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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Voluntary sector subsidising probation service

Clinks report: There are persistent structural problems with the design of Transforming Rehabilitation that mean the very organisations the probation system relies on are shut out and left in economically unsustainable positions.

Unsustainable situation

We already knew that the government’s privatisation of probation isn’t working. The project was sold on the promise of greater voluntary sector involvement in working with offenders, although the reality (See last month’s HMI Probation report) is that these charities are less involved than ever in working with offenders.

The full extent to which the voluntary sector is subsidising its work with the probation service is revealed in today’s report from the TrackTR partnership. 

This is the third report from TrackTR (a partnership project between Clinks, the National Council for Voluntary  Organisations (NCVO) and the University of Birmingham’s Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) and the Open  University’s Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership) and it finds voluntary sector work with offenders is at breaking point.

The handful of larger charities that were able to negotiate a deal with new probation services are concerned that services are under-funded and as a result the quality they are able to deliver is not as they would wish. Up and down the country, charities, large and small, are using their charitable funds to cover the costs they need to support a stretched probation system. This approach can’t continue.

Anne Fox, Chief Executive of Clinks

Key findings

The report is based on a survey of 132 voluntary sector organisations working with offenders and comes to seven main conclusions:

1: Voluntary organisations have not been involved

“We invested huge amounts of time engaging with TR over two years but, in spite of being told we would be contracted, eventually were not.” – Survey respondent

 

  • Only 35% of the 132 organisations we heard from had any funding from CRCs, and only two organisations got funding from the NPS.
  • Voluntary organisations with an annual income of over £10 million were the only group more likely to be funded by a CRC than not.
  • Smaller organisations are providing vital support to offenders with no funding from probation services.

2.      Services for offenders are unsustainable

“The objectives of TR in terms of increasing supervision after custody and support for resettlement were laudable, but we have yet to meet anyone who believed they would be achieved at the same time as cutting costs.” – Survey respondent

  • 50% of CRC funded voluntary sector services are reported to be unsustainable
  • 1 in 3 think their funding agreement is at risk of failure before the end of the contract or within the next 6 months.
  • One third of all CRC funded services are using charitable funds to subsidise their services – primarily to improve their quality.
  • 44% of services that are not funded by probation services consider their services for offenders to be unsustainable.
  • 30% of CRC-funded services have reported a decrease in their funding during 2016-17.
  • 37% of voluntary organisations that are not funded by probation have reported a decrease in their funding during 2016-17.

 3.      The probation system is propped up by the voluntary sector

“Some CRCs are great and others are very poor. We provide over 2000+ placements for CRCs with no financial return.” – Survey respondent

  • 65% of all the voluntary sector services we heard from are not funded by probation.
  • Up to 70% of all voluntary sector services we heard from think they should be funded by probation.
  • Many voluntary organisations felt they were being ‘used’ by the system to meet targets; organisations not in receipt of any probation funding got referrals from the NPS (58%). CRCs (64%), and prisons (71%). 

 4.     Poor policy is restricting The National Probation Service from working with voluntary organisations 

“… Nobody seems to know whether NPS can commission services directly with us. I have no idea what the budgets are for purchasing interventions.”

  • Transforming Rehabilitation introduced a mechanism called the ‘rate card’ to enable the NPS to buy services from the CRC. But all this bureaucratic system has done is to tie the hands of the NPS, actively discouraging them from working with voluntary organisations.
  • As a result the NPS don’t have the specialist services that are required to help rehabilitate people who pose a high risk of harm to the community.

  5.      Voluntary organisations believe Transforming Rehabilitation” has a negative impact on their service and service users

“We are being asked to deliver more hours with a skeleton staffing. We are now covering four counties with two staff working four days per week, trying cover seven community locations and four prisons. This is simply not possible.” – Survey respondent

  • Only 15% of voluntary organisations thought Transforming rehabilitation had a positive impact on service users, compared with 60% who thought the reforms had a negative or very negative impact.  
  • Even though 65% of voluntary organisations believe that the services being commissioned by CRCs are of a high quality, only 26% felt that the level of funding provided by CRCs allowed them to deliver a high quality service.

 6.      A volume based and target driven culture is eroding good will

“…we have lost the quality resettlement work that was previously being carried out. The approach is not individual focus but process focused. It is admin heavy which prevents face-to-face contact.” – Survey respondent

  • Voluntary organisations blame the erosion of their relationship on unhelpful targets that are focused on the volume of work they can do, rather than the difference they make to people’s lives.
  • Less than half (41%) of voluntary organisations believe their values and ethos align with those of the CRCs they are funded by.
  • The voluntary organisations that have the closest relationships with CRCs – those funded by them – have become increasingly pessimistic and negative.

 7.      Confusion about Transforming Rehabilitation could be leading to disinvestment

“It has become very hard to secure funding… Funders believe that the TR model is providing the relevant support, however at the grassroots level this is not happening for the most chaotic individuals.” – Survey respondent

  • Transforming rehabilitation has negatively affected the level of funding for voluntary sector-led rehabilitation and prison resettlement services.
  • Many said that funders, primarily charitable trusts and foundations or local authorities, are withdrawing funding from the sector in the belief that probation services should be investing or funding the services they previously supported.  

Recommendations

The report sets out a series of recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1 / Provide transparency of supply chain partners
  • Recommendation 2 / HMPPS should conduct an annual audit of the supply chain
  • Recommendation 3 / Involve the voluntary sector
  • Recommendation 4 / The MoJ probation review must set out an acceptable level of service.
  • Recommendation 5 / Develop local provider networks
  • Recommendation 6 / The rate card system has been shown not to work and should be abandoned
  • Recommendation 7 / The Ministry of Justice should openly consult on the purpose and structure of probation
  • Recommendation 8 / Assess quality through new research grants
  • Recommendation 9 / Collect and publish feedback from service
  • Recommendation 10 / Develop new targets and outcome measures users
  • Recommendation 11 / Clearly set out what probation services do

 

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