The RR3 is a voluntary sector advisory group to the government, which Clinks chairs and provides secretariat for. Anne Fox, Clinks CEO and chair of the RR3, explains how the group works with the government to ensure the expertise of the voluntary sector is reflected in policy making, and gives an update on some of group’s latest work.
How the RR3 influences government policy
Clinks believes that the government makes better policy when it is informed by the extensive expertise, knowledge and experience of the voluntary sector. This is what the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3), which I am delighted to chair, aims to achieve.
The RR3 is a group of openly recruited senior leaders from the voluntary sector who meet quarterly to provide advice and challenge to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) on their policy programmes.
Members of the board are appointed for their specialist knowledge and direct experience of meeting the varied needs of different people in contact with the criminal justice system. The board includes (amongst many others) experts in substance misuse and mental health services, employment support services, gender-based services for women and specialist services for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people. Members are appointed as individuals, not as representatives of their organisations.
The ability of the RR3 to draw on such a breadth and depth of expertise when influencing government policy is what makes it so valuable. We’ve had a number of senior civil servants attend recent meetings, to hear our advice on how to deliver better health care in the criminal justice system, ensure that probation reform works for voluntary organisations and service users, and improve the uptake and efficacy of community Sentence Treatment Requirements. Dr Jo Farrar, Chief Executive of HMPPS, attended our last meeting to answer questions from the group and talk about her emerging priorities in her new role. You can find all minutes from previous meetings here.
The RR3 can also set up special interest groups where the need is identified, which bring in relevant expertise from the wider voluntary sector to focus on specific issues for a time-limited period. These special interest groups have produced recommendation papers on a range of issues including: addressing barriers to accommodation for people in contact with the criminal justice system; how to improve the commissioning of family services; and how to provide better care and support for people at risk of suicide and self-harm in prison.
Improving employment support for people with convictions
The RR3 recently convened a special interest group to provide advice to the government on the implementation of its Education and Employment strategy and to support the development of the New Futures Network as it is rolled out nationally. The special interest group brought together 14 voluntary sector representatives with expertise in providing employment support to people with convictions.
The group has produced a paper, which you can read here, with a number of recommendations, including:
- To improve sustainability of employment, MoJ should ensure the future probation model requires providers to procure ongoing, wraparound support from the voluntary sector
- MoJ should ensure that people have access to sufficient income on release from prison to meet their basic needs by implementing the recommendations made by the RR3 to the Reducing Reoffending Board in its recent briefing on Universal Credit and access to bank accounts
- Given the focus on prison leavers of the Education and Employment Strategy, MoJ should also develop a strategy to address the employment needs of people in the community with convictions, specifically addressing issues with the criminal records disclosure regime.
Clinks will work with the government for these recommendations to be adopted, and we will invite relevant officials to future RR3 meetings to track progress.
Working across government
Since its inception four years ago, the RR3 has grown in prominence and influence. We were particularly delighted last year to be invited to provide our expert advice to the Reducing Reoffending Board (RRB) meetings. The RRB is a cross-ministerial group set up by David Lidington MP, former Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The government has signalled the centrality of the RRB to delivering strategic oversight across Whitehall to reduce reoffending in their response to the Justice Committee inquiry into the prison population. Advice and expertise from the voluntary sector to shape its agenda and actions is therefore vital. We recently submitted our first formal submission to the board - a recommendations paper on Universal Credit and access to banking for people leaving prison - which generated a number of actions for ministers.
Many of our members will be all too aware that working with any government department, at a time of such political and economic uncertainty, can be extremely difficult. There are occasions when Brexit trumps all else, and the change in Prime Minister and cabinet ministers will likely lead to further uncertainty, with new agendas and priorities emerging, and new relationships needing to be built. Our work with the RRB is not immune to these challenges.
We are, however, a sector that is resilient to uncertainty and are able to adapt to regular changes in justice ministers and the structures and personnel in the Ministry of Justice and its agencies. We will continue to work with the RRB, and to advocate for its long term existence, even as its membership and leadership changes.
The RR3 next meets in early September. If you have any questions about the RR3, please contact the group’s secretariat: firstname.lastname@example.org.