So, here we are. The government has published its Strategy for Reform, Transforming Rehabilitation (9 May 2013), following a perversely short consultation period of 6 weeks.
- Was there much surprise that the response to the consultation was little different from the original proposals published in January? Probably not.
- Is this a high risk approach? Probably.
- Is the unprecedented time-line realistic? We will see.
- Is this the right way forward for probation? Well, my views were well publicised during the consultation period and our Avon and Somerset Probation Trust response was in the public domain. I leave it to you to consider whether the arguments for the changes to an effective and award winning service are more convincing now than they were at the outset? The constructive critiques of the government plans led by probation organisations, academics and intelligent commentators supported by less opportunistic private and voluntary sector providers appear to remain valid. In particular probation trusts working with partners such as the police can and already do intervene with those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody, a system that could be rolled out building on existing success in crime reduction.
But, this is not a time to rehearse the old arguments and solutions previously set out – in particular the risks associated with offender management fragmentation and consequential supply chain management and policing; hasty implementation of untested PbR arrangements in the criminal justice system: and, the emphasis on national rather than local commissioning (we have argued, and still do, for a lead commissioning role for the Police and Crime Commissioners, who need to get in quickly in the light of proposed 10 year contracts). And, there remain significant unanswered questions around the contracting and pricing mechanisms, amongst others.
Here I want to prompt consideration of just four questions:
- Who is responsible for doing what during this transformation?
- What might be the implications for partners, especially the police in relation to Integrated Offender management (IOM);
- Is mutualisation the answer? And,
- What is malversation?
Who is responsible for doing what during this transformation?
We have agreed through our routine quarterly contract monitoring meeting that the priority for our trust is business as usual and to meet our contracted delivery agreements to the expected quality and standards. We must fulfill our responsibilities to our communities, partners, courts, victims, offenders and staff, and pay due and realistic regard to the demands of NOMS (i.e. we cannot be obstructive). But, are we to manage the transition locally with a lead responsibility or are we to respond sensibly and thoughtfully to the transformation demands in the context of our first priority, which is as a delivery organisation with those associated responsibilities?
Central to this question is the proper separation of policy development (and the government proposals are policy development with so many unanswered questions) and service delivery, and we sense that it is exactly this separation that is quite rightly starting to happen between NOMS and MoJ. It becomes a question not just for trusts, but one for NOMS – to what extent will it jeopardise its primary delivery function by over-involvement in policy development and implementation of potentially risky proposals? The leadership for developing and implementing the proposals appear to sit increasingly closely with the MoJ (that is where the Senior Responsible Officer sits), leaving NOMS properly accountable for delivery.
Let me frame this question with an example. Who will be responsible for appointing staff to the proposed public sector national probation service, staff who are to be civil servants? Will it be for trusts to appoint or ‘allocate’ x number of its staff? Will it be for contract package areas (CPAs) to do this on some sort of proportional basis? Will such appointments be on merit, in which case differential proportions of staff are likely to be appointed to this new national service? Should this be a national open recruitment exercise, with the trust responsibility to ensure that its staff are fully informed?
Unless there are persuasive arguments to the contrary I see this to be a national responsibility and not one for trusts to become embroiled in. And, let us not kid ourselves – this is going to be a divisive process, which may also lead to many appeals as I expect there to be fierce competition for the national probation service posts. So, my view is that trusts do not lead or manage this appointment process or any consequential HR issues such as appeals, but we facilitate our staff to make the best decisions for themselves with full information and enable a national exercise to take place.
What might be the implications for partners, especially the police in relation to IOM?
I believe we all applaud the attention given to those released after shorter sentences, although there are strong and varying views about the mechanisms proposed. In short, the one-size-fits-all approach (in terms of statutory supervision for all) fails to differentiate and appears to go against more sensible tailor made support and sanctions, and may well increase the prison population (both through sentencing and breach).
And, our trust (in common with an increasing number of others) already contributes to the supervision and support of those offenders released after shorter sentences most likely to re-offend, working hand in hand with the police - often the case managers (co-located in Bristol), local prison, local drugs workers (who may be the lead case manager for those with addictions) and the local authority.
That said, the proposals, although indicating awareness of current IOM arrangements, fail to properly consider the damage likely to those effective partnership arrangements built up over years of confidence building and the development of mutual trust. In addition our arrangements have drawn in substantial inward investment and have shown a demonstrable reduction in crime and therefore victims.
Does it matter who people work for in such arrangements? Yes, it does – it is not just a simple matter of an offender manager working for public sector probation at one moment and then for a private sector provider the next, and everything carrying on as though nothing has changed. A question? Will the police be so willing to share real time intelligence (and note, this is more than shuffling information) with a body other than the public sector, which rightly has a primary focus on the ‘bottom line’? Why should the police transfer trust and should there be a transaction charge recognising that its work will be contributing to the PbR of another? This is not just a short-term issue.
Is mutualisation the answer?
I really do not know, and I am not sure that anyone does. There is a lot of hype around and it has become a bit of a light at the end of some sort of tunnel (or is it another train approaching)? What I see is that there is no one explanation of what a mutual actually is, or how it operates. There is conflicting commentary about mutuals, but we will continue to seek information. Our trust has not launched into this possibility, not least because when asked our staff have not shown the necessary appetite for the sort of staff led and secure mutual that we might be interested in. The degree of staff ownership, potential longevity and bidding functions of any mutual in the future arrangements would be central criteria for us to be interested.
And, we have some questions, not as far as I know answered as yet:
- Will mutuals currently being planned be able and ready to enter the competitive process (and bid) from “the summer of 2013” (page 35 of the MoJ publication)?
- Will mutuals just be short-term subcontracted ‘going concerns’ subject to a second stage transfer (without the TUPE arrangements required for the first stage of mutualisation)?
- Is the process of mutualisation a neat mechanism ensuring that trusts do the work more appropriate for the MoJ (for example, in ‘splitting the workforce into the public sector national service and those doing the other work)?
We will see.
What is ‘malversation’?
If nothing else many readers will at least learn a new word, entirely relevant to current circumstances. Malversation is corruption in a public office and in the context of PbR may be linked to perverse behaviours possibly or probably reinforced by profit being the potentially primary objective of commercial enterprises. Now, I am not opposed to the contributions that can be made to the business of managing offenders in the community, but I do have concerns about commercial enterprises being in the lead, most likely as contracting is rolled out.
Is there a way this risk can be mitigated? Probably not, as there appears to be plenty of information to indicate that the ability of government both to let and monitor contracts needs considerable development.
So, what next?
It is to be expected that there will be almost as many different takes on the implications of the proposals as there are trusts, and equally trusts will take different routes in the light of their assessments. Some will be very helpful to the implementation process, either deliberately or mistakenly, and others will be very circumspect in assisting and enabling proposals which continue to generate deep concerns, but without being obstructive. In this respect I believe the first question above is the most critical, and it will be one that I hope will be fully considered during the forthcoming discussions about Schedule 11 of the trust contracts, namely the Exit Strategy, which is the route proposed by the MoJ.
There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.
And why do I Tweet? To look, listen and learn; to question and comment; and, to be bemused and amused, quickly.
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