Members will hopefully have seen Clinks’ initial briefing on opening of the Transforming Rehabilitation competition, where we said our ongoing scrutiny of the process would look at the following four questions:
· Does it promote desistance and how will this be measured?
· Does it give a fair deal to the VCSE Sector?
· Will it ensure suitable services for equalities groups?
· Will it enable the involvement of service users and community members as volunteers in the design and delivery of services?
We’ll set out our concerns on each of these in the forthcoming weeks as part of our new “TR So Far” blog series which will give some more detail on what we think about the current information that’s out there (we won’t know any new information until the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) move to the Invitation to Negotiate stage later in the year).
But, over the last couple of weeks, reading the various new documents and hearing a range of presentations from the MoJ on Transforming Rehabilitation, what has struck us most is how many questions these have raised but not really answered. So, in this first blog, I outline some of the “known unknowns”: 6 key questions from the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector that remain only partially answered.
How will subcontracting and grant funding work in practice?
At one of the engagement events we heard that rather than the model being contracts for Tier 2 and grants for Tier 3 as the documents suggest, Tier 1 organisations will have the flexibility to use contracts or grants at Tier 2 and 3. What then is the difference between Tier 2 and 3? At another event it was suggested that Tier 2 organisations would be those that could cover the whole Contract Package Area (CPA) whereas Tier 3 would be the smaller local organisations.
There seems to be no definitive answer to this quite probably because MoJ don’t want to be too prescriptive about how Tier 1 providers build and structure their supply chains. Indeed, at one of the events we were told that Tier 1 bidders would be expected to include detail on how contracts and grants would work in CPAs.
And what about contract or grant size and length?
We know that Tier 1 contracts will be for 7-10 years with a possibility of a 3 year extension but there is less information on the length or value of contracts or grants for Tiers 2 and 3. We were told at the events that the amount of the overall contract that Tier 1s choose to pass down the supply chain will be up to them to define and justify in their bids. We also now know that the principles of competition include adherence to the Compact principles which include the need for reasonable contract terms. They also include a requirement for transparency around refresh of contracts. Therefore it is likely that contracts to Tiers 2 and 3 won’t be for 7 -10 years – this would unfairly lock too many VCSE providers out from the beginning – but what will be deemed a fair and reasonable period? We don’t know for definite but I’d suggest to any potential Tier 1s that it should be around 2-5 years.
How do the MoJ define disproportionate risk?
Tier 1 providers will be prevented from passing ‘disproportionate’ levels of risk down the supply chain. When asked at one of the engagement events whether this would be defined by MoJ or if it would be up to Tier 1s to define and justify we were told that this would be an area on which the bids would be evaluated. However an exact answer to what MoJ might regard as disproportionate was not given.
Will VCSE organisations still be able to access and deliver services in prisons if they are not in the supply chain?
The Target Operating Model states that the Community Rehabilitation Companies that Tier 1 organisations will bid to run will be responsible for delivering all services in resettlement prisons. At the engagement events we asked what this means if you’re not in a supply chain. The initial response was that if you’re doing good work there would be no reasons to stop you. However it’s still not really clear how this will work in practice if prisoners are engaged in other, possibly mandatory, activities at the only time available in the prison day.
How will specific equality and diversity needs of some offenders be met?
There is very little mention in the documentation about protected characteristics under the Equalities Act and the specific needs of these groups. In particular there is no mention of the need to address racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. At the engagement events we were told that bids would be judged on how they meet the needs of all the communities in each contract package area and that they will be assessed on their understanding of the offender populations in the area. It’s still not clear though whether services for different equalities groups will be specified in the contracts and how if they’re not we can be guaranteed that they will be provided.
When will the VCSE Sector be able to take advantage of any opportunities and in the meantime how will VCSE services be sustained between April 2013 and commencement of delivery via the new supply chains?
Probation Trusts will cease to exist at the end of this financial year. Summer 2014 is likely to be when Tier 1 bidders can give firm offers of inclusion in the supply chain, outlining allocation of finance and referrals, to Tier 2 and 3 providers. Although of course it will be some time before they are ready for Tier 2 and 3 to then deliver these contracts.
The message at the engagement events was that the policy is not in any way intended to disrupt existing services and current services should be maintained. However Clinks have heard from many organisations who are already being decommissioned. MoJ were clear that this was not intended but did recognise that it was happening and agreed to pass this feedback on.
The design of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms are clearly still in progress and there are a lot of things that MoJ are still working out. Clinks will be monitoring developments on the questions above and others. In the meantime I’d be really interested to hear your views on these questions or whether you’ve heard any further or different answers to them.