Prisons minister says involving charities in probation reforms is 'a crucial challenge'

Jeremy Wright tells fringe event at Conservative Party conference that he anticipates smaller voluntary organisations forming consortia to make bids

Jeremy Wright
Jeremy Wright

The government faces a crucial challenge in ensuring that charities can take part in delivering probation service reforms, according to Jeremy Wright, the prisons minister.

Speaking at an event on the rehabilitation of offenders organised by the think tank the Centre for Social Justice at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester yesterday, Wright said: "It's a crucial design challenge to ensure that small voluntary sector organisations can compete successfully in this landscape."

The Ministry of Justice last month announced that 399 third sector organisations were involved a bidding process to deliver the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which will replace probation trusts with private services responsible for providing probation services and reducing reoffending, who will be paid partly by results.

Wright said he anticipated that consortia of different organisations would come together to deliver services.

"When these consortia come together, we will have to be satisfied that the voluntary sector organisations aren't there as that wonderful phrase ‘bid candy’," he said. "We will ask some searching questions of everyone who puts their bids in to ensure that's not the case. It will be part of the way we judge the bids."

Wright said that there were concerns over whether the department used a "binary measurement" that paid out only if offenders committed no crimes, or a "frequency measurement", which paid out if offenders committed fewer crimes.

The voluntary sector favours the latter measurement because it makes it easier to work with more prolific offenders.

Wright said the MoJ might allow bidders themselves to specify in their bids both frequency and binary elements "that they think they can achieve".

He said that the MoJ's engagement process had been "somewhat in advance of what any government department has done before" and that he was committed to "smaller voluntary organisations playing their part".

Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, a network of 70 organisations working in the justice sector, said that the MoJ was moving towards more sensible contracting arrangements for charities, but that smaller charities could not take on the risk of payment-by-results contracts.

"Those organisations ought really to be grant funded," she said.

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