Since the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced that it would be ending Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) contracts early and consulting on the future model of probation, Clinks has been working to ensure that the knowledge and expertise of the voluntary sector informs these plans. We have responded to the consultation, and worked to inform the ongoing development of the department’s plans, based on views gathered from the sector at Clinks' consultation events, which were attended by 270 people representing 150 different organisations. In April we set out five recommendations to ensure the sector’s role in a future model and following this, we published a blog on the government’s consultation response and a briefing on the draft operating blueprint.
We have now developed a set of commissioning principles - submitted to the MoJ and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) - which we believe would best enable the voluntary sector to deliver services in the future probation model.
The need for grant funding
The foremost of these principles, which I outlined on the Radio 4 Today Programme several weeks ago, is that voluntary sector organisations - especially small and specialist ones - risk being excluded if sustainable grant funding is not made available in the future probation model. The voluntary sector working in criminal justice is disproportionately made up of small and local organisations, when compared to the wider voluntary sector, and is dependent upon grant funding. The lack of grant funding under the current model is one of the reasons that voluntary sector involvement (while also lower than it could be) is currently limited, for the most part, to larger organisations. When this is added to the MoJ’s need for some form of risk protection in the commissioning of the Innovation Partner services, likely in the form of a Parent Company Guarantee, it seems inevitable that only the largest organisations will have a chance in bidding for these services.
In order not to exclude the vast majority of voluntary sector organisations from the entire model, our view is that commissioning for provision of rehabilitation and resettlement services should be undertaken via grants wherever possible. Decisions regarding the appropriate funding mechanism or contract size must be based a presumption for grant funding over contracts and a prioritisation of social value over value for money.
Engaging the voluntary sector in service design
As important as the need for grant funding, is the need for the sector to be able to properly engage in the design of services. There is a significant amount of feedback from organisations within the sector that the pace of change has been too fast and the number of events, often with very short notice, is a barrier to their effective engagement.
So far, a significant amount of engagement with the sector has been through ‘market engagement’, which is focused upon the procurement of services that are still in development. There is an intention to engage further on the service specifications for rehabilitation and resettlement services in the first half of 2020. In the meantime, engagement has focused upon the design of and qualification onto the dynamic framework.
This effectively means that the sector is being asked to contribute to the design of a procurement process for services which remain largely undefined. This has led to confusion, and sector feedback shows that organisations feel ill equipped to answer many of the questions being asked at market engagement events without further information regarding service design.
The development of these recommendations was challenging given that we are making suggestions for how to commission ‘resettlement and rehabilitative services’ without a clear understanding of what this includes. We are concerned that the development of the model and market engagement is taking place in the wrong sequence, with the government focusing on procurement design prior to service design. A shift in emphasis is needed, to engage the sector firstly in the design of services followed by engagement on how to then best procure those services.
Balancing flexibility and local responsiveness with ensuring consistency and high quality
We welcome the intention to create a flexible framework that does not mandate contract or grant length, size, lot or volume. We also recognise the need to ensure high quality and consistent “day one” services, and the desire for value for money in the use of public funds. There is a risk however that these two principles pull in opposite directions, with the latter driving an inclination towards larger, more specified contracts.
With this in mind, if it is not possible to commission services solely through grants, we suggest that there must be a full range of grant and contract sizes available. The procurement, including of “day one” services, should be designed with the smallest potential lot in mind, to prevent the use of larger than necessary lots of contracts over grants.
There should be a preference for contract lots that cover smaller geographic areas than the National Probation Service (NPS) areas.
Incorporating national strategic priorities within locally embedded services
To ensure that local and responsive services are also consistent, high-quality and in-line with key strategic policy priorities such as the Female Offender Strategy and implementation of the Lammy and Farmer Reviews, an NPS commissioning strategy should be developed and overseen at Director General level within HMPPS. The NPS commissioning strategy should then provide a template for NPS areas to develop strategic plans, which include their commissioning intentions, co-produced with voluntary sector organisations and with people and families who have lived experience of the criminal justice system.
Commissioning for equalities
A national strategy to inform NPS area commissioning should also detail how appropriate services for vulnerable cohorts and those protected under the Equality Act (2010) should be commissioned.
This should include dedicated funds in each NPS area from which grants are made to support women centred services and ensure that there is consistent women specific provision across the country in line with the female offender strategy.
Similarly, there is a need to recognise that many specialist services tailored to meet the needs of people with protected characteristics e.g. black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) organisations, have been disproportionately affected by funding cuts over recent years. As such, their ability to engage with a structure such as a dynamic framework will be significantly limited. Dedicated grant funding, in addition to and separate from the dynamic framework, should therefore also be available locally/regionally to provide capacity building to such organisations to develop their ability to provide resettlement and rehabilitation services now and in the future.
You can read the full recommendations paper we have submitted to MoJ and HMPPS, and we will be raising these issues in future engagement with them in advance of the first iteration of the Target Operating Model which will be published in the autumn. As soon as the Target Operating Model is published, we will inform the sector of the key information.