Good performance despite staff shortages
The South West South Central division of the National Probation Service, supervising nearly 13,000 offenders from Berkshire to Cornwall, was found by inspectors to be performing to a good standard overall.
In the first report in a new programme of inspections of the NPS divisions published today, Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said the division was effectively led with robust systems to monitor performance.
However, Dame Glenys said that a shortage of staff was having an impact on the division.
The number of probation staff has fallen short of the target since 2015; at the same time the National Probation Service workload has increased. The division has a clear delivery plan to address staff shortfalls, but this had not yet had the necessary impact and, as a result, caseloads in some parts of the division remained high.
The report noted that the problems were most acute in the part of the division bordering London, where vacancies remained unfilled despite the offer of higher salaries.
Inspectors found the division has recently focused on the quality of its assessments of individuals, reflecting the principle that establishing and maintaining a professional relationship with those who are supervised is at the heart of all probation work.
Dame Glenys added: “We found outstanding results in this aspect of its work. The planning of supervision was good, and focused on reducing reoffending and keeping others safe.” Inspectors noted, though, that “contingency plans”, spelling out how to respond to any heightened risk of harm to others, should have been more robust.
The division provided sufficient information to courts to assist in sentencing and a good service to victims who had opted into the victim contact scheme. There were, however, some shortcomings. The delivery of supervision did not focus enough on addressing factors related to offending, and not enough attention was paid to keeping individuals’ progress under review. Some interventions were working well but the division was not making full use of all services provided by the Community Rehabilitation Companies in its areas.
Overall, Dame Glenys said:
“This division is performing to a good standard overall. I hope that our findings and recommendations enable it to do better still, although we see that, in some matters, improvement is dependent on centrally driven policies and support.”
Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and NPS-specific (court reports/case allocation and statutory victim work).
Inspectors’ main findings on this domain were mixed:
- The leadership team focused on delivering a high-quality service. The national operating model allows staff to personalise work with those under supervision. The division has a clear strategy for delivering a high-quality service. Progress is monitored and the strategy is regularly reviewed. Staff have a clear
understanding of the operational model. The senior leadership team engages effectively with stakeholders in their locality.
- Workloads for some staff are too high, which impacts on their ability to deliver a high-quality service.
The division has many vacancies in the local delivery units closest to London. Inspectors judged that workloads in some parts of the division were too high to support a high-quality service for all those being supervised.
- There are gaps in the range of services available to support desistance, and the division does not make full use of services available through the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).
- Management information is comprehensive. The management of facilities requires an urgent review. Managers have a good understanding of performance within the division. Comprehensive arrangements are in place to analyse and benchmark performance. Policies and guidance are accessible to all staff, but staff told us that at times they felt saturated with information and unable to digest it all.
Information technology provision is improving and enables staff to deliver and record their work in a timely way.
Inspectors found a very high quality of assessment, good planning but poor implementation, delivery and review.
- Practitioners understood and analysed well the reasons why those they supervised had offended. Assessments were a strength of the division’s work. Practitioners understood and analysed the reasons why those they supervised had offended. Individuals were engaged with their assessments. Practitioners obtained and used information from other organisations, where relevant. They accurately recorded specific concerns about actual and potential victims.
- Planning was sufficiently focused on reducing reoffending, but contingency planning to keep others safe should be more robust. Practitioners used the induction process to involve the individual in planning their supervision. The plans were sufficiently focused on reducing reoffending, as well as being responsive and personalised. The plans needed to record consistently and clearly how diversity needs were addressed. There was sufficient focus on keeping others safe, but contingency plans, designed to specify the response to any increased risk of harm to others, needed to be more robust.
- Requirements of the order started promptly, but factors related to offending were not consistently addressed. The requirements of the sentence started promptly. Practitioners were responsive to individuals’ changing circumstances and would adapt their approach as necessary. There were good levels of contact with those in the community and in custody. Interventions, however, did not focus sufficiently on addressing factors related to offending. Enforcement decisions were taken appropriately but professional judgements were not always recorded well.
- Progress was not consistently kept under review. We expect assessments and plans to be kept up to date. We found too many cases where individuals were not involved in reviewing their progress. Some reviews were not completed following a change of circumstances. When reviews were completed, they focused sufficiently on supporting desistance. Practitioners should have made more use of information from other agencies to inform the review, especially in relation to keeping others safe.
- Court reports and case allocation. The division has effective arrangements in place for preparing court reports and allocating cases. Reports were of a good standard. Child safeguarding information was not always requested, nor were risk of serious harm assessments completed in all relevant cases. These are important to ensure that allocation is well-informed and accurate.
- Statutory victim work. The division has three dedicated victims’ units which are managing 5,600 active cases. The new case management system works well. Those people who had opted into the scheme received regular updates about individuals who had been sentenced, made representations about release arrangements and obtained information about licence conditions. The victim liaison officers work well with practitioners in the community and are appropriately involved in Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). The procedure for following up contact with a victim if there was no response to the initial letter was not clear or consistent.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the fourth inspection under the new rating system, but the first one of a NPS area. While the three CRCs which have been inspected (West Yorkshire, Merseyside and Essex) have all been rated in the third band: “requiring improvement”, it’s pleasing to see that the South West South Central NPS has been rated good, despite struggling with staff shortages. Anyone comparing relative probation pay in 2018 to that of a generation ago will not be surprised that services are struggling to recruit, especially in areas adjoining the Capital.
One interesting issue to note is the wide ranging quality of work in case supervision. Critics might question the point of doing an outstanding assessment, followed by good planning if implementation and delivery is so poor as to require improvement. It will be interesting to see how other NPS divisions score on this area.