We have heard back from the Probation and Prisons Minister Rory Stewart following our meeting with him last month and the reply to our overtures is both predictable and disappointing. It is more of the “you are doing such a great job, but the fiscal position is very difficult etc.” mantra that we have seen from successive politicians with no clear timeline as to when we can expect substantive pay talks to start. We will now be taking forward our planning with Unison for the events that I touched upon last week and more news will follow from this week’s meeting of the negotiators.
Meanwhile the MoJ published its report on gender pay last week and reported that the difference between men’s and women’s average hourly pay across the ministry is 4.7% and the median gender pay gap is 10.6%.
Final plans, including a series of films to expose the current issues, are near completion to prepare for this event. This latest example of how we have been working with other interested organisations to build useful alliances is an ideal opportunity to remind government that the critics of their disastrous meddling with the criminal justice infrastructure have not gone away. The rally is to feature a series of films that are to be projected onto the walls of the MoJ. These will illustrate the views of the legal and family justice profession and trade unions about what has been going on and obviously, from our standpoint, the impact on our members following the disastrous TR programme and what we believe should be done to rescue the probation service.
I hope that we will have a decent spring evening to enjoy for this first outdoor rally in a while, and that as many Napo members in or near to London who can get to Petty France (St James Park tube) turn up to support it.
Cafcass has been rated “outstanding” after Ofsted inspectors found effective leadership, highly skilled staff and investment in technology and tools that help promote a child-centred approach to practice. Ofsted praised practice which was focussed on “listening to children, understanding their world and acting on their views”, while leadership was branded “exceptional [and] aspirational”. The report claims that this is a step up from the “good” rating in its last inspection in 2014. Here is a link to detailed coverage of the report
This is all good news of course but I was not the only one concerned to see reports of comments by Anthony Douglas which claimed that individual practitioner caseloads are “pretty stable” at around 20 cases. Comments in my inbox this morning from practitioners suggest that this is far removed from reality, and that while the positives in the report were obviously to be welcomed, people are seriously struggling to remember a time when they had the luxury of holding that number of cases.
Other concerns questioned whether an over enthusiastic approach might encourage new starters but would lead to them being disappointed when the real picture on workloads is presented. There were also fears that talking about numbers in this fashion suggests that the existing Cafcass workload measurement tool is being discounted by senior leaders. Hopefully someone will set the record straight here in advance of the next partnership meeting.
An announcement has also been made that the former Families Minister Edward Timpson is to be the next Chair of Cafcass.
Two live interviews for me last Friday evening BBC TV News at about 19:20 and BBC Radio 5 live at 23:30 were an unexpected but useful opportunity to respond to the news last week that the use of Home Detention Curfew has resulted in a drop in the prison population. Always welcome, but a figure which has been achieved I was told by the increase in the use of Electronic Tagging.
As always, I pointed out that tagging has its merits but cannot be a substitute for high quality probation supervision and that if the government is serious about reducing the prison population and especially numbers within the female estate, then more investment and more notice needs to be taken of outstanding recommendations in independent reports.
In that regard I was really pleased to receive an invitation for Napo to make a contribution to the work of Baroness Jean Corston and Victoria Prentis MP, co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System.
The APPG has recently launched a new Inquiry into the sentencing of women. The aims of this Inquiry are two-fold: to reveal the issues around sentencing that inhibit the use of non-custodial solutions and to encourage and enable the magistracy to avoid sending women to prison.
Members who may wish to contribute can send comments to me marked APPG and I will forward these through our comms team to the Howard League who is providing administrative assistance to the Inquiry.
Last week Napo registered a national dispute with the NPS over pension maladministration and systematic failures relating to Ill Health Early Retirement. We are also relating this to the on-going dispute regarding interpretation of notice and the detrimental impact this is having on our members, especially those applying for Ill-Health Early Retirement.
The Committee for Public Accounts recently published its report on government contracts for CRCs. It will make for uncomfortable reading for the privateers as it sets some seriously testing deadlines for a number of progress reports. We will be monitoring the responses which many members will no doubt await with great interest.
You will already have seen communications sent out to branches and directly to members’ via ‘member mailings’ encouraging attendance at the TUC march “A new deal for working People” on 12 May. As you know, we will badge Napo’s presence at the march as a “New Deal for Probation” and a “New Deal for Family Courts” (#NewDealForFamilyCourts & #NewDealForProbation).
Just a word to let members know that Yvonne Pattison and I were honoured to attend the funeral of Simeon following his unexpected passing a few weeks ago. Suffice to say it was a remarkable event, attracting senior politicians and trade union colleagues alongside a throng of Simeon’s comrades from his childhood and his journey through the theatre industry as well as those who came to celebrate his life and his contribution to society.