So it's official. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that 'the UK is plainly losing the war on drugs'.
"We've engaged in a war against drugs for 30 years. We're plainly losing it. We have not achieved very much progress. The same problems come round and round but I do not despair. We keep trying every method we can to get on top of one of the worst social problems in the country and the single biggest cause of crime."
The best he could offer the committee was that "there was better co-ordination between government departments".
So since when do intelligent people just carry on doing the same thing, when clearly as Ken confirms "nothing seems to be working". If he was a probation client and displayed such obvious cognitive deficits, we'd put him on an Enhanced Thinking Skills course. You'd think that the time had come to consider other options, a different approach perhaps, but not at all. What the government is actually doing is carrying on with the same failed policies and just 'reshuffling the deckchairs' by paying drug treatment providers differently.
As I have discussed previously, the government is convinced that introducing Payment by Results to whole swathes of public service provision will miraculously deliver better value for money by encouraging better outcomes. In April this year this new miracle accountancy device was rolled out in eight areas who bid to be guinea pigs under the grandly titled Payment by Results for Recovery Pilot Programme. From the initial twelve applications, Bracknell, Enfield, Kent, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Stockport, Wakefield and Wigan were selected, not to do anything substantially different, just carry on with failed policies like community methadone prescribing. This initiative follows on from the previous one entitled Drugs System Change Pilot Programme that involved lots of accountancy changes, but kept delivering the same failed treatments.
Confident in the knowledge that the war is being lost, I nevertheless forced myself to read some of the impenetrable crap that the new PbR industry has spawned and in the process provided lots of jobs for bean counters. This is typical from Enfield:-
In 2009 the DAAT was keen to develop a revised commissioning framework to
embrace the wider Personalisation Agenda and Department of Health’s World Class
Commissioning Vision. This included tendering for a new contract that required
applicants to submit proposals for a mixed outcome and activity service level
agreement against a capped annual contractual value of £1.35M. Tender applicants
were also tasked with driving up performance against previous activity levels to
ensure that the DAAT Partnership was able to evidence value for money. The tender
applicants had to submit two separate weekly unit costs: one for people in treatment
in receipt of prescribing services; the other for those in treatment but who were not
receiving prescribing services. The new contract was awarded to a third sector
provider and came into effect on 1st January 2010, running for 5 years. The DAAT,
therefore, has obtained set weekly tariffs with the prime provider for processing
individual community treatment budgets.
Reading this stuff you could be fooled into believing that it might represent a policy that could lead to better services for alcohol and drug dependent people. Instead we all know it will just lead to cynical creative accounting on an industrial scale. What's needed of course is a change in policy, away from methadone or abstinence for everyone, to a real personalised agenda that includes heroin prescribing and residential treatment. Just imagine what a difference it would make if a heroin addict could be assured of regular, quality assured, free doses in a safe environment and without the risk of contaminated needles or the imperative to go out stealing. It would reduce crime at a stroke and make our job a damn sight easier.