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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Criminal justice voluntary sector under threat

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Perhaps the most depressing finding of the survey, was that the majority of the sector has had to make redundancies with 50 organisations expecting to make 131 redundancies in the current financial year. Some of these job losses are being offset by the recruitment of more volunteers. In fact, the voluntary sector is again starting to resemble the volunteering sector with organisations having on average 1.7 volunteers for every member of paid staff.

The state of the sector

Recently (24 April 2015) Clinks published its fourth annual survey of voluntary sector organisations working with offenders and their families.

This year’s report was compiled with the help of the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion clinks-state-of-sector front cover(whose regular updates on the performance of the Work Programme I find invaluable) and is based on responses from 62 organisations, most of whom are classified as either small (under 10 staff) or medium (11 – 50 staff) sized agencies.

If you work in the criminal justice sector, I recommend finding time to read this short, but very useful report which gives a snapshot of trends affecting both the criminal justice voluntary sector and the offenders they serve.

In the meantime, I summarise the main findings below.

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Impact on service users

The survey found that the needs of service users are increasing and becoming more complex – this is a factor which has been identified in a lot of recent research (see here).

Policy changes, particularly welfare reforms, are reported as having a negative impact on service users’ financial stability, mental health and housing. A number of organisations have gone out of business, and several others have tightened their assessment criteria – further reducing the support available to service users.

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Staff and volunteers

Perhaps the most depressing finding of the survey, was that the majority of the sector has had to make redundancies with 50 organisations expecting to make 131 redundancies in the current financial year. Some of these job losses are being offset by the recruitment of more volunteers. In fact, the voluntary sector is again starting to resemble the volunteering sector with organisations having on average 1.7 volunteers for every member of paid staff.

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Funding

Another disheartening finding was that many organisations are not achieving full cost recovery on their contracts – in plain English, they are having to dig into their financial reserves in order to subsidise the services that they are being commissioned to deliver.

Obviously, this is not a sustainable situation with many small organisations having already eroded most of their financial reserves.

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Payment by results

The survey found that just over a quarter of voluntary sector providers in the criminal justice sector are delivering services on a PbR basis. This has caused them serious cash flow problems with most organisations having to use their reserves to set up and finance running costs before receiving any PbR payments.

Only in three cases was the recommended best practice of the prime provider making an upfront payment to the small voluntary sector sub-contractor to cover the demands on their cash flow from PbR being followed.

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Transforming Rehabilitation

It was too soon for the report to analyse the impact that Transforming Rehabilitation will have on the voluntary sector. However, it is clear that TR is taking up a lot of the sector’s time and resources.

Organisations reported that the “goalposts” were frequently changing and it was proving very difficult to keep informed about where possible opportunities for the voluntary sector existed. Nonetheless, most organisations participating in the survey told Clinks that they are still actively considering delivering services as part of TR.

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Conclusion

Despite the importance of the voluntary sector featuring in speeches from all the major political parties in the election campaign, it is hard to look forward to next year’s Clinks State of the Sector report with anything other than trepidation.

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