Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
TUESDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2003
1. Welcome to Professor Morgan and his colleagues.
I think it is your first visit here. Is that right?
(Professor Morgan) Thank you. It is.
2. This is one of a series of occasional one-off
evidence sessions we do with agencies whose work comes within
our remit. We are not going to be doing a report into the work
of the Probation Service, though that is something we may return
to in the future. I gather you want to make one or two preliminary
observations, but if you are going to read a statement out, could
I discourage you from doing so.
(Professor Morgan) I am not going to do that. I just
thought it might be helpful, Mr Chairman, if I said one or two
things preparatory to the dialogue we are going to have about
the changes that have taken place since you last considered the
whole area of probation policy regarding the Inspectorate. Of
course, the most important thing that has happened has been the
formation of the National Probation Service and the formation
of the National Probation Directorate in April 2001. I mention
this because in many respects the Inspectorate of Probation prior
to that change was a sort of surrogate directorate; the only way
the Home Office knew a great deal about the way the 54 more or
less autonomous local probation services were operating was through
the data collected during the course of inspection by the Inspectorate.
My predecessor, Sir Graham Smith, who sadly died last year following
his retirement, was very much interested in policy formation.
The point I am trying to make is that the role of the Inspectorate
has changed; there is now a proper directorate, and we have to
behave more like an arm's length inspectorate than was the case
hitherto. That means that we have handed over to the National
Probation Directorate many of the performance management type
functions and the type of data collection I described which we
formerly undertook. The second change is the importancewhich
I think arose out of your deliberations in 1998of the criminal
justice agencies working more closely together. You were much
preoccupied in your 1998 report with the exchange of intelligence
and information between the police and the probation services.
If the criminal justice agencies are going to work more effectively
together, the implication is that the inspectorates should work
more effectively together. One development since 1998 of which
you may be unaware is that the five criminal justice inspectorates
now have a forum; the five chief inspectors meet on a regular
basis, roughly every six weeks, and more and more of their work
is being conducted together. So there may be aspects of that which
you may wish to follow up in the discussion that we have.
3. Thank you very much indeed. One other preliminary
question: should the Inspectorate be given responsibility for
overseeing the work of the Directorate as well, do you think?
(Professor Morgan) My reading of the Act is that it
has. Unlike the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who is the Chief Inspector
of Prisons, and not the Prison Service, the statute appoints me
to be the Chief Inspector of the Probation Service, and although
s.6 talks about us having a programme of inspection to look at
the provision made by each of the 42 boards, we are nevertheless
the Inspectorate of the Probation Service, and I take that to
include the National Directorate. So if we find that the performance
of an area is affected by the infrastructural arrangements around
that, be that at regional level or national level, then we shall
make findings and recommendations in relation to that.
4. But you have not done yet?
(Professor Morgan) No. I do not know at what stage
you would like me to do this, but in the light of the changes
that I described in the introduction, we are developing a new
inspection programme which will begin life in June of this yearwe
are currently piloting itand that reflects those changes,
and it is our proposal to make provision for findings in relation
to the regional and the national structure, as well as the areas.
(Mr Hutchings) We are also in the middle of completing
a thematic report on the governance of probation areas by probation
boards, which, as well as focusing on probation boards, will focus
on the work of the National Directorate, and has included meetings
with the National Director and with section heads in the National
Directorate as part of that inspection.
5. So if the evidence caused you to criticise
the work of the Directorate, you would?
(Professor Morgan) Yes.
6. You said you cherish the independence of
the Inspectorate. Is there a problem of perception that your relationship
with the Home Office is too cosy?
(Professor Morgan) It is not for me to say what is
the perception of others. I do not perceive there to be a problem.
Whether others foresee a problem or perceive a problem in the
light of history I do not know. It is the case, as I explained
in my introduction, that the Inspectorate was, I think, widely
perceived as being very influential in relation to policy formation.
You will have noted from your 1998 investigation that Sir Graham
Smith and his colleagues were very influential in the introduction
of the so-called "What Works" programme. I do not think
that is perceived as compromising our independence, but we shall
unflinchingly display it in the future if that is the perception.
7. One of the agencies whose opinions we sought
suggested there was too cosy a relationship. You are based there,
are you not?
(Professor Morgan) We have just moved, and we think
our new location is symbolically rather important: we are now
in a building just off Great Peter Street which is halfway between
Queen Anne's Gate and Horseferry House, the headquarters of the
Probation Service. That building we share with the Inspectorate
of Prisons and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. So we have
three accountability bodies all in one independent building.
8. You have obviously grappled with that problem
of perception. What aspects of the Inspectorate's work do you
(Professor Morgan) I think we have to regard the area
inspection programme as the core of our work. It is required in
the statute, and it is fundamentally important in terms of explaining
why the pattern of compliance with the targets laid down by government
and the national standards for community sentences are or are
not being met. It is our duty to reach behind the data now being
collected by the National Directorate to explain why the patterns
are as they are.
9. How many such inspections do you do a year?
(Professor Morgan) We are planning in the new inspection
programme to do all 42 areas during a three-year cycle, so we
will be visiting every area at least once every three years, but
we may visit more than once. Hitherto, we have routinely done
follow-up, and the follow-up to an inspection has depended upon
performance. In the future we are not going to have routine follow-up
on the grounds that we think that is properly a managerial function,
but we will be doing follow-up if there arises out of an inspection
serious concern about some aspect of their operation, and we intend
that that follow-up should be focused and rapidfocused
on the problem and within three to six months. So we may have
occasion to return to an area in order to follow up a specific
10. Of those you have done so far, have you
found any probation service that has given you cause for serious
(Professor Morgan) The new programme, as I said previously,
is not starting until June, so this new regime is not yet in operation,
but hitherto, of course, some of our follow-ups have been because
of poor performance, and they have been therefore quite intensive.
11. But you have not found any performing catastrophically?
(Professor Morgan) I do not think I would use the
term "catastrophically" but some of the performance
has not been good.
12. You do theme-based reports as well, do you
(Professor Morgan) We do. Hitherto we have done quite
a large number, and of those in the past year that I think have
been particularly important was one which we conducted jointly
with the Inspectorate of Prisons on prisoner resettlement, and
that in terms of its focus and its findings was very similar to
the Social Exclusion Unit report of which you may be aware published
last year. It covered very similar ground. But yes, we have done
several thematic reports, increasingly, as I said in my introduction,
jointly with other inspectorates. We have recently completed one
on children safeguards, and we have others in the pipeline, the
most important of which I think is an area inspection which we
are jointly going to undertake with all four of the other criminal
justice inspectorates in September of this year, when we are proposing
simultaneously, all five inspectorates, to go into one area and
to look not just at the operation of the five agencies, but also
at the interfaces between them. I think you will recognise from
your 1998 report how important that is. I asked myself the question:
what is the point in the Probation Service standard requiring
that, if an offender is in breach of an order, action has to be
taken within so many days, if the warrant is not subsequently
executed and the case is not listed by a magistrates' court for
several months? It is sensible that these issues be looked at
simultaneously by the inspectorates jointly, and this we intend
to do on a pilot basis in September.
13. The thing I most remember about our 1998
inquiry was Sir Graham Smith telling us that, of the large number
of community service projects he had looked at, which was in the
middle two hundreds, as I recall, only four or five had what he
would describe as a "robust analysis" of whether they
had worked or not, and another 20 or 30and I am speaking
from memory here, so do not hold me precisely to the figureshad
some sort of mechanism in place for measuring outcomes, but the
rest, he said, did not. Presumably that has changed, has it?
(Professor Morgan) I think you can approach that question
in a variety of ways, and I am not quite sure what was meant by
the original statement. I can say that I make it my business to
try and visit areas, quite apart from the inspection programme
that all my colleagues are engaged in, at least once a week, and
I have visited quite a few community punishment projects. Quite
a lot of them are challenging, demanding, robust in that descriptive
sense, in the sense of what people are required to do. If you
look at the latest follow-up data produced by the Home Office,
one of the interesting things is, whatever is being done to evaluate
the effectiveness of particular programmes locally, the best scores
in terms of follow-up reduced re-offending have been achieved
by community punishment orders.
(Mr Hutchings) I think Sir Graham Smith's remark was
actually related to group work programmes being run by probation
services before the National Probation Service came into being,
and they have of course been supplanted by the national accredited
programmes that have come into operation since then.
14. Which was presumably one of the outcomes
of the What Works inquiry.
(Mr Hutchings) Yes. We undertook an inquiry on What
Works at that time, looking at the effectiveness of existing programmes
run by the probation service.
15. I think the figures that he was quoting
probably arose from that inquiry.
(Mr Hutchings) Yes, and they were disappointing figures.
16. What I am trying to check with you is whether
things have changed significantly for the better since then.
(Mr Hutchings) There is a national programme of accredited
programmes in operation now, operational in all probation areas,
subject to audit by HMIP as well.
(Mr Ramell) In terms of evaluation, which I think
was a particular issue that you raised which Sir Graham Smith
touched on, evaluation of those accredited programmes which are
being rolled out nationally by the National Probation Directorate
is being addressed on a more systematic basis. The Research, Statistics
and Development Directorate in the Home Office are working to
ensure that those programmes are assessed and evaluated on a rigorous
basis, and among other things, examining re-conviction rates when
they become available in due course. So that issue certainly is
being addressed, and the position has certainly improved relative
to the position that Sir Graham Smith reported.
17. Over what period would re-conviction rates
be measured? Is it the first six months or a year or what?
(Mr Ramell) The period which usually is looked at
is two years, and our view in the Inspectorate is that that is
an appropriate period. Clearly, in one sense, of course, the ideal
is to be able to look at issues in five years and further on.
There is also a case for looking at shorter term re-conviction
rates, for example one year, to get a quicker picture about what
is happening. The danger, of course, is that that may measure
short-term benefits, short-term reductions in re-offending, but
not lasting ones. So although there is no overall answer, no magic
formula, two years is probably the right length of time to look
18. That is the template presently used, is
(Mr Ramell) Absolutely, yes.
19. Professor Morgan, the Chairman has just
been reminding us of some of the views of your predecessor, Sir
Graham Smith, and you will also know that he harboured doubts
about the formation of a National Probation Service. With your
experience so far, could you give us your view? Would you say
that the advantages of having a unified national system outweigh
some of the drawbacks of losing the autonomy of the local services?
(Professor Morgan) You may be aware that
the National Director, Eithne Wallis, promulgated a document called
The New Choreography to describe the new arrangements,
and one of the one-liners in it is a commitment to "strong
centre, strong local." In the early days of the National
Probation Service priority has been given to the need for central
direction. I think my predecessor Graham Smith saw the need for
that, that there was a need to develop policies to do away with
what is often now referred to as "postcode justice"
whereby the way that orders were operated varied a good deal from
one office and one service to another. So I think there has been
a good deal of emphasis in the early days on promulgating policies
at the centre, to try and standardise precisely what a community
penalty means in practice, and I think we all agree that that
was necessary, and my predecessor agreed with that. There are
those who think that that has gone too far, and are vaguely critical
of the decision to contract out certain services in relation to
the estate, to hostels, for example, support services, which are
now being handled entirely from the centre so that the 42 areas
do not have any discretion over how that is managed; the contracts
have been fixed from the centre. I personally think it is too
early to form a judgement about that. The central directorate
thought that it was necessary on grounds of efficiency, that there
were many differences between the arrangements for the estate
from one area to another, and that it would be done more effectively
and cost-effectively were it all managed on a central contracting
basis. I think it is too early to judge whether some of the problems
that are arising out of that, and the costs, which the areas are
complaining have increased without a concomitant increase in performance
in the way services are met locally, are teething problems or
whether it reflects a more long-term problem. We would argue that
there are some aspects of policy that require yet further central
direction. For example, in our annual report last year we mentioned
that we thought there should be a standard file for the whole
country. I have to say that I found it astonishing when I took
this job in August 2001 and started going out with my colleagues
on inspections to see that each one of the 42 areas has a different
case file system; the manner in which information is recorded
literally differs from one area to another. This is a problem,
because offenders move; a significant proportion of them move
during the course of an order. It clearly is not efficient if
probation officers suddenly have to cope with a file that is organised
in a different way from that to which they are used. So we think
there is further work to be done, and in response to our recommendation
the National Directorate has now said that there is to be a national
case file recording system, though how long it is going to take
to introduce remains to be seen. Another issue about which we
think there is need for central direction is the need for more
advice from the centre on some aspects of public protection and
what constitutes a high-risk case. If you look at our annual report
for last year, you will see that we recorded that the proportion
of the case load that is deemed to be high-risk varies very substantially
from one probation area to another, from literally, at one end
of the spectrum, less than one per cent to as many as 40 per cent
of cases deemed to be high-risk. That does not make any sense.
If a case is deemed to be high-risk, it is covered by certain
procedures now, which are themselves resource-intensive, and it
does not make sense if people who should not be regarded as high-risk
are subject to those procedures. So we think there is a need for
more advice from the centre. On the other hand, perhaps not as
much attention has been given to "strong local" as might
be the case, and we look to see how that will be fleshed out in
the future. We now have 42 probation boards. My colleague John
Hutchings said we have just undertaken a studywe have not
yet reportedon the governance of the Service, and one of
the things we are looking at there is the function of the boards
and whether they have realised their potential. I think they probably
have not yet realised their potential in acting, for example,
as ambassadors for the Service within the localities. I am a very
strong believer personally in the need for strong partnerships
between the Probation Service and the voluntary sector and other
agencies, and those "horses for courses" issues should
vary a great deal depending upon what infrastructure of voluntary
agencies there is locally and what can be developed locally in
the light of local offending patterns, which is something that
I recall Graham Smith brought to your attention. So I think the
jury is out as to how well it is working. I think a lot has been
achieved in a remarkably short time. I think conspicuous leadership
has been given by the National Director, but whether or not all
the potential for local variation, whether there is as yet sufficient
manoeuvrability for the local boards and chiefs to respond to
local circumstances, is possibly something one will need to look
at closely in the future.