Transforming Rehabilitation: Uncertainty Reigns

Like the old bridal tradition, Transforming Rehabilitation can be thought of as a combination of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. A probation service with its roots in the late nineteenth century is now being delivered through the very modern approach of awarding multi-million pound contracts primarily to huge private outsourcing companies, and engaging voluntary sector organisations as sub-contractors. From the Work Programme it has borrowed a payment by results mechanism and many of the same providers. And, finally, whilst it was a product of the Coalition government, it was a blue Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, that championed it.

For better or worse, the programme is certainly transformative which is why earlier this year, in partnership with Clinks and TSRC, we launched a project to monitor the experience of voluntary sector organisations working in or alongside Transforming Rehabilitation supply chains.

Today we published a report detailing the experience of 156 organisations that responded to our initial survey. You can read Clinks’ take on the findings here. We are also launching a second survey that will provide further detail on the role of the voluntary sector in the programme. If your organisation is involved either directly or indirectly with Transforming Rehabilitation please take the time to fill it out. This is a key opportunity to influence government thinking on probation and we want to hear about you experience.

In no certain terms

The overwhelming sense we got from voluntary sector respondents was uncertainty. Large, medium or small, prison-based, community focussed or both, previously funded by central government, local authorities or charitable giving, the story was the same: the majority of organisations don’t know what services they will be delivering or how they will be funded.

Given the relative newness of the programme (the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 which introduced these reforms only fully came into force in February) and the scale of change, a complicated transition period was to be expected. However, the process has been much slower than many in the voluntary sector anticipated, leaving organisations in a state of limbo, waiting to see how or if they will be involved in service delivery, making strategic planning and staff retention difficult.

The sense of confusion is not just confined to providers. Respondents reported that other key funders such as local authorities and charitable foundations are questioning whether the bill for services that they previously resourced should now be picked up by Community Rehabilitation Companies or the National Probation Service.

In some instances, cuts to offender rehabilitation and resettlement services have already been made. Such dynamics are not confined to Transforming Rehabilitation. As the state has retrenched, local authorities, which have borne the brunt of austerity, have understandably taken opportunities to divest themselves of responsibilities, whilst charitable foundations, ever reluctant to subsidise government, now have a much harder job distinguishing between public services and services for the public.

Transparent rehabilitation

As the programme settles down, it is inevitable that providers will get greater clarity about their delivery responsibilities and funding. However, with a programme as expensive, high profile and important as Transforming Rehabilitation, we should be asking for more. Although NOMS will be publishing information on performance, we do not know if any data will be released on sub-contracting arrangements within supply chains. We believe this is essential for two key reasons.

Firstly this is important for public accountability. It is perfectly reasonable for citizens to want to know which organisations are delivering public services and how much they are being paid. If a programme has been explicitly publicised on the basis of voluntary sector involvement (as Transforming Rehabilitation has) then we should be able to check whether reality lived up to the rhetoric.

NCVO has previously called for the introduction of a standardised transparency clause in all public service contracts. This would require prime contractors to provide government commissioners with regular transparency reports which would include information such as the financial flows to sub-contractors and their contribution to supply chain KPIs. Government bodies would be obliged to publish this data in a machine readable format.

This is information which is largely already collected by prime contractors, just not by government. This leads to the second reason why transparency is so important: market stewardship. Programmes such Transforming Rehabilitation are incredibly difficult to design and challenging to implement.

If they truly are going to lead to more innovative, effective and efficient public services then government needs to know which potential providers (public, private or voluntary) have a track record of innovation, the impact of their delivery model and how much they’ve been paid for similar work.

Second survey

Today we launch a second survey which we hope will shed further light on Transforming Rehabilitation as it beds down. If your organisation is involved directly in the programme or you work alongside a Community Rehabilitation Company or the National Probation Service then we want to hear from you.

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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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