We’ve recently met with a number of potential partners for our staff mutual, each from very different backgrounds and each having very different strategic objectives for the criminal justice sector.
We embarked on a rigorous selection process which scored all potential partners on the following essential criteria, that:
- they have a vision for delivery and a bid strategy that reflects our aspirations. This includes the ability for the partnership to be competition ready by the proposed date of announcement 23 August.
- they have experience in the delivery of public sector contracts with Payment by Results mechanisms such as the Work Programme.
- they are sufficiently resourced to bring financial and bid development capability to the partnership.
- they will enhance the reputation of the partnership and both sets of employees will recognise the synergy between each individual partner’s organisational values.
We are confident that we have selected the right partner in an organisation called Prospects. They presented some really exciting ideas and propositions as well as demonstrating understanding in areas in which we lack expertise. They scored highly on each of our criteria and demonstrated their knowledge and experience effectively.
They felt like a safe pair of hands and most importantly I feel that are best placed to allow us to keep the values of West Yorkshire Probation Trust into Transforming Rehabilitation.
Sue goes on to explain a bit about Prospects, including an enthusiastic statement from it's chairman Ray Auvray:-
Prospects is a mutually-owned, large company, working nationally and internationally in partnership with public, private and voluntary sector organisations, managing and delivering employment, education and training services.
- Their mission is to inspire success for individuals and organisations.
- Their values are; delivering excellence, working together, embracing change while valuing staff, equality and diversity.
- Prospects achieved a turnover of £71.9m in 2011-2012, employs 2,000+ staff in more than 70 local authority areas, from 60+ bases.
- Prospects’ services and projects are usually output-related and evidence-based, and have annual values from less than £10,000 to several million.
Ray Auvray, Prospects Executive Chairman, says
“I am delighted West Yorkshire Probation Trust has chosen Prospects as a partner. Prospects has extensive experience in working with service users to turn their lives around by preparing them for life after prison with a sustainable job. We are excited at the opportunity to develop innovative ways of delivering successful rehabilitation programmes with colleagues in West Yorkshire. We believe that Prospects’ specialist knowledge of training and employment will be an important ingredient in radical new approaches to supporting those leaving custody.”
For further information on Prospects visit www.prospects.co.uk
They’re on You Tube and Twitter @ProspectsGroup if you can access.
This sort of courtship ritual must be going on in secret up and down the country. When Sue talks about the royal 'we', I have no idea who she is referring to. It would be interesting to know who was in on the negotiating team. There's no doubt that with the deadline of mid August fast approaching for partnership arrangements to be in place, we're going to see an awful lot of similar strange relationships formed between some unlikely bedfellows.
So, what do we know about Prospects, and are they indeed a 'safe pair of hands?' They started out rather surprisingly as the careers advice service in South London when employees from three London Boroughs joined forces and a staff-owned company was 'spun off' in 1996 under the leadership of former Liberal Democrat councillor Ray Auvray. The official website
Prospects is an employee owned, mutual company, working nationally and internationally in partnership with public, private and voluntary sector organisations, managing and delivering education, employment and training services. Prospects has thrived through our responsiveness to the needs of our customers and the external environment, as well as being at the forefront of innovation.
The business is owned by a partnership between the employees and Prospects. The employees own 75.1% of the business, giving them a controlling stake. Prospects has a 24.9% share and brings capital and business expertise needed to make the business grow.
Under Tony Blair's government Prospects won several employability contracts, including New Deal and under the coalition government in 2010 won a £71 million contract to undertake Ofsted's early years inspections. As New Deal was phased out, they were rewarded with becoming the Work Programme 'prime' contractor in the South West worth £50 million. They seem to have grand expansionist plans and here we see Mr Auvray glad-handing the Saudi's last year.
Now as we know, employability programmes, including the Work Programme have not been a huge success, and as this article from the Morning Star makes clear, Prospects have had their little difficulties:-
But when Ofsted inspected its schemes for the unemployed, it was less enthusiastic.
Ofsted didn't give any of the eight Prospects schemes it inspected a top mark. Two were graded "good," but six got the second-lowest possible mark.
They were marked "satisfactory" - a grade Ofsted now describes as "requires improvement." Two of these originally got the lowest grade, "unsatisfactory."
In 2006 Prospects' "Nextstep" outreach programme for the London unemployed was marked "unsatisfactory."
Inspectors found that "too few clients move into learning and employment following their advice sessions."
It slammed the service, saying: "The overall effectiveness of provision at London North Nextstep is inadequate. Achievements, standards and the quality of provision are inadequate. Leadership and management are inadequate, as is quality improvement."
In 2007 inspectors found Prospects' Somerset New Deal scheme "unsatisfactory."
The firm managed to improve to "satisfactory" by 2008 but inspectors still found "low job outcome rates" and "insufficient programme planning to meet individual participants' needs."
Even "satisfactory" services looked weak. In 2010 inspectors looked at its Nextstep outreach scheme for the unemployed in London.
They gave the scheme the second-lowest mark - "satisfactory" - adding: "The progress outcome rate for gaining employment overall has been consistently low."A reinspection in 2011 found some progress for trainees but "the proportion entering employment remains low."
Despite these poor results, Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling gave Prospects the £50m Work Programme contract for the south-west.
Prospects doesn't have to worry about inspections any more - Grayling also stopped inspectors looking at the scheme.
Prospects now works inside what Grayling calls the "black box." Ministers believe contractors should be allowed to work on trainees without government interference.
They think simple financial incentives will make contractors get the unemployed into jobs.
So ministers don't want to look inside the contractors black box. But, with the lights out, contractors like Prospects Services let the unemployed be treated in dark and dismal ways.
Now it will be appreciated that I do not normally use the Morning Star as a source of published information on this blog, but the reference to 'dark and dismal ways' is a reference to an event that hit the national headlines only last year.
You will recall that it was Diamiond Jubilee year and the press got hold of the 'famously shafted jubilee stewards' story. Suddenly the media was full of harrowing stories of 30 unpaid jobseekers and 50 apprentices who had been dumped in London at 3am and told to sleep under a bridge. Well these people had been bussed up from the West Country and the company responsible was Prospects.
Now despite the negative inspections concerning their Work Programme contract, Prospects were generally upbeat and initially trumpeted the Jubilee wheeze:-
Prospects says its "employment and training business performed extremely well" by "using innovative methods to tackle worklessness."
At one point Prospects Services was proud of the jubilee trip. It rushed out a press release about its Work Programme trainees "making a trip to London to take up duties as stewarding staff at Buckingham Palace," saying how Prospects was "helping our jobseekers with fantastic job opportunities and for them to be part of these really exciting events. Congratulations to everyone taking part."
So, why did it all go horribly wrong? Basically because in this brave new world of contracts and payment by results, clients have become commodities to be parked, creamed, milked and in some cases traded. Prospects had effectively 'sub-contracted' it's clients to a private security firm, who in turn had a contract to supply so many stewards at the Jubilee.
We have to go back a bit further to understand the root cause of this shambles and an article from the Guardian in June 2012 explains it perfectly:-
Indeed, only big firms could afford the cash it costs to make the opening bid. This leads to so-called monocultural situations in which companies spring up who only deal with government contracts (A4e, for instance has had millions of pounds of public money, and it never struck anyone as strange that nobody else wanted to employ it – although A4e claims it has contracts with the private sector, most of its income comes from government contracts). They become the only viable bidder, whose efficacy is rarely tested, and when it is it doesn't matter because they're – this old chestnut – too big to fail. The possibility of corruption, while it looms large, is actually only ancillary. The central problem is that it encourages companies to expand into areas in which they have no expertise and squeeze out smaller, often charitable enterprises already working in that area.
So, for instance, Prospects started off as a south London careers service. It won a £71m contract to do Ofsted's early-years inspections in 2010 (a reminder that outsourcing didn't start with the coalition). Then it got a work programme contract in the south-east worth £50m. Then it subcontracted its "clients", who became those famously shafted Jubilee stewards.