This post is based on the recent report on market stewardship by the Institute for Government.
Outsourcing probation is a high risk strategy
The IfG report takes a critical view of the way that Probation Trusts currently manage the reoffending market.
It found commissioning practice variable and generally un-cordinated and commented that the market is undeveloped with many high quality voluntary and private providers denied access.
When the report authors turn to the likely outcomes of the current outsourcing of probation service via the Transforming Rehabilitation project, they identify four key difficulties:
- Probation is inherently risky to outsource because outcomes are harder to measure in binary terms, more dependent on the performance of other services and difficult to monitor robustly.
- The supplier community is relatively undeveloped and there are no private or voluntary sector providers that currently provide the full array of services.
- There is a high risk that political priorities will change, which could result in the outsourced service being discontinued, scaled back or dramatically reconfigured – increasing the premium that providers will demand for their services now.
- There is little historical experience or capability to draw on.
These difficulties are also exacerbated by the rapid pace of the reform – for example, the basic payment mechanism is currently undergoing radical revision even though the formal procurement process is scheduled to start in less than a month.
Most commentators, including myself , think that the Ministry of Justice is likely to be overwhelmed by the scale and range of outsourcing projects it is currently trying to manage.
Here’s a brief list of just some of the major projects:
- Electronic tagging – currently in disarray following the inquiry about overcharging by G4S and Serco. Insiders say that many of these problems derive from the drastic reduction in the NOMS contract management team some years ago.
- The Prison competition programme (in which many bids were rejected and some awards are awaiting confirmation dependent on the findings from the electronic tagging inquiry).
- Transforming Rehabilitation itself – the most radical change in the Probation Service’s 106 year history.
- The newly announced (26 July) competition to outsource the compliance and enforcement activities of the Courts and Tribunals Service – in an attempt to reduce the £2bn total of outstanding fines.
The IfG report includes a useful matrix to help assess the likely problems with outsourcing in different policy areas.
The report authors apply this matrix to the probation outsourcing project using a RAG (Red Amber Green) approach to assessing its viability.
As you can see, they are not confident that the government will be able to make Transforming Rehabilitation work:
Given that the Institute for Government is not opposed to the outsourcing of public services in principle, this is a high critical assessment.
By slowing the pace of change and following the good Market Stewardship principles advocated by the IfG, the MoJ could substantially increase the chances of achieving the primary goal of Transforming Rehabilitation – reducing reoffending rates.