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Why some supplements are definitely not performance enhancing

MFS mess highlights ongoing financial chaos in the NPS

One of the stated ambitions of the government’s current consultation, “Strengthening probation, Building Confidence” is to “Develop a workforce strategy which ensures providers can recruit and develop the staff they need to deliver quality probation services (Page 7)”.

The consultation doesn’t detail the scale of this challenge, but Napo members’ recent experience in the NPS starts to join the dots to outline a pretty challenging and ugly picture. The backdrop is a failing NPS – hamstrung from the start by inadequate financial planning or resources. This has resulted in occasionally dishonest behaviours (see below), irrational short-term panic measures, which corrode staff trust and confidence in their employer and in turn make their stated aspiration harder with every perverse action.

One of the clearest examples is the NPS handling of Market Forces Pay Supplements (MFS) across some parts of the South East and Eastern region over the last three years. MFS payments are a standard HR tool across the public sector. When it becomes difficult to recruit or retain staff with particular skills a higher starting salary can be applied to incentivise people to work in a usually disproportionately expensive area. In this case, one aim was to neutralise the impact of London Weighting (LW), which could see people living in Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, etc take jobs in London because LW is more than their commuting costs. MFS payments could level the competition between areas for new starters. No doubt it also helped neutralise the impact on staff of transferring from CRCs where they’d otherwise have to re-start on their Band minima.

When the Coach is paid less 

So in theory MFS payments are logical and rational, although they are not a strategic alternative to a more sustainable, transparent and sensible pay system than probation currently has. The rub is that anyone in those areas doing the same work in the same areas but earning less than the uplifted MFS salary would also expect to benefit – otherwise they’d be leapfrogged. No serious HR professional would consider using a recruitment payment that would risk annoying existing staff and generating a retention problem. This is amplified where the MFS payment are being paid to less experienced and/or newly qualified staff and the expectation is that experienced colleagues will support, mentor or coach the newer colleagues. Who could seriously expect someone to do that if the new colleague is knowingly being paid more than the coach? When probation pay reform is the publicly stated number one strategic priority for the whole organisation, surely no-one would risk insulting the intelligence of experienced staff by not at least matching the salaries of new starters?

Welcome to the NPS…the youngest offspring of the dysfunctional parent department, the MoJ. Before 2017, NPS HR asked HMPPS/MoJ for the permission and monies to implement MFS payments in some cases. Permission was given for both new starters and existing staff to get uplifts – except that the NPS HR systems prevented some existing staff from getting the uplift. After Napo intervened, these members were eventually identified and paid but some of the “performance dividend” was lost.

Farce and high dudgeon

Meanwhile, in 2016 the MoJ failed to get its accounts signed off because it spent more than it had coming in and didn’t know how to stop. Since then it’s got worse. In 2017, the favourite MoJ department (thats the Prison Service if anyone had not noticed)  got all of the pay rise, apart from the Chief Engineer of the shambles who still got his annual 5 figure bonus. When it was probation’s turn there was nothing left. This financial chaos, also reflected in PAYE and Pension problems previously highlighted by Napo, led to the Treasury taking over the financial management of the MoJ.

In essence, the MoJ is being managed like a potentially bankrupt business, the Treasury playing the part of the auditors, needing to sign off every possible request for monies with a default position being “No”. 

Accordingly, in 2017, NPS HR asked the HMPPS / MoJ HR to implement further MFS payments. This was agreed. The HMPPS / MoJ HR leads then asked the Treasury to release the monies for what had already been agreed. Such was their incompetence, instead of asking one question as part of a strategic business case and explaining that this required paying both the new starters and those being uplifted (possibly because their shambolic HR systems made it difficult to quantify who’d need an uplift and the cost implications) they asked two questions:

  • can we pay the new starters?; and
  • can we uplift the salaries of existing staff?

The Treasury said ‘yes’ to the first question but an emphatic ‘no’ to the second.

Long-serving Napo members naturally felt aggrieved and submitted grievances. The local NPS managers in most cases expressed huge sympathy but were then instructed by their bosses either to reject the grievances or to refuse to hear them at all. Unfortunately, the law offers no remedy as such payments are indiscriminate even if unfair. Instead, the central instruction from MoJ HQ is that these issues can be addressed via the forthcoming pay reform negotiations.

The Pay reform negotiations* which start later this month will be challenging and difficult enough already without this added complication. Over half the NPS staff in the most populated grades are still below the mid-point of their salary range, earning several thousand pounds less than those even longer serving staff who are at the established rate for the job. Staff at the top of the scales have had literally no pay rises for almost a decade. Tension between these groups is evident and no reform will be possible without winning the agreement of the majority of staff. Unless the Treasury are persuaded to throw unprecedented sums at pay reform these negotiations – delayed for 15 months – will be very difficult. To suggest throwing into this mix additional outstanding pay grievances is beyond naïve.

To pronounce at the same time an intention to “Develop a workforce strategy which ensures providers can recruit and develop the staff they need to deliver quality probation services” will be seen as an  incredibly ambitious aim, coming as it does after the shambolic mishandling of the MFS issue.

Napo and the other trade unions will do everything we reasonably can to protect members’ best interests and remain positively engaged in any negotiations that could lead to better outcomes for members. But as our members know, when dealing with unpredictable situations huge caution is required. Whatever supplements the MoJ leadership are taking or planning to use in future, there must be serious doubt about the accompanying claims on the packet that they will somehow enhance performance.

*Napo’s pay team for the forthcoming pay negotiations will comprise Ian Lawrence, Dean Rogers and Yvonne Pattison.

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