The Ministry of Justice published its Business Plan yesterday and our worst fears and concerns have been duly confirmed as to what the future looks like for probation. Somewhat ominously the plan baldly states it will:-
"Create a system introducing greater involvement of the private and voluntary sectors in the rehabilitation of offenders, including use of payment by results, to cut reoffending. The Department will no longer……provide rehabilitation services directly without testing where voluntary or private sectors can provide it more effectively and efficiently."
Basically, if the likes of Nacro or Serco feel like it, pretty well everything we currently do is up for competitive tender. Graham Beech, strategic development director for crime reduction charity Nacro is quoted in the Independent as saying:-
Now obviously it's going to be extremely important as to how the Unions involved decide to repond. Again the Independent has this from Napo:-"What is proposed represents a radical change which will open up opportunities for charities like Nacro to play an even greater role in reducing reoffending and making society safer."
Plans to treat more mentally ill offenders and drug users in the community rather than sending them to jail are admirable but "fraught with difficulties", the probation union Napo warned today.Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said the Government would need to find hundreds of millions of pounds to make the proposals a reality.
But we all know that and the Government has spelt out how the money will be raised. I can't help thinking that the sensible approach is to go for what just might be achievable, recognising along the way what just might be impossible. Payment by Results is coming, that's a fact and any attempt to deny it will ultimately prove futile and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I would whole-heartedly embrace the concept, no matter what misgivings I might have, for services focused on offenders serving 12 months or less. This is precisely the group Ken Clarke has to demonstrate progress with in order to achieve much of his reduction in re-offending rates, and is the group probation currently does nothing with. But the quid pro quo is that Ken agrees to back track on the provocative market testing of our key functions and instead have some meaningful discussion about efficiencies. I think blanket opposition to PbR will not only get us nowhere, it will appear as just plain bloody-minded, especially in the absence of any proof either way of its effectiveness.