A resounding ‘no’, was the not altogether surprising answer from the many stakeholders present at the Justice Committee seminar that took place in Parliament last Tuesday chaired by Robert Neill MP. Now Mr Neill is someone whose recent line of questioning of various members of the MoJ high command suggests he isn't exactly convinced about the outcomes of one of his government’s erstwhile flagship policies, and that he has noticed how tawdry the ensigns are looking these days.
As this gathering was held under ‘Chatham House’ rules in order to help the Justice Committee to determine their future work it means that none of what was said can be specifically attributed to anyone present, but a flavour of what any number of those present were describing as a disastrous social experiment was evident in all of the private briefings that had been submitted to the committee beforehand.
The usual suspects in the form of the CRC owners were also there, pleading poverty as a result of the changes in volume bandings and complaining that the MoJ had sold them all a ‘dog’s dinner.’ Interestingly some of them were also using words like unsustainable in this context when painting a pretty desperate forward picture.
I was able to make a couple of fairly robust contributions which focused on two indisputable facts: the first being that its not the fault of our members that the whole TR exercise has been such a spectacularly woeful failure as per the HMI Probation and NAO and Public Accounts Committee findings, and that if it can’t be fixed then the CRC owners should be asked to hand back the keys.
Let us hope that the Justice Committee will be taking a long look at the wreckage and reach the same conclusion.
Prison reform white paper
It was good to receive an invitation to hear the acknowledgement by Elizabeth Truss last week that theincrease in violence and self-harm in prisons can no longer be ignored by her government, and what the Minister had to say in relation to these undoubtedly major problems was of course welcome for the most part.
Unfortunately, the whole ethos of the Secretary of State’s speech was predictably focused on reforms within the prison estate as in: ‘drugs, drones, phones’ for the prevention of; as opposed to rehabilitation for the use of. It also meant that the cosy headquarters of the ‘Reform’ think tank and the stage managed questions that, Elizabeth amazingly appeared to have all the written answers to, made it all seem a bit more substantial than it actually was.
The presence of the POA and yours truly sitting alongside each other directly in the Ministers eye line, meant that the Reform host did his level best to ensure that he would take everyone else’s question other than mine. Fortunately I can be a bit persistent, and my simple observation (as the last contributor) that ‘Through the Gate’ had failed and when were the Ministers (for Sam Gyimah was there too) intending to engage with us over the state of the probation reforms? ensured a sense of perspective to an event that hitherto had much mutual back slapping about it.
The answer was a tad predictable too; as in something along the lines of: ‘Yes the role of Probation is intrinsic to these reforms and Ministers will be addressing the issues you have raised in due course.’
The subsequent coverage in many sections of the media during the week welcomed the government’s commitment to prison reform, but pointed out the obvious fact that prisons need to be safe places for both prisoners and staff. How ironic then that HMP Bedford was the scene of some serious (drug and phone abetted) disturbances over the weekend as if to prove the point in graphic fashion
Whilst prisons remain overcrowded and under staffed it will be impossible to implement any meaningful reforms and we intend to continue telling anyone and everyone that the Probation Service should be a direct alternative to custody. That means creating a considered policy on staff recruitment, training and the education of offenders in order to provide a safe and effective prison system that will help to retain staff and reduce incidents including death in custody. This must then be continued in the community upon their release. Hardly rocket science is it?
Cafcass stumps up on HCPC fees, but don’t let your registration slip
Good news of a decision by the Cafcass’ Corporate Management Team that HCPC Registration Fees will continue to be paid for the next two-year registration cycle (2016-18) for all eligible qualified Social Work staff.
The key points are as follows:
Cafcass has agreed that approximately £230k will continue to be ring-fenced within our overall budget in order to meet the cost of this important ongoing commitment to our workforce;
The full cost of registration for the two-year period (December 2016 to December 2018) is now £180. This is to be reduced by 50% for any new UK graduate from an HCPC approved course who is embarking upon their first two ‘professional years’;
Reimbursement of the first year’s fees (£90 / £45) will be processed automatically via Cafcass Payroll inJanuary 2017;
The second year’s fees (£90 / £45) will be reimbursed in January 2018(subject to confirmation of renewal from the HCPC);
As previously, eligible staff are therefore not required to claim reimbursement of their HCPC registration fees as Travel and Subsistence costs via the iTrent Self-Service system. Any claims entered in this way will be rejected by Payroll;Registration has been open since 1 September 2016. Staff should now therefore have completed or be completing their registration process and are required to ensure that they are registered with the HCPC by no later than 30 November 2016. Anyone failing to register by this deadline will have their name automatically removed from the register by the HCPC, will be unable to practise using the protected title of ‘Social Worker’ and may be liable to pay a readmission fee of £315 in order to be able to register again (which cannot be covered by Cafcass).
Cafcass work in numbers...
Positive stuff but small comfort to a workforce who will be wondering just how they are going to cope with the latest startling workload statistics. In September 2016, Cafcass received a total of 1,216 care applications. This figure represents a 23% increase compared to those received in September 2015.
In September 2016, Cafcass received a total of 3,588 new private law cases. This is a 19% increase on September 2015 levels.
We will ensure that this issue comes top of the agenda when we meet with the Minister later this month.
Make Votes Matter
In a week where several thousand miles away across the Atlantic many millions of votes will hopefully matter, I received the following communication from the UK MVM campaign which I promised to share with our members.
‘We've made some good progress on the campaign for PR over the last few months. Our latest initiative is a new, official Parliamentary petition for PR. If this reaches 100,000 signatures PR will be tabled for a full debate in Parliament - something that has not happened for many years - and now would be a really good time for such a debate to take place.
We're now aware of 40 Labour MPs in favour of PR. Even a Tory MP - Ben Howlett - has backed the campaign. These join MPs of almost every other party. There's a real sense of momentum building, and nowhere was this clearer than at our Labour Conference rally - described as the biggest gathering of its kind in a generation.
As well as the Parliamentary petition, Chuka Umunna laid our Early Day Motion before Parliament last week as part of a coordinated effort to raise PR on Parliament's agenda. The petition has gathered more than 25,000 signatures in three weeks and has until April 2017 to reach 100,000 in order to be scheduled for a full debate. Achieving this would simultaneously show widespread, popular support for PR, while giving MPs a platform to make the substantive arguments for reform.’