The Probation Service lost a lot when it lost the Trusts; with their visible and accessible local leadership, personal autonomy and opportunities to try innovative practice and team working. Napo members feel this ethos has gone in the top-down structure of the NPS with its focus on uniformity against massive financial constraints.
Sadly the potential benefits of a centralised service: national standards, consistent professional development and training pathways, a national license to practice, etc., have not emerged - indeed, they are made even more difficult because of the split service.
There is a leadership paralysis where people are unsure and/or unwilling to take responsibility for outcomes and actions. The NPS struggles because accountabilities are unclear and even senior managers either do not have delegated authority to act or, if they do, cannot get consistent and accurate information about the parameters of potential decisions.
Any nationalised service can become bureaucratic and risk averse. The lessons of the last attempt to centralise probation in the early 2000s went unheeded. On a day-to-day basis the NPS is plagued by bureaucracy and by centralised instruction removing local flexibility.
In oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee, Napo said: “Stories from members trying to apply for posts in the NPS also shine a light into the Kafka-esque bureaucratic chaos in the NPS. The recruitment process is torturous, with online applications vulnerable to unstable IT. Security clearance processes are not aligned to recruitment processes, and can delay either starting dates or people being paid once they start. Trying to convert temporary staff into permanent contracts is also problematic. It is not unusual to take a year from application to starting, even where DBS checks are already in place”.
A Probation Officer working in an inner city team, told the Committee: “The NPS is a top down ‘this is the way you do it’ bureaucracy which makes no effort to engage us as practitioners who know the job and the people we work with. Staff are relocated against their will and morale in many overstretched and stressed frontline teams is dire. Many experienced staff have had enough and left.”
A key problem is that front line managers have had to absorb most HR functions, in line with civil service norms, but with little training. Before senior probation officers did very little HR, mostly focusing upon supervision of professional output and coaching around cases. They have now taken on a full line management role, including performance management and development; managing grievances and HR questions around leave, etc., while STILL maintaining the professional support.
Managers are frustrated by having to rely on advice and support from the Shared Service Centre (SSCL) who have proved beyond incompetent, and the the fact that taxpayer is now subsiding this incompetence at up to 55p a minute because managers and staff have to call a premium rate number to find out why their pay is wrong is beyond parody.
From the start, the NPS has suffered from staff shortages and excessive workloads, amplified by consequential increases in sickness absence and staff turnover. But HMPPS has focussed on staffing the Prison Service as a priority over probation recruitment. This is reflected in its recruitment campaigns as evidenced by a recent MoJ advert showing riot control and baton charges as “key elite skills” for working in HMPPS – an example of the cultural friction facing the MoJ.
Meanwhile, the internal market in the system and the management of the CRC contracts has led to an enormous, and costly, rise in the bureaucracy of the service. The JSC heard that the CRC contracting teams in HMPPS England and HMPPS Wales had a reported annual collective budget of £5.137 million and employed around 85 full-time staff. The Committee said: “We are surprised that it costs HMPPS and HMPPS Wales more staff and money to manage the Ministry’s contracts with the 21 CRCs, than HMI Prisons has to inspect more than a hundred prisons, as well as young offender institutions, secure training centres, immigration removal centres, short-term holding facilities, police custody, military detention and court custody.”
Napo will be hosting a drop-in session for MPs on 1st of May to put this, and seven other reasons to reunify the probation service to MPs.
If you haven’t already done so, complete the postcard and send it back to your local MP encouraging them to join the fight to make sure the probation service is able to rehabilitate clients, keep the public safe and to protect your profession.
Need any materials to be a part of the campaign? Email firstname.lastname@example.org