The report of how Napo managed to lobby the participants prior to one of last week’s ‘Probation Marketisation’ events, sets out clearly what we think of the whole exercise. Anyone who believes that the announcement of an eight-week consultation period on the ‘Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence’ blueprint is going to be taken notice of by this Government will be disappointed.
If there were any lingering doubts about the Government’s intention to continue with their ideologically driven privatisation programme they would have been easily dispelled by the proceedings.
I have to give it to the Tories in one respect, and that’s their capacity to carry on day by day in Government without so much as an occasional acknowledgement of the litany of failures they have presided over when it comes to opening services up to the market. Rail Franchises, Carillion, and PFI projects in schools and hospitals that our grandkids and their children will still be paying for by the next century.
That, as well as avoiding a Parliamentary debate into the lack of a structured response to the Justice Select Committee report into the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, means that they could swan off into the summer hoping that nobody would notice the fact that half a billion pounds has been spent on a failed social experiment known as Transforming Rehabilitation.
‘Warming the Market’
The event convinced me that the decision to sell off new probation contracts had already been made and that the consultation on whether this is the right thing to do will be a sham. The full implications of what we are facing soon became very clear as a posse of MoJ and HMPPS officials set out their stall to entice the assembled audience of privateers and Third Sector representatives to seriously consider bids for the proposed new 5-7 year contracts that will be on offer post 2020.
Use of terms such as ‘Warming the Market’ in response to how bidders were to be encouraged to come forward was quite frankly insidious to listen to, and gave the impression that every colour of carpet will be laid out for the private sector to get their noses into the trough. Perhaps someone on the organiser’s side might reflect on the fact that it is people’s jobs and careers that are going to be impacted upon, yet sadly there was little sign that this was fully appreciated by those engaged in this circus.
Suffice to say it was not a pleasant experience. Firstly, it was quite surreal to see so many people almost gleefully talk about ‘learning the lessons’ and how they were listening to the criticisms and were moving swiftly to make things right this time. Presumably, the representatives from G4s and SERCO would have lapped this up given that they have used up more lives than my Cat in terms of their scandalous history of running outsourced contracts.
It was a more positive experience to speak with a number of Third Sector representatives, the majority of whom were equally unimpressed with what TR had not delivered for them and who remained sceptical that things would be much different post 2020. They did however have a real inclination to contribute positively to reform, and in that respect I found their company altogether more pleasant than some others I rubbed shoulders with. This link reflects much of the sectors hoped for direction of travel:
Anway, the upshot to the afternoon went something like this: Probation spending has undershot which is why its’ been possible to waive the penalties on CRC shortcomings, shove more money into failure and throw in another £22m a year to improve ‘Through the Gate’ services, and rebadge all this in a glossy brochure marked ‘Strengthening Probation and Building Confidence.’
It was not one of those occasions where I had an opportunity to make a withering critique of what has gone on and what is being proposed next, but I was able to find out that the next generation outsourced contracts will be of 5-7 years duration and that nobody quite has a clue exactly what a Professional Register will do and who will run it.
Two things struck me most about this event. Firstly the complete denial as to the shambles that has taken place, and secondly the fact that quite a few people there seemed oblivious to the reality that any new contracts will need to take into account the outcome of a an NPS pay reform settlement that we all hope will flow from the negotiations which start in a couple of weeks.
Those contracts will have to be of sufficient size financially to make any prospective bidder bother to complete the application. That remains to be seen, but as far as Napo is concerned I did make it clear to all assembled that a Probation underspend means there is obviously money out there to treat properly with staff who have not only had the indignity of TR to contend with but who have not had a salary rise in seven years.