Our wholesale opposition to the calamitous decision by David Gauke to retender the shortened CRC contracts, and offer new ones within a reconfigured 10 region structure was again reinforced in our submission to the ‘Strengthen Probation Building Confidence’ consultation last week.
Anyone who believes that this consultation is meaningful, as in the Government actually changing their mind as a result, cannot have been following the script. Those harbouring such hopes would have seen that for themselves if they had been able to attend the latest attempt by the MoJ to smooth the path for would be contractors.
I have always worked on the basis that consultation of this nature is about learning from the mistakes of the past and ensuring that all steps will be taken in the future not to repeat them. Unfortunately, there is little sign that this will happen and just as was the case in the initial engagement events that many of our members have attended, the intended direction of travel from last week’s gathering in London - akin to a "wild west medicine" selling show without the wagons and horses - was very clear.
It goes something like this. The last Secretary of State for Justice destroys an award winning Probation service and opens the floodgates to a social engineering disaster, despite over 90% of those responding to another so-called consultation telling him that he really ought not to have gone there. Said Minister later departs the post-Transforming Rehabilitation dystopia that he and a number of spineless senior NOMS leaders were responsible for creating, and is rewarded with another high profile political post as Secretary of State for Transport.
As for TR four years on, nearly every report from HMI Probation describes it as a failure save for a few pockets of good practice. Findings which are then endorsed by what for me is one of the most damning Parliamentary inquiry reports I have ever seen from the Justice Select Committee which also says it’s a failure. Incidentally, news just reaches me that another hugely critical report is due from HMI Probation tomorrow and it will make for some seriously unhappy reading yet again for the private providers who are yes, collectively failing yet again on their contractual responsibilities.
Anyone watching Chris Grayling in his TV interviews last week (it is very difficult I know) on the plans to launch a major review into our railway system will have found the language to be depressingly familiar to the mantra that preceded TR, e.g. "public/private partnerships can work, innovation and flexibility is all that is required, freedoms to make decisions, trade unions to blame", etc.
What I find especially disconcerting is that in the face of what is by any standards about the most catastrophic privatisation I have ever seen of its kind, and granted we have seen plenty more examples, the only response that I can see from Government is to simply repeat the processes that led to where Probation is now.
For Government, it’s as if TR never happened; that the systemic failure of CRC providers to heed the signals from our members that we put out before TR such as be careful what you wish for as well as bid for, never happened either. Documented evidence from Napo and scores of other organisations that spelt out the risks and likely results are just something to be ignored, as millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is ploughed into TR Mark 2 and the creation of another highly dubious retendering exercise where the likely results are already writ large. Against that background, anyone seriously contemplating bidding for the intended next round of contracts ought to think again.
It’s as corrupt a process as it was four years ago and we will not baulk from saying so.
According to one of my media sources we are seeing more Serious Further Offences being committed in England and Wales. These incidents are highly emotive and require timely and accurate investigation to determine what lessons can be learned and whether certain things might have been done differently by an individual or by the various agencies involved. Victims' families also demand (and are entitled) to answers.
SFOs occurred prior to TR, they happen now and they will in the future. Inevitably, they become highly political because Ministers and Governments are responsible for presiding over a justice system that is supposed to minimise the risks to public safety.
In such a climate, politicians may seek to blame individuals and not their own failures for the ensuing human tragedies that occur in a probation service which is less safe than it was, where staff are under intense pressure. A service that has become hugely fragmented since it was irresponsibly thrown open to the market.
Now we see it start to unravel. Napo, heavily involved in representing several members since our last AGM whose practice has been called into question despite having undergone the initial SFO review, only to hear later down the line that another investigation has arisen because of a pending inquest or by way of a Ministerial intervention.
Members occasionally ask me whether I intend to publicise our position in relation to individual members who are in proceedings following an SFO and the answer is an unhesitant no. Our first duty is to represent the interests of the members involved and given the propensity for these cases to gravitate to inquests or the attention of Ministers, we need to say nothing that could complicate matters.
I think members will agree that this is a sensible approach, but I can certainly promise this: that Napo will not stand by and see our members made scapegoats for systemic failure by their employer or for situations that would never have happened if those responsible for making previous decisions, or for providing the necessary resources, support and protections for staff, are the ones who really ought to be answering some very uncomfortable questions.
Even more reason for having a trade union at your side come the day when you might need us.
I well remember being the victim of hate filled tirades or attempts to start a physical altercation when the BNP and NF were around all those years ago.
Now we see a new and equally sinister movement forming around individuals such as Tommy Robinson whose supporters have threatened and on one recent occasion attacked trades unionists in a London Pub. Large far right marches from the so-called Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) have taken place, with plenty of examples of islamophobia on display.
Elsewhere in Europe, fascist parties continue to make electoral gains. In Austria the Freedom Party shares government, whilst Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece have seats in both their national and the European parliament. This electoral activity is supplemented by violent street mobilisations that target refugees and asylum seekers and whips up racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism Last month saw the rise of the AfDs and open Nazism in Chemnitz.
Napo can be proud of our policy of opposition to racism and I hope that members may feel strongly enough about the need for the union movement to make a public stand against the far right to join the demonstration that’s being planned in London and elsewhere on Saturday 17th November.
Those who care cannot afford to be complacent; a painful lesson from the past is in our faces once again and we need to show just as those trade unionists before us did, that fascism has no place in our society.
In or around the East Midlands next weekend?
If so, I have been asked to plug the Festival being held at 88 Wood Lane, Quorn, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE12 8DB
Here are the details:
- Friday 28th 12 noon - 11pm (BBQ available, Quiet day - acoustic guitarist)
- Saturday 29th 12 noon - 1pm (BBQ available, Family fun day, live band)
- Sunday 30th 12 noon till 8pm (Sunday lunch available from 12 - 3 £8.95)
Ian Richards says that the GFTU are offering specially discounted Tokens for pre-sale for all affiliates / partners at the discounted price of £7.50. This will get the purchaser 3 pints or 6 halves to try. They can be collected from reception at any time by showing your Napo card or proof of membership.
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