Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, has reiterated his support for the idea of voluntary sector prime providers under the forthcoming Transforming Rehabilitation contracts.
A overhaul of the probation service was announced by Grayling in January. Responsibility for medium and low-risk offenders is being transferred to the voluntary and private sectors on a payment-by-results basis.
Speaking today in London at an event called The Opportunities for the Voluntary Sector in Criminal Justice, organised by the think tank the Centre for Social Justice, founded in 2004 by the Conservative politician Iain Duncan Smith, Grayling said the Ministry of Justice would need a "broad range of suppliers in place".
"Don’t believe these contracts are going to be handed to a tiny number of traditional suppliers," he said.
Grayling said that contracts under the new system would be designed specifically so that employee-owned trusts, consortia of voluntary organisations, and private-voluntary partnerships could all hope to win prime contracts.
And he said that the rehabilitation contracts would not go only to the lowest bidder.
"Our aim is to see fewer people coming into the criminal justice system and fewer victims of crime," he said. "That is what this is about. I’m not interested in shaving 10 per cent off the price."
Grayling said the government had learned a number of lessons from the Work Programme and had introduced a range of measures to help smaller voluntary organisations, such as creating a single framework for delivery organisations to register, rather than requiring them to go through an application process for each prime.
Speaking at the same event, Edward Boyd, deputy policy director at the CSJ, said that interim results from his organisation’s research into sector justice provision showed one of the greatest challenges was being able to demonstrate results.
"You have to be able to work out the difference you make," he said. "You have to say how much it will cost and why you will be successful."