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What’s the future for PbR?

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What does the future hold for payment by results initiatives in 2012?

PbR is fast becoming a key component of the Coalition Government project, generating increasing amounts of media coverage. The payments by results scheme to tackle “problem families”  received hundreds of column inches, although most clued-up commentators were quick to argue that the headline £200 million funding was not all new money.

In terms of criminal justice PbR schemes, with which this blog is primarily concerned, they are now coming thick and fast.

Everyone knows about the One Project run by @ST GilesTrust which is focused on resettling short-term prisoners released from HMP Peterborough. The project has been going for 15 months now and although there are no reoffending outcomes available yet, the first annual report struck an upbeat note. But there are plenty of others:

  • HMP Doncaster (run by SERCO) is now contracted on a PbR model with ten per cent of the prison’s annual revenue dependent on a 5% reduction in reoffending rates. The pilot started on 12 October 2011. See the video article by Prison Director, John Biggin.
  • HMP Leeds (Armley) is flagged to be first public sector prison to get paid by results on reducing re-offending from later this year.
  • HMP High Down will also be running under a PbR arrangement but won’t transfer the risk outside the National Offender Management Service – the investment will come from the savings that High Down Prison would otherwise have been expected to deliver in terms of efficiencies in the scheme’s first two years.
  • The Youth Justice Board is running a pilot scheme aimed at reducing the number of bed nights in secure accommodation.
  • NOMS is currently developing pilots PbR schemes with two probation trusts (whose identities are yet to be decided).
  • The Ministry of Justice advertised before Christmas for two pilot Innovation PbR schemes with a specific focus on the voluntary and community sector. One scheme is focused on short sentence offenders, the other is not restricted to any offender group.

And that doesn’t even include the Justice Reinvestment Pilots which have been running since summer 2011.

The drug and alcohol PbR treatment pilots are also well underway, but they will be the subject of a different post.

2012 will be a key year as we move from pilots to practice on the ground – although we will still be a couple of years away from assessing outcomes and the effectiveness of the PbR approach.

PbR has always been controversial. The Government initially mainly stressed the following key factors:

  • That PbR focused everybody’s attention on outcomes.
  • That it fostered an innovative and collaborative approach towards tackling entrenched social problems with a focus on long-term gains.
  • That the taxpayer would not be paying for ineffective services.

Recently, however, it has been talking much more about transferring financial risk and developing a new market, playing into the fears of many in the public and voluntary sectors who have always seen PbR as primarily a vehicle for privatisation.

So, as we start the New Year, what evidence is there to support these viewpoints? Is the Government more focused on building a Big Society or on privatising public services?

Clearly, who gets the contracts to deliver PbR pilots will be a key indicator.

  • Will it be a spread of statutory, private and voluntary sector providers?
  • Will we see some proper partnerships across these sectors?
  • And will the local community sector be fully involved or just exploited as bid candy?

Another tell-tale sign will be whether the Ministry of Justice continue to insist on “binary” outcomes (whether an offender commits crime or not) rather than the more realistic “frequency” outcomes (measuring reduction in offending). I have argued recently on the blog that a binary approach contradicts the evidence that “desisting” from crime is a long process and makes it more likely that providers will cherry pick offenders more susceptible to change rather than focus on the recidivists whose rehabilitation would do most to reduce crime.

One thing we can predict, the pace of change is likely to be rapid. I updated my Free PbR Resource pack over twenty times in the last four months of 2011 and expect to be adding to it just as frequently this year.


Please share your views on the future of PbR below. No need to log-in, just tell us what you think.


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