Rethinking the revolution

Ruth Breidenbach-Roe was part of the the Public Services and Partnerships team but has now left NCVO. Her blog posts have been archived here for reference.

NCVO has responded to the Government’s consultation ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ which outlines proposals to introduce a competitive market to probation services on a payment-by-results (PBR) basis. Read our response in full.

While we welcome the Government’s recognition of the benefits that can come with involving the voluntary sector, we are concerned that, in practice, the size of the contracts proposed, and the use of PBR, will restrict diversity of provision and lock out local and specialised services.

A diverse market requires a mix of delivery models and a mix of providers, yet contracts of this size, and the financial risks and capital requirements brought by PBR, mean that a prime contractor model (most probably led by large, commercial providers) is likely to dominate. There is a risk that the expertise of voluntary organisations will be under-utilised—it is in the interest of helping ex-offenders to rehabilitate (with the significant economic and social benefits that this brings) that this doesn’t happen.

Although PBR can, when designed appropriately, encourage innovation and shift services towards focusing on outcomes, payment in arrears can have a significant impact on the cash flow of small and medium sized organisations. This was the case for many voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations in the DWP’s Work Programme (for more information read NCVO’s report on VCS experiences in the Work Programme.) The Government should make sure that a range of financial mechanisms are used in these reforms, which are appropriate to a range of providers—this could include considering upfront contributions to allow the participation of smaller VCS organisations  in the form of loans or grants.

Prime contractors should also be encouraged to use grant funding, or standard service delivery contracts, for specific interventions and they should be ensuring fair and proportionate management of financial risk throughout their supply chains. Again, a key problem found by voluntary sector organisations in the Work Programme was the inappropriate passing on of risk by primes. A robust process for the management of fair and diverse supply chains is essential and requirements to comply with agreed supply chain standards should not apply on a solely retrospective basis, as was the case for providers in the Work Programme. The Government must make sure it retains a direct and clear sense of accountability for what is going on within supply chains and for the quality of interventions and performance.

As an alternative to the prime contractor model, there should be scope for collaborative and consortia working. To make this a realistic proposition, there will need to be a concerted programme of capacity building across the VCS. A period of market engagement should also be built into the commissioning and procurement process, and the Government should consider coordinating a central service of information exchange and standardising due diligence to make the process of constructing consortia easier.

The Government must ensure that quality, and not purely size and access to capital, is assessed when considering bids from potential providers. Providers should have to demonstrate how their services will be tailored towards local need and how they will ensure that they are working with the most prolific offenders.  Lead and prime providers should be required to demonstrate how they will sustain partnerships with organisations within their supply chain and fairly distribute and manage risk. Commissioning purely on the basis of price will ultimately result in poorer outcomes.

I know that many of NCVO’s concerns are shared by voluntary organisations who work across the criminal justice sector and I hope that, as the Ministry of Justice begins to sort through consultation responses this week, they will be unable to put these concerns aside.

Read NCVO’s response in full

Ruth Breidenbach-Roe’s blog

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