Last week, 3 May 2019, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published its third progress review on the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme.
This latest report is highly critical of TR, joining a host of other similarly-phrased reports from the National Audit Office; Dame Glenys Stacey, the Chief Inspector of Probation; and the Justice Select Committee.
The Committee’s report highlights some key failings of the reforms and there is a growing consensus that TR was poorly designed and, in particular, that:
• The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) failed to conduct adequate pilots.
• The timescale was unnecessarily rushed in order for contracts to be signed before the 2015 general election.
• The MoJ failed to realise that a payment by results model was not appropriate for probation or that reoffending was not a good measure of performance for Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).
• The MoJ was over optimistic and gambled on promises of innovation without allocating sufficient funds to give new providers a decent chance of success.
The report also provides a summary of the poor performance of the part privatised probation service, citing the following key issues:
• There has been no noticeable improvement in the support offered to offenders since TR was implemented.
• Reoffending has not been cut by as much as expected, with the average number of reoffences committed by each reoffending person actually increasing.
• Through the Gate services have failed to address needs like stable and suitable accommodation.
As we would expect from the Public Accounts Committee, the report pays particular attention to the use of public money. It quotes the figure of £467 million as the total cost to the taxpayer of addressing the problems with the TR contracts and highlights that delays to the Ministry’s ICT gateway intended to provide a link between CRCs and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) have cost the taxpayer £23 million in compensation to CRCs and only two CRCs are currently using the gateway.
Of course, these criticisms are now well known however, the report is notable for a number of other reasons which are set out below.
The Committee highlights the fact that both the Treasury and the Major Projects Review Group gave the programme the green light and failed to provide an effective challenge despite the level of misgivings and criticism within the criminal justice community.
The report makes the important point that until released prisoners can be provided with secure and stable accommodation, little progress on reducing reoffending is likely to be made. The Committee notes that the Reducing Reoffending Board, set up to address cross departmental issues pertinent to reducing reoffending such as accommodation, has already met on a number of occasions but has failed to demonstrate any progress on this fundamental problem.
The Committee repeats the criticism of many, including Clinks trackTR research, that the MoJ failed to involve voluntary sector organisations in delivering probation services on the scale it promised. It is welcome to see the Committee require the MOJ to provide information in writing on the role it expects voluntary sector organisations to play in the future probation programme and what it will do to ensure that this role is being fulfilled properly.
In her final annual report published in March, the Chief Inspector of Probation described the split public/private probation system as “irredeemably flawed”. At Clinks we have called for the system to be simplified and contracting out reconsidered. The Committee similarly questions the appropriateness of a divided probation service requiring the MOJ to “spell out how such a separation of probation service can work effectively and what it will do to address the failings with the current system”.
Finally, the Committee’s report makes it clear that Committee members think that by sticking to a split and flawed model and rushing through the procurement process the MoJ is at great risk of replicating the failings of TR in its future probation model. Once again, the Committee requires the MoJ to spell out in writing “exactly how its plans to address the [current] failings and how it will avoid the same mistakes happening again”.
We must wait and see how the Ministry of Justice responds to the Committee’s report and whether the design of the future probation programme addresses the issues raised by the Committee. Clinks has published five recommendations for what the MoJ must do to ensure the voluntary sector’s role in the future of probation.