At a time when many charities have struggled to stay afloat, Crime Reduction Initiatives has grown at a startling rate. Five years ago, its provision of services to support individuals, families and communities affected by crime brought it an income £32.7m. By 2011/12, the figure had more than doubled to £80.8m, nearly all of it from public sector contracts.
David Royce, its chief executive, says that this growth has "defied convention and gravity", and attributes it to an ability to combine a sense of aspiration with a really good business model. "Finance has always been the first consideration," he says. Some of the growth has also come through mergers: the Sussex Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society, formed in about 1880, was renamed the Sussex Association for the Rehabilitation of Offenders in 1977, became CRI in 2000 and has merged with five other charities.
It now plans to split itself into three separate legal entities by the end of March 2014: one charity to run its health and social care services, one to run its criminal justice work, and a separate body to help to ensure the continued integration of the other two charities and their services.
Delivering the best service
Royce says CRI does not say yes to every available contract and has walked away from some very significant work. "We will only take on things where we can make it work properly and deliver the best service," he says. "CRI would probably be £10m bigger than it is this year had we taken on those contracts. There has to be an ethical element to your judgement call if you're a charity."
Given its size and area of expertise, CRI is likely to play a key role in the Ministry of Justice's reforms, confirmed last week, that will allow charities to bid for payment-by-results contracts to reduce reoffending. There are plans for every person who leaves prison from 2015 to spend a minimum of 12 months under supervision in the community.
Royce says CRI plans to bid for one of the 21 area contracts that will make up the scheme. "If we are judged to be the best, we will get the privilege of leading a voluntary sector and mutual partnership, which would involve social investors and quite possibly a private company providing back-of-house support," he says.
He will not give further details of this possible partnership, but says CRI already has an agreement with a social investor but none yet with a private company. "We will go into a relationship with a private company only if it is as committed to creating the climate for small charities, mutuals and service users to flourish as we are," he says.
If CRI was successful in winning an area contract, Royce says it would do its best to help create such a climate. "For some organisations, that will be about cash flow," he says. "For others it will be about the transition to a new way of working. It's incumbent upon our organisation to make those things work. We've seen what happens if you don't pay attention to that in public services."
Time to yield results
Royce is enthusiastic about the probation reforms in general, calling the supervision of people who have served less than 12 months in prison "obviously the right thing to do". But he warns that it will take time for the work to yield results - something he thinks the government should consider carefully, as payment for the contracts will depend partly on results. "It will take 12 to 18 months to deliver really convincing results," he says. "And it can't happen for nothing. To organise volunteers and peer mentors properly is not a zero-cost activity."
He is generally positive about PBR, but only when it is used in a sophisticated way. "We've been involved in PBR contracts for the past three years - at the moment, £11m of CRI's turnover is at risk on PBR," he says. "On that basis - and I can only answer from the CRI perspective - it's a useful concept if it focuses attention and if the intention is to deliver the best service. If PBR is used as a blunt instrument, if it's expected to work overnight, then it will be a difficult transformation."
Asked how he thinks the role of charities running probation services will compare with their limited involvement in the much-criticised Work Programme, Royce says he has been talking to the Cabinet Office about this for months and is hopeful that he has helped to dispel the myth that voluntary sector organisations could not lead bids because they lack the necessary resources, willpower and organisation.
"There were people at the Cabinet Office who were prepared to look at the results that CRI has achieved, look at its track record over the past 10 years and consider that the myth that it couldn't be done was indeed a myth," he says. "I think the support of ministers will have had a beneficial effect but, before I begin to celebrate that, I'm going to have to see what happens."
1994: Chief executive, SARO (CRI)
1992: Senior probation officer, HM Prison Lewes, on secondment
1987: Probation officer (first-level manager), East Sussex probation service
1978: Probation officer, London, Gloucester and East Sussex probation services
1974: PhD research assistant, Portsmouth University
1969: Apprentice toolmaker, Brockhouse Engineering