The piece in the Guardian the other day featuring Sarah Billiald, erstwhile CEO of Kent Probation Trust, and her plans to lead a mutual bid for the prime contract, attracted a lot of attention on here. Long on cuddly stuff about community and offender engagement, for an accountant it was mightily short on money.
This whole daft and dangerous Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles is all about money and how more can be done with less, so I found it strange that the issue wasn't even hinted at. Not even a slight acknowledgement that in order to win this bid as a prime, you have to be cheaper than the opposition.
Now lets be clear here, with her background and experience outwith the probation service, Sarah is pushing at an open door at the Ministry of Justice, but the figures have got to stack up. No matter how desperate they are to award at least one prime contract to a mutual or other voluntary sector outfit in order to claim TR success, the bid must demonstrate how loads more work can be done for less money.
This article was a pretty unashamed piece of propaganda aimed not just at the staff in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, it's also meant to provide some evidence for the myth that mutuals and charities can be a 'safe haven' for probation staff and a serious alternative to those big nasty outfits like G4S and Serco.
The trouble is the evidence provided by Turning Point demonstrates that in the end every outfit has to be ruthless in order to make the money available fit the contracted work to be done. As all accountants know full well, in such a situation, costs have to be cut. If Sarah isn't going to explain this, then the staff must work it out for themselves.
The other remarkable omission from this piece of propaganda was any mention of a partner and the answer has a lot to do with the money of course. A large charity pulled out and now a commercial suitor is being wooed. This from the latest Co:here bulletin:-
As you all know the size and complexity of the CRC contracts, together with the
lack of financial track record of the mutual, means that we have always wanted
to bid in a joint venture with another organisation(s) for the Kent Surrey Sussex
CRC. This also fits with our ethos of co production - we need to work with new
organisations to deliver a very different approach to services (centred around
Over the past few months the mutual team have been doing a lot of work to identify
potential partners and get to a stage where we can sign a collaboration agreement
(which would be a commitment to bid together and set out any rules or caveats to that
commitment). Having spoken to many different organisations of different sizes, from
different sectors and with different skills we thought we had found a preferred partner in
September and were close to signing an agreement (which is why we said in previous
updates that we would be able to let you know who this is in September).
However when the competition started on the 19th September the Ministry of Justice also published the Pre Qualifying Questionnaire (PQQ) which clearly set out what bidders would have to do to even get through the first stage of the competition. One of the key tests is that you can demonstrate you have access to finances equivalent to 50% of the annual contract value - for our CRC this is in the region of £13million.
Our initially preferred partner (a large national charity with significant commercial experience of delivering large Government contracts) unfortunately felt that, in the light of the PQQ criteria, they could no longer bid for the Kent Surrey Sussex CRC (the 6th largest CRC) and so this potential collaboration collapsed (on the 3rd October) and they will not be bidding in our area.
We had planned for this eventuality and have spent the last couple of weeks seeing if there is another partner who would meet our key requirements which are:
• Strong ethos of co production placing staff and service users at the heart of service design (both for bid and throughout life of contract).
• Understand our mutual model and how it adds value through governance and delivery (ie. not use mutual as bid candy).
• Bring it’s own delivery and commercial expertise plus be able to finance PQQ requirements.
• Have a partnership approach as equal players: complementary skills sets but with shared core values.
We have identified an alternative (and in many ways stronger) potential partner and are
currently working out the details of whether we could collaborate and what the terms of that collaboration may look like. Given the size of the Kent Surrey Sussex CRC the only organisations that are considering bidding for Kent Surrey Sussex are private sector
organisations (to our knowledge there are no Charities able or willing to bid for a contract
our size). The partner we are in discussion with is a private sector organisation but we are confident that it meets our key requirements.
However, this is a mutual and we do not feel we should be making these decisions without
understanding staff’s view. Therefore we propose the following:
1. We will continue to work to see if there is a good collaboration offer with the potential private sector partner.
2. If we feel there is a good offer we will put this to staff for a vote - this will include the name of the partner and the terms of the deal.
3. Staff will be able to vote “Yes - I would like the mutual to continue to work with this partner to develop a bid” “No - I would rather the mutual did not progress” or “I don’t have a strong view either way as to the future of the mutual”. Voting No would mean that the mutual work would cease and we would have no future role in the bid or influence/ownership of the CRC.
Staff at our first three mutual workshops last week gave a strong indication that they would like a vote but that the vote should be held after all the workshops have concluded so that all staff have the chance to find out more about the mutual, understand how it fits with the CRC and make an informed choice as to it's future. This means that the vote would be held (anonymously and electronically) mid November when the workshops have concluded.
We will progress work with the potential partner in parallel to the mutual workshops happening so that if staff vote ‘Yes’ we have not disadvantaged ourselves compared to other bidders. This would mean that we would plan to set up bid design workshops in the second half of November which would then be cancelled if staff vote No.
It will be interesting to see who the commercial partner turns out to be and especially what their track record has been like. Meanwhile we have the extraordinary situation of public money being expended as probation staff set about designing their own demise. Better to do this it is said than have it imposed upon you.
I think the result is likely to be the same essentially, but the notion of course has the handy side effect of stifling and discouraging opposition to the whole bloody TR plan, or so MoJ/Noms hopes. There is now to be a debate on the whole omnishambles next Wednesday in the House of Commons and I would urge people to contact their MP's by any means and let them know the strength of feeling on this matter.