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Is payment by results rocket science?

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12 things I learnt from the Policy Exchange PbR Event

Policy Exchange hosted a payment by results event on Monday (4 March 2013) to follow up the publication of their PbR and Justice report (reviewed here).

There was an impressive line-up of speakers including:

  • Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary
  • Jeremy Wright, Minister for Prisons & Rehabilitation
  • Probation Chiefs Heather Munro & Sarah Billiald
  • Voluntary Sector Chief Execs Paul McDowell (NACRO) & Rob Owen (St Giles Trust)
  • Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Harwick

As well as an interesteing collection of prison governors, policy wonks & MoJ officials.

(As an aside, the event was the best chaired I’ve ever been to. BBC Home Editor Mark Easton had the perfect knowledge and skillset to make for an entertaining day, particularly when he pressed speakers to make full and proper answers to delegates’ questions. He’s well worth a Twitter follow at @BBCMarkEaston).

1. The rehabilitation revolution is definitely going to happen

Both Ministers used very robust language in saying that opening up the probation service to competition via a PbR model was a government priority.

2. There are different views about the speed of change

The ministers wanted the rehabilitation revolution to go full speed ahead with Chris Grayling saying that “PbR isn’t rocket science”.

Max Chambers (@MaxChambers_Px) agreed saying that if the procurement process isn’t well under way by mid-2014, the market will lose confidence and wait to see if measures are reversed depending on the outcome of the 2015 election.

Many other speakers (including @_AdrianBrown who is currently advising NOMS) urged caution; saying that PbR may not be rocket science, but it is actually quite complex and if outcomes and contracts aren’t carefully defined, there will be problems ahead.

3. Separating out risk management is a huge concern

The interface between public sector Probation Trust risk assessment and management and the reoffending interventions delivered by new providers has been highlighted by many people responding to the government’s probation review (coverage here).

Debbie Ryan of G4S (@DebbieRyan1969) said that the consultation responses she had read all argued that risk should be the responsibility of one organisation with the public sector saying “leave it with us” and the private sector saying “hand it over”. The only way it can be handed over in practice is to outsource the entire probation service (instead of the currently proposed 70%). Ministers were clear that they are not considering this … at the moment.

4. We need to understand more about which offenders are high risk

Heather Munro, Chief Exec of London Probation, (@heathermunroLPT) said that a lot of dangerous offenders are medium risk and will, therefore, be managed by new providers. 75% of all domestic violence offenders and 20% of sex offenders are classified medium risk in London.

5. The market will sort everything out…perhaps

There was an interesting divergence of views between MoJ officials who said that they confidently expected plenty of bidders who will compete for the new outsourced probation business and offer considerable savings (even within a reduced budget) and Cabinet Office officials who felt that there should be active encouragement of new providers and partnerships and consortia across private/public/voluntary sector boundaries.

6. Going beyond a prime provider approach

The ministers were at pains to emphasise that they expected to see a much more varied approach from providers and not just the prime (large private company) – sub (smaller voluntary sector) model which is the norm for Work Programme PbR contracts.

Chris Grayling said he would happily receive bids that included probation trusts but stressed that they must be able to bear the financial risk of PbR contracting. Although the Cabinet Office will support 5 probation trusts to become mutuals, it’s still not clear if they can lead partnership bids for re-offending contracts.


Space shuttle


7. The lack of a current model is impeding progress

The MoJ consultation was focused on a broad concept rather than a worked-up model. This means that until the department analyses the 580 consultation responses and develops a first procurement model, it is hard for probation trusts and potential providers to do any substantive work developing models of intervention, partnerships etc.

Speakers acknowledged this and suggested a variety of key issues that the MoJ needs to concentrate on “nailing down”.

These included:

  • Consolidating probation trusts (it’s still not clear how many there will be)
  • Facilitating the transition of probation staff to new providers
  • Defining the purpose of the transforming rehabilitation project – is it about cost reduction as well as reducing re-offending? And if so, what does that do to the procurement process.

8. Dead time

Kent Probation Chief Exec Sarah Billald (@sbilliald) said that the next few months during which the MoJ will design the procurement model is effectively “dead time” during which there is a real risk that probation staff morale will plummet further. She said all parties need to recognise the importance of leadership during the next two years.

9. Models for services for short term prisoners may vary

In a fascinating session on providing new services to short term prisoners to cut high re-offending rates, it was clear that the different models run by public sector HMP Leeds and private sector HMP Peterborough were equally effective. There seem to be two critical success factors: start providing the service in prison from day one and the leadership provided by individual prison governors/directors.

10. Mentors for short term prisoners will probably be paid

Despite the statement that different models of provision are welcome, it emerged that ministers are expecting new mentoring schemes for short term prisoners to be mainly provided by paid staff on a one-to-many basis, rather than matching individual volunteers to offenders.

11. Penalty clause PbR now the favoured model

Lunch-time gossip/networking suggested that the favoured PbR model may now involve providers having money clawed back from the contract/not paid in outcomes every time an offender is reconvicted to try to skirt round the binary-frequency debate and the cash-flow problems of waiting 32 months for a full cohort of offenders to have worked their way through the criminal justice system and end up on the Police National Computer.

12. Disgraced former MP Jonathan Aitken is alive and well.

And seems to be considering using his experience as an ex-offender to become a mentor to short term prisoners.


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