The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Third Sector Task Force formally asked the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group Covid-19 Special Interest Group (RR3 SIG) to produce a think piece presenting the voluntary sector’s views on the sustainability of voluntary services in the criminal justice system after the pandemic.
The paper is based on the views of the group’s members and those of organisations in their networks, as well as information gathered from Clinks’ engagement with hundreds of members through surveys and events. In this blog, Clinks’ Policy Officer Will Downs summarises the main contents of the paper and you can read the piece in full here.
Covid-19 has exacerbated a crisis in sustainability
Long before the pandemic, the criminal justice voluntary sector was struggling for resource in a complex, competitive and challenging commissioning environment. Contracts for voluntary organisations working in criminal justice have been underfunded for many years. The majority of organisations delivering services under contract are forced to subsidise contracts with other sources of funding, including their reserves. Sustainability concerns are particularly acute for small organisations set up to support particular cohorts, such as women or black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, because they often lack the resource to engage in competitions for contracts.
Many voluntary organisations therefore have long dealt with an insecure future. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that before the pandemic, voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system held on average just 1.4 months’ worth of reserves (compared to an average of 6.3 months for the wider voluntary sector). These long-term issues have also undermined the ability of organisations to weather the storm created by the Covid-19 pandemic, as multiple pressures coalesce to further threaten the financial sustainability of many organisations:
- Lockdown measures have severely interrupted the activities of trading arms and social enterprise activities that organisations have set up to provide a valuable source of funding (often to bridge shortfalls in underfunded contracts)
- The economic impact of Covid-19 on the value of the future endowments of trusts and foundations is estimated to lead to a 28% reduction in grants from foundations over the next 12 months
- Short term emergency funding has not been accompanied by longer-term commitments, helping organisations to defer difficult decisions about viability, but not avoid them
- Many organisations have lacked the capacity to engage in tendering processes, including for the probation dynamic framework.
In the context of these pressures, many voluntary sector organisations face the real prospect of going out of business without a prolonged period of dedicated financial support. This picture is especially worrying as there is likely to be high degree of need in the coming year amongst people in contact with the criminal justice system, particularly from the impact of prolonged lockdown on the wellbeing of those in prison and the suspension of many rehabilitative activities in prison and the community. These challenges cannot be met by statutory services alone meaning that the voluntary sector is #nevermoreneeded.
What the government can do
The paper sets out how the government and the voluntary sector can best work together to respond to these challenges and ensure the existence of a vibrant, independent and resilient voluntary sector long into the future. Key to this, is a change in how voluntary organisations are commissioned. We recommend that the Cabinet Office create specific guidance and principles on how government departments should commission the voluntary sector, and engage with voluntary organisations in designing this guidance. This guidance should then be used by MoJ’s Contracts and Commercial Directorate and local and regional criminal justice commissioners to guide their commissioning processes.
In addition to this, we call for both emergency and long-term funding to be made available for the voluntary sector, including through the use of grants:
- There should be greater use of discretionary public sector grants as low bureaucracy tools to provide sustainable grant funding for core costs
- Emergency funding should be made available to voluntary organisations to cover their costs where Covid-19 has disrupted their usual means to bridge shortfalls in funding for MoJ/HMPPS contracted services
- Targeted support should be provided to specialist services for people with protected characteristics, with a particular focus on ensuring funding streams for services delivered to and/or led by BAME people.
Alongside these asks, we urge the MoJ and HMPPS to work with the voluntary sector as strategic partners, not simply as suppliers. The voluntary sector is essential to the delivery of a criminal justice system that enables and supports people to transform their lives, and only by working together in the design and delivery of services, will the joint aims of both statutory and voluntary services be met.
This paper has been submitted to officials in the MoJ and HMPPS, and the RR3 were grateful to officials for their time in attending a meeting of the RR3 to offer their thoughts on the paper. We will take the recommendations forward with relevant teams.
The paper accompanies another RR3 paper produced for the Third Sector Task Force, What does recovery look like? which explores issues related to voluntary sector services in criminal justice returning following the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions. Voluntary sector sustainability must be seen in the context of the recovery of services in prisons and in the community, as for some organisations, their sustainability can only be assured when they are back delivering their services and drawing down on their normal sources of charitable and statutory funding.
Since this paper was first commissioned, the MoJ also launched the Dynamic Framework for the new probation model. The commissioning of services through the framework will determine whether the voluntary sector can play a central role in delivering services in the new probation model. Since the launch of the framework however, organisations have raised many concerns over the complexity of the commissioning process and viability of the contracts. Clinks is working closely with the MoJ and HMPPS to address these challenges as we transition to the new probation model by June 2021.
January update on prison regime delivery during national lockdown: what voluntary organisations need to know
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