The Ministry of Justice have now published their response to the consultation ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ which closed in February. A process of market engagement has begun and a package of support for VCS organisations has been announced. As more details emerge, this blog offers an overview of the challenges ahead for the voluntary sector.
The Strategy for Reform contains some welcome revisions to the original proposals on contract size and payment mechanisms, and the measures designed to facilitate voluntary sector involvement offer some reasons to be positive.
A significant change is the increase of contract package areas from 16 to 21—a welcome step for organisations that have argued that the size and scale of the original proposal would threaten local and specialist provision and limit VCS involvement. The new package areas are a variety of sizes and values and are therefore potentially available to a variety of sized providers.
Could this change mean we will see VCS organisations becoming lead providers, or perhaps make it easier for a consortium of charities or a mutual to do so? Whilst it certainly makes it a more realistic possibility, there remain significant barriers to VCS involvement at this level, not least the capital requirements needed to take on the financial risks of payment-by-results. A more likely picture for the vast majority of charities that operate in this sector is that they will be part of a supply chain headed up by private companies.
Criticisms raised by VCS organisations (and others) against the last major prime contracting model, the DWPs Work Programme, have at least been reflected in this process. The Strategy offers a set of measures designed to facilitate VCS involvement and safeguard smaller providers including: setting up a database which maps VCS organisations delivering offender services (aiming to enable partnership formation and allowing lead providers to assemble diverse supply chains); a commitment to using Compact principles to inform the competition process, service specification and contract terms; and a package of support for smaller voluntary sector organisations bidding for contracts.
Of particular interest are the Market Stewardship Principles which will be designed to “ensure fair, reasonable and transparent treatment…of all those involved in the direct and indirect provision of services” and will be captured within contracts. These are potentially going to be really important in preventing the problems prevalent in Work Programme supply chains such as a lack of referrals and inappropriate risk transfer. These principles will form part of the contract management process and it is important that they are sufficiently robust—I will outline NCVO’s recommendations on what should be part of these principles in a future blog.
MOJ have signalled that bids will be evaluated not only on price, but on quality. Key to this will be how far potential providers have accounted for local need and local partnerships, and how far they have demonstrated a diverse and sustainable supply chain. There appears to be a real commitment on this, and the belief that a diverse supply chain will deliver the best results in terms of reducing reoffending has been evidenced in the Strategy and at the various engagement events. However, ultimately, it will all come down to where this balance between price and quality falls.
MOJ have already issued a Prior Information Notice and opened registration for all interested providers to sign up. This begins the process of market engagement (potential providers will be able to attend events, take part in the discussions around design, and have access to draft documents) ahead of the commencement of the formal procurement process in August. It is worth signing up, and attending the various events on offer—whether your organisation is certain about how to position itself yet, or not.
ACEVO are running an event on the 31st May, designed in collaboration with the MOJ and NCVO, which will provide more information for voluntary sector organisations on issues such as social investment, the justice data lab and the capacity building programmes.