Voluntary sector umbrella bodies have given a cautious welcome to the representation of not-for-profit organisations on the shortlist for contracts under the government’s £450m a year Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
The Ministry of Justice yesterday published a list of the 30 bidders that have passed the first stage of the competition to win contracts under the programme, which will involve 35 probation trusts being replaced with 21 prime contractors with responsibility for managing probation for low and medium-risk offenders.
The shortlisted organisations are led by a mixture of private, public and voluntary sector organisations working alone or in partnership with others.
CRI has also been shortlisted as part of a joint bid with the ex-offender charity St Giles Trust, led by the training company Ingeus UK.
A bid made up of five voluntary sector organisations, including the Cyrenians and Groundwork NE, under the name Northern Inclusion Consortium, has also been shortlisted.
Several bids involve probation services being spun out to form employee-led mutuals.
Clive Martin, director of Clinks, the infrastructure body for rehabilitation charities, said yesterday's announcement was a step in the right direction. "The voluntary sector plays a vital, often unsung role in supporting offender rehabilitation across our communities," he said. "It's always encouraging to see government promote this work."
But he said the competition was still at its early stage, particularly for the many smaller and local organisations expecting to be involved as subcontractors rather than as main bidders. "We hope to see meaningful and fair inclusion of the sector become a reality later down the line," he said.
Asheem Singh, director of policy at the chief executives body Acevo, said: "We are pleased to see that the voluntary sector is well represented in the list of preferred bidders." But he said prior experience indicated that it was important that the details were right, such as ensuring that market stewardship mechanisms were strong enough to support a diverse and competitive provider market.
There are two more rounds to go before the winners start work in 2015.
The Ministry of Justice said in September that 399 voluntary sector organisations had expressed an interest in bidding for work under the programme.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, said: "Under this approach, voluntary groups, charities, small and medium enterprises, larger companies and the public sector will work hand-in-hand to turn around the lives of offenders and make our communities safer." He said that this showed that "government is doing business differently".