Inspectors found that senior leaders of the North West division of the National Probation Service (NPS) had a clear vision and strategy for high-quality services, but not enough staff to deliver them.
Staff shortages have been seen in a number of NPS inspections by HM Inspectorate of Probation. During the inspection of the North West division in October 2018, there was a 20% shortfall in the number of probation officers, around 140 posts. These probation officers are the frontline staff responsible for managing individuals who pose a high or very high risk of harm to others.
Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said staff shortages were a long-standing problem, resulting in an “undue reliance” on more costly agency workers. “Recruitment is centrally managed by the NPS. Local leaders are doing what they can to ameliorate the problem, but professional staff workloads are high. Despite these difficulties we found the quality of work was generally good.” The division was rated as ‘Good’, the second highest HMI Probation rating.
However, some aspects of practice needed attention. “Reviews of risk of harm were not always completed when circumstances change, and in some cases appropriate contingency plans needed to be set out,” Dame Glenys said, adding: “Domestic abuse and safeguarding checks were not always undertaken when required to inform court reports and allocation.”
The division’s approach to encouraging victims to take part in the NPS’s victim contact scheme was assessed as outstanding, the highest rating, with personal contact with victims followed up to ensure that victims could make an informed choice on whether to participate in the scheme. The scheme is for victims of a violent or sexual crime where the offender has been jailed for at least 12 months or detained under the Mental Health Act.
The North West division of the NPS covers the Manchester and Merseyside urban areas and stretches into sparsely-populated Cumbria. The provision of specialist services – interventions designed to reduce the risk of reoffending – varied according to geographical location.
Buildings in the division also varied in their quality, with long waits for repairs or maintenance in some areas. Dame Glenys said: “Staff should not have to work in vermin-infested premises, in my view. And oddly, probation staff who work in some courts in this division are not allowed to use the same facilities as other civil servants who work there, despite being an integral part of the service delivered to the court.”
Overall, Dame Glenys said:
“The division is delivering a good overall standard of service, despite being under strain, and I hope that our findings and recommendations help the division to improve further. We note that staff shortages and poor facilities have featured in each of our recent NPS inspections, and our recommendations also reflect these wider concerns.”
The report is available at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation