Clive Martin put his head above the parapet recently when he told the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector that many voluntary organisations in the criminal justice field were privately sceptical about government payment-by-results contracts but "cautious about biting the hand that feeds them".
His views come from his experience as director since its formation in 1997 of Clinks, the membership body for sector organisations working with offenders and ex-offenders. These organisations rely on public sector funding rather than donations and are among the first to experience the latest drive for PBR.
Martin says he welcomes PBR in principle, as do many Clinks members. He thinks it will encourage organisations to look at the effectiveness of what they do and think differently. But the difficulties are in the detail, and he thinks the government is in danger of harming a key ally in the battle against offending.
"The ways in which the PBR mechanisms are now being thought through have the potential to damage the voluntary sector – either because the payments are too late, the capital demands are too high or the referral mechanisms don’t work well enough," he says. "So we need to think carefully about how the voluntary sector can be supported."
He also sees confusion in government policy. In October, the Ministry of Justice announced it was pausing its pilot PBR projects to reconsider its strategy, but just two weeks later the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said he wanted to see PBR used more widely to prevent reoffending.
Then the recently appointed justice secretary, Chris Grayling, announced the roll-out of PBR across community-based offender management work by 2015, including mentoring of those leaving prison – something Martin says the voluntary sector already does well. Grayling’s announcement on PBR comes as the sector is "desperate" for business opportunities, Martin says, but it follows the pause of the previous reforms. "The sector has been gearing itself up for a while now for business opportunities that haven’t materialised, so we really need to get some speed on this if the sector is going to survive and make the most of the opportunities," he says.
Increasing numbers of Clinks members are dipping into their reserves because income from both contract and grant work is declining and money in local authorities is tight, says Martin. Successive governments have been quick to articulate opportunities for the sector that have always turned out to be quite limited. It is a "repeat pattern", he says, that makes it hard for the sector.
"PBR was another major initiative by a new government to bring the voluntary sector to the heart of delivery," says Martin. "We are half way through a term, and that’s paused. We have a history of getting to halfway with initiatives that are then overtaken by events, which always means the sector is struggling to survive. It can’t do long-term planning and can’t develop realistic and feasible business plans, which makes it difficult for it to raise money in social finance and other parts of the market.
"It makes workforce development really difficult and it doesn’t help in building up effective evidence bases about what works to reduce reoffending. So it’s really crucial to have a long-term plan we can all stick to and review at sensible intervals, rather than the distractions that keep coming up."
The government’s enthusiasm for PBR is based partly on the perceived initial success of the social impact bond project at HMP Peterborough involving the offender rehabilitation charity St Giles Trust. Martin says the Peterborough pilot needs to be understood better if a national roll-out is to be successful.
"The financial risk in the Peterborough project is borne largely by the investors, not the delivery organisations," he says. "That’s a model that was developed after lots of discussion with the voluntary sector, and it takes into account the financial limitations of working by the PBR model. If that’s what we see rolling out, then that’s something to be very positive about and to be celebrated."
Another issue on Martin’s radar is the relationship between the private and voluntary sectors. He says it is clear that the voluntary sector needs some sort of relationship with the private sector, but there is an issue with the stewardship of that supply chain.
"These relationships are very much about the prime and subcontractor model, and they are new relationships, so we have no tradition, socially or legally, by which we manage them – and the power imbalance is enormous," he says. So Clinks’ concern is about "fair and decent treatment in uncharted waters".