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Probation reform programme still excluding voluntary sector
Clinks research finds probation commissioning favoured larger, well-resourced organisations and disadvantaged smaller, local and specialist ones.

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Complex, cumbersome & bureaucratic

Yesterday (8 March 2022) Clinks  published a new report tracking the  voluntary sector’s experience of the probation reform programme which finds that the Ministry of Justice has made limited progress in facilitating partnerships with the criminal justice voluntary sector. The report is based on a survey of 241 voluntary organisations and 8 interviews in May-June 2021. It finds that despite an expressed intention from the MoJ for the probation commissioning process to be open to all voluntary organisations – the commissioning of “day one” services favoured larger, well-resourced organisations and disadvantaged smaller, local and specialist ones.

The report says that the commissioning process was complex, cumbersome and bureaucratic and the financial costs of working to be involved were significant. Organisations also found it challenging to receive support from HM Prison and Probation Service when they had difficulties.

Many small, specialist organisations were unable to engage with the commissioning process due factors including that the financial thresholds that needed to be reached were too high, the geographical footprint of contracts was too large, and the information required during the process was disproportionate.

Clinks recommends that in order to encourage and facilitate the engagement of small, specialist organisations in commissioning processes to ensure true diversity of providers, grants should be the default funding option for voluntary sector organisations.

Findings

Voluntary sector organisations found the commissioning process unfriendly and demanding at every stage of the process:

  • Almost half (47%) organisations found that the information provided to them at the market warming stage was not clear or accessible. 
  • One third of organisations who were interested in providing services to people on probation decided not to apply to register on the Dynamic Framework, mainly because it was too complex and time-consuming to do so.
  • The decision to let some contracts at a regional level presented challenges to ensuring that small, local and specialist organisations were appropriately involved, and the report found that the larger geographical scale had further entrenched some of the competitive advantages enjoyed by large private organisations.
  • Overall one organisation in eleven who expressed an interest in providing services to people on probation was successful.

Conclusions

Overall Clinks concluded that there have been some lessons learnt from the Transforming Rehabilitation programme with organisations welcoming the reunification of the probation service. There is more evidence of partnership working and on the whole, sub-contracted organisations were far more positive of their relationship with lead providers.

However, the processes were found to be complex, cumbersome and bureaucratic and resulted in a very high drop-out rate amongst interested providers.

Clinks makes a number of recommendations including:

  • A less complex and onerous process to facilitate the involvement of more smaller organisations.
  • Capacity building support available for these organisations.
  • More support from procurement teams throughout he process.
  • Smaller contract sizes.
  • Better relationships with Regional Probation Directors.

However, the headline recommendation is to move to a grant-based approach for smaller providers:

“To encourage and facilitate the engagement of small, specialist organisations in commissioning processes to ensure true diversity of providers, grants should be the default funding option for voluntary sector organisations. Grants should be provided for three years.”

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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.

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