My position at this moment in time is clear, I don’t want probation to be ‘sold off’. I don’t want the practices of public safety and the rehabilitation of offenders to be sold to private enterprise. The risks are great. The future for desisters from crime is they become commodities for very powerful conglomerates and unscrupulous profit makers.
This morning, I began a small twitter debate with a blogger I have huge respect for: Russell Webster (@russwebt) We have been discussing the pros and cons of Payment by Results (I have linked this to Russell's blog as it provides an excellent starter for ten). Russel said that he is pro PbR (but with questions). I asked him why. He said that it was because the "principles are right: outcome-focus, space for innovation. Would rather see reinvestment not profit as incentive + contract retention as provider incentive" and when I quizzed him further, he said an "outcome focus strips out bureaucracy. Very little innovation in public services over last 20 years (apart from pilots)".
I am going to let go the throw away line of "very little innovation in public services over last 20 years" since I think there has been much. But let's not debate that at the moment.
Let's debate instead what I see as Russell's fundamental point which is that money or threat of contract termination are the best ways of getting innovation into the public services. I profoundly disagree. I would argue that in fact it is this neo-liberal perspective and policies that have closed down innovation and improvement in the public services.
Now, as my story above partly accepts, innovation does come from a threat to survival. This comes from our mortality... which for me includes our humanity and our love of the world and the people within it. In my view, the atomisation, and commodification of the public services has all but destroyed the true source of public service innovation: the deep desire to make this world a better place for the many not just the moneyed few.
I think what has stopped innovation from bursting out in more places in the public services is not the absence of financial incentives provided by the likes of PbR and other neo-liberal commercial models being shoe horned into the public services (by some politicians and consultancies like McKinsey and others) - but their presence, their dominance even.
Instead, what we need now is the progressive vision, political leadership and the concomitant policies for public services to be based on that simple principle of... public service!
Now what chance have we got of 'progressive vision'? Zilch unfortunately.