A total of 399 voluntary organisations will compete to take part in the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme, the Ministry of Justice has announced.
The MoJ today announced the launch of the bidding competition to deliver the scheme, which will provide probation services to 225,000 low and medium-risk offenders in England and Wales.
The scheme will be divided into 21 prime contract areas and will cost £2.25bn over the first five years.
The scheme will contain both a fixed-free probation element – which will make up the bulk of the contract – and a payment-by-results element, aimed at reducing reoffending, which is likely to be a relatively small amount of the whole.
Altogether, the government has received expressions of interest from more than 700 organisations, including about 30 large organisations that have expressed an interest in bidding for prime contracts and eight spin-outs from the public sector.
The MoJ said that "some voluntary organisations have expressed an interest in becoming first-tier providers", but a spokeswoman said she did not know how many.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, said that the launch "marks a crucial step forward to finally cracking our stubbornly high reoffending rates".
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said it was pleasing that the government had "taken on board some of the lessons of the Work Programme, particularly in terms of programme structure and supply chain management".
"With much of the devil in the detail, we will be working with government to ensure the model places a sufficient emphasis on rehabilitation and enables the delivery of tailored support to offenders with the most complex needs," he said.
"We will be watching closely to examine the details of the payment structures that are crucial for successful partnership with the voluntary sector."
The contracts are expected to be in place by 2015.