This blog summarises the work that Clinks and voluntary organisations have been involved in before and during the competition to commission the services that support people in prisons across England and Wales to maintain and develop their relationships with families and loved ones.
Supporting family relationships is an area where specialist voluntary organisations have a significant amount of expertise and a track-record in providing good quality support and so a national competition to re-tender these contracts provides both opportunities and challenges.
After some early market engagement in mid-2021, in November last year the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) held a series of regional online events outlining the draft requirements for this contract and the commissioning process that was due to be launched in January 2022. At these events, direct feedback was requested and encouraged from voluntary organisations and further feedback was requested by early December specifically around eight areas:
- The high-level core specification
- How prisons would be grouped together (known as the ‘proposed lot structures’)
- The approach to providing refreshments
- The budgets per lot
- Proposed key performance indicators and a 5% performance pay mechanism
- The technical Invitation to Tender (ITT) questions
- How partnership bids could be facilitated
- The Dynamic Framework commissioning process.
Listening to the voluntary sector
- Following the events, we set about making sure that voluntary sector organisations were engaged in, and able to provide feedback to support on, the development of the commissioning process and the specification. This was coordinated through a number of activities, including:
- Weekly meetings between Clinks, MoJ and HMPPS to provide ongoing dialogue and opportunities to share information, raise questions and discuss key challenges and solutions.
- A dedicated email address, email@example.com, for direct communication with voluntary sector organisations.
- A survey designed and distributed to 58 individuals in organisations registered to attend the market engagement events and who had given permission for their contact details to be shared. This was to gather views on the key areas outlined above.
- Facilitating an open meeting on 30th November, inviting voluntary sector organisations to discuss issues and challenges with regards to the draft requirements and commissioning process.
Bringing all of that together, we produced a feedback paper that we submitted to the MoJ and HMPPS in December, which made a number of recommendations.
In that paper, there were several aspects to the draft high-level specification and associated plans that were welcomed. These included a core specification that sought to achieve minimum standards across prisons, and broadening support to those who don’t receive physical visits.
However, there was a strong feeling that there was a misalignment between the expectations and the funding, and that the budgets were insufficient to deliver on the stated government commitments to adopt the recommendations made by Lord Farmer.
Key concerns raised in the feedback paper are set out below:
- There were concerns that the contracts would have a 5% performance-related pay element and that this would be linked to key performance indicators (KPIs) that are not achievable, particularly within a context of under-developed contract management processes. We recommended that the suggested 5% performance pay element was removed and instead introduce effective and consistent contract management.
- Whilst there was recognition amongst organisations of the need to improve standardised measures of quality and impact, there was concern that the proposed KPIs would not help to achieve this, that they were not proportionate, and they added significant burden to delivery. We recommended that MoJ and HMPPS work with organisations to develop standardised impact measurement across the core services being delivered and suggested that a session be held to co-design SMART outcomes that would form part of the resulting contract.
- The 30% weighting on the overall price was felt to be too high and would result in pressure, particularly from smaller organisations, to bid under the budget, despite recognition that the budgets were already tight. We recommended that the weighting on cost be removed and a fixed price approach to these contracts be adopted instead.
- The indicative budgets would only be sufficient to support the minimum level of provision. Whilst some organisations welcomed an increase in budgets for the lots they were looking to bid in, the budgets for the women’s estate appeared to represent significant reductions compared to the existing budgets. We recommended that the budgets (for both core and optional services) realistically reflect the costs to deliver the services set out.
- There was an issue with refreshment provision being part of the core specification and the proposed 50:50 split of surplus refreshment income between the provider and HMPPS. There was concern that this could continue the confusion where refreshment income has sometimes been used to subsidise core delivery and the high-level specification was unclear on how this would work. We recommended that refreshment provision was separated from the core specification. Providers should instead be required to ringfence surpluses and reinvest them into additional added-value services in the prison.
How the government has responded
Following this feedback, the Invitation to Tender documentation went live on the 28th of January and we welcomed a number of changes that have been made to the procurement. Some of the changes are set out below:
- The 5% performance pay was removed.
- Key performance indicators will be decided at the point of implementation through a series of workshops with all successful providers.
- The 30% weighting on price was changed. The final ranking will be determined by price per quality point.
- The annual indicative budgets (for core and optional services) provided for individual prisons and lots are indicative and not capped. Organisations can submit bids priced above the indicative budget in order to deliver the specification. Post evaluation, for core services HMPPS may negotiate with the contracted provider for each lot to reduce the volume of services to fall within an affordable budget.
- There has been an increase in the indicative budget for the women’s estate.
However, there are a number of challenges that remain. In particular:
- There continues to be a misalignment between the expectations and the funding. The budgets continue to be insufficient to deliver on the stated government commitments to adopt the recommendations made by Lord Farmer. This is why we made the case for additional investment in our representation to the Spending Review 2021, Time to invest in families.
- During the commissioning process, there were a number of clarification questions and we raised concerns about the approach to core/optional services, the pricing plan and the model for refreshments and income. This resulted in a number of changes to the way that the MoJ were asking bidders to approach their bids, including a two-week extension to the deadline for submission of bids from Friday 4th March to Friday 18th March. Although in some ways these changes and the extension was welcomed, it led to further clarification questions and a further change just one week before the deadline.
We will continue to work with the voluntary sector, MoJ and HMPPS to understand the challenges, highlight concerns and develop solutions. There will need to be wider lessons learnt, particularly the challenges for smaller organisations in qualifying on the Dynamic Framework to enable them to bid for contracts, and the viability and practicalities of developing partnership and sub-contracting arrangements which, given the timescales, budgets, and absence of dedicated capacity building support within this competition, has not been possible.
The commissioning of HMPPS Prisoner, Family and Significant Other Services was conducted through the Dynamic Framework. The competition was open to relevant registered organisations on the Dynamic Framework. If you are interested in future opportunities, find out more about the Dynamic Framework here.
Cover photo: Cambridge centre - Scarborough, photographer: All You Need Is Love Photography