In this blog, Isabel Livingstone, Clinks Development Officer for the South West, outlines what we learnt about probation services in the South West at a recent Clinks policy forum held in Bristol on 7th March. Though it focuses on the South West, some of the information here will be relevant across the country, particularly on the National Probation Service (NPS).
National Probation Service
In her presentation at the policy forum Angela Cossins, National Probation Services Deputy Director for South West and South Central, acknowledged that over the last few years since the NPS/Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) split, the NPS has been quite inward-looking as it has been establishing its structures and processes and getting to grips with the new arrangements since the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. However, it is now looking at more engagement and partnership working, and has recently developed a national stakeholder engagement strategy.
In addition, as with prisons, new powers and autonomy are being given to the National Probation Service. Its Heads of Local Delivery Units have the same seniority as Governing Governors, and will be given budgets to commission some services. They are also particularly interested in developing joint commissioning with prisons, and possibly other partners such as Police and Crime Commissioners. If you are not sure who the Head of Local Delivery Unit is for your area please contact me and I will pass their details on.
Angela also spoke about the limited contracting opportunities there may be with the NPS. She acknowledged that the procurement process for national contracts is very lengthy, making contracting the voluntary sector difficult. But the NPS also has some divisional (i.e. regional) contracts, most notably for Independent Approved Premises, or bail hostels (for example in Bristol for men, and in Berkshire for women).
The NPS uses a directory of services internally, which helps it to identify services that clients can be referred to that are funded elsewhere. This directory contains some voluntary sector services, and Clinks is going to help NPS review this and look at including further voluntary organisations in it. While there is no resource available for referrals made this way, it may help to facilitate better partnership working between probation services and existing voluntary sector services.
Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs)
I have blogged before on the challenges that CRC restructure and staff redundancies have created for voluntary organisations trying to work with them. John Wiseman, Probation Director for the two South West CRCs, reflected on the challenges over the past few years as CRCs have been established, and that a lot of the focus has necessarily been on ensuring that the CRC/NPS split was as well managed as possible, which has been largely successful. He emphasised that the CRCs are committed to developing their relationships with other partners including an ongoing relationship with the voluntary sector.
John Wiseman shared information on the current Probation Services Review. This is being undertaken by Ministry of Justice, involving detailed negotiations with each CRC on their services, level of funding and outcome measures. This review has acknowledged that the Through the Gate resettlement service is not adequate, is also looking at women’s services, and developing new outcome measures on employment and accommodation. The outcome of the review is expected to be published shortly and we will share it with you when it is.
The South West and Wales CRCs have developed ‘community hubs’, where probation staff are located alongside other partner agencies, for example at CoLab in Exeter which you can read about in their earlier guest blog. The CRCs have just released information on where these community hubs are, which you can access in their Service Directories on each CRC website (see Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset & Wiltshire; Dorset, Devon & Cornwall; and Wales).
And what does the voluntary sector make of all this?
We also heard from Graham England from Addiction Recovery Agency, who had a seat on the Bristol Reducing Reoffending Board until it was disbanded last year. He worked with Voscur to map how many voluntary organisations in Bristol work with people who have offended and their families. They identified 455 voluntary organisations that work across the offending pathways (Accommodation, Education, Training, Health, Drug & Alcohol, Finance & debt, Children & family and Attitudes, thinking & behaviour).
I think Graham did himself a disservice when he questioned whether he had achieved anything as a voluntary sector advocate on the Bristol Reducing Reoffending Board. He identified that the board discussed the role of the voluntary sector and it was referred to in the reducing reoffending strategy, which would not have happened without his intervention.
Sadly it is still so often the case that the voluntary sector is an afterthought in criminal justice agencies’ planning and strategy, despite the fact that voluntary organisations are often critical in helping people move away from crime.
Is the tide turning?
It feels to me as if the tide is starting to turn as we are coming out of a difficult period of restructure, redundancies and budget cuts into a time when there is increasing interest in strategic partnership working, and, dare I say it, perhaps one or two new commissioning opportunities for the voluntary sector. It is very important to stress though that any resources coming the way of the voluntary sector are likely to be extremely limited. Expectations were raised by Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) when in fact there are probably fewer voluntary organisations delivering contracted services (or receiving grants) from probation services than there were before TR.
I am encouraged by the recent establishment of a new Reducing Reoffending Board for Avon and Somerset, a South West in Custody Forum and a South West Women in the Criminal Justice System Forum. At a more local level there are also good examples of partnership working such as the Plymouth Offender Services Group. If you’re interested in getting involved in any of those please do let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the organisers.
Your sector needs you!
If you haven’t already done so, please fill in the Track TR survey which is open until the end of March. It really does make a huge difference to our ability to advocate for the voluntary sector if we have evidence to present through a large number of responses. We need to know from you what is happening on the ground so that we can provide strong recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, CRCs and the NPS.