PPO/HMPPS Impact Symposium: a response from the Director General, Prisons

The Ombudsman was pleased to welcome the Director General of Prisons, Phil Copple, to provide the keynote response from HMPPS to PPO’s challenge on the impact and implementation of our recommendations. We are grateful to Phil for a sincere, straightforward and quietly authoritative address – witnessed by over one hundred of his Executive Directors, Prison Group Directors, Governors and Group Safety Leads from all over England and Wales.

Impact Symposium: a summary of the HMPPS keynote response from Phil Copple (DG, Prisons)

  • We are committed to taking the PPO seriously;
  • there is enormous pressure on us as an agency, this has grown in recent years;
  • conditions of safety have deteriorated;
  • at the end of the last decade, the service was performing as well as it ever had, the deterioration has been stark;
  • however, there has not been a collapse of managerial competence; there are big systemic pressures;
  • the Inspectorate has been given more teeth with Urgent Notifications, and the PPO has become more assertive; there is much more noise in the system about repeat recommendations;
  • there is greater pressure applied by ministers, in response to greater political pressure;
  • the PPO’s proposed work with academics is really important, HMPPS would relish involvement in that;
  • it is not all about PPO: we all operate within the constraints of a complex, process-driven environment. BUT, we should not for a moment just accept the status quo;
  • falling short is not due to a lack of will – nobody wants that 2am call. There is always a sense of personal responsibility when something goes wrong;
  • even at the highest levels, we can struggle to get the levels of compliance we need;
  • what do we mean by implementation? HMIP won’t be narrowly looking at the activity… they will also be looking at outcomes. If it hasn’t been implemented, the outcome might still have been achieved. And, of course, implementation might have been driven for but it was impossible to prevent.
  • It’s never that people don’t bother; it’s that people are working hard but not making it;
  • the managerial challenge is to take good practice and distil it for your prison; don’t expect people to read long publications, break it into bite size chunks and consolidate with lots of monitoring;
  • HMPPS needs to get the basics right. And ASSURANCE RIGHT. It can do both. Having a grip on safety is fundamental. Everything flows from that. Improving this should see across the board improvements.
  • Develop in hand with a rehabilitative culture – fundamental to safety and decency;
  • How do frontline staff find out what they are supposed to do and how are they supervised? We should be asking those questions;
  • look at the NHS Never Event …. The ambition to make sure something never happens in the NHS. NHS reporting regimes are something we should be exploring further. NHS celebrates its success. The focus is always on improving, with frequent process audit; checks and cross checks; dynamism; alertness.
  • Assurance is not done to a prison, it’s a fundamental management activity. The most important assurance takes place there, in the prison. HMPPS need to design this and sort it out.