Not-for-profit organisations due to be awarded contracts for offender rehabilitation are likely to operate in subservience to the private companies they have partnered with, charities have warned.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice announced the preferred bidders for 21 regional payment-by-results contracts for the management of low and medium-risk offenders, as part of its Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
All but one of the 21 successful bidders are consortia with some charity, voluntary or social sector involvement, but only one involves no private sector firms.
Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank NPC, said: "Not-for-profits may have a presence in all but one of the preferred bidders, but this doesn’t tell the whole story."
The list of preferred bidders does not identify prime contractors within the consortia, but Corry said that in many cases it appeared the private firms were taking that lead role. "Our slight disappointment, and I think the MoJ is slightly disappointed too, is we hoped there might be a number of non-profit primes, the likes of Catch22 and CRI," he said.
Corry said it was not clear whether a charity working as a prime contractor would treat its subcontractors any better than private companies did. "Life as a subcontractor isn’t great," he said. "Risk gets passed down to you, because that’s what a prime contractor does, and then you don’t know how much work is coming to you."
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the charity leaders group Acevo, said: "We are pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice recognises the central role charities and social enterprises can play in delivering services."
Bubb said the commissioning model was flawed. "The contracts needed to be more locally based, and the barriers to entry for charities to take prime contracts were too high," he said. He said that the Work Programme demonstrated that charities in such partnerships often ended up overloaded with risk.
"Government must continue to learn from past mistakes and look to innovative ways of ensuring charities can work in partnerships to contribute quality outcomes," said Bubb. "The third sector must never be subservient to the interests of private companies, rather than the communities we serve."
As reported yesterday, the Howard League for Penal Reform is also concerned with the structure of the consortia. "The big winner of the probation sell-off is not the voluntary sector but large private companies run for profit," said Frances Crook, chief executive of the criminal justice charity. "The Ministry of Justice will claim it has created a diverse market, but Sodexo and Interserve are the companies running half of all the contracts."
Clive Martin, director of Clinks, a charity that supports charities for offenders, joined Bubb in highlighting the need for the consortia to have a local focus and engage with local organisations. He said: "It is here that they will find more than 1,400 voluntary and community groups that are fundamental to turning people’s lives around. It is vital that the voices of these groups are listened to and they get a decent share of the resources to bring about the changes we all hope for."
The probation staff union Napo announced yesterday that it had instructed its lawyers to apply for permission for a judicial review of the awarding of the contracts.
Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the union, said the changes put staff, service users and the public at risk of harm. "Contrary to the lies propagated by government ministers, there has been no piloting of the new model prior to national roll-out," he said.