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Will small charities be squeezed out of Transforming Rehabilitation plans?

Minutes of the All-Party Penal Affairs Parliamentary Group held on 3 December 2013

Will small charities be squeezed out of Transforming Rehabilitation plans?

Speakers: Clive Martin, Director, Clinks  
                Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, Director, Criminal Justice Alliance


Paul Goggins MP, in the chair
Baroness Howe
Lord Hodgson
Lord Fellowes
Lord Judd

Paul Goggins MP welcomed everyone to the meeting, and introduced himself as joint chair of the group. He explained to newcomers how the meeting went about its business, and went on to mention a few practical matters. The next meeting would take place on Tuesday 4th February 2014, and the speaker would be Sir David Calvert-Smith, Chairman of the Parole Board.  The meeting will combine with the annual Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation.  

He then introduced the two speakers for the evening’s meeting: Clive Martin, Director of Clinks, and Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, Director of the Criminal Justice Alliance.

Clive Martin:  ’Good evening everyone, thank you for inviting me, I’m Clive Martin, the director of Clinks, and Clinks is the umbrella body that supports the voluntary sector working with offenders and their families. So the question for tonight is- will small charities be squeezed out of transforming rehabilitation plans?  Well, we certainly don’t think that that is the ambition but there’s certainly a lot of detail in the transforming revolution that is yet to come and unless we are quite vigilant I think it might be the consequence. I thought I might explain a bit about the scope then canter through some of the process.  So, the number of voluntary sector organisations working with offenders and their families- the Third Sector Research Council puts it at 1,400- organisations who badge themselves as criminal justice organisations, so their main and only focus would be offenders and/or their families if of course you spread that only slightly and count organisations for whom offenders are a key part of their client group, for example Citizens Advice Bureau, you would get a much larger number.

So this is a sector that’s full of small local organisations working across a range of need.  I think also you could count on one hand those organisations in the sector that are known to you who have a national profile, NACRO and Catch 22, and so on. So you can see that this question is really pertinent to the future of this sector.  Secondly, I think whatever your view about what the voluntary sector has done in the past or should do- by that I mean whether you think the voluntary sector should be service delivery, or whether you think it should be campaigning or whether you think it should be advice and advocacy- doesn’t really matter, because inevitably all of these organisations will be caught up in the same process of commissioning.  What are the plans for that commissioning process so far?  Well, you’ll know that the big plan is for probation services to be now provided by what are called Tier 1 organisations.  Tier 1 organisations will have responsibility for 21 different contract package areas across England and Wales, with the National Probation Service working with only high risk offenders.  So you will have 21 different Tier 1 organisations, by and large those are expected to come from the private sector, with some hope, of course, that a mutual will emerge or a large voluntary sector consortium will develop but that remains an aspiration rather than a reality at the moment.  So under Tier 1, (who will be these large providers),  you will then have Tier 2 and Tier 3 organisations and its quite difficult to tell the difference between a Tier 2 and Tier 3 organisation. Tier 2 may, for example, be a housing provider, it may, for example, be a drug rehabilitation provider or it may be involved in collaboration of women’s centres, it’s unclear. Tier 3 are likely to be much smaller local organisations  doing maybe occasional delivery or working with small groups of people and so on, but no one is clear as to the difference between Tier 2 and Tier 3.

What is clear is that they will depend on their finances, the means by which they exisft, to Tier 1 organisations.

So these will be new Tier 1 organisations who don’t particularly have any real history of a relationship with the voluntary sector, who generally commission to scale because that’s what makes it easier, and who will be operating a large contract package area so the system design doesn’t necessarily meet the way in which the services are currently structured.  This is very significant because it places small voluntary sector organisations who previously had a relationship with the Probation Trust, (a  statutory body),  it places them now accountable to a private sector organisation, or a large organisation at Tier 1, and it’s unclear as to how that will work.  So whether, for example, if you’re a Tier 3 organisation whether you’ll be contracted to a Tier 1 or Tier 2, and in addition to that the complication around the funding mechanisms.

So previously you’ll know that the voluntary sector has moved over the years from grant funding to contract funding.  There is some experience of contract funding but what will be new is any sort of payment by results mechanism and what will also be new is any sort of handing down of risk as payment by results of course means part of your income depends on your ability to reduce the offending and that’s quite a risky business.  So there will be an element of money which will be put at risk and the small and local voluntary sector means that that presents some severe problems in terms of cash flow and so on.  The largest organisations in the sector, for example Catch 22, you look on the charities website or Companies House website and you’ll see their free reserves are around £13 million.  £13 million in terms of cash flow is not a substantial amount of money and if you move down to smaller organisations the figures of free reserves, the amount of money you can access, becomes smaller and smaller.  So although we think the Ministry of Justice has gone out of its way to try to ensure smaller voluntary sector organisations are included in the consultancy, and have their voice heard, we know the challenges of large scale commissioning and procurement sometimes are at odds with the rhetoric and ambition of the commissioners.   And so we are really waiting to see the detail, that finer detail.  

Some of it appears, to be frank, fairly fanciful, so for example one of the ideas around is that Tier 1 organisations from the private sector will grant fund Tier 3 voluntary sector organisations.   Why does this seem fanciful?   First of all, this is a cost saving exercise.  There will be the orders of court that need to be implemented and so on, secondly government has not done grant funding itself for quite some time so it seems unrealistic to ask a private sector organisation, and grant funding itself is a skilled job, not just throwing money out of the window.  So there are a number of complicated detailed issues that we need to work through.  I’m very conscious of time and wanting to open the discussion so I won’t say any more now but hopefully that’s enough to generate some questions’.

Vicki Helyar-Cardwell: ‘Clive has laid out very clearly the issues facing small voluntary organisations in the commissioning framework.  I thought it might be useful to compliment that- to cover two or three issues that really impact on the types of organisations we’re talking about and how that fits with what’s already been shared.

So I thought it might be interesting to talk about innovation and quality work (which is a key strength of the voluntary sector), and localism, how lots of the organisations we are talking about are very embedded in their local communities, have strong local ties, with civic society, wider institutions,  and I thought the third issue that’s pertinent to this group is the creation of resettlement prisons, which is part of the package, and how that will impact on the work of charities who we already know do a lot of work in prisons.  

So as we’ve said, it’s a major piece of reform, we’re talking about more than 300,000 offenders who will be impacted by these changes.  The vast majority will be those serving short community sentences and a much smaller number will be those coming out of short prison sentences but it also impacts those people in the last three months of their sentence currently in prison whose access to rehabilitation services will now be determined by the 21 contract package areas.  We’re pleased by some of the progress that’s been made since the start of the initial consultation.  We think it’s important and significant that short sentence prisoners are getting some support, we have some reservations about how that support will be delivered, which I’ll come on to, and we’re pleased that government have moved away from the binary measure of reoffending to get your payment.  So if someone completely stops offending then you get paid but if you do a lot of intensive work with someone, and reduce the seriousness and frequency of their offending over time, which is often the pattern of moving away from crime,   then you wouldn’t get paid and there’s been some movement on that.

We think the new proposals are more sophisticated than they were, but there’s potential to go further on that.  First, talking about innovative work done by the voluntary sector, it’s worth saying we think perhaps some false expectations are being set about how much of this money will filter down and through and out into some of the specialist local charities we are talking about.  There will be limited funds for the work, and the vast majority of those funds will have to be spent on delivering the order of the court, so if the court mandates perhaps community payback, perhaps mental health treatment requirement, the vast majority of the money available will be spent delivering what the court has ordered and there’s a big question mark about how much money will be left to commission small specialist charities to do some of that wrap- around rehabilitation work.  There’s also a risk that trusts and foundations who currently provide money for ‘ through the gate’ resettlement support may well pull out of funding some work. We know that trusts and foundations are quite good at funding work that’s not been tried before, innovative work. They’re quite good at providing things that do perhaps cost a bit more but they provide quality and there’s a risk that they may pull out of that- a) because it’s now a statutory duty so why should they fund it? and b) they may- and I don’t speak on behalf of trusts- but they may feel they don’t want to put their money into supporting a private organisations profit margin so there are real risks about some innovation being lost.

In terms of localism there is great potential for some more innovative, better, structure of services around offenders.  As we know, the group that are now being brought into the proposals, short sentenced prisoners, often have the most complex needs, they’re in and out of prison, they may have mental health issues, drug dependency, complex needs, they’re mothers, they’re carers, they’re people with lots of other needs, and will absolutely be reliant on access to non- criminal justice services.  Therefore partnerships between these big prime provider and organisations delivering these contracts and local non criminal justice service will be absolutely critical to ensuring this group get the support they need.  And building partnerships as we know takes time, so in local areas there may already be strong partnerships between probation, local authorities, local agencies, housing providers, and I think there’s just a note of caution about how long it might take to ensure those partnerships are strong and working for the benefit of the community.  

The target operating model is a slightly fanciful term, but is just what government has said is what they expect organisations to agree local protocols in relation to engagement with non-statutory partnerships where they support the management of offenders and the reduction of reoffending, but there wasn’t any detail around that so I think it will be interesting to see what bits come forward and how that works but I think there are some concerns around how small voluntary organisations will link up with key agencies like local authorities and will local authorities continue to put in the resources, the effort, the time, the people into these arrangements as they need to for it to work?
And then the third area where I think there is potential risk to small and medium organisations, (although I do want to put this context that there is scope for much more involvement of the voluntary sector and some of the bigger charities are up for the changes and will probably form a consortium bid as Tier 1), but the other potential area is the changes to the prison regime and the prison estate. The intention of the government is a very good one, and it is to house people as close as possible to their home and their community, which we all support, close to their family and close to resettlement services they’ll need on release, however the backdrop as we know is a prison service that has undergone significant cuts in the last couple of years.

If people have read the Chief Inspector of Prisons last annual report- although he’s quite positive about reductions in self harm, although he’s reasonably positive about issues around safety-he’s extremely critical about the level of purposeful activity in prisons for which he  uses the word ‘plummeted’ , in the last year, so we are seeing a reduction in purposeful activity and good resettlement activity in prisons already, so there’s a huge problem with the financing of this, and we know the government’s impact assessment that accompanies the Offender Rehabilitation Bill estimates around 13,000 people will breach these new arrangements so they’ll be an additional 13,000 people who are in breach and will be recalled to prison for a couple of weeks, which will need 600 prison places, so the prison service which is in a difficult situation as it is will have to accommodate these additional prisoners . And there’s a question about the voluntary sector who already work in prisons, who deliver resettlement services-government has said we don’t want any good work to stop but how will this work in practise, will the small organisations who already work in prisons still get access and still be able to do the work they’re doing if they’re not part of this new community?  If they’re not in the structured supply chain can they keep doing the work they’re doing or will they get squeezed out just because of the day to day demands of running a prison and the resources, the staff, that are needed to resource the voluntary sector coming into prisons and doing the work they do.

 I just wanted to take one example which is work with families, as an example of something the voluntary sector do well, they don’t have a monopoly on it, but have done very well and have a good track record in providing and it’s intensive work, it may often be holistic and might need to be individual, and it may cost money if it’s done really well.  There’s a question about family work and where it fits in.  Does it fit in the decent core regime that every prison should provide and we think yes it absolutely should and that should be protected but it also contributes to people’s rehabilitation and resettlement so where does it fit and how will  it be funded and how do we make sure that we maintain in every prison, whether it’s a resettlement prison or not, very good core family services that the voluntary sector would often be involved in providing alongside ensuring that families work that contributes to resettlement and rehabilitation is properly funded through community rehabilitation companies and isn’t squeezed out if it’s found to be a costly added extra rather than core work.