Probation reforms would allow charities to bid for payment-by-results contracts

Criminal justice charities give a mixed response to proposals by Chris Grayling, the justice secretary

Chris Grayling
Chris Grayling

The Ministry of Justice has announced reforms that will see charities invited to bid for payment-by-results contracts to help reduce reoffending.

Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, today announced reforms to the way criminals are rehabilitated, which would involve every person who leaves prison serving a minimum of 12 months under supervision in the community. A bill to reform the way offenders are rehabilitated was announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday.

A statement from the MoJ said the new approach would see an enhanced role for voluntary and private sector organisations on a payment-by-results basis.

The reforms, which will be rolled out by 2015, will see England and Wales divided into 21 areas that align closely with the local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioner areas. "Private and voluntary sector organisations will then be invited to bid for work in these areas, with each awarded contract based on best value and innovation in tackling reoffending," the statement said.

A spokeswoman for the MoJ said there would be no additional funding for these reforms, but that better use would be made of the money already spent on managing reoffenders.

She said no further details were yet available on how the payment-by-results system would work, but that the contracts would be "responsive to changing demands at local and national level".

Andrew Nielson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the charity was concerned that the government had not come up with a meaningful metric with which to measure a result.

"Simply looking at reconviction fails to take into account the complex journey, often with reverses, that it takes to lead someone to desistance from crime," he said. "There is a real danger that voluntary sector providers will be addressing the issues in people’s lives but this won’t be recognised in the payment-by-results system."

He said the probation reforms seemed to be replicating a Work Programme model, with large private sector primes "hoovering up charities in their wake" and that mistakes made here could be repeated.

"Given there is no additional public money to expand the offender supervision, there is a huge danger that the voluntary sector emphasis on quality of work will be bulldozed by the private sector’s need to cut corners while still finding a profit for their shareholders," he said.

The St Giles Trust welcomed the government’s plan, saying it could lead to reduced reoffending and fewer victims. It said in a statement that it supported the use of payment-by-results models in new approaches to solving this problem and that it was already involved in many similar arrangements.

Dan Hayes, director of development and communications at the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust said it also welcomed the proposed changes and that where there was a greater role for the private and voluntary sector in delivering services, that was a positive thing.

"I understand any anxiety around payment by results," he added. "But in principle it makes sense to pay by results." He said it would be up to commissioners to ensure that the system ensured that cherry-picking of the easiest cases by service providers did not take place.

Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the chief executives body Acevo, said he wanted to see charities winning prime contracts in the new scheme.  

"With the work the sector already does with ex-offenders, I’m confident that voluntary organisations will rise to the challenge of the ‘rehabilitation revolution’," he said. "But we will judge it by how many contracts are awarded to charities. We are fed up with being bid candy or supply chain fodder for the private sector."

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