Last month Clinks met with representatives from His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for the first in person quarterly commissioning engagement forum; a space which was created about two years ago to provide regular discussion and feedback on commissioning rounds that will involve the voluntary sector working in criminal justice. See our earlier blog for more details on the purpose of these forums and how you can feed into them in the future.
So, what was discussed?
Current education provision – the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS)
We know that a number of voluntary organisations working in prisons are involved in bidding and delivered work commissioned through the DPS. And as this blog we published in January shows, organisations have experienced a number of challenges with the DPS. That said, it is useful to understand some of the numbers around the DPS, so we asked the MoJ and HMPPS could provide us with some figures.
Within the financial year of 2022-23, 353 Invitations to Tender (ITT’s – live commissioning opportunities) were published on the DPS. This resulted in 280 contracts being awarded to 105 suppliers, with a combined value of £12.6 million. The promising news here is that 84% of these contracts were awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) and voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSE’s), which clearly demonstrates the value of the voluntary criminal justice sector providing education services to people in prison. The future (iterative) DPS pipeline is being finalised and is expected to be published on the Government’s website during April 2023, where you will be able to find out more about upcoming ITT’s. If you would like to learn more about the DPS and how voluntary organisations can access funded opportunities to deliver education and other provision in prison, please read the Clinks guide.
Clinks members provided feedback to us about their challenges in getting onto the DPS and explained that they found the cyber essentials requirement to be prohibitive, as it is an expensive and time-consuming process to go through before knowing whether a contract will be awarded. One member shared with Clinks how they felt the blanket approach of requiring cyber essentials for all grant values to be unfair, when some of the smaller opportunities would not involve direct contact with people in prison or use of prison IT equipment. Whilst it was acknowledged during the forum that this was unlikely to change due to security reasons, discussion was had about the value of being clearer in contract specifications regarding whether the cyber essentials requirement was necessary to enable organisations to be more confident and prepared pre-bid submission.
The MoJ recognised the questions raised by Clinks members in relation to cyber security, and as such plan to discuss this topic at a Rehabilitation Services Engagement Event on 18 May 2023. This event will be hosted online by the MoJ Commercial team and will take participants through the different ways organisations can help deliver services to people on probation and in prison. It will cover the Probation Dynamic Framework (DF), Probation Grants Application Portal and the Prison Education DPS. During this session, representatives from each of these areas will guide attendees through the purpose, differences and eligibility requirements of each route as well as guidance on how to apply to gain access to future funding opportunities. This should be a really useful event which we are encouraging Clinks members to sign up for, and we’ll be publishing a separate blog with more detail about the work that is happening on this.
Future Prison Education Service (PES)
The MoJ and HMPPS aim to create a PES that will ensure prisoners improve core skills such as literacy and numeracy, acquire relevant vocational qualifications and access employment and training opportunities on release. Market warming has commenced with a wide range of prospective suppliers, and if you are interested in the future PES but have yet to take part in any market warming activity you can still obtain information about what has taken place so far and the next steps by registering here on the Contracts Finder service. The procurement for the Core Education element of the PES is anticipated to start this summer, with further PES related procurements later in the summer/autumn of 2023. There will be market engagement activity continuing throughout this process, which we encourage all Clinks members with an interest in the future PES to sign up for.
Probation services – Dynamic Framework (DF)
Clinks has been working with the MoJ and HMPPS to help simplify the Dynamic Framework. We’re writing a separate blog with more detail about the work that Clinks has been doing and what practical changes MoJ and HMPPS have made to the DF and the Jaggaer portal. Three areas that the MoJ have completed so far are:
Streamlined procurement documents to ensure they are proportionate for the size/value of the call off competition
The start of ‘drop-in’ sessions hosted online on Microsoft Teams by the Commercial Probation team twice a month, which provide an opportunity for new/current providers to engage with them on any questions they wish to raise around the DF. Invites are issued at the start of every month via the Jaggaer portal
The development of market videos, which are a series of informative videos to help assist engagement with the MoJ (for example, by sharing hints and tips on bidding). These videos are currently being finalised for communication and as further videos are developed they will be rolled out throughout the year in conjunction with Clinks.
During the forum we also learnt about further DF simplification activity which is currently in progress:
Plans to introduce a ‘statement of suitability’; a simplified document giving providers more flexibility in how they respond to the Selection Questionnaire in a single question, which will replace the current case studies/service descriptions requirement
A new financial process for onboarding of £100k-£1 million utilising standard Equifax
Development of a newsletter, which the MoJ hopes will further build their relationships with the wider market by providing helpful information and forward-looking news in relation to the DF
Clinks will be continuing to work closely with the MoJ on the further implementation of the above actions, so please do watch this space.
Commissioned Rehabilitative Service (CRS) contracts
Clinks received feedback from members about information issued in November regarding the requirement for all staff delivering probation CRS services to essentially require prison vetting, including administration staff and client-facing staff who do not go into prisons, presumably on the basis that they have access to data through restricted IT systems such as Refer and Monitor. Organisations are concerned about whether this level of vetting is appropriate for all staff, the lack of guidance shared on which roles require which levels of DBS check (particularly considering that administration roles do not meet the legislative requirements for an Enhanced DBS that the new guidance stipulates), prisons not seeming to be aware of these requirements and the overall implication that this has on the ability to employ people with lived experience of the criminal justice system. These questions were raised and discussed during the forum, and the MoJ agreed to look at updating the guidance that they had issued, and they will also discuss vetting as one of the topics at the engagement event on 18 May (details above).
The future procurement of DF core services (Day 1 services – accommodation, ETE and personal wellbeing) is on track with an aim to share plans regarding next steps in summer 2023. Initial market activity will commence in the coming months, which more details on market engagement to be shared once the plan is confirmed.
Probation grants – people from ethnic minority groups
The frustrations and disappointment about the ongoing delays and lack of transparent communication regarding the probation grants for people from ethnic minority groups has been fed back consistently over the last few months from Clinks members. There are growing feelings of mistrust in some organisations focused on racially minoritised communities as a result of this experience, particularly considering the amount of work that was put in to meet the initial submission deadline. In early February, Clinks CEO Anne Fox wrote to Chief Executive HMPPS, Amy Rees, setting out those concerns and wider ones about the potential impact on investment in the voluntary sector. We received a response at the end of March confirming that departmental spending plans will not be confirmed until the completion of an Efficiency and Savings review. You can read the response and more details in our recent update on funding blog.
Probation grants – women
The MoJ are pleased to announce that the women’s probation grants have now all been awarded, however we received substantial feedback from our members working in the women’s sector around the impact of the delays of notification of the three women’s grant competitions. As we know, many of the small and specialist voluntary sector organisations are often managing a patchwork of funding streams. Whilst no decisions about expenditure would have been made until outcomes to applications were known, some organisations had been mapping out potential scenarios factoring in a positive or negative outcome. For some organisations, the funding may have represented the difference between mobilising a new service or preparing to make some staff redundant. The postponement of notification meant that in some cases organisations were having to move forward with redundancy consultations which increased the risk of skilled, experienced staff moving on at a time where recruitment is problematic.
During the forum Clinks acknowledged that the preferred method of communication of notifications of delays is through the procurement portal, but emphasised that Clinks members would benefit from greater transparency surrounding the reasons behind any delays alongside more realistic time-frames being set at the offset when launching grant competitions moving forward.
The next commissioning forum is due to take place in June 2023. We are keen to make sure that the issues, themes and feedback that we provide is as comprehensive as possible so please continue to share your experiences of commissioning and procurement opportunities with us. You can continue to do that through our England, Wales and regional forums, as well as through our thematic network forums. Otherwise, if you have any feedback or concerns that you would like to raise, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.