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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Don’t write off probation in the rehabilitation revolution

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There have been better times to be a probation officer. It’s not the easiest job in the world at the best of times and, like every other public service, probation trusts have had to implement year-on-year financial cuts for the last few years. But 2013 is the toughest year yet. 70% of probation’s work is being outsourced and a wide range of large private and voluntary sector organisations are seeking to take over the work. Recently the MoJ has acknowledged that probation trusts could spin out public service mutuals and bid for their “own” work.

Being a probation officer in 2013

There have been better times to be a probation officer.

It’s not the easiest job in the world at the best of times and, like every other public service, probation trusts have had to implement year-on-year financial cuts for the last few years.

But 2013 is the toughest year yet.

70% of probation’s work is being outsourced and a wide range of large private and voluntary sector organisations are seeking to take over the work.

The Ministry of Justice originally made it very clear that they did not want probation trusts involved in delivering the new competed services.

This line has softened slightly over recent months with the MoJ acknowledging that probation trusts could spin out public service mutuals and bid for their “own” work.

Seven trusts (or coalitions of trusts) have been awarded consultancy support by the Cabinet Office in their efforts to become mutuals and another eight are rumoured to be getting similar funding in the near future.

[I should declare that I am part of a team from Red Quadrant which is supporting Dorset and Devon & Cornwall Probation Trusts in their bid to spin out a mutual.]

Probation Mutuals

The challenge of becoming a mutual is a tough one.

For a start, many of the competitors for the reoffending contracts are global companies with deep pockets and permanent business development units with a tried and tested tendering process who have been developing their Transforming Rehabilitation game plan for the last couple of years.

Ironically, this leaves Probation wannabe mutuals having to pay catch-up.

Not only do they lack this level of resources, but NOMS is prohibiting them from using their own finance, human resources or legal staff to plan for the mutual. Their first challenge is to secure investment in order to pay for the resources they need to develop their own bids.

Potential trusts are keen to comply with these NOMS requirements not least because if they don’t, they could be vulnerable to legal challenge if they succeed in winning the contracts and can be shown to have had an unfair advantage.

This has led to lots of conversations about “ethical walls” with some trusts using the PAM collaborative software system not only to build this divide between day-to-day business and their mutual development work but also to be able to demonstrate that the ethical wall is in place.

 

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Reasons to be cheerful

At first glance, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against probation trusts.

However, there are a number of factors in their favour.

  • Probation trusts have developed a sophisticated and effective approach to reducing reoffending over the last decade in particular.
  • They have been particularly successful in building partnerships with local commissioners which has greatly enhanced the range of services to which offenders have easy access (reducing reoffending without access to these substance misuse, housing, mental health etc. services will be nigh impossible).
  • Probation has also developed a successful coordinated model for working with prolific offenders through its partnership with police and prisons for the increasingly effective Integrated Offender Management (IOM) schemes.

New providers will struggle to replicate these.

There is one other factor which probation trusts have in their favour and which is encouraging several of the large potential “Prime” providers to enter into discussion with them.

Many probation staff are unsurprisingly demoralised by, angry at and opposed in principal to the privatisation of the probation service.

Probation mutuals who can truly engage their staff in innovative and effective ways of reducing re-offending (which will inevitably include a considerable reduction in the amount of paperwork which currently bedevils staff) will be in a strong position to negotiate partnerships with other organisations.

The MoJ’s contract targets are demanding to say the least.

A motivated workforce will be key to success.

The future of the probation service may still be in the hands of probation staff.

 

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

7 Responses

  1. Crime control and in this case probation, is national responsibility and is unthinkable to do it without the nationally trained probation management units. To give this vital task into the hands of profit making and probably foreign investor who are less in touch with the problem will be just cutting corners, which will have no effective outcomes.

    It is a shame that contemporary politics focus on only cost effectiveness and nearly ignoring the reality of outcomes. Good outcomes are more important and can only be effectively achieved by passionate, well-trained and a willing offender management. If cost is put at the centre of probation, outcomes may only target how much money is cut and ‘save’ rather than how many offenders have stopped reoffending.
    We need some rethinking!

  2. Your reasons to be cheerful – 1,2,3! – apply to Probation Trusts. Which will cease to exist in April next year. A spin-out mutual would be a new company with no finance, no trading history, no contract and no staff unless people resign at some point from the Trust/CRC/NPS.
    The strengths you mention belong to the staff – and the prime bidders will inherit them anyway, so why would they need to be taking them on via a – presumably more expensive – mutual?

    1. Hi Ali

      I think staff could well be much more committed and motivated to deliver a service that enshrines service-user focused values and that they have been active participants in delivering?

      I’m sure MoJ will expect mutuals to provide service at same price as other bidders if they want to win the business. I don’t see any reason that mutuals have to be more expensive but the cost-cutting part of TR is certainly the biggest challenge.

      The difficult part is that mutuals won’t exist unless they win the TR contract, although most are looking to partner up with social investors of one sort or another.

      Who knows how it will pan out?

      Thanks for contributing to the debate.

  3. A couple of the contract package areas are just the right size (warwickshire and west mercia is one of them) for a so called mutual. Too small for a multinational, just the right size for a facilities cpmpany or a charity to be the prime and to subcontract a group of existing staff. The trouble is that cos grayling wants more for less the moj won’t pay for everyone to have a job and insist on local pay deals. Redundancies and cuts on terms and conditions in other words. Those left clinging to the wreckage will, in fact, be employees of either a social enterprise company or even maybe a company limited by guarantee. Either way they’d have a duty to make a profit and would have to drive down quality to do that. The pbr element will be too small and too hard to earn. Why make the effort to get it when ypu can make more money installing biometric kiosks and opening call centres. The wreckage clingers will also find themselves working for a company with one customer. Never a good thing in business. The so called mutual idea is a tory sleight of hand to try to kid on that they value best practice and you wont know you’ve been conned until it’s too late. Put your efforts into resistance and at least keep om in the existing trusts. Let tjek manage their own estates and it. Let them build innovative partnerships with charities, the nhs, etc etc. Let them continue to drive down reconviction rates. Five them the extra 50, 000 under twelve monther’s. Fight back against Grayling’s simplistic nonsense and keep your communities safe and your hardworking dedicated effective probation staff working for ypu. Rant over. Got to get up in morning to keep fucking calm and carry fucking on like none of this is happening. Ypu should try it I bet there will be a couple of hundred years of shortened lifespan amongst probation staff due the stress of this!

  4. I echo Ali Bell comments – 5/7/13 – anyone who thinks that a staff mutual has any hope of competing at all, let alone aginast the large multi nationals (whose names i care not to mention) is seriously deluded – a typical probation area contrcat is circa £30 million with the PBR element being around 30% – so significant capital resources are needed to fund the cashflow shortfall

    Mutuals will simplybe bid candy and the box regadring employee engagment will have been ticked for the bidding process. Yes some of the CPA’s – Merseyside being one – have deliberatley been made small so that a mix of providers is created. Useful propaganda for the `Big Society’ myth.

    The real hope as Johnnie Hermiston states is resistance and buidling upon the Lords amendement to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill. Targeting cross party MP’s of the dangers of this folly when the Bill is discussed in the House in September and highlighting how the private sector cannot be relied upon (Olympics) and are also downright criminal in their actions (tagging).

    There is an whiff of naked self interest by some in the development of mutuals but not as bad as the stench of Grayling4s political ambition.

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