Monday, 18 February 2013

Five Days to Save the World

Ok maybe the 'link bait' title is a little apocalyptic, but judging by the recent spectacular meteor shower over Russia and the fact that an Olympic swimming pool-sized asteroid only just missed earth, the gods are clearly unhappy. Oh, and there's only five days left to get responses in to the government's plans for privatising the Probation Service.

Just as I was wondering what else there was to say about the whole sorry mess, a post catches my eye on the 'aged member speaks' blog entitled 'Get Carter.' First off, I have to say as a great fan of the Michael Caine film, I wish I'd have thought of that as a title. Anyway, it refers of course to businessman Patrick Carter who was brought in by Tony Blair's government to look at probation and prison and who came up with the absolutely brilliant idea of a whole new bureaucracy called the National Offender Management Service. 

I have absolutely no idea what qualifications marked out the now Baron Carter of Coles for the task, but here was a man who knew nothing about the matter in hand and in relation to 'contestability' famously commented that he thought it might be a good idea 'to introduce a bit of tension into the system.'

It's a bit like the apocryphal story of Jack Straw who, upon spying a copy of 'Radical Non-Intervention' on a probation officer's bookcase, subsequently cited it as evidence for changing the whole ethos of the Service. I mean, it's a ludicrous way to run a country and would be a bit like me hearing a politician talking bollocks and thinking they all do...

Sorry, I digress. The post makes the fascinating comparison between Policy Exchange's 2010 response to the Carter Review, 'Carter but Smarter' and their very recent report 'Expanding Payment by Results.' 

The Policy Exchange report assesses the progress (or lack of it) since Carter with the now added ingredient of payment by results. The report is clear that by themselves the prison and probation service are not going to transform rehabilitation and that simply replacing these public services with a mix of private and voluntary sector alternatives isn’t likely to achieve anything. More than half the services needed to reduce offending , it argues, lie outside the control of prisons or probation. It argues further that therefore just incentivising with PbR private and voluntary sector replacements will not affect the incentives or the configuration of the broader public sector.

It traces the troubled history of NOMS and its track record as a commissioner of services and argues that NOMS has largely failed to change the pattern of services at local and regional levels. So much so, it argues, that the regional layer of NOMS ought to be abolished, saving some £130 million per year. In its place a number of alternatives are discussed, all with the aim of incentivising a broader range of public services to work together in reducing re-offending. It firmly argues that the terrain is at a lower level than the region. The health and local authority level is the crucial playing field where housing, employment, addiction and adult mental health services really need to be working together with commonly owned incentives. What were then promising approaches such as Integrated Offender Management and the London Diamond model are put forward as the contexts in which some form of shared financial incentive might work.

Fast forward to 2013 to the report “Expanding Payment by Results”  by the same organisation and indeed by the same author and these arguments don’t get a mention – just one anodyne paragraph saying that the private sector organisations who win the regional offender management contracts need to be able to demonstrate some ability to be able to forge the necessary working relationships.

The author asks the very pertinent question 'what has changed?' Indeed. Politics, vested interest and ideology I suspect. As I said recently, how can Policy Exchange, a Tory think tank, possibly qualify as a charity?   

Sign the No10 petition here.

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