Criminal justice charities will suffer, say the Tories

The Conservatives have failed in their attempt to ensure that probation services are commissioned locally when the Offender Management Bill is enacted.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, shadow home affairs spokeswoman, was last week forced to withdraw an amendment designed to protect local commissioning. The Government said this would confuse the issue of who would ultimately be responsible for providing services.

The Conservatives and Napo, the trade union for probation officers, claim that the Government's proposed system of regional contracts will squeeze out small providers, including charities. They would like local probation trusts to have responsibility for commissioning services.

"We believe local trusts are in a far better position than the secretary of state to identify the types of services that will be required in their area," Anelay said during the bill's Lords committee stage last week.

A charity consortium that includes the Prison Reform Trust, Crime Concern, the Prince's Trust and Clinks, the umbrella charity for small voluntary agencies working with offenders and their families, has also made the case for local commissioning.

But Baroness Scotland of Asthal, minister of state for crime reduction, said the Government's framework would allow for services to be commissioned at different levels. "Commissioning will be national, regional and local," she said.

Scotland also claimed that the Conservatives' proposal would result in confusion over accountability. "The model provides no clarity of responsibility or accountability for the provision of probation services," she said.

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