Friday, 14 June 2013

PbR Works! - Sort of

Payment by Results is the new wonder solution to all government woes according to some simple-minded politicians, and therefore it damned-well has to work. The idea has been championed by ultra-ambitious Chris Grayling and was rolled out as a payment method for the Work Programme when he was at the DWP. 

Despite having failed miserably as a method of motivating contractors to get the unemployed into jobs, he remains undaunted and is pressing on with plans to use PbR as a way of motivating probably the same contractors to stop offenders offending. Common sense, or good practice even, normally dictates that it's a good idea to thoroughly test a new idea before attempting to introduce it nationally, hence trials of PbR within criminal justice have been running at HMP Peterborough and HMP Doncaster.

However, so confident has Chris Grayling been that PbR will turn out to be a huge success that other trials were cancelled, safe in the knowledge that Peterborough and Doncaster will deliver the goods. Thus it should come as no great surprise that with so much political reputation on the line, Mr Grayling was able to announce yesterday that, well.... 'the results are promising'. Now I don't know about you, but I'd say that was code for 'no matter how many times we did the sums, this is the best we got.'  

Actually Grayling wasn't even referring to both trials, only Peterborough, with the results for Doncaster looking decidedly 'less promising' according to Alan Travis in the Guardian:-

Under the first pilot scheme, which has been running for two-and-a-half years at Peterborough prison, reconviction rates fell from 41.6% for short-sentenced prisoners who left the jail between September 2008 – March 2010, to 39.2% for those who took part in the scheme and left the jail between September 2010 – March 2012.

The scheme provided offenders with help as they prepared for release from jail and then access to services they needed outside prison, including housing, employment and financial services. Ministers are planning to roll this out to all prisoners serving less than 12 months in legislation going through parliament in the offender rehabilitation bill.
Interim results in a second, similar scheme at Doncaster prison, launched in October 2011, appear less promising. The reconviction rate of 41.1% between October 2011 – March 2012 was higher than the 39.8% recorded between October 2010 – March 2011, but lower than the 41.6% recorded the year before. Final results will be published 2014.
Proponents of PbR like expert Russell Webster are going a bit further and saying these results are mediocre at best and simply don't make the case. Talking of Peterborough, before he concludes:-

"These results can be interpreted in one of two ways. Optimists may argue that they are extremely encouraging - a 6% fall in the context of a 16% rise nationally is a strong performance.

Pessimists, however, could make the case that a reduction of 6% is not sufficient to trigger a success payment at a pilot site which had many more advantages - in terms of the amount of development time in particular - than will be available to the new rehabilitation providers.


To be honest, neither of these pilots have been running for a sufficiently long period of time for the these results to be treated with anything other than the utmost caution.

However, the interim figures are hardly earth-shattering and the pilots did have a number of advantages not available to the providers who win the new reducing reoffending contracts which will be awarded next Autumn. 

The principle advantage, of course, is that the prisons and partnerships involved were actively seeking to pilot new approaches and had more time to plan their approach and were in a position, to an extent, to negotiate the terms of their PbR payment process.

My view is that these mediocre results makes the MoJ's recently published proposed payment mechanism seem even more unrealistic.

If we are really talking about transforming rehabilitation, then it will take several years for new approaches to bed in and be successful, yet the MoJ expects them to be delivering improvements in year one despite having to provide a service to many more offenders (50,000+ new short term prisoners) from within a reduced budget."  

Hey, Chris. With supporters like this, who needs enemies?!

Sign the petition here and stop this crazy omnishambles. 

PS Rooting around on the internet has resulted in the following fascinating blog by Jon Harvey a statistics expert. He is clearly irritated by the stats and posed 21 questions to Mike Elkins the person responsible. I think this might be worth following guys - you know, all that stuff about 'lies, damned lies and statistics!'  


  1. I commented yesterday on the doncaster/ peterboro' pilots on your blog. You raise an excellent point with regard to the PbR schemes introduced with the work and pensions department. I know quite a lot about this subject and if youve s mind to do so, its worth doing a little research on the subject. You may start with A4ee! Billions wasted or....?
    The PbR with regard to unemployment resulted in my opinion in wholesale fraud. Larger firms such as Working Links ect subcontracted to many much smaller organisations who only had to have an office and claim abillity to know how to suceed in some specific area. Offenders resettlement issues for example. One of the greatest ideas that surfaced was the Future Job Fund. Anyone unemployed ( and its worth pointing out it was particulary aimed at the hardest to employ) could get a 6mth work placement at nat min wage and the government through its funding struture picked up the bill. However, the 'contractor' who'found the placement received a management fee which exceed that earned by the placed employee. So everyones happy, someone finding it difficult to gain employment has a wage coming in and hope that after the 6mths are up they'll be taken on full time. The 'employer' is made up to have free labour provided for 6mths, and the management company is happy to receive its £1000 a month for doing things like keeping time sheets and the odd check up or chat. The management companies were particulary happy if they had 20 or 30 people on placements. Do the maths. Of course, very few employers went on to recruit after the 6mths were up. Why would you if companies keept knocking your door and asking if you wanted a free employee for 6mths!!
    Theres much more to this story but you get the gist im sure. But have a look at A4ee, look at who runs it (you may have to look under the carpet) and see just how well PbR really does work.

  2. Jim - many thanks for the plug. I am no stats expert, I would add, but I know enough to ask some pointed questions.

    You might also be interested in my other blog on PCCs and all matters relating to policing and crime, as well:

  3. The reality is that PbR is just a new form of pyrimid selling.

  4. Fully agree jim. PbR only works 'sort of'. The only part guareenteed to work is the payment bit. As for the results, well who gives a shite if responsibility for a poor showing isnt going to bite my arse, hurt my political career, and i can lay the blame for all mishaps firmly in the private sector. The government make the rules, pass the laws, and dicate whats considered good and reasonable conduct and behaviour in our communities and society as a whole. If they do that, then surely they must retain responsibility for those that deviate or ignore those legal and social expectations, and not sell off the responsibility for its failings to private organisations.

  5. There is a point where 'spin' or 'putting a positive spin on things' becomes deception. Probation staff are trained to recognise justification, minimisation, cognitive distortion and damn lies. When are we going to tell the Emporer he's buck nekkid?

  6. Based on the mixed results it's impossible to say PbR works. Failing Grayling is a fool to attempt to roll this out to probation.

  7. Is it not the case that the pilots were voluntary or at best cherry picking was involved. I have noticed doncaster are quick to move unmotivated inmates to other prisons, normally public sector ones.

  8. When you think about how these were opt-in clients in pioneering well funded schemes, the results are really very poor indeed and point towards this approach not working. It would be more useful to look at the scheme paid for by West Yorkshire Probation in HMP Leeds which is not only winning awards but is also reducing reoffending amongst the under 12 months group. Mr Grayling, if you want reductions in re-offending in this group, just give the money to the high performing public sector Probation Trusts to work in partnership with those agencies already integrated into prisons like Leeds.

    Trying to impose new contracts will inevitably lead to a loss in existing performance in places where these schemes are already operating.

  9. HMP Peterborough has no Psychology resource. If anyone needs Psychological input, including reports, they are moved to a public sector prison. Cherry picking.....

  10. Within the prison estate HMP,s Peterborough and Doncaster have always enjoyed a special relationship with the Home Office and more recently the MoJ. Particulary HMP Doncaster. Any statistical data published based soley on information produced from these two study groups should be viewed with caution.
    HMP Doncaster for example have for many years now, have developed programs outside of its walls, focusing on resettelment of offenders and crime prevention. They have also received funding to develop these programs, and so have a vested intrest in presenting statistics in a way that suits there personal agenda. I take a moment to state that i dont suggest any wrong doing , just wish to raise the age old question that asks if pilot studies carried out by agencies who may have an interest in the outcome of the research, produces the most reliable and empirical data. Myself? I think not.