Here we go……my first meeting.

I want to take this opportunity in my second article 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.

With twenty years of experience working in the criminal justice system I was curious about the opportunity presented by the Local Crime and Justice Board (LCJB) to co-opt two new board members from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) to represent Devon and Cornwall. Having worked in partnership with Hannah Hart who is the Business Manager for the LCJB before on various partnership projects I knew roughly what the LCJB had responsibility for and what their priorities were. I reflected that having worked for 14 years in statutory services and 6 in the VSCE I would have the right sort of experience to work in this forum. I'm also fiercely passionate about getting it right for the people who come into contact with the criminal justice system and saw this as an opportunity to influence change and better represent the people we work with. Therefore, I applied for the role and am delighted to have been offered the Devon position. The aim of this blog is to share my journey with you as I take on this new role. I want to demystify the work which is being done, share with you the progress that is being made and highlight some of the challenges to our sector and that of statutory services with the express aim of reducing misunderstandings and fostering a collaborative enterprise. I will try to offer personal reflections and share with you what I have learnt in this blog and some of the implications for my practice and leadership. I will try to avoid jargon and say it like it is. 

My first board meeting will be in August, but I have already begun to get stuck in by trying to deepen my knowledge about the broad VCSE sector in Devon and the South West. Looking at the pivotal and highly useful yearly survey published by Clinks called The State of the Sector[i], it is clear to me that the VCSE and statutory services share some of the same significant challenges like working relentlessly in difficult circumstances to support increased numbers of people coming to their services with more complex and urgent needs. However, unlike statutory services organisations in the VCSE sector have no recourse to public funds and often must rely heavily on philanthropy and grant funding to do the vital work they do. But given these challenges there are still great opportunities to collectively make a difference together for those most affected by the criminal justice system. One opportunity can be found in the richness, depth and variety of VCSE services delivering in our area. The VCSE is no longer the poor partner, it is vibrant, innovative and far from ‘old fashioned’. This was shown in the last CLINKS survey in 2018, where our area operated a good number of available services in a considerable number of related and interconnected fields. However, given our unique geographical challenges the reality is that services may not be available across the entire area and may be either isolated or concentrated in more urban areas which complicates the potential connectivity and collaboration which could be achieved. 

Many years ago, in the sector we used to have a good idea of who was doing what and there seemed greater opportunities for networking, collaboration and partnership engagement. But of course, times have changed, and resources are stretched. But there is hope as we look toward the innovative work which is going on in places such as Plymouth where an alliance of VCSE and statutory services have formed and are now working together to deliver support services for people with complex needs, trying always to keep them and their needs at the heart of the partnership. I feel immensely proud to work in a charity which is part of this alliance and I am hopeful that other partnerships of this nature will form in the county. 

So I look ahead with apprehension, excitement and an open mind. I feel empowered through this appointment to work with the most senior of leaders in the criminal justice sector to influence decision making, identify opportunities for collaboration and most importantly be the conduit in which the people most affected by the criminal justice system can have their voice heard. I hope you will join me on this personal and professional journey of discovery. Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog.

In the meantime, I would be delighted to hear from you about your thoughts and how we can work together. I want to hear your experiences; the good and the bad. I want to hear about what drives you and what challenges you about working in this sector. What feels good and what doesn’t. I want you to help me to identify opportunities and threats so that I can keep the LCJB appraised of the state of our sector. You can contact me through email, social media, on the telephone or come and say hello if you see me out and about.

Twitter: @DavinaCull Email: [email protected] Phone: 07398177765