I have hung back on this weeks Blog post to await the outcome of the Judicial Review in the ‘Worboys’ case, in anticipation of the finger pointing that was bound to follow irrespective of the High Court verdict.
It was of course good to see Secretary of State David Gauke ‘bat for the team’ in pointing out that the NPS recommendation to the Parole Board was against the release of this client. He is also stumping up on the costs for those who took the JR when he chose not to do so himself. Unfortunately the same can’t be said in terms of his disgraceful scapegoating of the Parole Board Chief Executive Nick Hardwick which forced his resignation. Unfortunately, it was also a bit predictable in the wake of previous MoJ responses to embarrassing revelations about the damage that has been caused to the wider criminal justice system.
Once again we see the demise of a hard working and dedicated public servant prepared to speak uncomfortable truths to those in power because of one, albeit serious in the view of the judges, error by a parole board panel. I was heartened to see that one of the victims has criticised the subsequent resignation of Mr Hardwick and has called for questions to be asked about what has really been going on behind the scenes.
I have had a number of members including some VLO’s contact me directly and through my social media links (@ilawrenceL and FB) to say that they were pleased at my defence of their role in the Worboys case, and agreeing that Dame Glenys Stacey had established very early that all victims who had registered with the contact scheme had been advised of the possibility of Worboys being released.
Not that some elements of the media have let a few facts get in the way of a good story of course, with some quite hysterical coverage about how the various agencies have let victims down.
When it comes to letting people down you don’t have to look very far at a succession of ministers starting of course with everyone’s favourite Chris Grayling, who masterminded the demise of a gold standard Probation service, placing half of it into the control of private companies who have, with the exception of a few examples of good practice, been found seriously wanting by a plethora of HMI probation reports.
Letting victims down? Yes, why not ask Nadine Marshall about being let down? Nadine, whose son Conner was brutally murdered by a perpetrator who was in the wrong place at the wrong time because the standards of supervision introduced by a private probation provider were, in her own publicly stated words, just not good enough. Nadine doesn't blame the staff just the system that failed to protect her son. Sadly, its not the only example of a serious offence taking place under an untried and untested operational model and there are many more just like it elsewhere, but I don’t see high level resignations being announced by people who claimed that Transforming Rehabilitation ‘was safe’ or those who won contracts by lying about their ability to deliver whilst continuing to coin it from the taxpayer whilst treating their staff like dirt. You know who you are of course; and yes, we know that you were ‘just following orders’ blah, blah, etc.
Letting victims down? Yes, like those who have experienced sexual offences and who have recently seen more chaos or a collapse of the investigative and prosecution process which in itself is a further highly traumatic ordeal because forensic and data analysis services have been farmed out to private companies by police forces unable to cope because of austerity driven cuts.
Ask the families of the victims of violence in our prisons or those driven to self-harm because of appalling overcrowding, systemic bullying, gang culture and the massive increase in psychoactive substances into the prison estate, or maybe on that on we ought to blame the overworked guard dogs who have failed to bark loudly enough to deter the drones flying in over the prison walls.
We await news of a spate of politicians and other senior CJS leaders honourably falling on their swords because victims have been let down. Sadly I suspect it will be a long wait.
Your National Executive Committee met last week and addressed an especially testing agenda. Key amongst the many issues was the latest situation on pay and members can expect a detailed briefing over the course of the next week as to the current position, but here is a brief summary of the issues that were debated.
Firstly we were able to report on the outcome of the meeting that Yvonne Pattison and I had attended with the Rory Stewart a couple of days before. Here we had left the Minister and Martin Beecroft the HMPPS HR Chief in little doubt about the disrespectful and farcical manner in which his department had engaged with the probation unions over 2017-18 pay.
Having been delayed until November 2017 because of Treasury remit clearance, we were told that permission had only been granted to spend 1% in this financial year. However, Mr Spurr and Mr Beecroft initially claimed that all of the money had been spent on incremental progression for staff below their band maxima. The unions challenged this, pointing out the obvious fact that this couldn’t be true if around 25% were at the maxima and so had received nothing.
Its now grim history that in January we were eventually told, in Michael Spurr’s letter that no money was available as the HMPPS had overspent their overall pay budget – in effect probation staff had some of their 1% diverted towards meeting the higher than expected prison pay award.
The NEC heard how we told Rory Stewart of our serious lack of trust as we await a decision on longer term pay reform and why we needed a ministerial decision to allow us to get things moving.
Your negotiators also reported to the NEC that pay reform is obviously the more significant and bigger prize than a minimal increase in 2017-18. Even prior to TR, pay reform was recognised by all sides as being an issue that would need to be addressed. Shadow negotiations about what this would involve began in late 2015. We were working jointly to build an informed business case for the Treasury, as NPS/MoJ said they recognised the scale of the investment needed, as well as the wider contractual consequences for CRCs. Good progress was being made up to December 2016 when the first SOP failures diverted the NPS pay team towards full- time crisis management.
This was formally acknowledged as a failing by NPS management and in mid-2017, Mr Spurr publicly stated that addressing probation pay reform was a top priority for his department, even ahead of prison pay reform. He also appointed additional staff to lead on this work with us. Some further shadow negotiations took place and again these were positive and productive. In October 2017, we were told a business case had been submitted. However, alarmingly, we were also told that Mr Spurr had now said, because this was such a priority, funding had been found within the HMPPS/MoJ budget for probation reform and therefore all they were asking the Treasury for was permission to spend the money they have set aside.
At December’s Trade Union Engagement Meeting, Mr Beecroft also explained the extraordinary mess the NPS has generated for itself around paying Market Forces Supplements. These are targeted recruitment and retention payments aimed at specific sites. New starters are recruited at a higher starting salary. Existing staff doing the same work in the same places then have their salaries uplifted to avoid leapfrogging, undermining morale and retention issues cancelling out any gains.
We have been told that Beecroft this requires the HMPPS getting separate permissions to pay MFS to new starters and to existing staff. Napo are still exploring if this is the case elsewhere in the civil service as it isn’t an issue we’ve seen imposed before. We are also still exploring if this was a breach of contract, although it appears that when MFS payments were originally agreed with unions, the requirement to uplift existing staff salaries was not necessarily contractually secured.
This is why we issued the joint circular with UNISON last week asking impacted staff in MFS sites to raise grievances where necessary. Click here to access it.
Meanwhile CRCs are becoming concerned about the lack of progress in the NPS pay reform talks as well, as the weaknesses in the current model are impacting upon their own ability to reward staff and manage recruitment and retention difficulties.
No CRCs have yet sought to formally open up negotiations for unilateral reform of pay structures – because they can’t afford this and will want to respond to the NPS reforms. However, the pressures are mounting, especially in areas like London and the South-East and some northern cities where recruitment and retention is also proving to be very difficult. Competition from the NPS already exists but is being contained by the NPS insisting staff transferring have to start on their band minima (except potentially in MFS sites) but there is anecdotal evidence of more staff opting to work for agencies because of perceived reduced pressure and greater flexibility.
As we have told the Minister there are evident risks of indirect age discrimination built into the probation pay model. These arguably should have been obvious when the model was agreed with only 1% annual progression contractually guaranteed. This deal was done just before I joined Napo but It is assumed all parties gambled that the 3-4% annual progression promise would be kept. This was before the austerity policies imposed by the Coalition government kicked in during 2010
If negotiations are stalled for a prolonged period then these equalities risks grow and become more expensive to resolve – putting further pressure on the validity of a business case submitted back in 2017 and already strained as inflation rises. The unions will need to decide at what point we should attack focussing on equal pay.
The NEC considered a range of campaigning options, and as I said earlier these will be covered in more detail shortly, but broadly here is the direction of travel.
The first proposal is to hold some joint activity (a pay protest day but not industrial action) with the other unions in late April/early May. This would be built around a consultation around a lack of confidence in the NPS senior management to deliver pay reform and involve encouraging members to visit/contact MP’s and invite them to their workplaces. This would then be followed by a day to ‘celebrate Probation’ before the end of the summer recess, which would include a parliamentary lobby and a focus on the need for pay reform.
Another possibility is to hold an indicative ballot to test the water for industrial action given that we have two live AGM motions directing us down this path if necessary
Then there is the question on how and when we move the equality arguments to the centre of the dispute.
Meanwhile we are in discussions with UNISON and GMB SCOOP to explore the formulation of a joint pay claim with the aim of submitting this to all employers.
The NEC also agreed to make resources available in support of these activities and that these will of course be monitored by the NEC Finance sub-Committee.
There is so much going on at the moment so I intend to bring you more news on other important NEC decisions and various parliamentary activities in next weeks blog post. Also look out for a Campaign Special bulletin which is also work in progress. Meanwhile, I hope that all of our members working in the NPS, CRC’s, Probation Service Northern Ireland and Cafcass as well as their families have a restful and enjoyable Easter holiday.