Probation campaign focuses on accountability

The Trade Union Congress gets underway in Brighton on Sunday and Napo has two keynote motions which will be up for debate on Tuesday morning. We always have two motions at the TUC and they always get carried; but I have been doing some work with the senior TUC leadership to try and secure a bit more than the usual ‘supported by the General Council’ statement that precedes the vote by Congress.

It will be for Frances O’Grady to decide whether or not she will oblige here, but in a week where the issue of greater accountability has loomed large in all sorts of political areas then I am hopeful. The reason being that the debate on the future of probation and for that matter how things got to where they are now, will of course continue. But with an increasing number of politicians and elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) showing an interest in what is going on in their patch (see last week’s Blog and the BBC link for an example) it’s as good a time as any to argue that the track record of the CRC providers (not just the dreadful Working Links efforts that featured last week) must be more transparent to the public than is currently the case.

Accountability is an important facet of a democratic society, but in terms of the post-TR landscape it’s in pretty short supply. For beyond the internal MoJ/HMPPS mechanisms that are supposed to reassure the public that robust performance measures are in place to keep poorly performing contractors in line and that due reparation (service credits) is made to the contracting body when they don’t meet expectations, the curtain marked transparency is a heavy one to lift.

Aside from our work on this aspect of TR, the HM Probation Inspectorate is about the only other public body who has been able to step under that curtain and I eagerly await the outcome of their further work especially in other parts of the Working Links CRC estate and London, the latter of which is a follow up to the disastrous report on the MTC Novo - owned CRC which featured 9 months ago.

So the addresses that Yvonne and I are due to deliver in moving motions 68 and 69 (reports to follow) will urge the TUC to show a greater willingness to engage with the debate that is quickly developing. With information reaching me that PCCs are queuing up to see Ministers to press the point about the lack of accountability then perhaps Frances will be able to find some time to help us press our case in high circles.

What is actually going on in the Working Links CRCs?

Whilst on the hot topic of accountability, here is a letter that I have sent across to senior HMPPS management as a follow up to the publication of the HMI Probation report into service provision in Gloucester.

Jim Barton, Executive Director
Community Interventions Directorate
Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service

7th September 2017

Dear Jim

HMI Probation report - Gloucestershire

Following our brief discussion yesterday I am writing to request that Napo and the Probation Unions be afforded an opportunity to meet with you, together with representatives of your CRC Contractors Aurelius/Working Links, your contract managers and the NPS Divisional Director following the publication of the above report.

You will I am sure, appreciate the serious concerns that I have been expressing in recent media coverage and my written communications to Napo members about the report’s conclusions. Our current view is that serious consideration must be given as to whether this provider is fit to continue with the management of probation services not only within the BGSW CRC but also the two other parts of their contract package.

This request has been made on the basis that a similar opportunity was afforded to the trade unions immediately after the publication of the HMI Probation report into service provision in Greater London where, with Sonia Crozier’s assistance, we were able to have some constructive dialogue about the remedial steps that were to be put in place as a result.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible and Annoesjka Valent will be pleased to try and co-ordinate diaries at this end.

Yours etc.

PAYE and Pension Contributions in the NPS: Update for members issued earlier today

On 7th September Representatives from Napo, Unison and the GMB met with NPS senior management and discussed the ongoing problems with SSCL and the collection of pension contributions, which in turn impacts on individual pay and tax rates.

Despite being made aware of these specific failings more than a month ago the unions were disappointed but not shocked that the NPS were still not able to quantify the numbers impacted and the scale of the shortfall in contributions. Indeed, whilst seeking to offer assurances that the problems were being fixed, no one from the NPS was able to explain how or offer any assurances that all or any of these failings would not happen again.

They did say that new P60's for 2016-17 will be sent to impacted staff although these will reflect the incorrect pension contributions. This will affect anyone who has not had their full contributions collected who are due to retire or anyone who leaves the NPS between 1st February and the issues being rectified. It could also have marginal impacts on people's tax where they are on marginal tax rates (ie near a tax band or child benefit tax threshold). Napo is seeking advice in this regard but members in this position should notify the Employer, specifically on this point immediately, copying in the GMPF. All members are urged to check whether their LGPS contributions have been missed by the NPS, using our previous guidance.

Other payments

The employer confirmed that unspecified numbers of staff who had been in receipt of unsocial hours payments, sick pay or maternity leave had also been impacted but they could not confirm if, as we suspect, the problems extends to other groups also listed in our last advice.
Nor could they confirm that all new starters have been auto-enrolled into the local government t pension scheme, in accordance with their legal obligations.

Unbelievably, the NPS Representatives were unaware that, whilst these issues had been under investigation, some members had been written to and told that pay protection afforded under E3 arrangements was deemed to be non-pensionable. The unions do not accept this premise but had not even been informed of this view or told that these letters would be issued to members. That the senior NPS HR team had no knowledge of who or how or why these letters had been authorised for issue, was the clearest sign yet of the continuing lack of control and order in their systems. The unions intend to formally ask for these letters to be immediately retracted until an explanation is presented.

Napo response

Accordingly, it is evident that the NPS does not have control of its PAYE and pension systems. Napo has raised this already at the highest levels - directly with the Pension Ombudsman and Ministers. We are now seeking further advice as to how we should advise members in challenging individual problems. We will also be considering whether there are collective actions that could help bring about an urgent and credible solution.

Our priorities will continue to be:

  1. Doing everything we can to make sure the problems are addressed centrally and the threat of further failures is neutralisied. Napo believes this can only be guaranteed by unpicking the systems supporting NPS pay, pension and HR advice from the rest of the MoJ.
  2. Maintaining that no member should suffer any further stress and detriment worrying about having to make up many months of pension contributions which the employer has not deducted, or any related tax liabilities. The scheme established when the NPS and CRC's were created to address maladministration of pension schemes should be invoked, however politically embarrassing that is for the MoJ.
  3. Making sure the credibility and sustainability of the pension scheme (LGPS) is not undermined any further by the incompetence of the NPS / SSCL systems - including an assurance that hat all staff are correctly auto-enrolled.

The NPS have, at least to union Representatives, expressed their anxiousness and concern about the scale of the failings and the urgent need to address them. Our view is that at least amongst those employed to directly support the NPS, this is genuine. This however only amplifies our concern that they have demonstrated no capacity to get the problems under control and address them, highlighted by their continued failure to know what advice was being sent to their staff in their name. We are less convinced that senior MoJ officials are prioritising and addressing these failings, against the need to cover their part in their creation and the costs to the MoJ of addressing them fairly.

Accordingly, all members are urged to:

  1. Revisit our previous guidance and check their August and September pay statements accordingly - then follow this advice where needed.
  2. Look out for further Napo advice and information on these failings.
  3. Talk to colleagues who may not be in Napo urging them to join so that we can advise and represent them if required.

AGM Motions you get to choose what should be debated

Transparency and accountability are also hallmarks of Napo’s work for, and with, its members. A great example is the facility for members to prioritise which of the 34 motions and 2 constitutional amendments should be tabled for debate at the Nottingham AGM.  
So whether you are going or whether you are not, (although I hope that you are) here is the link where you can decide.



Blog type: 
General Secretary's Blog