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Public Sector

Probation Board

Changing Lives for Safer Communities

The Probation Board works with offenders assessing and supervising them, both in custody and in the community, and it delivers behavioural change programmes and supervises community service. At any given time Probation Officers are supervising over 4,400 offenders subject to a range of court orders and licenses and they write over 10,000 reports every year for Courts, Parole Commissioners and others.   

The Board is an arms length body financed by the Department of Justice. It employs around 360 people, on a full-time equivalent measure, and around half of these are front-line Probation Officers, based in offices throughout Northern Ireland. The service is led by the Chief Executive, supported by a senior management team.

A creative response to competing pressures

The Board operates in a public sector environment of constrained resources and since 2010/11 its budget has been reduced by almost 20%, with further reductions on the horizon. This is against the background of increasing pressures, particularly from employment costs. In addition, with current pressures on the prison population, where it's safe to do so there's never been a bigger drive to issue probation orders as an alternative, posing an increasing challenge for the Probation Board.

The Board's response has been to focus on protecting frontline services, and to be innovative in seeking efficiencies in the delivery of its support services. An important element of this was the decision to appoint an experienced HR partner who could provide resource to the Board's own internal HR department at times of increased demand, without taking on the fixed cost of additional permanent staff.

A key requirement was for the provider to understand in detail the context and the nature of the Board's operations so that when the Board allocated a piece of work, the result would be frictionless as if the work had been carried out by the Board's own internal staff. It was also important that this dynamic would be effective on projects right up to the most senior levels.

We were appointed as the Board's HR partner through a competitive tender process.

Highlights of the support we've provided

We have worked primarily with the Chief Executive, the Chair and other Directors on matters that can't be undertaken by the internal HR team for reasons of capacity or because an independent perspective is needed or there is a real or perceived conflict of interest in a particular situation.

We have carried out a number of independent strategic reviews of a number of functional areas in line with the Board's agenda to seek efficiencies. On one occasion our independent input was vital because the senior team fell itself within the scope of the review. On another occasion, based on our experience, we were able to provide the Board with a valuable insight into how other comparable organisations were organising their resources in the particular area under review. 

When the Board was seeking to appoint a new Chief Executive there was a recognition that it wouldn't be appropriate for the internal HR team to provide the necessary HR input. We worked with the Board and a representative of the Department of Justice to devise and facilitate a selection process. Due to the profile of the appointment it was very important to the Board to have a team supporting it which was experienced in recruitment at a senior level within the public sector.

We have also supported and advised the Chief Executive, Chairman and a number of Directors on complex HR issues where it was not deemed appropriate for the internal HR team to be involved either because of the nature of the issue under review, or simply because of capacity constraints. 



Over the course of the contract we have successfully met all of the Board's support requirements in terms of the breadth of the HR experience required, the level of seniority required for particular high profile projects and also simply our ability to supply the required level of resource at short notice. At the conclusion of the initial contract period we were delighted to be re-appointed through a competitive tender process.

A key concern for the Board's senior management team was that their HR provider should have an understanding of the sector and of the organisation, which would be sufficient for its service provision to blend in with the way the Board itself operates internally. Feedback confirms that our our team has accomplished this and that their support is very much perceived as if it had been provided by the Board's own highly regarded HR team.



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