As always I had a huge list of issues that I wanted to cover this week, but priority has to be given to that dreadful report by Dame Glenys Stacey and the Probation inspectorate into Working Links/Aurelius service provision in Gloucestershire.
To say it has sparked social media frenzy is putting it mildly, and obviously I intend to write to Ministers early next week; but the problems that have been continually identified by Dame Glenys in all but one of her reports in recent months are symptomatic of the shambles that has been created in Probation which, yet again, vindicate the predictions that Napo (and others) made well before Grayling’s disgraceful probation ‘fire sale’ in 2014.
The BBC ‘Points West’ coverage yesterday encapsulates the current crisis that afflicts the privatised arm of this once-upon-a-time gold standard service.
It is one where ‘no nothing’ contractors like Working Links and their German based owners Aurelius, are allowed to preside over a broken and unsafe operational regime at huge cost to the taxpayer, and where listening to the views of the trade unions is seen as a necessary obligation rather than a serious attempt at working together to solve problems. It’s a scenario where their staff report that they have been treated with disrespect bordering on contempt. One where they have been put through the trauma of an incredibly stupid downsizing strategy that was handled in the most ham-fisted manner following which unfilled vacancies now exist. Where caseloads are not only impossible but are a source of serious stress that results in sickness figures going through the roof and where staff are upping sticks to go to the NPS despite the loss of continuity of service.
After every effort at negotiation with the massively appreciated assistance of ACAS, we and the other probation unions, seem no closer to making progress on the myriad of outstanding issues that have given rise to a now 18 month old dispute with the employer. We will have another tilt at this later this month, but our members’patience is not inexhaustible.
Time for these privateers to quit?
The quoted statement from Working Links in response to the damning criticism heaped on their operations in Gloucester as in: ‘It’s still early days’, was a jaw dropper in its own right; but get this written statement below if you will? (My analysis of the sub text is shown in italics).
‘We recognise there are areas of our work which we need to improve on….
(Yes we have been telling you that for over two years)
We will be working even harder alongside our colleagues in the National Probation Service to address the issues identified….
(Really, what has the NPS got to do with these failings?)
and deliver the services which the public, courts and our service users require from us…..
(The same services that you have palpably failed to deliver to any sort of acceptable standard despite shed loads of tax payers money, including a £4.2m bung just recently and btw after which you still owe our members the 1% contractual pay increase that you continually prevaricate over - pay up will you?)
Speaking of patience, just when will the Aurelius asset strippers decide that enough is enough? Or is the further financial bail-out reportedly coming the way of the CRC’s to see them through the life of the contract the difference between chaos management and handing back the keys?
If it turns out that political weakness prevents failing contractors being stripped of their contracts then how about putting some proper accountability in place with the assistance of Police and Crime Commissioners and Regional Mayors?
Watch this space.