Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Mission Impossible

I do admire Russell Webster in his efforts at trying to keep the prospect of Payment by Results alive as a means of delivering Chris Grayling's Rehabilitation Revolution. In his recent piece on the subject he recites the received wisdom that 'it's a simple concept' but equally that 'the devil is in the detail'.

Like Russell, I've attended meetings full of assorted aspiring privateers and carpet baggers anxious to get a slice of the probation action. But inexorably most soon begin to show signs of losing the will to live as the problems with the 'detail' begin to sink in. In true understated style, Russell himself identifies the following problems for the Ministry of Justice as they attempt to draw up contracts. He also concedes it's not an exhaustive list by any means:- 
  • The contracts must be long enough to encourage a wide range of providers to bid while still providing break clauses for those that under-perform.
  • The proportion of the contract paid on a successful outcome/PbR basis must be big enough to drive innovation and improved performance but small enough to be a realistic financial model that medium and smaller providers can bid for.
  • While it is reasonable enough for price to be part of the awarding criteria of any public contract, it will be hard to assess likely quality, especially since most providers won’t have a track record in reducing reoffending.
  • The contracts should promote innovation with the intention of sharing best practice, but at the same time may have to allow providers to keep at least some of their intellectual property rights.
  • There is also a substantial challenge in designing an outcome metric which includes both binary and frequency measures of reoffending.
  • The contracts must be large enough to have substantial cohorts so that outcome metrics can be valid, but flexible enough to reflect local needs and existing effective partnerships.
He draws a handy Venn diagram, but a magnifying glass is required in order to find the 'sweet spot' that would get hearts racing amongst prospective bidders. 

Sometimes you just have to admit that the brilliant idea you had is basically crap. It ain't going to work and the sooner you face up to the fact and change direction, the better for us all!

Sign the No10 petition here.


  1. So from that its got to be big/small costly/cheap long/short. Clear as mud. Unfortunately nothing seems to be stopping the great british sell off train. See air rescue sell off.

    1. You are indeed right - all as clear as mud. Those civil servants down at the MoJ must be tearing their hair out.

  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/local-government-network/2013/feb/01/payment-results-staff-fictions

    The euphemisms of parking, creaming and gaming are useful management jargon for what's going on. PbR increases the temptations to behave corruptly. It is already happening in the employment and health fields. There have been reports of data being either false at the point of input or being retrospectively changed to improve outcomes. It may look like fillet steak but it's really horsemeat!

    Stalin liked PbR – he invariably got the improved performance he sought. When he demanded that more students graduate with 1st class honours that is exactly what transpired. Is that so far removed from concerns in education about grade inflation?

    Fiddling the books became commonplace in probation following the introduction of a target culture. So the skills are there to exploit PbR if needed. Sad, but probation lost its ethical way many years ago.

    The bottom line is that PbR is management by spreadsheet - we don't need PbR to tell us what works in building up desistence. Unfortunately, PbR is becoming a little industy, with experts and theoreticians popping up everywhere.

  3. Thanks for that - I had no idea Uncle Joe Stalin favoured PbR - that is indeed a scary thought.