence in community orders rather than short prison sentences where appropriate, and to improve offender compliance with community orders and licences. This included the use of additional staff in courts to explain the benefits of community orders to courts when sentencing.
13. NOMS has also developed the Intensive Alternative to Custody scheme, requiring offenders who were at risk of receiving a short prison sentence to complete a rigorous and challenging community order as a direct alternative. While we cannot afford to be complacent, it seems that alternatives to custody are starting to make an impact.
14. Like other public services, this has been a year of tough choices and stretching targets for probation. I know you are concerned about workload intensification and we are making some progress to ensure that bureaucracy is kept to a sensible minimum.
15. From my visits to and conversations with those working in probation, I recognise your working lives are challenging on a daily basis, and I hear and support the importance of you being able to spend sufficient quality face-to-face time with offenders. This Government is committed to working in collaboration with you to ensure that you are able to achieve this.
I do not need to spell out that money and the wider economic environment will be one of the biggest challenges we all face over the coming few months and years. The Government is determined to take a responsible approach to reducing the fiscal deficit that will not damage the public services that people rely on. We will cut waste, cut costs and cut lower-priority budgets while protecting the frontline, against a background of record investment in the last decade including in the Probation Service. The indicative budgets were withdrawn.
16. Alongside the Justice Secretary and the senior Ministry of Justice team, we are working hard to confirm budgets for 2010. The Ministry knows what its overall budget will be - our challenge is how we divide that pot between the various services for which MoJ is responsible. I can't tell you today of the outcome of that work although we are committed to concluding our discussions quickly. What I can say is that I have listened to and heard views from a range of people over the last few months about the challenges you and your service face - including the views from NAPO.
17. Alongside efficiencies and prioritisation driven through programmes of work, Ministers have asked NOMS to consider how changes in the workforce can contribute. I would like to emphasise that this is about working smarter, not harder. There should not be a disproportionate impact on probation staff workloads.
18. The Government is concerned that we should avoid wherever possible any redundancies (compulsory or otherwise) of front-line probation staff. As a result of the positive engagement between NAPO, Ministers and the NOMS Board, you will know that a protocol was agreed between NOMS, employers and trade unions to help mitigate any potential redundancies. The principal effect of this is to introduce a six week period of reflection during which management and unions locally can work through all possible alternatives to compulsory redundancies and where necessary national management and unions can intervene to conciliate.
19. To date there have been four direct interventions under the auspices of the protocol in Sussex, South Yorkshire and Hampshire. And there has now been a review of how these interventions have worked. I am told that the Unions, including Napo, the Probation Association and NOMS are agreed that the protocol is working and effective process for addressing redundancy issues and delivering better outcomes.
20. Ultimately, staffing projections and decisions on the size and scope of any staffing reduction will rest with the 42 areas and trust. Although I cannot guarantee against future redundancies, we are committed to ensuring that front-line services do not suffer disproportionately, and we are grateful for the work that trade unions have already delivered to ensure this does not happen.
PAST AND PROJECTED PROBATION PERFORMANCE HAS BEEN SOUND
21. Despite financial challenges, you continue to perform well, meeting or exceeding all but one of your targets in 2008-2009. Successes included:
. Hitting completion targets for Community Payback and for offending behaviour and drugs programmes;
. Increasing levels of compliance with community orders and licences;
. Exceeding targets for getting offenders into education, employment and settled accommodation.
22. In this current year, NOMS continues in its good performance. Above all, latest reconvictions data shows that there has been a reduction in the rate of adult and juvenile re-offending since 2005.
23. We must safeguard and maintain those successes, and you are central to us being able to deliver on them and enable more. But this must be achieved in a tighter setting, and against a backdrop of increased public expectations from the Criminal Justice System.
24. Community Payback continues to be one of the most popular community sentences with the courts. Last year over 62,000 offenders successfully completed Community Payback sentences and over 8 million hours were worked to benefit the community.
25. I would like to make a particular mention of high visibility jackets. I know this has been a focus of concern for NAPO and that these concerns have been reflected in motions before this conference.
26. Nevertheless the use of the Community Payback jackets has been a success. Following their introduction last December probation areas have made increasing use of the jackets. 75% of the hours worked in potential view of the public are now undertaken with offenders wearing the high visibility jackets.
27. As a result of the use of high visibility jackets and the Justice Seen, Justice Done campaign, surveys demonstrate that public awareness of Community Payback has increased from 49% in November 2008 to 74% in April 2009.
28. To increase further public awareness, Community Payback Citizens' Panels are being introduced in the 60 Pioneer areas. These will enable members of the public to nominate work projects for offenders in their locality. These are now operating successfully in many areas. All of these achievements are a credit to the work done by Community Payback staff, to motivate and encourage offenders to achieve high standards of work and in some cases to gain valuable employment related skills.
TRAINEE PROBATION OFFICER (TPO) GRADUATES
Providing a structured, formal accreditation for trainee officers must continue to be an essential feature of our work to improve and sustain the significant professionalism that I see in probation. This year will see:
. 459 Trainee Probation Officers will graduate from the Diploma in Probation Studies programme in Autumn 2009; and
. 329 graduates have already been offered jobs within the National Probation Service. I know that some of those are temporary
29. I know there is a real and rightful concern regarding the uncertainty that TPOs are facing. Local employers have faced difficult decisions regarding jobs for TPO graduates in a climate of increased staff retention and economic uncertainty. But the economic climate also makes it a difficult place for those searching for jobs, and some of our TPOs have been at the sharp end of this.
30. I want to emphasise that TPOs are much valued individuals. We are doing everything we can to ensure they have a role within the probation landscape going forward. We have now set up regional clearing house arrangements to assist the remaining graduates to obtain work within the public sector wherever possible. Government is committed to making every effort to support clearing house graduates into work. It again demonstrates the value of considering a practical partnership approach to a potential difficult and sensitive issue.
PROBATION QUALIFICATION FRAMEWORK (PQF)
31. This year, we have consulted our stakeholders on new proposals for the training and qualification of probation practitioners. Responses to that consultation show consistent support for the model, which we are now moving forward to implement. The more flexible, modular nature of the new Probation Qualification Framework provides a long-term solution to the issue highlighted recently on trainees, and should ensure that future graduates are not in the same position.
32. We will maintain the minimum qualification for a Probation Officer at honours degree level. All future Probation Service Officers will be qualified to NVQ Level 3. We will also introduce a foundation degree that would allow career progression to Probation Officer for existing staff. This marks a key change in training investment. PSOs will benefit from consistent development and improved career progression opportunity. This will, in turn, have a positive effect on the delivery of NOMS objectives. This framework will also maintain the integrity and quality of the probation profession.
33. Multiple entry routes on to the framework will enhance the opportunities for existing staff and give more flexibility for probation areas to maximise their workforce planning strategies.
34. NAPO has played an important role in helping to shape this new framework and I want to thank all of those involved in this work. For example, I am pleased that we had a shared ambition to invest in our existing talent and to provide PSOs with the opportunity to obtain a professional qualification. I know that you felt that such an approach was long overdue. And they will now be able to achieve career progression without detriment to the individual. This is a sound step forward.
Ended early to allow time for questions
AGM speech Tim Wilson 2009
Tim's conference address in full
Good afternoon, conference! I'm Tim Wilson - national Napo Chair; may I first say how good it is to welcome you here to Torquay, now you have completed the long journey in such large numbers, so as to ensure that our AGM is quorate. Thanks to you we can set the agenda for our work over the coming Napo year, and debate the motions which will direct our policies and focus our spheres of influence; and also hear from the numerous speakers - our political masters, our allies and all those whom we support. Oh yes - and let our hair down at the evening bashes.
This is my first opportunity to address you on the culmination of my first year as Napo chair - an occasion which has been important enough to see me don a suit. May I just say that I'm told that being Napo Chair is the opportunity for people around you to fight over your soul; that may be so - but in my case it has certainly been the occasion for a fight to take place over my clothing. Some branches have urged that I ditch the suit; thanks, folks - I'll note your regret that I wasn't able to follow your advice and wear my CWU solidarity t-shirt - I'll admit to feeling almost (but not quite) fond of this thing - and I'll no doubt wear a t-shirt later.
Flippancy aside, this last eleven months and one week have been momentous for Napo. At Llandudno many of us heard David Hanson, the then Probation minister, saying that Probation would not suffer frontline cuts. This was backed up by the KPMG consultants' report, which as well as assuring the reader that Probation is not yet stable enough to have its services subjected to market forces (and would not be for a further 2 to 3 years), set out its lean and efficient stall by intimating that the upper echelons of Probation management were where the economies could and should be, afforded.
What happened next? I'll remind you: the letter of 27th October 2008 from Roger Hill to Chairs and Chiefs - leaked to Napo - stating that Probation was to be cut to the tune of £120m over the next three years.
The impact of that announcement has been resonating upon us, at every level (Branch, region and nationally), ever since, and it's that which has really dictated the theme of our AGM:
"Practice, Protection, Future - Defying the odds". Because the odds at present seem to be stacked more highly against Probation, I will talk quite a bit about Probation - but much of this is becoming increasingly applicable to Cafcass members, and I am today specifically addressing Napo's concern about Cafcass' direction, since there is much that organisation might learn from Probation's position in order to appreciate and halt the rot - before it becomes as serious.
So let's look at the odds: how do they stack up for Probation? Not good, it would seem -
The overarching factor for Napo has been, remains and will be Budgets, Budgets and again - Budgets.
First: the lack of certainty over which budgets were real and whether "indicative budgets" still exist or not. Regardless of that, Areas have had to plan the 2010 workforce spend on the assumption that although withdrawn, the indicative sums remain as representative of fiscal reality as they can probably get. But this paints them into a corner, since if they predicate their spend on a sum which is then further reduced, it is liable to make their workforce plans even more chaotic. If they budget more pessimistically and the cut turns out not to be quite as bad, then the likelihood is that the planned shrinkage has already had an adverse impact on the shape and structure of the area and massively demoralised the workforce.
Talk to any Probation Chief about finance planning today, and they will be gnashing their teeth at the unprofessional way in which their budgets are allocated to them and the level of their responsibility is almost patronisingly underestimated by the Centre. Such important organisations as ours with so much responsibility for public protection and offending reduction should not have their planning restricted by the perennial wait for an annual budget...
Next: the threats to Terms and conditions - all subject to the vagaries of individual Area decision - and the phenomenon of annual budgets.
And then: the threat of redundancies, which have occupied most of branch officers' time and effort since January - and Chivalry Road's, too.
And there are other specific concerns, even if they are all ultimately related to our cuts crisis:
. There is much uncertainty over Trust applications and the impact of mergers;
. Outsourcing threatens us and seems likely to establish more silos (remember the purpose of NOMS in 2004 was stated to be the abolition of Probation and Prison silos, since the lack of communication between them detracted from service efficiency?). If we lose sectors of our service to the privateers the loss of integrated service delivery means that re-offending rates are likely to rise;
. Lack of consultation - an example of this occurring just last week, when Napo was told that we would be allowed less than 2 weeks to consult and feed back on the Unpaid Work manual, which so far as we can see, serves to lower the hurdles to allow privateers to come in and run UW on disadvantageous terms & conditions.
So, put starkly, the odds may appear pretty daunting for us.
What can we do?
Well, for starters we should not be fazed. Why lower our expectations and demands unnecessarily? It is not wrong to imagine a scenario for our future - not too utopian, even - if we remind ourselves of some of the features we have enjoyed in the past and others we should strive for as attainable ideals:
1. Area budgets linked to the RPI - ie. even if budgets are not set to grow in the current low inflation climate, at least zero-growth figures would allow Areas to plan a proper service;
2. resourcing to address workload levels and role boundary issues;
3. the assurance that quality service delivery be set as a performance target;
4. consultation and equal partner status on new initiatives from the Centre;
5. quality, uniform Training for all;
6. practice led by initiative from practitioners - ie. people like you here today, who know what the job is about.
7. a government penal policy which is based on defensible decarceration and resources following Case management in the community.
These suggestions reflect the fundamentals of our ethos, principles and heritage, as Napo members. The principles have remained unchanged across the years and we are secure in our self-knowledge and identity because of them.
And (with the exception of penal policy) the list applies every bit as much to Cafcass as to Probation members.
I'm not going to tackle all the above items in the space of a few minutes' address - but they are what we keep in mind to inspire our campaigns in the coming year and as we debate the motions which are on our agenda over the next couple of days...
We are well-used to the Probation Service being a political football, booted about with apparent abandon by uninformed and unprincipled pundits to suit their short-term agendas.
The good thing is that our members, both at Branch and national level and our national officials, are a highly politicised crew, and relish this fact. So we can win and run with the ball, directing it to our advantage.
And we do this all the time.
And one of our advantages is that we avoid political infighting which is the hallmark of those who sit across the table from us, and which distracts those who seek to suppress initiative and dead-hand the spirit of our Services. We can agree to unite around the issue of our Services' interest.
In recent years Napo has shown how to do this in response to the amateurish, doctrinaire plans to introduce what we now know as "old-NOMS" and contestability, dating back to January 2004 - and subsequently with the NOMS Bill in summer 2007, when we fought and won the first round in the battle against contestability. Recently we have done it to pre-empt potential media feeding-frenzy arising from SFOs, and also with regard to the 2010/12 cuts.
And why do we have to jump to it, seize the initiative, lobby MPs, meet with the Press, with ministers, take negotiations to NOMS and the employers? Because we know that no-one up there knows or cares about what we do or its quality, or that we change lives and communities and protect the public by the sheer labour-intensive process of our talking to Service Users. We know that this is what works - not the tick-box mentality of arbitrarily-set performance measures.
All we get from our masters - who are of course generally in awe of potentially adverse editorials in the tabloids - all we get is a litany of mixed messages and contradictory policy: leading to the continuous upheaval (13 years now, and counting!) of reorganisation/reorganisation/reorganisation.
We are increasingly becoming subjected to diktat from the Centre - NOMS, with its prison-obsessed culture has arrogantly presumed the surrender of Probation's ethos of shared ideas, consultation and debate.
This has proved a challenge for us, whether at branch, regional or national level. A few of our branch officers have felt, this past year, what it is like to be hauled over the coals and victimised by local managements and employers. But Napo does what it is increasingly excelling at: going in, sizing up the situation, pointing out (sometimes not so delicately) the error of management's ways and redressing the balance once more.
So there is an increasing need for Napo's efforts and experience: the past year of business at national Negotiating Council has been characterised by a reluctance on the part of the employers to engage fully with us - and the reasons for this are obvious. Aggression from the Centre, directed at Areas, and the demand that they toe the line locally, has resulted in many Probation Chiefs being cowed into passivity. The divisiveness in the quasi-competition of Trust applications, causes employers and senior managers to look around nervously to see if their head is higher above the parapet than their neighbour's, and then vie to see who can be the leanest - and, too often, meanest.
In this climate, Probation, as espoused by the one-time national Probation Service, has drifted without direction - lost a sense of common purpose.
And Napo has had to shoulder the burden, single-handedly, of defending Probation. And damn well, too! Which Trade Union gets consistently more mentions on "Today" or on "5 Live", week in, month out? Harry Fletcher, this week, on army veterans as prisoners or Probationers; branch reps. currently speaking about the cuts on local radio stations. Napo, n-a-p-o, the (sic) "national association of probation officers"; it doesn't matter how they refer to us - we know it's us, fighting Probation's corner, commanding respect, defying the odds. If no-one else will do it, we must - and we will, defending the jewel which is Probation, the role model for countries world-wide who seek to knit communities through the rehabilitation of people who've been in trouble with the law.
There are parallels in Cafcass, where members are facing a culture of managerialism and intimidation. Cafcass members too, are being left to fight to defend quality as a major feature of their work. Encouraged by the organisation to take short-cuts so as to hide evidence of backlogs, if they capitulate to that pressure and information is missed which then places a child at risk, it is our members who will be held professionally accountable. This sort of double-bind mimics the cost-driven corner-cutting in Probation practice - and we need to learn from it. And if practitioners/service managers express a critique which might be construed as dissent, a summons by Senior management is increasingly likely to result. Here's a message from Napo, Cafcass: do not repeat the grave mistakes of a resort to "command and control"! You employ staff who are highly skilled, vocationally dedicated and watchful. But Cafcass directors should be astute enough to appreciate that work quality, commitment and morale are what feed the success of the organisation. Do not hobble your staff - our Napo members - with stultifying small-mindedness.
Now, let's talk about workloads - our call for a uniform system of workload measurement for all members in Probation and all members in Cafcass. First I'll cover Cafcass, where there is no consistency in allocating reports and increasing signs of unrealistic expectations of what individual members can achieve.
You cannot, even if you were to work for a full 24 hour day, complete a S.7 report in a day. Even the 2004 workload agreement accepted that a S.7 case would actually take 25 hrs! Yet amazingly, this is what is being ordered in one area.
We must be clear that hare-brained initiatives to reduce backlogs by allocating reports to members without any discussion of their existing workload demands, merely serve to reflect a degree of panic in the organisation - panic fuelled by the inappropriate meddling by Ofsted in a culture for which they have no interest or feeling, just a tick-box approach which has no understanding of our belief in the principle of quality work. And it is quality work which the Courts need and expect - and which safeguards children.
If we get a national workload measurement tool in Probation (and I can say that a report on a national approach to Workload Management is being commissioned now, by the NNC) we will be able to prioritise work - and this in a Service where everything is deemed to be a priority. We will be able to cost new tasks such as OM phases 2 and 3, establish control measures to protect individuals, using the National Probation Service Health & Safety policy on Stress Management. In the face of the cuts to staffing this becomes more urgent - indeed the process is provided for under the Management of Change protocol.
In the absence of Cafcass and Probation managers and employers doing it, Napo has sent out information and advice to every member on the steps to take when confronted with excessive workload, notice of "stress foreseeability" to second line managers and how to take your TOIL - or be reimbursed for it if it is not enabled. More advice will follow...
But how come we haven't already got a national Workload measurement and management system?
Because of the bizarre dislocated system of governance in Probation.
42 Areas have disparate interpretations of their employer's duty of care, with NOMS and the Probation Association expressing reluctance to "impose upon Areas' autonomy". The result is a criminal abrogation of responsibility with nobody being held to account, while members are left to go down the tubes, unprotected, shattered and burned out - often with mental health problems as a result.
Thus Area autonomy seems sacrosanct - except where it suits NOMS! Here's an example: in May this year NOMS sent out Circular 6/09 to Areas: "determining pre-Sentence report type". There was no consultation with Napo beforehand, mind! Areas were instructed to increase the ratio of FDRs to SDRs to the tune of 70:30% as a way of using resources more smartly; and Chiefs were being monitored on their compliance in this, by their DOM.
POs, PSOs - even Chiefs - know this merely dumbs down Risk Assessment and shortens the odds for a SFO to take place. The one thing it won't do is reduce the work pressure.
But it is an example of the Centre's disingenuous manipulation of the reality concerning the work, so as to further the government's intent of sweating Probation's assets.
So what's the answer?
More command and control?
Or less? I'll tell you: we need some straight talking on the reality of resourcing, rather than selective use of information when it suits the Centre. Ministers must surely now be tired of repeating their mantra that Probation resourcing has increased by 70% and that Areas can absorb the present cuts "because they underspent by £20m last year". Let me give the real picture behind those statistics: a disproportionate amount of that 70% was spent on bureaucracy, the abortive development of a caseload management system (c-NOMIS - at £650m), on higher echelons of management - and not on reinforcements at the coal face. Yes, the number of Probation Officers and PSOs increased, particularly in 2004/5; but PO numbers have gone down again over the past two years - as have the numbers of TPOs - ie. future POs. Even then the picture is misleading - the government needs to use just one methodology (rather than 3 or 4) to sift its workforce data. And to do it regularly - there has been no publication of workforce figures since the spring of 2007.
And the Area "underspends"? They were achieved
a) by the use of the Budget Exchange Scheme, which allowed Areas to save money in-year, carry it forward and offset it, so as to cancel the impact of some of this year's budget cut. The Budget Exchange Scheme is not being permitted by NOMS for future years. And -
b) those savings by Areas were achieved by asset-sweating: the deletion or non-filling of vacant posts, which will therefore not be around in the coming year to cover an increasing workload. Now, with the Budget Exchange scheme gone, there is no incentive for Areas to use their finance planning imaginatively with a little autonomy. Instead, (having to plan workforce, but still not in receipt of their indicative budget for 2010/11) they are saving whatever/wherever they can, MERELY TO BE ABLE TO FINANCE THE COMING YEAR'S REDUNDANCIES WHICH WILL BE MADE NECESSARY BY THE EXPECTED NATIONAL CUTS OF £50m.
This, Conference, is why we need straight talking on the impact of the cuts upon Probation. The odds look bad. However I think we can all acknowledge that £120m is peanuts when you look at the billions allocated to the private sector this year, to keep capitalism's train on the track. I'm not necessarily knocking that! But we want Probation to be kept on the track too, minister, and so does the public, for the sake of their protection - so too do our communities! We will fight for what we believe in and we believe in Probation and its achievements!
Now, on to the future of Probation - an arena where Napo is improving the odds - although the struggle is not over yet. With increasing work to cover (Probation had 240,000 cases last year) we need proper jobs for our graduating TPOs in cohorts 10 - and 11 - not 6 month contracts with bleak prospects come April 2010. This is the message which our TPO delegation will impress upon Jack Straw when we meet with him on 27th October.
And we are making some progress on the development of the new Qualifying Training Arrangements, with Napo standing firm on the fair and transparent assimilation of all existing staff who want it, into the training. There remains the little question regarding the whereabouts of approximately £20m which has disappeared from Probation's training budget: Areas need that money back, NOMS - are you listening? We know you've got it!
And as to the future of Napo: none of what we achieve could be done without the huge amount of dedication and graft which goes on at Section and Branch level - by you, the members, engaging at JNCs and with Senior Management, and networking constantly with Officers and Officials. We have an awesome level of local activism - but we constantly need to bring on more activists too, of course. Our membership has held up well this year and our "Target 10,000" campaign starts on 16th November - but of course here and now, too; remember always to carry a membership recruiting form in your bag!
Napo is rightly renowned for being cosmopolitan and outward-looking; and briefly now, a quick deviation to remind you that our new website has been switched on today; it's on the screen behind me here. Please go and experiment with it on the laptop at Reception, to see what it is like and what it can do - it brings us up to date!
Following on from our joint protocol with the Staff Associations at last year's AGM we are working together keenly to ensure Cafcass, NOMS and the Probation Areas incorporate Diversity and Equality into all streams of their operations.
We support Justice for Colombia and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (who in turn are supporting our AGM entertainments tomorrow night); our minds are on the vigil for the unlawfully imprisoned Miami 5 this evening.
We have joined the effort at local and national events, to combat the BNP and defeat its messages of divisiveness and hate. We are doing this in collaboration with such organisations as Hope not Hate, Love Music Hate Racism (who are providing the ents. for us tonight) and Unite Against Fascism to ensure that we speak against fascists with one voice and do not repeat the mistakes of factionalism, made by anti-Nazis in 1930s Germany and Britain. And we say to the employers today: "the Probation Service is no place for racists and fascists - the Police and Prison services have banned them. It is unconscionable that a Service which works so intensively with those who perpetrate hate crime should be the potential employer of those who follow the BNP - we say: dismiss any staff who are BNP members or supporters; no delay!"
So, conference, by way of conclusion: as we embark upon our AGM, listen to and join the debates, speakers and fringe meetings, reflecting on Napo's power and influence, the level of which we enjoy on an unprecedented scale, we admit it:
Of course we face difficult odds - and that's what we do well. How do we defy them?
We defy them by refusing to be awed by them.
And by believing in the sound and sense of our argument, while fighting for what we believe in: fairness, and equality in how we are treated - and quality in our work standards.
And through the confidence to shout this as we sustain our campaigns.
To plagiarise Martin Luther King: we can measure ourselves on how we respond at this time of challenge - and we know we can prove ourselves more, much more than equal to the odds.
Conference: thank you; please enjoy your AGM.
Jonathan spells it out! GS speech in full
Here is the General Secretary's speech in full which received a rousing reception at the AGM
It is not often that I find myself tempted to quote the Queen, but as I reflected upon this speech and the annual report, I could not help recalling her famous reference many years ago to her family having experienced an "annus horribilis!" I think that's not a phrase I would normally use - not least because it sounds like a medical condition for which an individual should be prescribed medication - but reflecting on both the broader political picture and the experience of Napo members it is hard not to conclude that the past year has been marked by struggle and uncertainty. As we were gathering in Llandudno last year we were in the midst of global financial chaos with our own government investing billions of pounds of public money into saving banks. We knew then that we were facing some difficult times, but just how difficult is becoming steadily clearer with each passing day.
Economic instability has of course reinforced political uncertainty and it must be said, a mood of change seemingly amongst the electorate. I heard the prime minister address the TUC last month in a speech, that was strong on perspiration but short on inspiration. Indeed one of the rare moments when an element of passion emerged from his presentation was when he discussed future employment prospects stating "every redundancy is a personal tragedy". I suspect that comment, as he considers the polls, came straight from the heart. However I'm bound to say that if in the next few months we see a Conservative administration elected it would be well to remember that leopards do not usually change their spots. Like many of you, I cut my political teeth during the 1980s in the Thatcher years. I have not forgotten the Tory approach to public services in general and the Probation Service in particular. Napo is prepared, of course, to work with all the main political parties but we will not hesitate to criticise and resist policies which impact negatively on our members.
Our year has been dominated by the actual and threatened cuts to Probation Service funding. As you will recall, David Hanson, then Minister of State for Prisons and Probation, addressed Conference last year and made a clear commitment to front-line service delivery. However within a few weeks of this speech, Roger Hill, outgoing Director of Probation at that time, wrote to probation areas confirming a £20 million cut in the Service's budget for the current financial year and further projected cuts of £100 million in the next two financial years. It was on that basis that Napo began to make estimates about the impact on the service of such cuts. From the returns received from branches it was clear that staffing cuts would range from between 15 to 25% if the £120million cut is carried out.
We made our case publicly and as you will recall Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, was quick to dismiss our concerns. At the NOMS Conference in February following a caustic exchange between him and me he attacked Napo for issuing in his own words "bullshit stories" about the cuts. This bullishness did not last long of course as probation areas began to go public with the implications of the cuts providing information that reinforced projections Napo had been making. We've been helped by extensive media coverage; Harry tells me that our coverage in the past year in the broadcasting and print media has been greater than ever before - he deserves congratulations for this as do all the branches who worked so hard locally to publicise the impact of the cuts. Special mention should be made of Humberside whose efforts to secure an emergency debate in Parliament in April resulted in an extraordinary climb down by the Government, not just relating to Humberside itself but also about the status of the indicative budgets originally set out in Roger Hill's letter. In South Yorkshire Napo along with Unison held a ballot which resulted in overwhelming support for strike action. That was not necessary as we were able to use the newly agreed Management of Change protocol to intervene nationally with the result that the planned number of redundancies was greatly reduced. There is no doubt that the united resistance of members in South Yorkshire forced the area to rethink radically its proposals. The Management of Change protocol has been a key agreement for us in this past year - it's a pity that it took the national employers quite so long to understand its significance and agree it with us - and we have managed to fight off nearly all compulsory redundancy notices issued across areas so far. However, we have to recognise that these are only the initial skirmishes in what looks like a long and difficult campaign.
As you know we have been able to secure regular monthly meetings with the Justice Secretary and we'd formed the impression that ministers had understood the confusion and anxiety produced across probation areas as a result of the constantly changing budgets and announcements. It was disappointing therefore to read a couple of letters written within the last few weeks by both Jack Straw and Maria Eagle in which Napo is referred to as "scaremongering" in relation to the cuts. Given that these letters were written at a time when some 50% of qualifying trainee probation officers were discovering that they would not be getting a job after working and studying hard for two years, such an accusation against this union is nothing short of scandalous.
Indeed, Jack, if you are listening let me throw your own invective back at you. The suggestion that Napo's highlighting of the terrible impact of the projected cuts on staff now and in the future is simple scaremongering truly is 'bullshit'. In fact, I'll go further. Reflecting the Justice Secretary's obsessive preoccupation with luminous tabards earlier this year I would say it is highly visible 'bullshit'! It doesn't fool anyone in the Probation Service and indeed will not fool the general public if the staff needed to help change lives and protect our communities are not in place as a result of these unacceptable and unjustifiable cuts.
And of course the cuts themselves do not add up no matter how you play them. We've already mentioned the potential loss of the next generation of staff through the failure to employ so many highly skilled TPOs. But Napo has also recently highlighted the implications for the Service of the increased demands supervising, for example, those released following conviction of terrorism offences and the alarmingly high numbers of army veterans coming before the courts. If front line staff are lost or not replaced the already excessively high workloads will become completely unmanageable. Next week Trent Branch will begin balloting its members asking them to support strike action in response to the failure of Nottinghamshire Probation Area to agree an individual workload management tool. All of us will wish the Branch every success as it fights for justice for its members.
And where is NOMS in all of this? We've upset a lot of people at a senior level in the organisation by highlighting the overwhelming evidence of a prison take-over within NOMS. One senior official even accused me of lying to ministers about this albeit he quickly withdrew what I can assure you was a completely untrue allegation. But that was a sign of desperation and indicative of the constant failure of the senior hierarchy of NOMS to demonstrate an understanding of the culture and the ethos of the Probation Service. We've become aware of all sorts of examples of probation staff within the organisation being returned to their areas whilst prison staff, protected under the Civil Service Surplus Employees Scheme, take on a range of jobs for which they are not suitably qualified and about which they have limited understanding. The Prison and Probation Services are complementary agencies which should work closely together in order to provide continuity of provision in the way they work with people who commit offences. About that, I suspect that there is no argument. However we have all come to question the value and usefulness of NOMS. There are some good people working within it many of whom are strong allies with the Probation Service who seek to represent its best interests. However the constant reorganisation and lack of direction in NOMS is a source of nothing but confusion and frustration and, surely, has gone on long enough. Personally I'm instinctively opposed to the use of compulsory redundancy but in relation to NOMS I might just be willing to make an exception.
The cuts proposed for the Probation Service are unacceptable. They make no sense and their effect on our communities if implemented would be disastrous. What we need now is some political backbone from a Labour government willing to take action which serves the interests of our society as a whole and, in particular, protects those most vulnerable, least powerful and most disadvantaged. In the NOMS context we saw a change of heart earlier in the year when the absurd Titan Programme was scrapped, but we need the government to go far, far further than that for the sake not just of Probation and Cafcass but all public services. How about scrapping Trident, Identity Cards, and imposing taxes on banks as a starter. Spend the money where it's really needed rather than wasting it on failed initiatives and misguided foreign policies.
And for the avoidance of any doubt in those who oppose us: Napo will fight these cuts, will fight compulsory redundancies, and will fight to save the Service with all the resources at our disposal. When you come after one, you come after us all and you will have to deal with all of us - strong, united and resolute.
Notwithstanding the difficulties experienced by staff and the uncertainty of the future, every day Napo members in Probation and Cafcass are making a difference to individual lives and the communities they serve. Yet again we've experienced individual cases which have drawn the media spotlight and opened up a debate which as often or not entirely misses the point. The terrible murders of the French students in South London saw ministers and officials highlighting the area's underspend as demonstrating that the area had resources to spare. But publication of the self-same Roger Hill letter I referred to earlier proved that London like other areas was simply following the advice given by NOMS itself i.e. permission was received to carry over a 2% underspend into the next financial year in recognition of the likely cuts to be imposed. This has been one of the great deceits perpetrated these past few months suggesting that areas coped with the £20 million cut applied this year because most achieved an underspend in 2008, an underspend which they were advised to deliver by NOMS itself! You couldn't make it up!
This particular case also highlighted the issue of who speaks up for the Probation Service? The national employers decided to lie low although the Probation Chiefs Association did make some public comments which was welcome. As ever, of course, it was Napo that represented the interests of the Service and of staff working within it. We're more than happy to carry on doing this and we will but it will be good to see some other voices raised more strongly in support of the Service at this crucial time.
In Cafcass, of course, the tragic case of Baby Peter has dominated the social care sector this past year. Whilst the case itself was a social services matter first and foremost the ripple effect of its impact has been felt across a range of organisations including Cafcass. There was a surge in public law work as local authorities became ultra-cautious in their risk assessments and this has led to a backlog of cases in Cafcass, particularly in London and the South. Cafcass' increasing focus on inspection, as it continues to live in fear of Ofsted, has combined with a crisis resulting from an overspend of its budget during this year. Cafcass staff have felt themselves in the absurd position of coming under ever greater scrutiny in relation to their practice whilst being pressured to reduce the time they spend with families in order to lower costs. Cafcass would have done better if it had taken more notice of Lord Laming's follow-up report to his investigation of the murder of Victoria Climbie, issued earlier this year. Laming's 58 recommendations included proposals about the training of staff, continued professional development, workload protection and adequate resources. These should be welcomed and embraced by organisations like Cafcass which has so often proclaimed itself as aiming to be an exemplary employer. Certainly such recommendations have greater credence than the increasingly paranoid and intrusive antics of Ofsted exemplified just this week by its attempted interference in the child care arrangements of family friends guilty only of trying to sustain the difficult balance of childcare and work demands. Cafcass' preoccupation with the inspection of staff's work has resulted in many experienced and dedicated professionals being hounded and harassed about their practice by internal inspectors in the enviable position of having significant authority without the challenging reality of personal responsibility. In trying to improve the practice of its organisation Cafcass needs to ensure that it remembers its ongoing duty of care towards its staff.
Another key professional area in the Probation Service this past year has been the development of the new Qualifying Training Arrangements. This has been a slow process as ministers dithered about the final consultation paper wrongly convinced that Napo opposed the proposals. Cordell has worked hard to represent the interests of Napo members trying to ensure that the new arrangements will be the very best attainable for all staff within the service. There is much in the QTA that Napo welcomes such as the opportunity for probation service officers to become probation officers without the risk of resigning and giving up their current contracts and salaries (a risk highlighted only too well by the current debacle for qualifying TPOs). Concerns remain, however, about the autonomy granted to individual areas and the risk that opportunities for continuous professional development will be denied staff on the basis of cost. Additionally, Napo has argued consistently that assimilation into the new training arrangements for existing staff must be a priority and, we are not convinced that the proposals sufficiently reinforce this point. Much work needs to be done given the urgency of putting the new arrangements in place in order to avoid a gap in the provision of suitably qualified staff both now and in the future.
Turning to pay and conditions, there can be little doubt that the future for the public sector is a difficult one, and in that respect, the multi-year deals we have secured for Probation and Cafcass can be regarded as important achievements for the union. In Cafcass the strategic pay review, a 3-year deal which ends in March 2011, contains the sort of money unlikely to be seen in the public sector for some years to come. Cafcass, as is its want, managed to create confusion and bad feeling about the implementation of the agreement by suggesting that progression would be performance related. This was never the case, of course, but much time was wasted setting the record straight. Negotiators in Cafcass are faced with a number of challenges notably a threat to the current workloads agreement as a result of the organisation's desperation to clear its backlogs - such attacks are being met with strong and sustained resistance by Section representatives. There are concerns that the future of Cafcass is an uncertain one given its small size and relative youth, and it could be vulnerable to political interference following the General Election. The Cafcass section is a valued and integral part of Napo membership, and we will do all we can to ensure that the best interests of members continue to be met, no matter the scale and nature of any future threat.
In the Probation Service we are coming towards the end of the 2-year deal, the second year of which provided a pay increase which at the time of the agreement may have appeared modest but by the time of its implementation had become relatively generous in light of the fall in inflation and mortgage interest rates. Pay progression is the most prominent and most controversial of the issues under negotiation in the ongoing Pay Modernisation talks. The employers and NOMS' apparent preoccupation with performance related pay, which they blame on the Treasury, cuts no ice with Napo. We are absolutely clear that progression through the pay bands, excessively long as some of them are, is a given rather than some form of divisive reward for a subjectively identified achievement. We will not be signing up for performance related pay - it's not right, it's not fair and it's not decent.
Looking ahead it is clear that future negotiations are going to be challenging with indications already being received from the Treasury that agreements will only be sanctioned on the basis of small increases. We will be faced with some difficult decisions about our priorities but I think we will all agree that the starting point for this union, like any other, is protecting jobs. As we've made consistently clear to ministers and senior officials we will oppose compulsory redundancies with all the means at our disposal. Across the public sector there is a strong risk that the Government, no matter its political hue, will attack public sector pensions. If that is the case we will not be alone in fighting to protect the pension provision that all staff have earned. We were part of a strong campaign against cuts in pension provision a few years ago and we may find ourselves once again joining our sisters and brothers across the public sector to defend our pensions.
Too often in the context of budget cuts the first casualty is organisational commitment to diversity and equality. There has been evidence of that this past year as the staff associations have struggled to get a clear commitment from NOMS in terms of resources, consultation and support. Napo in line with the protocol signed between us and the staff associations at last year's AGM, will continue to work closely with the associations in order to give support and backing to the justified demands for proper support from NOMS. We have also been concerned about the revised agreement on absence management (or Sickness Absence as most of us know it) and the risk that disabled staff are discriminated against in the context of redundancy as a result of such a policy being unfairly applied. Ian has worked hard in an area which is often a thankless one in order to secure the very best agreement possible and I know that he is grateful for the assistance he has received from NDSN in working through the implications for disabled staff of some of the proposals within the policy.
Whilst there has been much at home to occupy us as a union, Napo has also sought to strengthen its international ties. During a trip to Kenya in July I was able to arrange a meeting with Florence Mueni, National Secretary of KNapo, who was keen to pass on KNapo's gratitude for the support of Napo members in response to the damage and loss sustained following the civil disorder in Kenya in 2008. Later today we will be welcoming representatives of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and in particular, members of the Miami 5 families Adriana Perez, Olga Salanueva and Irma Gonzalez. If you are not familiar with the scandalous treatment of the 5 Cuban nationals imprisoned in the United States since 1998, whose families have been denied the opportunity to visit them throughout that time, there will be a short film shown ahead of Adriana, Olga and Irma's contribution. We are privileged to have them with us today and in the year in which the 50th anniversary of the revolution is being celebrated in Cuba it is fitting that we demonstrate our solidarity with our sisters and brothers there.
Some of you may be aware that earlier this year I was due to visit Colombia along with a group of MPs and trade unionists organised by Justice for Columbia. Due to personal circumstances I was unable to go on the trip but we are seeking to develop stronger links with trade unionists in Colombia, which alongside Zimbabwe is the most dangerous place to be a trade unionist in the world. More than 40 trade unionists have been murdered this year and notwithstanding the claims of the Uribe government that it is making the country safer all the evidence suggests otherwise. Whilst at the TUC some of us met with Joaquin Romero, a visiting trade union leader from Columbia. It was impossible not to be deeply moved by his account of life in Columbia as a trade unionist. He held himself fortunate because when he was arrested and held for months without contact with his family he was finally released whilst many of his comrades were killed in custody. Joaquin's story is a reminder of the wider movement of which we are a part and from which we can draw mutual support, strength and inspiration.
In Napo itself during this past year there have been some important and continuing shifts in our focus as a trade union and professional association. The signing of the Union Learning Agreement at the Learning & Development Conference in July was a positive outcome following some prolonged negotiations with the national employers. In relatively short order Napo has gone from a position of no investment in union learning to a point where we have over 80 reps trained and functioning across branches. Alongside Aziz who has worked so hard in developing union learning in Wales we've been pleased to welcome this year Briony and Marilyn who are developing the project in England.
Equally significant has been the increased focus on recruitment with the implementation of the Recruitment Strategy alongside the 'Making an Impact, Building the Union Campaign'. The next stage of this campaign is Target 10,000 for the coming year which will be reinforced by the next Recruitment week being held in November. The 10,000 figure is a tough one for us but it is important to aspire positively notwithstanding the threat of budget cuts. There are still many people not in a union and TUC research confirms that a simple invitation on a one-to-one basis remains the most powerful tool for recruitment. If everyone in this hall was to recruit one member each during the coming year we would meet our target of 10,000 members for 2010 comfortably so please play your part and help the union grow stronger across the Probation Service and Cafcass. I want to pay particular tribute to Ranjit and Mike who, since their appointment as National Officials last November, have worked so hard on recruitment and building strong and effective links with probation branches and the Cafcass Section.
The excellent work on recruitment that has already been going on has meant that we have been able to maintain our membership strength notwithstanding the reduction in staff across some probation areas. The reality is, however, that our income has been dropping. This is because those members who have left are predominantly higher-earners paying subs at the top end of our scale, whilst, inevitably, our investments have returned less in line with the economic downturn. Following adoption of a resolution at the NEC this year we have asked branches to contribute any excess money available in their accounts to help support branches struggling to finance AGM attendance. Some £14,000 has been raised, and this demonstrates the generosity and solidarity of branches in the union. However, it also shows that Napo needs to take stock of its financial commitments and consider the future implications of any significant cuts in membership. Some of you may be aware that the Officers have already issued advice and guidance in relation to issues such as expenses which require increased accountability. This is necessary in order to comply with the demand by our Auditors and Inland Revenue Regulations. I am sure that all of us understand the significance of this and its importance and we would all sign up to the principle. It is the practical application which sometimes causes offence. This is understandable but if we're serious about the long-term survival of the union now is the time for us to take action on the way Napo spends its money. This necessary focus on finance inevitably means we must look at the effectiveness of our current structures. It is likely the NEC will be asked to consider other measures which may enable us to make appropriate savings whilst maintaining the effectiveness and democracy of the union. There will be some tough decisions to make and some may be unpopular but I hope that members will accept and understand that if we wish to remain a strong and independent trade union and professional association measures need to be taken now at a time when we are strong and in reasonable financial shape.
At the end of another busy year I want to pay thanks to all those who work so hard to make Napo the force it is in Probation and Cafcass. We are well served by our local officers, convenors and representatives, National Committee members, NEC representatives and National Officers. And of course we have an excellent staff group at Chivalry Road benefiting from the appointment of Anne and Annoesjka as administrators in February. At a personal level in the Napo office, it has been a particularly tough year with everyone affected by loss and illness. We suffered an attack on the office by a Fathers' group just before Christmas in which one member of staff was injured and which distressed all those witness to it. And, of course, we mourned the passing of Jenetta Haley in February this year who until her retirement had been the Administrator to the General Secretary. Jenetta was a feisty, loyal and dedicated colleague whose dry wit and intelligence was both an asset and, on occasions, a challenge to Napo. We remember her with love and affection.
Conference we are experiencing tough times and we know the outlook for Probation, Cafcass and indeed the whole public sector is an uncertain one. During 2010 we may see political change and we anticipate significant challenges if the threatened brutal cuts to the Probation Service budget are carried out. But our own history as a union and professional association demonstrates that we should take heart from our common purpose, common goals and common principles, all of which we share, not just across Probation and Cafcass, but with the wider trade union movement. In the words of Robin Day, late political commentator, politicians are 'here today and gone tomorrow'. But this union was here yesterday, is here today and will be here tomorrow and long into the future. Let there be no doubt we have a fight ahead of us, a fight to protect our services from pernicious cuts and unacceptable changes to working practice. We must remember that our opponent is not using rational argument but is motivated simply by the need to save money. That is no basis on which to run vital public services that are integral to creating a fair and humane society. We have right on our side and we have won the argument over and over again. So be confident, be united and be proud, proud of what you do and what you are part of. And I ask one thing of you when you leave Torquay this weekend; be determined to do whatever it takes to defend the values and principles that we all believe in.
Make sure you leave here ready to fight for jobs, to fight for your rights, and to fight for justice!
Conference, I give you the Annual Report.
The conference speeches in full section will follow in line with tradition as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Chief Blogger apologises to visitors as we have a slight backlog of entries owing to the switchover to the new look Napo website.
Please bear with us as we seek to catch up with all the key highlights from Torquay.
Workload allocation - A breakthrough but more needs to be done
Napo Assistant General Secretary Ian Lawrence devoted most of his address to the Cafcass SAGM by updating delegates on the important agreement that had been reached earlier in the week between Napo and Cafcass senior managers over public law allocation in London.
Before doing so, Ian mentioned two key lessons that he had learned about Cafcass over the preceding 12 months which he agreed had been something of an ordeal by fire.
Firstly, he was appalled at some of the personal cases that had been referred to him, which indicated a mixture of inept behaviours at best and victimisation at worst. The roots of such cases started from a small minority of Cafcass managers who brought great discredit on their conscientious and hard working colleagues who were doing their best to treat their staff with compassion and fairness. He said that Napo would not rest until these practices ceased and that all measures, including the use of employment tribunals, especially over the denial of the right to raise a grievance would be considered. Although he admitted it had taken Napo longer than it would have wanted to get Cafcass to understand the scale of the problem, he hoped that this particular issue could be settled by agreement.
Secondly, he expressed his massive appreciation for the dedication and professionalism of all Napo members working within Cafcass under especially trying circumstances and in the face of Ofsted inspections that in the view of many Napo members, added next to nothing in terms of child centred activity.
Turning to the negotiations on the crisis surrounding London public law allocations (which had helped to considerably boost Napo recruitment), Ian thanked Mike Stirling, Karen Gorbutt and Paul Bishop for the invaluable input that they had provided and for the way in which they had relayed the actuality of the situation to Cafcass Operational Heads, who up until then had appeared to be in a state of denial about the extent of the problem.
Ian then proceeded to report on the key outcomes of the discussions which focussed on the requirement that there would now be meetings between managers and practitioners where the starting point would be the capacity of the individual to take on additional cases and discussion of the specific tasks that needed to be undertaken on all cases.
Where this does not happen, practitioners may escalate the issue to the appropriate Head of Service and seek a three way meeting.
The process (which Ian explained would shortly be reported in detail in a circular to Napo members) was to be underpinned by a series of checks and balances and simplified reporting tools which included the issuing of guidelines to Children's' Guardians and Service Managers in support of the Presidents interim guidance. In addition, there would be an improvement in the liaison between Napo and Cafcass over the proposed changes to the London accommodation estate via the South Area partnership committee.
Napo would also be present at the planned briefings on this issue for local solicitors taking place the following week, and co-ordinated team briefings would also take place. These arrangements would be reviewed in around three to four weeks or sooner if they hit the buffers.
Cafcass SAGM pledges to fight back over workloads and bullying
Delegates representing Napo members from all parts of Cafcass turned out in very high numbers for the sectional AGM in Torquay which took place on Friday morning. It is hoped to post a fuller report of the debates on motions and the outcomes from the professional section in the Cafcass pages of the new Napo website.
Tony Mercer Sectional Chair, welcomed delegates to the SAGM and lost no time in berating senior Cafcass management for their use of Performance and capability procedures that had resulted in over 50 members facing suspension over the course of the last 12 months.
Tony went on to give a full account of the various areas of activity contained in the report from the Cafcass negotiating committee (see pages 5-7 of the Napo Annual Report and Constitution 2009).
Paul Bishop, Napo National Vice-Chair, provided a report of the union's campaigning efforts over the past year which had included meetings with Tim Loughton Shadow minister for issues relating to children, schools and families, and senior Ofsted officials via the justice unions Parliamentary group.
These had provided something of an insight into the thinking of the Tory party as it moved towards what many members thought was a likely victory in the next general election, but more substance was required before a judgement could be made about the future of Cafcass in that event.
Paul went on to say that the discussions with Ofsted would definitely be followed through as Napo sought to convince them that the skills of our members in child and family centred engagement was more important than copious statistics and paranoia over the ability of practitioners who often possessed decades of experience.
Police and Probation have much in common says Federation Chair
Paul McKeever, speaking on Thursday morning at the Napo AGM, criticised the government for the fact that there had been 5 police ministers within the last 4 years, claiming that this was further evidence of the haphazard approach to those working within the Criminal Justice system.
Paul identified lots of similarities between the issues facing Police and Napo members within Probation, most notably that which pertained to changes of policy without adequate consultation and increasing caseloads with workers steeped in beauracracy.
Stressing the need for 'our respective members to be allowed to get on with the job and be treated as adults,' Paul remarked that his members never received letters of thanks from the public for their statistical skills but did so for helping people in front line delivery!
Nice T shirt
National Vice-Chair Mike Quinn welcomed delegates to day two of the AGM with an impressive selling job of Napo's latest must have fashion item, namely the 'pass the parcel' black T-shirt.
To the disappointment (and amusement) of delegates Mike diplomatically declined numerous offers to try on the only available version of said apparel, whilst his colleagues scrabbled furiously, but not too effectively, behind the scenes to find him the right size.
But it was soon down to the serious business of the day as the Cafcass Negotiating Committee (M5) called on the organisation to get a grip on a workload policy that is being increasingly being seen as oppressive and punitive.
Conference heard that the Cafcass AGM would be receiving further reports of current negotiations on this issue but meanwhile roundly endorsed the call for a revised work measurement exercise and new guidance for members on claiming additional hours.
During the morning session conference also carried the following listed motions:
M9 - Opposition to performance related pay;
Composite A - Reclaiming the quality of individual working relationships.
M18 - Workplace meetings to engage more directly with Napo members and improve democracy.
M22 - Time off for continuing professional development.
M34 - Equality Impact Assessment framework to be presented to November NEC and form part of new or changed policy.
M37 - A call for Cafcass to be restored to a child centred service.
M40 - Deploring the working conditions that are so often to be found in Court Service premises and calling for immediate Health and Safety reviews.
AGM 2009 - Day two and Cafcass SAGM report
Despite the previous evenings dual tests of traditional fringe meetings and the superb 'Love music hate racism' gig which had the audience positively rocking till midnight;day two of the AGM saw delegates arrive bright and early to debate an array of motions.
Cafcass delegates also took part in the traditional Cafcass Section Annual General Meeting which also saw the elections for the various sectional sub-committees.
More reports to follow shortly.
Day one concludes with rallying call in defence of jobs
There was just time to debate one of the listed motions (M2) before the close of business as the AGM saluted Branches who have been in the forefront of resiting redundancies, and unanimously resolved to support a directive to the NEC and Officers to:
.continue the delivery of the anti-cuts campaign at local and national level
.fight for a significant increase in resources for front line services
.co-ordinate a national ballot for industrial action if cuts are implemented and members jobs are put at risk
Recession debate well received despite gloomy message
The final session of the first day of Napo's AGM featured three speakers. Their thought provoking contributions on how the recession is impacting on public services were extremely well appreciated.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka received an enthusiastic reception after he highlighted the 104,000 Civil Service jobs that he claimed had been lost under this government. Mark believed that the likelihood of a change of government would bring a renewed assault on public sector pensions that needed a firm and united response by the TUC and their affiliates.
This alongside the threat of of further privatisation, meant that unemployment was likely to rise further creating an even bigger burden on the state as benefit claims would increase.
Despite the recession Mark believed that the government had a lot to answer for in terms of the deal to bail out the bankers and the fact that some £25 billion of taxes remained uncollected with an estimated £100 billion being avoided by the use of tax havens.
He called for the scrapping of the Trident missile system as a means of achieving meaningful cuts that could be redirected to front line services and pledged PCS full support to the ongoing campaign to defend TPO jobs and resist cuts to probation services.
Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, opened her address by saying as a life long trade unionist how she sympathised with the plight of Napo members in the current economic climate.
Frances made it clear that she believed the current cash crisis facing probation had been made worse due to the prority that had been placed on incarceration rather than rehabilitation. Calling for rethink on expensive short term prison sentences that brought no benefit to the taxpaying public, she called on NOMS Director General Phil Wheatley to listen carefully to what Napo had to say on these issues and that more money needed to be provided to help the criminal justice system avoid repetitions of well documented serious further offences.
Napo Assistant General Secretary Harry Fletcher concluded the debate by highlighting the falsehoods that had been issued by those seeking to mask the real impact of budget cuts. Citing recent media expose's about the numbers of convicted terrorists in approved premises and a surge in the prison population by former members of the Armed Services as but two examples.
Harry urged all those present to ensure that they did everything possible to take Napo's campaigning strategy directly to the public so that the facts were made available and to take the arguments directly to candidates prior to the next general election.
Hugely successful AGM draws to a close as delegates pledge to fight on over cuts
Napo's 97th Annual General Meeting concluded on Saturday with a number of important resolutions being made to step up the unions campaigns and industrial strategy within the Probation and Cafcass services.
More details of the various debates and contributions from a variety of speakers will be posted here shortly.
Minister expects probation budgets to be issued soon
Justice Minister Maria Eagle addressed the AGM and conveyed apologies on behalf of Jack Straw who was attending a formal judicial function.
Maria started her speech by immediately acknowledging the 'fearless style' that Napo brought to its' campaigning efforts which she assured conference, had been heard and acknowledged within government and the MOJ/NOMS infrastructure.
Her aim was to 'build public confidence in the Judicial system and the services provided by Probation staff, this was why £40 million had been made available in the 2008 budget allocation.' She addded that this and other measures had resulted in the probation service reaching or exceeding all but two of its key performance indicators.
Suggesting that people should not make assumptions about future budget allocations, Maria said that it was vital that front line services needed to be protected, but that there were seriously tough choices ahead. The Minister acknowledged the difficulties that had been created earlier this year as some areas tried to cope with the threat of redundancies and paid tribute to the work that Napo had put into the Management of Change Protocol which had resulted in the TPO 'clearing house' arrangements.
A suggestion that High Visibility jackets had 'worked' was met with a mixture of amusement and derision from Delegates as the Minister made a brave job of delivering a largley unpopular message.
There then followed series of questions from the floor which included: Trust status for Wales, the results of recent reports questioning the future validity of Noms, the damaging delay in producing probation budgets, the new qualifying training arrangements, the contrast between the bailing out of the banks and cuts to probation services, and one particular plea which found massive favour among delegates, for the Minister to 'stand up for probation.'
General Secretary Jonathan Ledger thanked Maria for her attendance at the AGM and urged Maria to listen carefully to what had been said by delegates and pledged that Napo would be stepping up its' campaigning on behalf of its members.
Packed AGM gets under way
conference opened by local guests
Chief Officer for Devon and Cornwall Probation Rob Menary and Torquy's Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders were invited to open the 2009 AGM.
Rob talked about the impact of the recession on an increased demand for OM services and paid tribute to the dedication of staff in the face of this pressure. He went on to talk about the value that the Probation Service has brought to the local community by way of a joint initiative in which service users have a dual role as shareholders.
He hoped that Napo would continue to extol social virtues in it's campaigning activities and hoped that the challenges that probation faced would best be countered by a joint approach between employers and Napo.
Adrian Sanders started his address with a gentle introduction to the delights that Torquay has to offer but promptly waded in to Noms for their profligate spending on their HQ buildings in London.
He applauded Napo's campaigning activities including the proposed budget cuts and TPO's facing redundancy, and exhorted the government to rethink their strategy on offender management.
Tim dons his suit!
National Chair Tim Wilson caused much amusement as he exhibited his 'new' apparel before embarking on a rigorous dissection of the governments approach to probation.
Reminding the AGM and Justice Minister Maria Eagin particular of last years promises by David Hanson and the actuality of events since then. Citing the assett stripping and the huge amounts of public money that had been shelled out to keep th ebanks afloat, he drew a stark picture of the odds that Napo faced in fending off huge budget cuts and the twin threat of outsourcing.
In a wide ranging speech which drew enthusiastic applause Tim was especially critical of the demise of probation at senior levels within Noms and the lack of consultation over key policy chnges where Napo's considerable vocational experience has been ignored. Tim also warned Cafcass senior management not to mimic the worst practices of Noms and urged them to desist from the increasing trend to invoke capability procedures against practitioners.
Tim also praised the work of the Staff Associations and wanted to see the partnership arrangements that were signed last year grow from strength to strength.
The National Chair went on to lambast the BNP and warned that the anti-fascist movement must not repeat the divisive mistakes that blighted the efforts of those who opposed Nazism in 1930's Germany.
In a clarion call to Napo representatives at all levels to step up our efforts to recruit more members, Tim said that Napo could and would defy the odds. He expected Napo to step up its considerable campaigning efforts in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds but remained confident that Napo was up for the challenge!
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