Saturday 13 September 2008

it's the Last Night ...

of The Proms. And I am getting ready to go back to London to take part in this glorious feast of music and Englishness.Look out for me in the BBC box waving my Union Jack ! The Proms are a very special institution . I have been to several so far , the best being the haunting Rachmaninov Vespers.But the atmosphere of the Last night is especial. It's the one time in the year you can feel patriotic without embarrassment. Gordon Brown had that phase of wanting us all to put up flagpoles and fly the flag . What he failed to understand is that the English have an ironic attitude to nation . An understated attitude to patriotism is what makes one English. We look askance at all those foreigners and their flag waving and ostentatious displays of nationalism . Being secure in one's notion of country and the strength of our democracy, our monarchy and our traditional institutions means we do not need be ostentatious or , heaven forfend , vulgar. Indeed we feel such displays are rather naff. If I see someone with a flag of St George flying I rather suspect they might be supporters of the BNP , and therefore essentially un English!But I'm glad to say the Gordon flagpole idea has been silently dropped .

I shall report on my singing prowess and flag waving ( in an unnationalistic way ,of course ) in my next blog!

It's a glorious autumn morning in Charlbury and I have just returned from the Farmers Market on the Playing Close. That wonderful organisation Plunkett , the rural social Enterprise based in Woodstock promotes farmers markets as a real source of good local produce , from local farmers and many of them selling organic. There is a particular local cheese maker from whom I buy the most gorgeous blue brie. As I wander round I am roped into organising the book stall at the Church Bazaar in November . Now actually this is a rather splendid task and I shall get my Oxford nephews over to help me do the stall . it is always jam packed with books , and good ones , this being Charlbury. It's 22nd November if you are in the vicinity , pop in !

We have just had the last meeting of the acevo- MoJ task force on third sector provision of probation services. We persuaded the Government to look again at their pusillanimous behaviour in trying to drop the 10% target for outsourcing probation services. The only reason for dropping it seemed to be the lame excuse that they couldn't actually achieve it ! So far a miserable 5% has been outsourced and the message around the probation service is that you don't really need to bother . So the task force has been useful .In fact the work of the 4 working groups have come up with some very solid ideas and proposals . We have been clear the target must remain and we want Jack Straw to be firm on this .

But the target on its own is not enough . There has to be firm action form the MoJ itself and the Regional Directors of Offender Management to ensure a programme of outsourcing to the sector. As I say to the Minster ,David Hanson MP, at the end of our meeting , we are in this together . We are both committed to reducing crime by cutting re offending .And you will only seriously address re-offending by a targeted approach from the third sector . Members working in offender management are sick of promises about more involvement only to find that the Probation Service cuts them out , ignores them or derides their value. We all agree the culture in probation must change.Its time the probation service and the Probation Union get out of their fortress and start to work through the sector. Stop looking down at us and use us a s partners.

I really hope that Jack Straw MP , the Justice Secretary, will seize this opportunity to push for change. Be radical . Be challenging. We will support him and David Hanson in moving forward an agenda that has got stuck because of the forces of reaction in the system . The Third Sector has so much to offer in its work with prisoners and with ex offenders ; cross cutting , people based . dealing with the multiple problems of worklessness , addiction , mental health , housing and social breakdown . So use us. And may I suggest that if you built one less prison and invested that money in third sector provision you would make a real dent in crime figures , even if "The Mail" might not approve.

So Jack and David , lets remember the probation service was invented by , and run by ,the third sector until 1936 . We know what we are doing guys!

but now its off for a brisk walk over the hills and then the train and Elgar...

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