Last Tuesday (26 November 2019) the Ministry of Justice published the official notice which opened the competition for providers wishing to bid for the new private probation contracts.
As readers will know, five years ago the government, under an initiative known as Transforming Rehabilitation, decided to part privatise the probation service splitting it into the National Probation Service, the public body which serviced the courts and managed high-risk offenders and 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies, responsible for managing low and medium risk offenders.
This system performed badly and following years of criticism from the National Audit Office and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, the government decided to redesign it. The new version returns all offender management responsibilities to the National Probation Service but still retains a reduced role for the private sector. The new contracts which are now split into 12 regions (11 in England and one in Wales) now invite bids for organisations to deliver unpaid work (which used to be known as “community service” or “community punishment”) and accredited programmes – the groupwork interventions designed to help people on probation change their thinking and behaviour in order to stop offending.
The total value of the new contracts will be £1,263 million (or £1.23 billion) over five years and the exact wording of the competition notice is:
“The authority seeks suppliers to deliver high volume standardised interventions and rehabilitative services covering unpaid work, accredited programmes and other structured interventions in the areas of emotional management, domestic abuse and attitude, thinking and behaviours. Suppliers will work collaboratively with the National Probation Service improving quality and helping innovate in the delivery of the services. The contract will enable effective partnering with the flexibility to commission additional optional services.”
The contract is split into 12 lots – one for each region – with a value varying from £66 million in the North-East up to £184 million in London. While initial contracts are for five years, there is the possibility of extending them to eight years with six possible extension periods of six months each.
Organisations can, of course, bid for multiple lots although a market share cap of 31% has been set, meaning there will be a minimum of four and maximum of 12 different new Probation Delivery Partners.
Many criminal justice commentators were surprised that the competition is being launched now, in the middle of the general election campaign. In my view, this is both a little odd and an indication of the determination on the MoJ’s part to drive forward the re-design of probation which appears to have been stalling. The tender process was originally scheduled to start earlier in the Autumn.
However, the competition will take place over many months. Although the contract notice states that the deadline is 16 December this year, this is only the first stage of the process known as pre-qualification. Organisations who wish to bid to provide services to the probation market have to satisfy the Ministry of Justice that they are eligible to do so (basically that they have relevant experience and a solid financial base). The full procurement competition will start in early 2020.
We don’t have a date for that yet but it seems unlikely that the full Invitation to Tender can begin until the MoJ has published the final version of the Target Operating Model which I understand is not likely to be published this year.
As always, I’ll try my best to keep you posted.