"To my mind, it is an excellent model for the future of the Prison Service."
His department, the MoJ, faces a legal challenge from an inmate at HMP Blundeston concerning closure of the prison without consultation and thus robbing the inmate of the ability to complete the therapy he's been receiving at the establishment. Opposition to his plans for privatising the probation service is growing, both within parliament and across the profession with Napo members holding a ballot for industrial action.
The Transforming Rehabilitation timetable continues to slip and MoJ/Noms have not been able to successfully fill over half of the advertised top jobs with the Community Rehabilitation Companies. Many have been re-advertised on EPIC along with rumours of appeals. It can't be an edifying process as chiefs scramble to impress and compete with each other for the limited number of seats available at the top table.
Finally, despite the upbeat spin, the bidding process is not going well with many organisations becoming frustrated at the lack of information together with a payment and reward system that could end up bankrupting them. A hint of the chaos the whole thing is descending into can be gleaned from the recently published TR Payment Method Feedback. I love this health warning:-
Potential providers should note that this document is intended to continue the Authority’s 'no surprises' approach with the market, and to indicate the direction of travel regarding payment mechanism design and development. This document is not part of the formal competition, and potential providers are strongly advised not to use any information in this document in any modelling of bids.
Mindful of the Work Programme payment fiasco, it's quite apparent that many potential bidders are unhappy with the prospect of getting their fingers burnt with TR and have been lobbying strongly for changes. Basically they want less payment by results and more 'fee for service', the trouble being of course that politicians like the simple PbR message that they think plays well with the public. Fee for service just sounds like shovelling money at the private sector at a time when we know the sneaky blighters can't be trusted.
I particularly like the use of euphemistic language in documents like this:-
The market has requested further detail regarding potential funding for mobilisation, transition and transformation costs, as this is likely to have a material impact on bidding approach.
The market has highlighted that it could potentially incur material restructuring costs in order to achieve a more cost effective solution, and that without further information it is difficult to determine how a sufficient return would be made from any initial restructuring investment.
I think that pretty much translates as 'how can we fund redundancies?'
Anyway, as predicted, the privatisation of probation is attracting large service industry players with absolutely no knowledge of the work at all like construction company Carillion. They are so confident that there might be money to be made out of supervising offenders that they're moving out of energy:-
Last week the firm announced it was scaling back its energy business and axing jobs because it wasn’t making as much money as expected from government deals. It is believed cases dealing with high-risk offenders will remain under control of the MoJ with the rest going to private organisations.
A neat twist there I think with a company sacking people so they can move into a new sector that will involve sacking people in order to make money. A fine example of capitalism at work in our 'rebalanced' economy.
Of course this somewhat pessimistic and cynical view is not universally shared and here we have a fine example of what others see as 'a bright new future', full of all that utterly nauseating 'lets embrace change' crap so beloved in certain quarters. Sponsored by dodgy A4E, the Innovation Unit were commissioned to undertake some research and have come up with the Probation Futures website:-
The site shares the findings from the research, sets out a vision for the future of probation and provides a space for everyone to contribute thoughts and ideas.
Just to remind you, the Innovation Unit started life eight years ago within the Department for Education and subsequently were 'spun out':-
We are the innovation unit for public services. As a not-for-profit social enterprise we're committed to using the power of innovation to solve social challenges. We have a strong track record of supporting leaders and organisations delivering public services to see and do things differently. They come to us with a problem and we empower them to achieve radically different solutions that offer better outcomes for lower costs.
There's always mention of 'cost' nowadays and the unquestioned assumption that you can get more for less. Anyway, the Probation Futures website has identified 7 principles that they feel should help shape the future of the probation service:-
- Defining a clear purpose for probation - focused on facilitating desistance with public protection and prevention of harm as necessary aspects which should never compromise the commitment to service users
- Focus on the relationship with service users, not just the risk
- Plan for the future, not just the present
- Engage service users in decision-making
- Make support accessible, usable and tangible - designing probation offices to be centres of support and collaboration, not of restriction and penalty
- Facilitate a collaborative network - shifting the perspective away from providers (a focus on individual services) towards the service user (focus on the collaborative impact of services received)
- Measure and learn from what really matters
Of course to many 'old timers' like me a lot of it brings a wry smile, like the perennial discussions concerning philosophies and labels, often discussed on this blog:-
Probation’s terminology has shifted, but service users, the public and many service providers haven’t caught up which remains another source of tension in the service. Today’s service users still refer to their ‘Probation Officer’ and to ‘being on probation’, despite a not recent official shift in terminology to ‘Offender Manager’ and ‘serving a community sentence’ or ‘being on post-custodial licence’. Even Offender Managers frequently still refer to themselves as Probation Officers. ‘Offender’ is commonly interchanged with older references to ‘case’ or ‘client’, and there is concern that the ‘offender’ label does not help put service users into a ‘rehabilitation mindset’. The newer terminology reflects the shift in focus to punishment and protection, and the implications of this have not been lost on users and providers alike.
The above must serve as a taster for the delights that can be found within this website and I would encourage readers to browse at their leisure, preferably with a strong drink in hand in order to deal with any strong emotions that might arise. I haven't got the time, space or energy to comment further right now, but will return to the matter at a later date.