Transforming Rehabilitation has taken its next step. We now know who the preferred bidders are, and where they will work. These new partnerships are going to herald a significant change in how offender management is done (I will probably keep calling it probation).
The Ministry of Justice statement on preferred bidders, which came out on 29th October, listed by my count, 14 charities, seven private sector organisations, and two public sector mutuals. This doesn’t give us a true picture of all the providers in the various supply chains, or the extent to which they will be involved in delivering services. It also doesn’t clarify who the primary contract holder is, however it’s unlikely to be a voluntary sector organisation, and according to critics, from this point of view has not done well.
In many ways this makes the next stage of the process clearer, and it opens up the ability to talk to the key players (as they’re currently outlined). For our members, I am certain that there will be more than a few questions about how this will work, and what it really means. Below, I have added some detail to Clinks’ statement on the announcement of preferred bidders.
What role will the voluntary sector actually play in delivering services?
We need to progress the conversation we have been having around Transforming Rehabilitation. A lot of our focus has been on the commissioning process, and rightly so. The discussion needs to turn to what services the voluntary sector will deliver, how far they will get a strategic role, what volume of work are they undertaking, and what payment mechanisms are established to pay them. This will require close scrutiny of the eight new partnerships.
The voluntary sector organisations listed in the partnerships announced last week are mostly large (by criminal justice standards), and you would expect them to be delivering a significant element of the offender management, but at the moment this role hasn’t been defined; they include Nacro, Addaction, CRI, and Shelter. There are also some medium sized organisations such as St. Giles Trust and P3. We must not forget that there are also some comparatively small organisations listed in those partnerships, for instance, Willowdene Rehabilitation Ltd, A Band of Brothers, and Thames Valley Partnership. The roles, services, and volume of work that all these organisations undertake will doubtless be incredibly different.
We will need to keep a close eye on how the role of these organisations develops over the coming months and years. Clearly it represents an opportunity to do things differently, but at the moment we simply don’t know the extent of voluntary sector involvement, the focus of their work, or their role in making strategic decisions. With the support of our members we will find a constructive way to keep track of the sector's involvement, in order to reflect the various realities that are likely to emerge across England and Wales.
It seems apparent that the Ministry of Justice understands the vital role that the voluntary sector plays in resettlement and rehabilitation. It makes me ponder, not for the first time, whether any of these partnerships would be able to deliver any of the services they bid for without the expertise and professionalism of their voluntary sector partners.
Why didn’t we get a voluntary sector lead preferred bidder?
I know that many are disappointed that we won’t have the chance to see how the voluntary sector would have done things differently. It has been well publicised that organisations like Catch 22, Home Group, and Turning Point were not successful in becoming listed as preferred bidders, despite a committed effort.
We are disappointed too, and we want to make sure that we know why there was no voluntary sector lead preferred bidder before we can progress on our member’s behalf; we need to know the facts. Some of the reasons why it was difficult for the voluntary sector to bid as lead providers in the first place are well documented in our early (and ongoing) responses to Transforming Rehabilitation. This includes the size of the contract package areas, the financial backing, the financial risk, the introduction of payment by results, and some more ethical considerations about the role that charities should take in delivering orders of the court, and some of the risks often raised in relation to partnering with large private sector organisations. But in the end we don’t know what factors really determined the outcome.
Clinks is already in conversation with our members to get a clearer picture of why no voluntary sector lead providers were selected as preferred bidders. This will help us to provide clear guidance to the Ministry of Justice and the voluntary sector that will support the inclusion of voluntary sector leads in future contract opportunities.
The listing of ARCC (Achieving Real Change in Communities Community Interest Company) as the preferred bidder in Durham Tees Valley complicates this message a little. The joint venture is registered as a Community Interest Company, includes the probation mutual, and is essentially a public and voluntary sector partnership. Once again, we will have to wait and see how ARCC is structured and who does what. Could you argue that this represents a voluntary sector lead? In any case I’m sure it would be a heated debate.
What about the 13,500 other voluntary sector organisations that work with this client group?
We should be clear that the voluntary sector in criminal justice is made up of a small amount of large providers, a slightly larger amount of medium sized organisations, and a vast amount of small ones (See research by TSRC). We know that the bulk of the voluntary sector's work is at a very local level, in local authorities and neighbourhoods. How these organisations will be involved and engaged in the newly emerging Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) is anyone’s guess at the moment.
The Ministry of Justice has spoken about 300 material subcontractors in the bids, with the majority of these being voluntary sector organisations. They have also pointed to the fact that 700 voluntary sector organisations have registered as potential providers with the Ministry of Justice. A further 500 organisations have registered on Clinks’ Partnership Finder. Even if we combine all of these databases it only represents a small amount of the sector, and it doesn’t tell us anything about how they will be engaged.
For Clinks, the test of these new CRCs will not only be whether they positively impact on reducing re-offending, but also the extent to which they can address the diverse needs of their service users, and how they’ll work with specialist services to make a real difference. We know that the sector offers a wealth of expertise in a number of areas, which include (but are not exclusive to) women’s services, the needs of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic service users, older people, people with disabilities, and care leavers. In Clinks’ recent discussion paper ‘What does good rehabilitation look like?’, we found that the voluntary sector’s role in providing specialist and flexible services is key to improving the lives of people in the Criminal Justice System.
So, what do you do now?
Many of you will doubtless be contacting the partnerships that have been announced as preferred bidders in your area(s). The advice we’ve previously offered on Clinks’ Transforming Rehabilitation webpage is still relevant (and has been updated). But here are a few tips:
- Email our helpline with any queries: email@example.com
- Register with the Ministry of Justice, email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Update April 2015 - this email address is no longer in use, potential Tier 2 and 3 organisations must contact the CRCs directly).
- Are you in talks with a preferred bidder? Have a read of Clinks’ guest blogs on negotiation skills
- Check whether you are ready to be commissioned using our online tools
- Think about how you articulate what you do, and how you demonstrate your effectiveness
We will also be re-launching our legal support offer in the coming weeks. If you want to receive support make sure that you registered to receive our ebulletins, and register as a Clinks member.