The Ministry of Justice is absolutely desperate to give its Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) omnishambles planned for probation some semblance of credibility by making sure that not all the ‘prime’ contracts are awarded to the questionable big boys like G4S, Serco, A4E or Interserve. As mentioned in a previous post, they have resorted to begging:-
The government’s rehabilitation reforms will not have been a success if no voluntary sector organisations win contracts to become prime providers, a senior civil servant said yesterday.
Speaking at the Third Sector Impact Measurement conference in London yesterday, Antonia Romeo, director of the criminal justice group at the Ministry of Justice, said: “We hope there are really creditable bids from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to win tier-one contracts.
“We think that if we don’t have any VCSE providers at tier one, this project will not have been a success.”
Romeo said the government had introduced a number of measures to support voluntary sector organisations working with prisoners and to make it easier for sector organisations to win contracts.
“Voluntary sector organisations are absolutely essential to what we’re trying to do,” she said. “Opening up the market is the key purpose of these reforms.
“Think about what partnerships you can form, formal or informal, including consortia, in order to deliver services.”
Well, step forward Sarah Billiald, former CEO of Kent Probation Trust and former spokesperson for the PCA. She stood aside some months ago in order to lead one of the 8 probation ‘mutuals’ formed from 13 probation trusts and today’s full page puff in the Guardian confirms that she intends to win the prime contract in her contract package area:-
Sarah Billiald is leading efforts to create a staff mutual to run rehabilitation services in one of the biggest probation areas in England and Wales. The former chief executive of Kent probation heads a small team working across most of south-east England – Kent, Surrey and Sussex – which aims to bid in partnership with the private sector to take over the community rehabilitation company (CRC) responsible from next year for the management and supervision of low- to medium-risk offenders in the three counties. The contract is said to be worth up to £28m.
“The idea of the mutual is that it will deliver a range of services that would include probation and rehabilitation services, but not only them,” says Billiald. “It is about taking the skill set we have about people being reintegrated back into local communities and saying it can apply to all sorts of vulnerable groups: people with mental health issues; with disabilities. It could be elderly people.”
She says the idea of the mutual – which is called Co:here because it is about “co-producing strong communities” – is not just “to do things to service users” but also to work with them to say, ‘Well, how are you going to stop offending?’ That’s the consistent model and, however the service would be, we would design it with our service users.”
Usually mutuals are staff-owned but Co:here will have three types of member – the staff, the service users (in this case offenders) and the community. The structure is hardwired into its constitution with the governing body made up of staff, service users and volunteers from the community elected by the members and with the power to appoint and remove non-executive directors.
Billiald says that the probation competition is about reducing reoffending. The much smaller national probation service will take responsibility for public protection and high-risk offenders, allowing the CRCs, which will take over from the probation trusts, to focus more strongly on rehabilitation.
It’s very disappointing indeed to hear a former CEO talking like this, effectively helping the MoJ in its aim of breaking up the probation service. But it shouldn’t come as any great surprise because Sarah Billiald isn’t a probation officer, and never has been. She’s an accountant and therefore perfectly qualified to help usher in this brave new idiotic TR ominshambles:-
Career July 2013 to present: lead promoter, Co:here mutual; 2008 toJuly 2013: chief executive, Kent Probation; 2006-08: deputy director of home affairs, Prime Minister’s National Delivery Unit; 1997-2005: various roles including audit manager, audit principal, audit senior and audit trainee, National Audit Office; 1996-97: volunteer, Bede House (east London community development charity).
In this Guardian piece there is absolutely no hint that in order to win the contract it actually has to be about saving money, less staff, more work, worse terms and conditions. The staff know this of course, even if Sarah chooses not to raise the issue, and carrying them is not going to be easy:-
But first, the mutual has to be sure that the staff are with them. “We will go to staff and say: ‘Here is a choice. We can either do nothing and this competition will happen and whoever wins will win – it could be G4S or Capita and they will own the company and you will work for them,” says Billiald. “Or we can fund a joint venture and we will own 51% and have considerable influence. But that joint venture is a private company with shareholders and we will be going into partnership with them.
“That is the choice we’re going to put to staff, because if staff say, ‘I want no part of this, not in my name’, then what sort of mutual is it? But if staff say ‘We would rather have some influence than no influence’, we would rather go for it.”
She says it helps that the competition is being launched against a background where the “current delivery model” isn’t regarded as broken. “The current staff know exactly which bits work and which don’t. They have never had the flexibility – because we have been part of the public sector – to deliver in a more creative way to focus on rehabilitation.”
By way of illustration that all the warm words and soft soap about community involvement, offender engagement and doing ‘good work’ misses the real point of TR, here is a stark reminder of what is to come from Turning Point, another outfit, a charity, keen to pick up probation work. They sacked all their staff and put them on worse terms and conditions in order to remain ‘competitive’:-
Just as pay within the voluntary sector is coming under intense scrutiny from MPs and parts of the press, Turning Point has revealed in its latest accounts that it has “delinked” from organisations including the National Joint Council for local government and Agenda for Change, the NHS system that allocates posts to set pay bands.
The decision to take unilateral control of its pay review process is one of several changes the charity made to its terms and conditions of employment when it sacked all its staff earlier this year and rehired them on new contracts.
Three hundred staff have lodged a claim with the Employment Tribunal but Unite the union told civilsociety.co.uk yesterday that it was still waiting for a hearing date.
The charity’s annual report went into some detail about Project Swan, the changes described by Turning Point as essential to “remain competitive and continue delivering value for money”.
It said the downturn in the economy had created a difficult trading environment for all voluntary sector health and social care providers, and public sector funding cuts have “hit much harder and more quickly than we anticipated”.
In response, in November 2012 the charity kicked off negotiations with Unite the union on a set of proposals to change the terms and conditions of employment for staff. An invitation to employees to provide feedback elicited 448 separate responses including 151 suggestions for how the charity could alter the proposals or make other savings.
After the consultation with Unite, Turning Point terminated contracts for all employees and re-engaged them on new contracts which also featured the following elements:
- No longer paying enhancement to hourly rates for most ‘unsocial’ hours worked, except for four bank holidays
- No more overtime rates
- New rates for ‘out of hours’ management
- Reducing redundancy terms to statutory entitlement for all employees
- Offering casual workers new zero-hours contracts
I think this astonishingly-naive proposal from Sarah Billiald in the Guardian will have a number of effects. It should help to crystallise many people’s thinking on the whole omnishambles. It will encourage union membership, and that of the local government pension scheme. It will shake more people out of apathy and assist them in deciding whether to take industrial action when the time comes. Doing nothing really isn’t an option.
I’ll end on this comment from a regular reader which sums it up nicely I think:-
Notice that SB has full page spread in today’s Guardian - Society section on benefits of mutuals in the new probation landscape…. a tiresome litany of putative gains trotted out - clearly not someone who has been at the front-line of practice & not a smidgeon of self -doubt or corporate concern at the vexed legal/governance/public safety issues highlighted above.. just a bland roll over (not that mutuals, if uncorrupted by predatory privateers, themselves are w/o some virtue!) & follow the MoJ line…
Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog