Damning Report as Working Links CRC Goes Into Administration

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”.

Dame Glenys was particularly troubled by two aspects:

  • 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.”

MOJ add:

 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.

 

Further background:

 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.

Notes

The report is available at https://www.prisons.org.uk/ddccrc.pdf

 

WEST YORKSHIRE CRC – Weaknesses need improvement but motivated by leaders and staff eager to learn

Staff in West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) were found by inspectors to be well led and striving to do well but they struggled with heavy caseloads, ICT and infrastructure problems beyond their control, and some gaps in skills.

The weaknesses at the CRC, which supervised 8,136 medium and low risk offenders at the time of the inspection in July 2018, led HM Inspectorate of Probation to rate it overall as “Requiring Improvement.”

Aspects of its case supervision were assessed as inadequate. A key weakness was found in work to reduce the risk of harm to potential victims from those under supervision. Inspectors noted instances where, in domestic abuse cases, some staff members failed to identify the potential risks posed to children.

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, publishing a report on the inspection, said: “A key area of practice that requires prompt improvement is managing risk of harm. Case planning in general is not sufficiently robust and reviews of work need to be improved across the board.”

However, despite noting some poor assessments, Dame Glenys also concluded the leadership of the CRC, part of a consortium of CRCs led by Interserve, was eager to learn and improve as it faced some major challenges:

  • Leaders and staff had done much to develop their organisation, “in straitened circumstances, but more needs to be done to improve service delivery.” The report noted: “Staff and managers are passionate about providing quality services but many report being overwhelmed by workload pressures and being weary of organisational change.”
  • Much of the CRC’s operating model is embedded but some key aspects (such as the organisation’s estate strategy and information and communication technology strategy) are not fully implemented. These compound the already demanding workload pressures on staff. The report noted that for full implementation to be achieved, the Ministry of Justice must promptly ensure that Interserve can use the Strategic Partner Gateway, or a suitable alternative, that will enable the various systems to work together.
  • Some case managers have gaps in their knowledge and skills, and this limits their ability to deliver good-quality, personalised services. The management has begun to address these deficiencies.

Among positive findings, Dame Glenys noted that partnership working was strong. Specialist services, such as services for women, were in place and Through the Gate work with those leaving prison, as well as supervision of unpaid work imposed by courts, showed promise.

Overall, Dame Glenys said: “This CRC’s senior leaders understand the challenges faced by the organisation. They promote a culture of learning from mistakes and they actively respond to findings from audits and independent inspection. Consequently, we expect that the findings and recommendations in this report will assist their efforts to address practice shortfalls and improve the quality of the services provided.”

  1. The report is available at justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation at 00.01 on Wednesday 31 October 2018.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services in England and Wales.
  3. There are 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies across England and Wales responsible for supervising low and medium-risk offenders. West Yorkshire CRC is one of a group of five CRCs in the Purple Futures group, part of Interserve.
  4. Purple Futures is a consortium led by Interserve. It comprises Interserve Justice (a subdivision of Interserve, a global support service and construction company), 3SC (Third Sector Consortium: a company managing public service contracts on behalf ofthird-sector organisations), P3 (People Potential Possibilities: a charity and social enterprise organisation) and Shelter (a charity focusing on homelessness and accommodation issues).
  5. Fieldwork for this inspection took place in July 2018.
  6. When fieldwork took place, West Yorkshire CRC was responsible for supervising 8,136 people.