What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?
I am immensely proud of our staff, so any opportunity to recognise their brilliant work is always a highlight for me. I was so pleased to be able to get out and about again this year once the pandemic restrictions were lifted, meeting staff to thank them in person, seeing new buildings and Approved Premises open to improve how we work, and presenting at our annual Prison and Probation Awards. If you push me, though, and even though it was a truly sad occasion, I would say seeing my staff process as part of the civil service’s contingent at the late Queen’s state funeral was a moment of immense pride. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest.
What was your most difficult decision in 2022?
Our frontline staff across probation and prisons make difficult decisions every day about how to best keep people safe and protect others from harm. I see my role as being to create the very best organisation and conditions to help them do this vital work and the decisions I take will always be based upon how we can best do this. This year has presented challenges, especially in relation to staffing levels in some of our prisons and probation teams. I know this is difficult but we are working relentlessly to recruit more people into HMPPS and we are on the right track so I am positive it will improve. On a more personal note – taking the decision to not directly line manage bits of work (like HMPPS in Wales) was tough for me. I am someone who does become emotionally attached to bits of work and people!
"I have set a strategic priority for us in HMPPS to focus all our energies on what we can do to make 'our boat' go faster"
What is the biggest challenge facing HMPPS in 2023, and how do you plan to meet that challenge as an organisation?
The financial climate is already challenging for all government departments and we know that it will continue in 2023. Probably our biggest immediate challenge as an agency, though, will be managing the issues that come from the capacity pressures we face in the adult male prison estate – and the need to continue delivering safe and decent conditions for all those within it while we manage the pressures.
And personally, as a leader?
I have set a strategic priority for us in HMPPS to focus all our energies on what we can do to make “our boat” go faster. You may well wonder what I mean by this. It links to the story of the 2000 Summer Olympics, Ben Hunt-Davies and his Olympic rowing team asked themselves continuously during training, "Will it make the boat go faster?" We need to constantly ask ourselves the question, in all we do across HMPPS, as we should only be doing the things that help us deliver the very best services. My personal challenge is getting people actually to stop doing things which either don’t contribute to frontline delivery, obstruct or distract from it, or would be a good thing but can’t be absorbed at the frontline. That is our challenge for 2023!
It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?
I am a big fan of Christmas and always enjoy spending time with people in the lead up, both personally and professionally. One Christmas I was on call for Gold command (the structure we use to manage incidents) and I was called out to deal with a concerted indiscipline at HMP Bristol. Thankfully, the incident was resolved quickly with no injuries to staff or prisoners but I do distinctly remember telling people to speed... so we could watch the Downtown Abbey Christmas Day special (which was a disappointment)!