Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Chris Grayling

Failing Grayling Part Two

I wrote in a previous article that UK Transport Minister, Christopher Grayling, had granted a contract and £14 million of taxpayers’ money to set up a ferry service from Ramsgate in Kent to Europe. The flaw in the cunning plan was that the company awarded the contract had no boats and had never run a ferry service before. In its pitch for the contract it seemed to have cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery firm. The contract has now been cancelled and MPs of all parties are calling for Grayling’s dismissal. Grayling has a long record of foolishness and I promised my readers that I would give them more information.

Grayling was also a disaster when he was Minister for Justice. He served for a mere three years but presided over many ill-judged policies. At least nine major policy reforms were abandoned, either because of widespread outrage or because a court ruled against them.

Legal Aid

In 2013, the Ministry of Justice tried to stop legal aid for prisoners in certain situations. The Court of Appeal said this was “inherently unfair” and argued the Government did not provide enough “alternative support” after general cuts to legal aid. In March 2014, Grayling introduced a legal aid cut of 8.75%, with a second reduction of the same amount planned for July 2015. Grayling’s successor at the Ministry of Justice, Michael Gove, suspended that follow-up cut because the MoJ was facing 99 legal challenges over the process, and a judicial review had “raised additional implementation challenges”. One scheme placing restrictions on legal aid for domestic violence victims unless they met specific MoJ criteria was deemed “invalid” by the Court of Appeal.

Tough on Prisoners

Another bright idea was to apply a ban on books being sent to prisoners as part of a crackdown on “perks and privileges”. This was declared “unlawful” by the High Court. In the same initiative, the Government banned steel-stringed guitars. He rejected efforts to improve condom access behind bars, despite warnings of the public health implications. An offender tracking scheme which would allow prisons to keep tabs on dangerous and repeat offenders costing £23m was ditched after “considerable delays” because it proved “too challenging”.

On Grayling’s watch, the number of prison officers declined by 5,000. This coincided with a rise in deaths of prisoners. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Harding, accused him of interfering with his critical reports into the prison estate and threatening the independence of his office.

Another Grayling cunning plan was a contract to advise the Saudi prison service on training staff and running the organisation. It drew criticism even from some inside Cabinet, and was ditched by Mr Gove in October 2015 – but not before it cost the Government £1.1m.

Charges

Another spiffing wheeze was to make offenders pay between £150 and £1,200 depending on what court they were in and whether or not they pleaded guilty. This policy was so unpopular that 50 magistrates resigned in protest. Gove scrapped it seven months after it was brought into force.

A similar genius plan bit the dust when Grayling introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 in 2013 in an attempt to reduce the number of malicious and weak cases. There was, indeed, a 79% reduction in cases in three years. The Supreme Court ruled that the charges were unlawful because they “prevent access to justice” and ordered the Government pay back millions of pounds.

Probation

Grayling’s reform of the probation service must surely be the jewel in the crown of his incompetence. The service was privatised in 2015, despite the fact that no-one wanted it and everyone warned that it would be a disaster. The National Offender Management Service, which oversaw 35 self-governing probation trusts, split into the public National Probation Service and private CRCs. The public National Probation Service is still doing rather well. Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, has pointed to many flaws with the new system. Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the parliamentary public-accounts committee, has said there is a danger that the Ministry of Justice has “bitten off more than it can chew”.

Staff on the front line said their bosses became more concerned with meeting targets that have little to do with helping former offenders. The number of cases soared and safety standards deteriorated. Morale plummeted and many staff left the service.

An eight-month inquiry by the Parliamentary Justice Committee concluded that the Transforming Rehabilitation scheme was failing by every measure and was a danger to public safety. Some private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were monitoring offenders on the telephone, with overstretched staff handling up to 150 cases each. CRCs are meant to ensure prisoners are freed with accommodation, employment and financial support, the Justice Committee found many were being kicked out of jails homeless and with just £46 to last for several weeks. They may revert to crime in order to survive.

HM Inspectorate of Probation said firms commissioned in a 2014 overhaul of the service are “stretched beyond their capacity”. failures by CRCs allowed people to drop out of contact and disappear, including a homeless heroin addict with a “long history in the criminal justice system” who was later wanted for arrest. Many people on probation are being sent back to overcrowded prisons because the private firms who are supposed to be supervising them cannot cope. In the 2016-17 financial year, almost 30,000 court orders were terminated through failure to comply, further offences being committed or other reasons. Convicts who were released but then recalled to prison for violations made up 6,554 out of 85,513 people imprisoned in England and Wales.

Conclusion

MPs on the Justice Committee hit out at the Ministry of Justice’s “reluctance to challenge over optimistic bids” from firms running CRCs and its closed-door renegotiation of contracts. The government had to pay out more money to failing private companies.

Let me conclude by quoting the political commentator, Ian Dunt: “Grayling is at the top of that system of failure. He is that little bit more intellectually, presentationally and ideologically useless than all the others and therefore deserves special mention. But he is merely the totem of a culture that has singularly failed the country.”

Failing Grayling Part One

This article was published in Ceylon Today on February 4 2019

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/23455

What Me Worry?

In many fields of endeavour and employment, incompetence seems to be rewarded. Bankers who contributed to the 2008 crash were not thrown into gaol but carried on receiving their ill-gotten bonuses. There are many incompetents in the current (as of time of writing) UK government but one who has never ceased to astound is the Secretary of State for Transport, Christopher Grayling. Whenever he appears on TV his smiling vacuous moon-face makes one just want to hug him. He calls to mind many other characters real and mythical.

His calmly reassuring aura while all turns to shit around him reminds me of Alfred E Neumann, the fictitious mascot and cover boy of the American humour magazine Mad of the 1950s and 60s. There was once available a rubber mask in Neumann’s  likeness with “idiot” written underneath along with his signature phrase “What, me worry!” Neuman has from time-to-time been presented as a candidate for President with the slogan, “You could do worse… and always have!” His face has often appeared in political cartoons as a shorthand for unquestioning stupidity.

Prospering in an Insane World

Another character Grayling brings to my mind is Aarfy in Catch 22. Captain “Aarfy” Aardvark is the plump navigator in Yossarian’s B-52, noted for being oblivious to incoming flak, getting lost on missions, and getting in Yossarian’s way when he is trying to get back to the escape hatch. No matter how loud Yossarian shouts, Aarfy never can hear him. He nearly gets himself and his comrades killed several times while getting lost on mission. Aarfy is so heedless of his own personal safety and the well-being of others that it always astounds him when others become angry with him. Aarfy’s character exemplifies the perversity of a society and culture governed by Catch-22s that ultimately serve to protect the powerful. No matter how hard Yossarian punches him, his fat absorbs the blows and he never personally suffers any negative consequences for his lack of awareness and, indeed, his own insanity helps him to survive and prosper in an insane world.

Cheshire Cat

Grayling is more inane than insane, and he is a member of the inane asylum that is Theresa May’s Conservative Party which rewards incompetence. Grayling’s smile hovers like the Cheshire Cat’s above all the madness.

Commuters shivering on railway platforms contemplating the latest hike in rail fares and wondering if a train is ever going to materialize were cheered up immensely by the tale of no-tendering relating to Seaborne Freight. It was quietly announced on Christmas Eve that a new ferry service would operate out of Ramsgate to relieve pressure on the port of Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The government would pay Seaborne Freight to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer. A spokesman for the company said: “It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.” “Operational reasons” is one of those cant phrases that people often hear when their train does not turn up.

No Deal No Boats Pizzas

Ramsgate Councillor Paul Messenger brought a discomforting message about Seaborne Freight. It had never been seaborne, it had never carried freight and it had no ships: “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history”. Further hilarity ensued when someone got hold of Seaborne Freight’s terms and conditions. It seemed that the firm had cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery company: customers were advised to check goods before “agreeing to pay for any meal/order”. “Delivery charges are calculated per order and based on [delivery details here]. Any delivery charges will be displayed clearly in your order summary,”

No Need to Answer

Hilarity gave way to anger when the matter of awarding the contract came before a Commons select committee. SNP MP Joanna Berry wanted to know why the contract was awarded under emergency provisions citing “unforeseeable events” when plans were supposed to have been made long ago. As he was himself exhausted after failing to answer questions in the House, Grayling sent a minion robot along to the committee. The robot was Christopher Heaton-Harris (one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s chums). A simple question was put to him countless times and he robotically refused to answer. “A range of operators were invited to tender and the correct due diligence was done to fulfill the plans that we require.” It seems that Seaborne was the only bidder. Its chief executive previously ran a ship chartering business that was forced into liquidation following court petitions from HM Revenue and Customs. The former company had a total of £1.78 million in unpaid debts.

Watch Heaton-Harris’s performance on YouTube and you will see the British government’s utter contempt for Parliament and the British people. We don’t care what you think and we don’t need to answer to you. Eddie Mair has a show on LBC radio. The show has a pot called the Chris Grayling Jar of Truth. Mair puts a pound in the pot every day that Grayling doesn’t answer his question about Seaborne Freight.

High Speed to Nowhere

Grayling has had too many failures to mention in relation to the high-speed train project, HS2. One that is particularly inexplicable on the same level as the NoBoatyMcNoBoaty Face farrago is that when everyone knew that the outsourcing firm Carillion had overreached and was in deep trouble, he still handed the company taxpayers’ money. Their profit warning should have given him a clue. What kind of half-wit gives £1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to a company days AFTER it has issued a profit warning? Carillion shares slumped by 70% in a month as it was forced into the profit warning following an £845m write-down. There were calls for Grayling to resign but he continued bobbing along, smiling serenely in an Aarfy manner.

Space has not been available here to cover Grayling’s triumphs in other ministerial jobs. Particularly egregious is the way that he has, in association with private outsourcing firms, ruined the probation service and put the British public at risk of harm.

 

 

 

 

 

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