Launch of project to monitor Transforming Rehabilitation

On 1 February 2015 the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 came into full force, a key milestone in the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. As a result, the probation service has been effectively split in two:

  1. A new National Probation Service is responsible for high-risk offenders
  2. 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), outsourced to independent providers, are responsible for lower risk offenders. (Clinks provide a useful summary of how the programme will work)

But what impact will these major changes have on the thousands of voluntary sector organisations that support ex-offenders?

Déjà vu all over again

Although Transforming Rehabilitation is billed as a revolution in rehabilitation, it represents continuity in commissioning practice. It is representative of a trend both nationally and locally of bundling up services into a small number of multi-million pound contracts, awarding these primarily to huge private outsourcing companies, and engaging voluntary sector organisations  as sub-contractors.

More specifically, it shares major similarities with the Work Programme. In addition to the above, both programmes are targeted at those with more complex needs, include a payment-by-results element and are delivered through around 20 contracts nationally.

Candy crush

Another feature shared by the two programmes is the government’s decision to trumpet the key role of the voluntary sector at launch (plus the fact that Chris Grayling was the minister launching both!). The 2011 press release launching the Work Programme hailed it as a ‘boost to the Big Society’ with ‘more than 400 voluntary sector groups’ involved in delivery. Similarly, the more recent Transforming Rehabilitation announcement makes big play of the fact that ‘75% of the 300 subcontractors named in the successful bids are voluntary sector or mutual organisations’.

Unfortunately, as we now know, the Work Programme hasn’t quite been the ‘boost to the Big Society’ that the government promised. In order to monitor its implementation, NCVO created a special interest group of over 100 voluntary sector organisations who were involved. Our two monitoring reports, published in October 2011 and September 2012, raised significant concerns, particularly regarding the sustainability of sub-contracts and the low number of referrals. This has led to justifiable questions about whether the sector had simply been used as ‘bid candy’ to make prime contractor supply chains look more attractive to DWP during the tendering stage. Indeed, based on the launch announcements for the Work Programme and Transforming Rehabilitation, we could equally ask whether charities have been used by government as ‘programme candy’: sweetening the idea of major outsourcing plans for a public which is sceptical of large private contractors.

Lessons learned?

In our final report on the Work Programme, Stepping Stones, we suggested a number of ways that future programmes could be designed to better utilise voluntary sector expertise. These included greater user and voluntary sector involvement in programme design, smaller contracts, different payment models, early assessment of user needs and better use of volunteering. These recommendations are just as relevant to Transforming Rehabilitation – but have the lessons been learned?

It is this question which has led to our partnership with Clinks and the launch today of a year-long programme to monitor the role of voluntary sector providers in and alongside Transforming Rehabilitation. Starting with an initial survey, we want you to share your experience so that we can develop a picture of the role that the voluntary sector is playing. This will be followed by two further surveys, one this summer and a third in 2016. The results will enable us to identify emerging concerns, as well as good practice, and lead to clear recommendations for government and other key stakeholders.

Transforming Rehabilitation is a hugely important programme both in its own right and for the implications it has for future government commissioning plans. The first survey will only take five minutes to complete so please take the time to fill it out if your organisation is either directly or indirectly affected. We’ve also set up a special email address for organisations that want to raise concerns. All your information will be kept strictly confidential and no organisation will be named or otherwise identified in the reports.

As always, we’re also interested in any comments that you’d like to post below.

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Nick was NCVO's public services manager until March 2017. He is also a trustee of the South London Relief in Sickness Fund.

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