At the end of September, National Offender Management Service (NOMS) published a Prior Information Notice (PIN) with details of a tender for family services for adult men in English prisons (Wales, the High Security Estate and the Women’s Estate are being procured separately). To correspond with the PIN announcement, NOMS organised a schedule of regional roadshows to meet with organisations interesting in bidding. The aim was to examine the best way to implement the process in each region and to enable organisations to network and explore potential partnerships.
UPDATE: Richard Booty, Families Lead - Public Sector Prisons for NOMS, has told Clinks that NOMS are reviewing the timescales of the family services commissioning process and stage 1 will be delayed. The procurement team are meeting on Friday 3rd November to review the timescales and will let organisations know as soon as they know the revised timetable.
Attending a regional roadshow
I attended the event focussing on the new Kent, Sussex and East region. It is the region that has benefitted the most from the redistribution of the budget, with an additional £240,000 allocated to the area. The prisons include HMP Chelmsford (previously in East Region), HMP Ford and HMP Lewes in Sussex and five very diverse prisons in Kent including HMP Maidstone for foreign nationals and HMP Swaleside, where less than 50% of prisoners identify as White British and a significant number of prisoners are serving life sentences. Current provision in the region ranges from a dedicated visitors centre run by Ormiston at HMP Chelmsford to limited support at HMP Lewes.
The meeting was facilitated by Richard Booty, Families Lead - Public Sector Prisons, who is leading this work in NOMS. For this event, he was accompanied by Gary Price, the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for the region and Paul Baker, Deputy Director of Custody (DDC) for London and Thames Valley. Paul also leads the family work at NOMS. All three have worked as prison governors. There were representatives from organisations delivering services to prisoners and their families including running visitor centres, delivering substance abuse services and relationship education in prison and supporting prisoners and their families in prison and through probation.
The first half of the meeting focussed on the thinking behind the procurement process and offered an opportunity for service providers to suggest the best way to implement the new framework. The Ministry of Justice wants to encourage a drive towards innovation and reinvention and hoped this framework would provide a model for future procurement processes.
Under the new proposal, each region has been allocated a budget calculated at £65 per prisoner. Each region is a ‘lot’ and decisions still need to be made about how to cluster the bids within each lot. For instance, should one organisation bid for the whole of the region and subcontract? Or, could a region such as Kent, Sussex and Essex divide into three clusters, one for each county? There is no capacity to support the governors of prisons to procure services individually. Likewise, many voluntary sector organisations would struggle to submit a number of individually tailored bids. It is important, however, that governors are satisfied that services will meet the needs of their prisoners and their families.
The challenges for the voluntary sector
There are many challenges for the voluntary sector in this process. Organisations Clinks spoke to felt that NOMS needed a better understanding of the current funding climate. It is tough. Spending cuts and competition for grants have reduced income considerably and it will be harder to demonstrate financial robustness. Organisations that did not want to apply as a primary contractor would be reliant on being subcontracted for family service work. The Transforming Rehabilitation model of primes and subcontractors has been challenging for many voluntary sector organisations, especially smaller organisations. There was understandable concern that a similar model of procurement for family services could limit the involvement of the voluntary sector. There were also concerns about whether innovation and creativity might be stifled in a more restrictive and competitive funding environment.
Organisations were also worried that governors were not always aware of the various services being delivered in their prison. Do they know how services are funded? Do they recognise the contributions these services make towards rehabilitation? NOMS acknowledged that this was a challenge, but being addressed through the SPOCs; their role is to gather intelligence about the diversity of services in the region and use this to inform the final specification.
Organisations felt that the commissioning timetable was tight, both to write the bid and to implement other processes such as redundancy and TUPE, if appropriate. Following feedback from providers across the roadshows (this was the sixth event out of eight), NOMS have decided to reconsider the timescales.
So how can the voluntary sector continue to deliver innovative family work in prisons?
- NOMS have widened the definition of family services to include a range of activities including family support work and play services.
- Study the demographics of individual prisons and try and anticipate what the governor may want.
- Plan beyond the funding – money for capital costs to build and upgrade visitor centres may not be available now but could, in the future, be drawn down from other streams.
- Consider developing models of practice that can be adapted and replicated across prisons in a cluster.
- The learning and skills money has returned to NOMS. How can organisations work with prison education departments to deliver relationship education?