I, together with Katie Lomas National Chair, was among the Union delegation who met with Lucy Frazer last week in the Palace of Westminster.
The meeting came during a critical point in the current negotiations between the unions and senior MoJ and HMPPS leaders on the terms of the planned transfer of Offender Management work to the NPS from the Wales Region of KSS CRC in December, and the remainder scheduled to move across in 2021.
Ms Frazer is the fifth incumbent of the Justice Minister position in the five years since the Transforming Rehabilitation programme was implemented. But at least it quickly became clear that the new Minister was acquainted with the trade unions long running concerns and aspirations to see the full reunification of Probation to full public control and ownership.
The unions made it clear that whilst we obviously welcomed the Government U-turn to transfer OM work, we did not believe that there was any justification to the marketisation of Intervention and Programmes, thus stigmatising this work and the staff undertaking it, as somehow being of lesser value in the range of vital services that are provided to clients.
Moreover, the unions said that we still had serious concerns as evidenced in numerous HMI Probation reports about the community safety aspects of leaving this work to the vagaries of the market and urged the Minister to reflect on the plans to issue new contracts.
In terms of the scheduled transfer of OM work in Wales, we reported that while the national negotiations on the overall national staff transfer scheme were in the right direction, we needed to be sure that it would be safe to transfer staff across to NPS Wales on December 1st.
Next on our agenda was the issue of Professional recognition where we spelt out the pressing need to introduce high quality over-arching standards across the service irrespective of its future structure, together with supporting training and a Licence to Practice to re-establish confidence in Probation among staff and the judiciary.
Time as always was limited, especially in light of the political dramas that were unfolding just a few yards away in the House of Commons, but Napo were able to raise some other very important issues. These included calling for the suspension (and a review of) the NPS Attendance Management policy, the curtailment of the Double Waking Night Cover contracts which the unions believe are unsafe and a waste of taxpayers money.
Bring back collective bargaining!
The discussion on Pay allowed the unions the opportunity to again raise our concerns about the capacity of the Pay and Pensions Administrators (Shared Services Division) to cope with their requirement to pay staff accurately, or even at all in some cases. We said that this hardly provided confidence about the ability of the current payroll provider to accommodate the eventual transfer of several thousand staff to the NPS.
Notwithstanding the unions opposition to what we see as a flawed concept of a ‘mixed market’ in service provision, we urged the Minister to restore collective bargaining in the event that new contracts are awarded to probation providers post April 2021.
Before the Minister was called away to another meeting, we finished by saying that urgent remedial action was needed to stabilise the service following the catastrophe of TR. The Minister undertook to reinstate quarterly meetings with the unions going forward.
The joint union letter that formed the basis of our representations on the day can be found below.