Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, has welcomed government action to ensure the continued operation of three private probation companies whose parent company, Working Links, has announced it is going into administration.
The need for an urgent government response, in the interests of protecting the public, is underlined by a deeply troubling report released today by Dame Glenys, following an inspection of one of the Working Links CRCs – Dorset, Devon and Cornwall (DDC).
As soon as the results of the DDC inspection in November 2018 were apparent, Dame Glenys advised the government that intervention was necessary, the first time she has recommended this course of action. It is the first CRC in HMI Probation’s 2018-19 inspection schedule to be rated as ‘Inadequate’, the lowest rating.
Inspectors found staff were under-recording the number of riskier cases because of commercial pressures. They were also completing individuals’ sentence plans to meet performance targets, without actually meeting the offender.
In the report, Dame Glenys said these were “immutable lines” which had been crossed. She said: “The professional ethos of probation has buckled under the strain of the commercial pressures put upon it here, and it must be restored urgently.”
Today, Dame Glenys welcomed the government’s “swift action” in moving to ensure the three CRCs under the wider Working Links banner are protected and can continue to safeguard the public. Working Links has three CRCs, in Wales and the south west. The government has agreed that Seetec, owners of Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, will take over the three Working Links CRCs.
Dame Glenys said: “This should be a turning point. Ministers recently took the decision to terminate all 21 CRC contracts early, next year. The Secretary of State is now considering what comes next. Our CRC inspection evidence shows a variable picture but it is one in which the provision of services in most cases is wanting, often significantly so.
“We find probation services delivered by the National Probation Service, for higher risk individuals, to be good, overall. It is not easy to change the model for delivery by CRCs of a complex service for over 154,000 medium and lower-risk offenders every year. But the future model must preserve the ethos of probation, and respect and nurture the probation profession itself. The alternative is made clear in the thoroughly dispiriting Dorset, Devon and Cornwall CRC report.”
That report records CRC staff telling inspectors they believed the way Working Links was operating was “contrary to the core values and purpose of probation”, with no direction or any strategy for improvement.
Staff, inspectors concluded, “are trapped in a spiral of decline. The imperative to meet task-related contractual performance targets and so avoid service credits (financial penalties) dominates working life”.
- All cases in Working Links CRCs are assigned a blue, red, amber or green rating, based on their level of risk of harm and/or of reoffending. This rating determines the resources which will be allocated to them. Cases rated as ‘red’ require the most frequent contact and more interventions. The report noted: “Practitioners told us they refrained from case-appropriate assessments in some instances to limit the numbers of ‘red cases’ that have to be seen every week. This is an immutable line crossed. It seriously compromises the CRC’s understanding of the caseload and the resources required to manage the work safely and effectively. What is more, it compromises probation itself in those cases.”
- A key element of CRC work is to involve the individuals in planning the progress of their sentences from the courts. While there was sufficient engagement with individuals in most Cornwall cases, it was insufficient in the majority of those in Devon and Dorset. Too frequently, inspectors found, there was no plan at all. The report noted: “This is exemplified in one case by the inspector’s observation that “the plan was completed to meet a target, so was done before the responsible officer met the service user, with the service user having been turned away from his induction appointment because the CRC had not yet allocated the case.” The report noted that this, too, was an immutable line crossed.
Dame Glenys said: “The Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall CRC is not delivering probation services to anywhere near the standards we and the public expect.”
Inspectors found good Through the Gate services for people leaving prison. These services are outsourced in a well-contracted and properly-resourced scheme. But, Dame Glenys said: “Most other work is of poor quality, and simply not enough meaningful work is being done. Instead, effort is focused disproportionately on reducing the risk of any further contractual (financial) penalty. For some professional staff, workloads are unconscionable.”
Some officers had on average of between 80-100 cases, with some caseloads reaching 168 – an unmanageable workload. CRC staff had been cut by one-third since 2015 and one manager described the pressure as “mind-blowing”. Courts had very little confidence in the CRC.
Staff felt they had little support and had not been consulted in a staff survey since 2015. The report noted: “There were many concerns about the personal safety of staff in operational offices.”
The Inspectorate has previously expressed concerns about work in the Gloucestershire area (part of the Working Links’ Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire CRC), where inspectors found that work to protect the public and reduce reoffending work was poor. HMI Probation will next week start inspecting the Working Links’ Wales CRC.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:
“We were aware of Working Links’ financial situation and have taken action to ensure continuity of probation services.
“That means probation officers will continue to be supported, offenders will be supervised, and the public will be protected.
“The Chief Inspector’s report on these CRCs lays bare their unacceptably poor performance and we will work closely with the new provider to urgently raise standards.”
We have agreed with Seetec, the parent company of Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, that this CRC will take over service delivery in the South West and Wales. This change has been made via a variation to Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC’s existing contract.
- The future proposals for probation services outlined more bespoke arrangements in Wales; as such, we are working with Seetec and HMPPS Wales to arrange an earlier transition of Wales Offender Management Services into HMPPS.
We have been aware of Working Links’ and the CRC’s financial situation for a period of time and have taken action to ensure vital probation services are maintained, offender supervision continues and the public are protected.
- A dedicated team of experts has been working tirelessly to deliver our contingency plans and we have agreed to transfer staff and services to Kent Surrey and Sussex CRC, which is owned by Seetec, a high performing CRC provider.
- We are confident that with their expertise and a proven track-record of delivering good probation services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, Seetec can deliver and improve services.
- Probation services in the thee areas, Devon, Dorset & Cornwall Bristol; Gloucestershire Somerset & Wiltshire and Wales remain fully operational and will continue to operate as normal.
- Our priority is to minimise disruption to staff and service users, while protecting the public and ensuring that probation services continue to be delivered.
- We keep a close eye on the financial health of providers, including Working Links and were approached by them in October 2018 to have initial, discussions regarding the future viability of the business.
- Following this, it became clear that Working Links would not be able to fulfil its full contractual obligations so we then began to enact our well-rehearsed contingency plans.
- The agreed transfer will take place via a variation of the existing contract with Kent, Surrey and Sussex’s CRC contract. We are transferring staff and services to Kent Surrey and Sussex CRC.
- Kent Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company was judged in 2017 by national inspectors to be one of three probation companies deemed to be “performing well”.
- Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC continue to perform well against their contractual obligations.
The report is available at https://www.prisons.org.uk/ddccrc.pdf