Look, I have used the term PbR with no negative connotations, in fact our willingness to engage with many of the elements of Transforming Rehabilitation have brought some interesting comment in the twittersphere about the extent to which we are colluding in our own demise. I'll go further than that; we have had positive comment from unlikely sources including the Institute for Government, from CLINKS, from NCVO etc. about our inclusive commissioning model.
If it does then our members won't thank us for not having done all in our power to have tried to secure the best possible arrangements for those who may want to leave and those who have to remain. That's why your negotiating team of Tom Rendon, Mike McClelland and myself have been heavily engaged (it seems like forever) in discussions with the MoJ, Ministers and the NNC to try and secure a framework agreement that guarantees the protections that we know you would want to see in place.
I'm sure that will reassure members, not, but in the middle of all this, where a casual outside observer might feel that the government knew what it was doing and things were likely to get better as a result of this whole TR saga - because you only institute change on this level to make things better don't you - up pops a blog post that says it's actually all designed to make things worse.
Mathew Taylor of the RSA makes some very interesting points regarding the failings of Payment by Results, the almost total lack of any evidence that shows it works and in fact is quite likely to make things worse instead. He suggests that far from being a sign of complete incompetence, it could all be part of a cunning plan:-
This could be seen as mere incompetence but there may be a more subtle explanation of the Government’s apparent insouciance about the likelihood of its scheme delivering better outcomes. After all, a similar an attitude is visible in its relaxed response to underwhelming performance of the Work Programme.
Consider four points:
(1) For perfectly intellectually respectable reasons, many Conservatives are sceptical of the state’s ability to spend money wisely and achieve social improvement.
(2) Even defenders of state provision recognise that much public spending goes on ‘dead weight costs’; things which would have happened sooner or later without state intervention. For example, many released prisoners would not re-offend even if left entirely to their own devices, many unemployed people would get jobs without employment services.
(3) We continue to face a major squeeze on public spending, one which is worsened by the long list of cuts considered to be off the table because of their potential political toxicity.
(4) Nevertheless, it is hard, in the face of social problems, for ministers to defend a ‘there’s nothing I can do’ position without looking complacent or ineffectual (one reason why the state grows even under Tory Governments).
The medium term outcome of delivering services through payment by results while also cutting per capita spending on those services may be to highlight that public spending at the levels the taxpayer is willing to fund is simply not efficacious.
Thus if PbR fails to deliver better outcomes, gradually, ministers may find it easier to divest themselves of various public policy responsibilities. To those who argue that such an approach is an abnegation of responsibility, the Government can point to the continuing existence of low performing PbR schemes and invite critics such as charities to put their money where their mouth is by becoming a provider themselves.
Opponents of outsourcing focus on the transfer of public funding and assets to the private and not for profit sectors. Critics of PbR worry that it may not lead to improvements in outcomes. But perhaps both are missing the point. The longer term, deeper impact of introducing payment by results in a context of austerity may be to provide a rationale for an unprecedented narrowing of the social outcomes for which Government accepts responsibility.