I’m extremely grateful to John Steele, who must be applauded for deciding to pop his head above the parapet yesterday and speak up in defence of probation’s leadership. I’ve given my reply below and would very much welcome hearing what others think.
I have reluctantly decided to take issue with you because I follow your blog and respect your views and your willingness to say what many of your colleagues are thinking. But you are both wrong and unfair in your criticism of the leadership of probation over the Government’s changes.
The Probation Association, Probation Chiefs Association and many Trusts and individual leaders made their opposition to many of the proposed changes absolutely clear during the consultation period. They continue to provide candid advice as the changes are implemented, but in private.
It has to be in private for two very good reasons. We live in a democracy and the Government of the day has the right not only to introduce new policies but to expect public servants to implement them to the best of their ability. Think back to the changes that governments of the past have made that you supported. How would you have felt then if senior public servants had actively worked to frustrate them?
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the changes senior leaders have a personal responsibility to the public and to service users to ensure that they are made as sensibly and safely as possible. It is only through providing private advice whilst working constructively with officials at the MoJ that this will be achieved. Anything less would betray everything that probation stands for.
Senior leaders across the country are at the same time encouraging and supporting staff to consider forming mutuals (Trusts themselves are debarred from doing this) and working hard to ensure that staff are treated as fairly and transparently as possible as the changes work through.
Nothing I have said is meant to suggest that unions and their members should not continue to oppose policies they disgaree with, and seek to represent their members views and interests.
But please don’t let your frustration over Government policy lead you to blame the Probation leadership. They are doing their duty to everyone involved as well as they can in very difficult circumstances.
You may feel reluctant about responding, but thank goodness you have because to be perfectly frank the present silence is untenable and insulting to the workforce and wider public. Probation is a vitally important public service with a proud history, exemplary performance and unparalleled integrity. Probation must have a voice and we are entitled to look to the leadership to provide it. As we all know, nature abhors a vacuum and the void must be filled in some way.
I’m afraid I must disagree about being wrong or even unfair. Being part of a democracy is about rather more than just putting a cross on a bit of paper once every five years. I’m not aware that abolishing the present Probation Service was ever part of any political party’s election manifesto and as such the Electorate have never been asked to voice an opinion on the matter.
We all know that the overwhelming submissions to government regarding their Transforming Rehabilitation proposals were hostile. Within the profession we know the ideas are barking mad, risky and a perfect recipe for an almighty omnishambles. Not a shred of evidence has been forthcoming to substantiate the destruction of the existing independent Probation Trusts and we all know it is only political dogma that is driving the plan forward.
With the greatest respect, in such a situation where the very survival of the profession is at stake, whether holding public office or not, history is going to look very unkindly indeed upon those in positions of authority who did nothing, and said nothing publicly in defence of a vital public service. As has been said before, the Nuremburg Defence will not suffice and the Probation Association and Probation Chief’s Association had the perfect opportunity to speak with one voice and tell the government they were wrong.
The trouble is that there are those of us who have always suspected that some Chief’s were rather more keen on Transforming Rehabilitation than they would be prepared to say publicly, so unanimity within the PA or PCA was always probably a forlorn hope. However, many of us have been truely amazed that not one Chief has been prepared to put their job on the line in the name of trying to save the Service. Not one Board has been prepared to go public and say what they think about the shameful way the MoJ is behaving. What about the contract each Trust has with the MoJ? What on earth is the point of independent Boards if they don’t discharge their wider responsibility to the public by making a stand?
There are colleagues who are beginning to say that in view of management’s utter sell-out, the whole ethical basis of our work is bankrupt and it’s not worth fighting to save probation, it’s time to get out instead. The profession is in utter turmoil because of misguided and unfounded policies and is likely to lose some of it’s most experienced and dedicated staff, and the response is a collective silence?!
The whole business of mutuals is a cruel red herring and all those involved must know it. There’s no time to put a meaningful bid together, and no guarantee of winning a bid. There will not be enough jobs for everyone, and the terms and conditions will be worse. It’s just another facet of this whole cruel omnishambles and all citizens, including those in public office, have a duty to hold the government of the day to account for their policies and actions and speak up in the wider public interest. Sometimes it means taking a stand on a matter of principle.
Finally, of course this is a difficult time for Chief’s and they have a difficult job to do, but whilst remaining silent what many are actually doing is applying for one of the 21 posts as heads of Community Rehabilitation Companies, or for one of the remaining senior positions within the National Probation Service. Whatever way you choose to wrap that up, the workforce are entitled to call it looking after themselves.
Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog