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.
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!'