With their long history of providing crucial specialist and local support to help people in the criminal justice system turn their lives around, it's time voluntary organisations were recognised as truly valued partners to deliver probation services. But, many are again being shut out or given a back seat.
After our campaigning to remove barriers for the sector, the majority of delivery partners for resettlement and rehabilitation services will be voluntary sector organisations and approximately two thirds of the total contract value has gone to the voluntary sector. We are pleased that the government has recognised the knowledge and expertise in our sector which has emerged as the main partner in the delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services.
Our influencing work also led to the creation of a contract lot for specialist services to meet the unique needs of women in contact with the criminal justice system, which has been won entirely by voluntary sector organisations, the vast majority of whom are specialist women’s centres .
Still, a limited few in the voluntary sector are involved – and these are mainly larger organisations. There are only 23 voluntary sector lead providers (out of a total 26 across, 110 contracts). The investment in women’s services doesn't fully fund everything these organisations do or need. The process was so complex that organisations chose not to or were unable to get involved. There are no Welsh organisations leading delivery in Wales, and low involvement in supply chains of very small and local organisations, those led by and focused on racially minoritised people, and Welsh organisations.
Looking to the future, we’d like to see this built upon so there’s opportunities for people to access the vibrancy and wide diversity of services our sector offers.
The government and probation service should go further and reduce the complexity of the commissioning process, use grants as their default funding mechanism and work in partnership to co-design and co-commission services to ensure probation can draw upon the breadth of expertise from small, local and specialist voluntary organisations for the benefit of people in prison, under probation supervision and the communities they live in or will return to.”
The reformed and reunified probation service will launch on 26th June. Today, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has announced which organisations have been successful in bidding for contracts to provide resettlement and rehabilitation services to support people under the new model. The contracts are separated into three categories: Accommodation; Education, training and employment; Personal wellbeing; and Women – specialist holistic service to support women under probation supervision.
These services have been commissioned through the Dynamic Framework. When the reforms were announced the Secretary of State reiterated commitment and recognition of the voluntary sector’s role in delivering rehabilitation and resettlement services, highlighting that our sector has “some of the best experience, innovation and skill to tackle these issues.”
Reading the list of organisations given contracts, it seems that this commitment has been realised. 88% of lead providers are voluntary sector organisations and approximately two thirds of the contract values have been awarded to voluntary sector organisations. This is a significant and positive change from the current model – our #TrackTR research found that the voluntary sector was under represented, under pressure and under resourced.
Limited role for small and specialist organisations
However, scratch under the surface and it’s clear that, while voluntary sector organisations make up a significant number of those who will be delivering these services, the commissioning process has failed to draw upon the vibrancy in our sector and the range and breadth of services it provides. The voluntary sector working in criminal justice is made up of approximately 1,700 organisations who are predominantly small, local and specialist. But across 110 contracts to deliver rehabilitation and resettlement services there are only a small number of lead providers – just 26, of which 23 are voluntary organisations.
Across the full supply chains for these contracts there are a total of 81 organisations, 73 of which are voluntary organisations. Over half of those organisations have an income of over £1m. If we compare this to the criminal justice voluntary sector as a whole, only 27% of organisations generate an income over £1m and 29% of specialist criminal justice organisations have an income of less than £100k.
As we know, racially monioritisd people are disproportionally represented among those under probation supervision and a recent HMI Probation report said probation must reset and raise the standard of work with racially minoritised people. Whilst we are pleased to see some organisations led by and focused on racially minoritized people in supply chains, there are only three. It is clear that these organisations are not being fully utilised to meet the needs of these people. We are also very concerned that none of the lead providers of services in Wales are Welsh organisations and only three such organisations have a place in supply chains.
It is extremely disappointing that the results of this commissioning process mean that people under probation supervision risk missing out on services delivered by small but vital organisations with strong local links at the heart of communities and with specialist knowledge of people’s needs to support them to move away from crime.
Education, training and employment; and Accommodation contracts
When plans for the new probation model were first drawn up these contracts were going to be smaller, covering Police and Crime Commissioner areas. However, due to the impact of Covid-19 on HMPPS commissioning capacity it was decided to reduce the number of contracts and increase their geographical footprint to cover whole probation regions.
Voluntary sector delivery is least represented in the Education, Training and Employment contracts with only one lead provider from the sector – The Growth Company. In England and Wales a significant number of small and specialist criminal justice voluntary sector organisations support people with their education, training and employment needs. But because these probation contracts must be delivered across entire probation regions, many of these organisations with a local footprint were unable to bid. It is a real shame not to see some of these organisations represented in supply chains. Of all the contracts these have the least extensive supply chains.
It’s a similar story with the accommodation contracts. 9 out of these 14 contracts have gone to voluntary sector organisations but the supply chains are quite limited.
During the bidding process we received significant feedback from voluntary organisations that the values of the contracts were too low for them to deliver services in partnership. Some were also concerned about the technical requirements for the contracts shutting out some organisations.
Personal wellbeing contracts
The personal wellbeing contracts include the provision of emotional welbeing, family and significant others, lifestyle and association, and social inclusion services. In Wales HMPPS commissioned a separate and specific personal wellbeing service for young adults. These contracts were let at Police and Crime Commissioner level and after feedback following the commissioning of the Education, training and employment and Accommodation contracts the threshold for some of the technical contract requirements was lowered.
34 of the 45 Personal wellbeing contracts have gone to the voluntary sector but there are only 6 voluntary sector lead providers. The extent of supply chains across these lead providers varies. In some areas there are several supply chain partners representing a range of organisations that deliver specialist services or work with particular groups, for example organisations that work to support family relationships and organisations led by and focused on racially minoritised people. In others they are significantly more limited than we would have liked – in three contract areas there are no subcontractors at all, and in 11 areas there are only a couple of organisations in the supply chains.
Overall, the extent that the supply chains involve small and specialist organisations is limited and in many areas lead providers have the same organisations in supply chains across different contract areas indicating limited involvement of organisations with local links and knowledge. We are significantly concerned that the diversity of support that exists within the voluntary sector is not being sufficiently drawn upon.
During the commissioning process we heard from organisations of the challenges they were facing in building diverse supply chains. Organisations told us that the timeframe for bidding was not conducive to building these relationships and that the contract values were too low to enable significant involvement of partners.
Women’s services contracts
The women’s contracts were let at Police and crime commissioner level and are to provide a service to women under probation supervision incorporating Education, training and employment; Accommodation; and Personal wellbeing services.
Initially HMPPS had planned to only commission a specialist women’s service for personal wellbeing and we are extremely pleased that following our feedback this fuller specialist service was commissioned recognising the need for women to receive a more holistic women-centred service to meet a wider range of needs.
Voluntary organisations will be delivering all of these contracts, the vast majority of whom are specialist women’s centres. Overall, there is a broader and more varied spread of lead providers, and also sub-contractors where supply chains are present. This is testament to the already strong relationships that exist among specialist women’s organisations making it easier to quickly build partnerships during this process. However, specialist women’s organisations remain concerned that the service specification does not encompass all services that women in contact with the criminal justice system need – in particular there is no focus on domestic abuse and sexual violence. The sector also found the commissioning process extremely challenging and so complex that some organisations chose not to or were unable to get involved.
Looking to the future
The contracts announced today are just the beginning. Beyond these ‘day one’ contracts, Regional Probation Directors will have budgets of over £100k a year to commission further services across the following categories:
• Finance, benefits and debt
• Dependency and recovery
• Young adults (18-25 years old)
• Black, Asian, and minority ethnic
• Restorative justice
• Cognitive and behavioural change
• Service user involvement.
Regional Probation Directors will also be responsible for re-commissioning the contracts announced today – which go live on 26th June – when they come to an end (31st March 2025 for all categories except Women’s services which will end on 31st March 2026).
In addition, Regional Probation Directors will have access to a Regional Outcomes and Innovation Fund from which they could commission services which support the reduction of reoffending but which are not part of enforceable sentence delivery requirements.
These services will all be commissioned through the Dynamic Framework and other commissioners could commission or co-commission services from the Dynamic Framework in any of the 14 service categories. The Dynamic Framework therefore remains a really important route for voluntary sector organisations to be involved in delivering services to people under probation supervision. Find out more about how to qualify here.
It is vital that Regional Probation Directors ensure the voluntary sector is represented in future probation contracts, but also go further to ensure the vibrancy and diversity of this sector (which has on the whole been excluded so far) is fully utilised – in particular the skills and expertise of small, specialist and local organisations.
To make sure this happens voluntary organisations need good communication: accurate, transparent, and timely information, with as much notice possible of bidding opportunities. This is vital for providers to build partnerships, bid for grants and contracts and mobilise services.
To ensure small and specialist organisations can engage in future commissioning opportunities HMPPS should recognise that complex contracts disadvantage small organisations and there needs to be greater use of grants to commission services at a local level. Grants should be the default mechanism for commissioning services, with contracts used as an exception when grants are not appropriate.
To ensure the knowledge and existing expertise that exists in local areas is taken advantage of there needs to be significant emphasis on partnership work, co-design with the voluntary sector and co-commissioning services with partners, other commissioners and charitable funders.
Clinks is currently building relationships with Regional Probation Directors and their teams to support them to engage with the voluntary sector and draw upon its vibrant and broad knowledge and expertise.