The National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Clinks, the umbrella group for criminal justice charities, have launched a year-long project to monitor the voluntary sector’s role in the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
In October, the MoJ announced its preferred bidders to run 21 community rehabilitation companies, which have replaced probation trusts and are responsible for a total of 200,000 low and medium-risk offenders across England and Wales.
When announcing the successful bids last October, the government said that third sector groups were involved in all but one of the consortia that were awarded the 21 contracts, and that three-quarters of the subcontractors named in the successful bids were voluntary or mutual organisations.
Nonetheless, fears were raised in the sector that the real winners were the private firms leading most of these consortia and that the charities and voluntary groups involved would carry too much risk.
A statement on the Clinks website said members had already contacted it with concerns about their role in the new programme. "At the moment, we are only hearing anecdotal evidence that doesn’t allow us to effectively identify good and poor practice," it said. "This needs to change."
The NCVO and Clinks have launched the first of three online surveys for charities, which the organisations say will take five minutes to complete.
The Clinks statement said: "We want you to share your experience so that we can develop a picture of the role that the voluntary sector is playing. This will be followed by two further surveys, one this summer and a third in 2016. The results will enable us to identify emerging good practice, as well as concerns, and lead to clear recommendations for government and other key stakeholders."
Nick Davies, public services manager at the NCVO, wrote in a blog: "In our final report on the Work Programme, Stepping Stones, we suggested a number of ways that future programmes could be designed to better utilise voluntary sector expertise. These included greater user and voluntary sector involvement in programme design, smaller contracts, different payment models, early assessment of user needs and better use of volunteering. These recommendations are just as relevant to Transforming Rehabilitation – but have the lessons been learned?"