Here we go……my first meeting.  

I want to take this opportunity in my second blog to talk broadly about the experience of my first LCJB meeting and to describe some of the practicalities. I think this is necessary because board meetings are so often shrouded with a degree of mysticism and it is always useful for writers to set the scene at the earliest opportunity. In the days leading up to the meeting I was emailed around 15 papers which were to be discussed during the meeting. Many of the authors were from board members, but some were from other interested stakeholders and partners working in the criminal justice system. The breadth of the issues included technology, resourcing and CJ processes. There were also lots of positive progress reported, alongside proposals for innovative new ideas. A real mixture of problems and solutions. It took me two hours to digest this information in preparation for the meeting but in doing so I felt fully briefed when each paper was discussed in turn.  

On the day of the meeting I arrived at HMP Channings Wood and was warmly greeted by a prison officer who was helping with the logistics in the meeting room. Whilst I have been in and out of prisons for the last 20 years this was a pleasant surprise and really set the tone for the day. Being welcomed and made to feel welcome is so important. As I had arrived slightly early I was able to see the informal connectivity of the board members as they chatted about their summer holidays, caught up on joint pieces of work and identified emerging themes for discussion. This was all over an obligatory cup of tea and biscuit of course. The atmosphere felt warm and inviting immediately and there was a definite buzz in the room. On time, the chair Alison Hernandez, who is the Police and Crime Commissioner, welcomed everyone to the meeting and proceeded to ensure everyone was introduced to each other. I counted 20 people around the table. My first observation was that updates from board members were given in a realistic, but uplifting way and there were some really great positive news stories shared at the beginning. These updates and introductions took an hour, but I feel many people were grateful for the opportunity to update each other on progress made and emerging issues.  

We worked our way through the papers, the risk register and the actions from previous meetings. I instantly felt able to speak in the meeting and I have begun to champion the VCSE and our experiences right from the beginning. One of the first things I raised was around the risks presented to the sector if the size and scale of the CJS increases as a result of increased spending on police numbers and prison beds. At the end of the line it is our sector which enables people in the criminal justice system to access services, reduce risk and help them to reintegrate into our communities. An increase in entrants through the system can only impact on the delivery of VCSE services. This was recognised and there was agreement that this should also be added to the risk register.  

I am also interested to see how the new Dynamic Purchasing Framework which is being implemented by the Ministry of Justice for the commissioning and purchase of rehabilitation and rehabilitative interventions will be implemented and how local VCSE organisations may be affected. It is perhaps too early to know with any certainty what will happen, but several local organisations have told me that they have experienced issues with the new Prison Dynamic Purchasing Framework, feeling as though they have been unfairly disadvantaged because of the size of their organisation and the contracts on offer. Please do let me know your views on this going forward so I can keep colleagues in the LCJB appraised.  

After 4 hours the meeting concluded, and I reflected to Alison afterwards (as we snuck off for a quick selfie for the blog) that I am genuinely impressed. Not only are our most senior leaders able to share honest views and present realistic solutions in this meeting, the LCJB focus on effective governance and accountability is pivotal for the kinds of transparency and openness that is needed for genuine partnership working. I think I am going to enjoy the world of the LCJB very much.