Voscur Trustee and Sector Leader Suzanne Thompson is CEO of The Restore Trust. In this article she explains why the latest probation reforms need to go further to ensure voluntary sector involvement.
I was among the many who welcomed the proposed reforms of the probation service last month.
The professionalism of the sector has been damaged by the rushed ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms brought in by the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to part-privatise probation in 2014.
The basic design of the programme was flawed, leading to a fragmented service. Judiciary and public confidence in non-custodial sentences has sadly been eroded.
The new measures are intended to bring the management of medium and low-risk offenders back into the public sector. It is hoped this will create a joined up and sustainable system that will provide a more robust and effective service to offenders, victims and the public.
However, my colleagues and I are concerned that the new proposals do not address issues surrounding social value or the role of the voluntary sector.
The Public Services (Social Value) Act came into force on 31 January 2013. It requires people who commission public services to think about how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits as part of the commissioning framework.
The legislation assists in creating an environment where the role of the voluntary sector in public service commissioning is properly recognised and supported. This ensures that commissioned services are responsive to local needs.
Under the new probation reforms, commissioning will take place for new Innovation Partners who will focus on delivering unpaid work and accredited programmes. These are the two areas which, in some regions, the voluntary sector already works in and can support.
However, there is a concern that the commissioning framework proposed for innovation partners stipulates no mandatory requirement or incentive for bidders to include the voluntary sector in delivery of these particular services. Potential bidders may have to reference social value, but unless this is properly stipulated in the tender specification, it is feared it will be tokenistic.
Under the current proposals, private and voluntary sector organisations wishing to support probation with other resettlement or rehabilitative services will have to sign up to a dynamic purchase register which will then be made available to providers delivering probation services.
However, as the government has not specified a percentage of the contract which would have to be committed to social value, it seems unlikely that the innovation partners will be sufficiently incentivised to outsource services when there is no contractual requirement to do so.
This is potentially another missed opportunity, as it has been proven that a diverse and balanced market with involvement from the public, private and voluntary sector is more effective than just using in-house resource.
There are already excellent examples of pockets of work between local Community Rehabilitation Companies and the voluntary sector. They are making a difference in helping to support the most complex offenders to desist from reoffending and rehabilitate back into society by use of education and employment pathway support. It is important that this work is built upon and supported under the proposed reforms.
The good news is that there is still time for the Government to consider social value legislation in its proposed commissioning framework. The MoJ has published its findings here from its recent ‘Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence’ consultation. I would still encourage everyone with an interest in the sector to contact the Secretary of State for Justice and press the need for a better relationship with the voluntary sector and for measures to ensure that social value is realised in current and future commissioning frameworks.
The consultation has closed, but you can send your comments to:
The Restore Trust provide advice and guidance, skills, qualifications and confidence to people experiencing barriers to accessing training and employment opportunities. Many of its clients have complex and challenging needs in relation to offending behaviour, homelessness, mental health problems, drug/alcohol dependency.