Sunday, 28 June 2015

Third Sector Blues

It was always said that the Third Sector were only involved in TR as 'bid candy' in order to make the 'big boys' look better. Grayling said it was to make sure we got 'the best of the best'. Here are some edited highlights from a long article on the Third Sector website indicating all is not well:-   

Transforming Rehabilitation: Will the sector be properly involved?

When the Ministry of Justice announced the preferred bidders for its Transforming Rehabilitation programme in October, the voluntary sector featured prominently. Sixteen voluntary organisations were named in the successful partnerships for prime contracts and about 75 per cent of the 300 subcontractors included in the winning bids were not-for-profits.

Chris Grayling, the justice secretary at the time, hailed the programme for bringing together "the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to set up our battle against reoffending. I am pleased that we will be deploying the skills of some of Britain's best rehabilitation charities to help these offenders turn their lives around."

Eight months on, the programme has begun, but there are doubts about the actual scale of the sector's involvement and whether the subcontracting issues that blighted the Work Programme are being repeated. One large charity in a prime partnership has withdrawn and many smaller voluntary organisations that expected to be involved have not yet been given any work.

Clive Martin, director of Clinks, an umbrella group for charities that support offenders, says the sector's involvement appears to have been oversold. "This was paraded as a big opportunity for the voluntary sector to transform services, and the sector bought into it," he says. "It begs questions about the future of the sector in public service reform and the use of charitable money to bid for it."

Martin wants greater funding transparency and also expresses concern about the reluctance of charities to speak out about the programme for fear of upsetting prime providers. "That doesn't bode well for the sector's role in advocacy," he says.

Clinks and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations began monitoring the sector's involvement in Transforming Rehabilitation in May in order to get some accurate data. Nick Davies, public services manager at the NCVO, says this will lead to the creation of a special interest group to represent subcontractors, similar to the one the NCVO created for the Work Programme. "This is a very large flagship programme and all eyes will be on it to see if it becomes a successful model," he says.

Davies is encouraged by the greater emphasis on fixed-fee payments than on payment by results. The NCVO has accused private firms in the Work Programme of "creaming off" easier clients and "parking" the remainder with the voluntary sector.

But in TR there is widespread anger among subcontractors who have yet to receive any work, let alone payments. One chief executive, who does not wish to be named, was informed last year that her organisation would be involved, only to be told five months later that its services might not be required until some time in the future.

"It's ridiculous," she says. "The government rhetoric about the voluntary sector being involved is a load of rubbish. We and many like us were totally hijacked last year into engaging with the TR roadshow, which involved many meetings all over the place and taking time to engage with the possible primes. They required much paperwork.

"Meanwhile, other large mainstream funders seem reluctant to risk supporting small criminal justice system organisations involved in TR, either because they fear they will not survive it or they do not want to fund activity that is contributing to a large private sector organisation's profits, or activity that is seen to be mainstream statutory activity."

Another chief executive of a small charity, speaking anonymously, says it has received no work yet, despite assurances. "Our experience has been appalling," she says. "I feel extremely let down. All the messages were that local organisations were key to the delivery model."

Matt Wall, national secretary of the Community Chaplaincy Association, says the transition from a publicly run probation service has caused massive upheaval and consequently "charities have fallen down the list of priorities".

Wall estimates that between five and 10 of his organisation's 21 members that provide prison projects are in contract talks, but adds that urgency is needed. "Small charities don't have many reserves and, if they have to wait another three to six months for funding, it could cause significant strain," he says.

Wall also fears that some traditional funders, such as local authorities and trusts and foundations, will withdraw support because they mistakenly believe the CRCs cater for all services related to criminal justice, and he is anxious about the bureaucracy associated with offering enhanced support to 45,000 people, however laudable the goal. "I hope it doesn't lead to a universal, mechanistic support for everyone," he says.

Meanwhile, the spectre of the Work Programme, which was widely condemned for contracts that loaded risk onto charity subcontractors, looms large. Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, says: "There are concerns that it's the Work Programme all over again – but it's potentially more complicated because it's more difficult to measure people desisting from crime than getting into work."

Some CRCs are said to be working better than others. Helen Attewell, chief executive of Nepacs, which helps prisoners in north-east England, says it has had contrasting experiences with its two primes: Achieving Real Change in Communities, which won the Durham Tees Valley contract, and Sodexo, which leads the Northumbria contract. Attewell says that because ARCC is a voluntary sector organisation and is used to working in partnership with charities "it feels like a more organic relationship". The relationship with Sodexo, she says, hasn't been as smooth, but she adds: "The problem is not Sodexo. It's the legislation. Providers are scrabbling to do the best they can in a timescale that's too short."

Companies and charities that run primes are reluctant to discuss their experiences. A spokesman for Interserve says it does not want to comment at such an early stage. Sodexo is consulting unions on plans to reduce staffing levels and a spokesman says it is reluctant to discuss matters while this is going on.

A spokeswoman for Nacro, the charity partnered with Sodexo in six CRCs, says it is too early to tell how things are working. "We should know more in six to 12 months," she says. Mark Simms, chief executive of the social exclusion charity P3, which is also part of Purple Futures, acknowledges it has been hard work so far.

"The private sector has had to learn to understand the voluntary sector, and we have had to learn to understand the commercial world, but the relationship is solid and based on absolute honesty," says Simms, whose charity has taken on 60 staff to provide services. "You don't get a brand new service one day and 100 per cent change the next. I understand the frustrations, but we have to get this right."


Pact, the prison advice and care trust, was named as a subcontractor in 14 CRCs at the preferred bidder stage. Its chief executive, Andy Keen-Downs (right), says no contracts have materialised yet, but it hopes to finalise three or four in the next two months.

"We invested heavily to be ready for contracts," he says. "It's not great for our budget-setting, but we expect things to happen in the next few months."

Keen-Downs says the complexity of remodelling a probation service that still retains a public sector element has caused all manner of problems.

"There have been some Kafka-esque situations," he says. "There have been stories of the probation service and CRCs falling out over who owns buildings and in some cases dividing them in half, like in Steptoe and Son."

He says some prime contractors have found the MOJ's Industry Standard Partnering Agreement, which promotes subcontracting fair practice, to be "cumbersome", putting them off engaging with charities. Charities, he adds, are unhappy about prime providers inserting clauses that say they own and can license the intellectual property of services.

"There's no way we are going to agree to that," says Keen-Downs, who fears it could lead to companies eventually hiring their own staff instead of using charity subcontractors. This was about transforming services, and we have yet to see it happen. We haven't given up on it. We think there is real potential for the sector to deliver fantastic solutions to reduce reoffending. But it could end up as a repeat of the Work Programme."


One particular Third Sector partner featured on here during the week:-

Spent hours last week with our 'supply chain partners' Shelter helping two hard to place young men into accommodation. Two days into this week they've both abandoned their housing projects.

I've been dealing with Shelter. I've someone due for release in July and in March I rang Shelter in the prison to advise the guy would be NFA so needed helping - they told me to ring back closer to his release date. I therefore rang twice a week for about the last 3 weeks leaving messages and in the end wrote to the prisoner to tell him to go and tell them I'd been ringing and wanted to know what they were doing to help him - feckin ridiculous having to go through prisoners to get agencies to answer my flaming messages, anyway next thing a phonecall off Shelter to say that they had referred my guy to a housing agency but cos they knew he and a member of staff were 'connected' (I'm unsure how) they couldn't help him and so all they could do was fill in a Mainstay form with him. Now this is the interesting bit, they said that they will fill the form and send it off but won't be ringing around any hostels etc as they've not got the time etc to do that.

If Shelter read this and want clarification of prison and people involved I am happy to give them. What a load a bull!!

I've got someone coming out in a few months and the prison tell me they have no resettlement support, absolutely nothing they can offer him.

Is that Shelter as well? I am absolutely hopping mad at the way they have ignored me. I feel quite angry an agency such as theirs are being paid a lot of public money to provide a service and to have the balls to actually tell me they'll do a mainstay form and that's it - worst of it is I knew this would happen and I was particular when I was fobbed off in March to make them accountable in June.

The extent to which CRC staff know what Shelter are doing is that they'll do something on Delius, an NSI, which at the end of the day is what they'll be using to get paid.

I have spoken recently with several people (all substance misuser's) that have recently been released from short custodial sentences. All are currently on the streets, and it seems that the normal avenues of being able to get short term or emergency accommodation is drying up and becoming much more difficult obtain. So much for through the gate!

I know many agencies have had their funding cut, or even stopped, but I also get the feeling that some agencies no longer want to, or at least feel uncomfortable engaging with Probation services.

Earlier this week someone posted on this blog that they had difficulties engaging with Shelter and finding a client a placement. I've heard several tales of late where people have found placements with agencies from other avenues where those same agencies were unable to help prior to release, or through negotiation with probation. This seems strange to me, and wonder why relationships between certain agencies and probation don't seem as harmonious as they used to be? Is there any identifiable reason? Or is it just the sign of the times?

Hi. As the National Contract Manager responsible for the mobilisation of the new Transforming Rehabilitation Through the Gate service, I am disturbed by the experiences outlined in the blogs above. Shelter takes all complaints about our service delivery seriously and with that in mind I would be grateful if you would contact me directly to discuss further - contact details Mob: 07581785521

Are you serious Mr Ryan? Do you honestly think an employee of a privately-owned CRC, or a former publicly-run Trust would be stupid enough, let alone authorised, to make such a complaint? You are deluded if you think it possible!


  1. Excellent blog, Jim. Our local prison is based within an area covered by a different CRC. I regularly get emails from the "through the gate" team to tell me my cases have been assessed & referred to the accommodation provider in the area local to the prison. My cases want accommodation in their home area but the accommodation provider doesn't work with anyone outside their designated geographical area. So my cases are released homeless & labelled as "intentionally homeless" because they've refused an offer of a bedsit 100+ miles away.

    The "through the gate" team tell me in their email that I can choose other options from the service provision menu & that it will be deducted from my budget.

  2. I remember reading the following press puff piece not so long ago:

    "Today’s announcement ensures that Nacro will be playing a key role as a strategic partner of Sodexo. Nacro’s strong track record of providing services in the heart of local communities brings the real potential to reduce reoffending and improve public confidence in the system.”

    I've neither heard nor seen any evidence that Nacro exists since we were auctioned off to our new masters.

    Large numbers of people divided up into different groups without choice, then sold at auction to the highest bidder in order to work & produce profits for their Masters. Any who are surplus to requirement, sick or otherwise without use are cast aside. Has anything like this happened before?

  3. Isn't this developing just the way that we predicted only no one would listen and the SOS chose to ignore all of the advice because he knew it would work...the TTG provisions are a joke all blaming procedure or the prison service......Shared Services are a bigger joke with incompetence the order of the day and the current SOS is beyond a joke........still the rumours of Sodexo trying to flog off the Shire countieies are not being dispelled clearly their operating model was only designed for cities......this may yet prove to be their downfall....anyone from Sodexo high command want to comment?

  4. Looking at the supply chain strategy for Kent Surrey and Sussex CRC (on their website) it doesn't seem there will be much work for 3rd sector there. It seems possible that excellent existing programmes will therefore be lost. Or does anyone know any different?

  5. This blog is amazing !
    Exactly what was predicted here over a year ago is coming to pass. Surely the charities should speak out in the spirit of integrity rather than hedging their bets in fear that it will stop them getting promised work that will never come to pass anyway? They are complicit with the destruction of public sector probation and I for one, will never support Shelter again.
    A PO
    PS £46 in their pockets etc.....yeah right!

  6. Whilst acknowledging it's all a mess, and that such problems as described in today's blog are having serious impacts on service users, I'm of the mind that the charity and voluntary sector deserve all they get.
    For too long now the 'third sector' has involved Itself with busines that takes it away from it's base values.
    Not for profit organisations exist where the execs wages are 80k,90 100k, PA.
    Not for profit, but not short on big renumeration. Perhaps it's time to rethink and redefine just what the third sector really is?
    Neither do I feel any symphony for them for willingly jumping into bed with multinationals that have such a record of poor and bad practice. You will always be judged by the company you keep. Right?
    And when you've been 'had over' by the same people you put your snout in the work programme trough with, and still be so seduced by easy money that you shelve your values and pitch in with them again??? Well you deserve what you get. Sorry to say it, but you do.
    I really do feel that the 'charity and voluntary' sector need to take a good long hard look at themselves and decide whether they're self serving organisations, or if they're there to serve those that they pop out to represent.


    1. I agree. Maybe 'bid candy' flatters to deceive. They may be 'not for profit' but if you are spending big slices of your charitable income on fat cat wages, then 'not for profit' is more a marketing brand than a moral distinction.

      Shelter, Turning Point, Catch 22, are all multi-million pound organisations that pay their CEOs well over 100k annually. In recent years, despite austerity, there has been wage inflation for those at or near the top of these organisations. Yet just a few months ago Shelter sought to cut pay for some frontline staff by up to £5,000. I wonder how many of the frontline staff in these organisations need to claim in-work benefits in order to make ends meet. I think it is becoming more difficult to identify where the private sector ends and the third sector begins: I don't see clear differences in their business models; Sodexo and Shelter are both part of the shadow state; they reward those at the top while suppressing wages at the bottom; they both receive taxpayers' money. Maybe the only difference is that Sodexo pays tax on profits, whereas Shelter is exempt.

  7. Netnipper, I could not agree more! If a charity is an organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need, then there clearly is some confusion between the term 'organisation' and the term 'business'.
    In many ways it mirrors the confusion in Probation when Chief Officers became Chief Executives and started playing at business instead of delivering a sound evidenced based probation organisation. Business exists to make profit for the entity that owns the business, either an individual, partnership or shareholders. It is pretty fundamental that prudent management should exist in an organisation but the aim is for that organisation to deliver, not achieve shareholder value. The model has become confused and results in a loss of identity. Recruiting Chief Executives on huge salaries in the Charity Sector is morally wrong because it uses charitable income by diverting funds to excessive salaries and causes those who donate to the charity to have significant concerns and reconsider where they donate.

  8. 'Not for profit' and 'charity' are strange terms if you ask me. All employees 'profit' in terms of their earnings.

    If a 'charity' runs a surplus it can distribute those to employees or executives as a bonus, and report that they are not running a profit. Or indeed they can put the surplus into their reserves. Many of these large charities have massive reserves which are for a rainy day, or to pay off chief execs when they leave. The money is not there for their proper charitable aims. Indeed, I am all too aware that the main beneficiaries of many of these charities are the employees and chief execs. You can bet under TR that the primary concern of charities involved is to meet targets rather than provide quality services to clients.

  9. My own area has seen well established services discarded, after more than a decade of valued service, to be replaced by poor services that only signpost to community resources that are already overstretched, which was why we had set up the original arrangements that they have dispensed with. There is no corporate memory any more and problems solved years ago are being recreated at a pace. It's all so dumb.

    1. On loss of corporate memory: 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'----George Santayana

  10. Anyone struggling with this NPS 'paperless office'?

  11. YUP, I cannot understand the massive amounts of instructions telling me where to find stuff on the system.....and neither can anyone else in my office....there is a real diversity issue with the one size fits all instruction system which has replaced actual training....I keep bleating on about it....but none of us understand our jobs anymore.

    1. I can say I feel exactly the same in a north east CRC office. Diversity no longer recognised

  12. We're struggling with the CRC officeless office, soon to be a staffless office, whilst we're all jobless. Its priceless!!!

  13. professionally I don't who I am or what it is I do any more- Delius, cas & rsr are unintelligable flim flam - oasys sucked the life out of the job & made it mind numbingly boring- senior mgt are slaves to targets - its only my colleagues who help me retain my sanity- the world around me is going crazy. another job is not that easy to find in a ruralish area when you're pushing 60 & can't retire for another 6 years. And yet weirdly I don't feel as stressed as perhaps I should, think I've broken through the stress barrier cos I just can't take the job seriously anymore which is perhaps the worst indictment of the mess grayling wreaked - what a bloody shambles....

    1. I think I have broken through the stress barrier too, do it this way err wait no do it this way err oh no we forgot this ( didn;t know this ) do it this way oh and here's a weeks notice , just so you have time to reorganise your diary..what you don't have a diary manager..he ho never mind you have loads of time, you don't have loads of time..well that takes 5 minutes, this takes 3.5 hours, talk to people who commit offences, nah you don't need to do that, just tell them this ,,oops no tell them that...hang on don't bother to tell them just give them a ring once in a it, okay here's another 40 page policy doc, it's a draft, no it;s not it's the final document, what ? it contradicts the one sent out last week, never mind just get it done..we'll change the law tomorrow...stressed nahh .not any more

    2. 23:24. - As good an account of the shapeless deepshit omnishambles we're in as any I've seen or heard anywhere. Thank you.

    3. Thanks from me too. I have no idea how to do anything anymore. I've got a new tactic, I just see the customers like I always used to and do my best to put some kind of contact on Delius. I don't breach or make referrals cos I don't know how. No one's noticed yet.

  14. Wales CRC advertising for staff to become 'paid peer mentors' for 6 months - interesting!
    JD as long as your arm and you need at least one magic wand to fulfil the role