By Tessa Webb PCA Localism Lead
The economic downturn combined with a change of government has made one thing certain for all public services that seismic change was inevitable.
For the business of Probation this backdrop has profound implications. In 2010 Probation Trusts had literally just completed a huge transformational programme vesting on 1st April to move from centrally managed services to a new ‘commissioned’ arrangement with Non Departmental Government Body with Trust status. The Trust programme drivers of Competition and Commissioning were key features, challenging Probation to reduce costs, increase efficiency, raise performance, raise our game on local engagement and recognise we were not the only players in town who could drive the ‘rehabilitation revolution’.
Probation Trust’s high level outcomes are now articulated more sharply – Reducing Reoffending and Public Protection, and the shift from a process target driven mantra has helpfully weakened.
Many of the ‘ingredients’ for successfully addressing the reasons behind why someone reoffends however are managed by other much larger government departments, who in tandem have been undergoing their own reconstructions in response to the Coalition Government’s new priorities and the need to reduce the scale of the public purse. Probations role is often described as the ‘glue’, as well as providing some core interventions such as supervision, accredited programmes and community payback it sign posts and directs offenders though court orders to a range ofessential services that are required to bring about change in offending behaviour.
The PCA localism group became established in the summer of 2011, recognising that key platforms of change by other government departments provided both opportunities and threats to the services that contribute to reoffending. Senior probation managers from across England & Wales have picked up the issues and begun making connections with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice/NOMS and other government departments to help raise awareness and improve understanding of the strategic priority to reduce reoffending, which can deliver both savings and good outcomes for our communities.
Key areas we have focused upon are:
Home Office – The introduction of the Police & Crime Commissioner, they will inherit responsibility for Drug Intervention Programme and Community Safety Partnership budgets and have a remit to cut crime, the overlap is obvious. Strong partnerships already exist between Probation and Constabularies to deliver Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements and Integrated Offender Management Programmes, which are delivering good outcomes and there is scope for more opportunities to be realised.
Dept. Communities & Local Government – The Troubled Families agenda, there is a strong overlap with Probation caseloads. With the developing knowledge and appetite for Community budgets and co commissioning there are opportunities for Probation to increase local engagement and realise shared savings and improve effectiveness.
The changes to Housing Benefit and council tax contributions for those on benefit will inevitably have a disproportionate impact on the probation caseload, tackling homelessness is critical if we are to effectively reduce reoffending.
Dept. Work & Pensions – the work programme, supporting offenders back into employment is ‘the’ most effective way to reduce the likelihood of reoffending, there are opportunities for probation staff to support offender engagement with the work programme. On the adverse side, if unemployed offenders fail to engage and incur benefit sanctions there is concern about the potential impact on motivation, desistance and risk of increased exclusion.
Dept of Health – the health reforms are completely redesigning the commissioning of core health services which are essential to resettlement and plans for rehabilitation. Access to timely and appropriate mental health, drug and alcohol interventions are critical and will be commissioned through Health & Well-Being Boards from 1/4/13, with responsibility for Public Health transferring to Local Authorities. There is concern that the interface for criminal justice with HWBBs has not been addressed sufficiently.
Cabinet Office – the support for Big Society, encouragement of public sector spin offs e.g. mutual and the impact of the recession on funding streams to key voluntary sector services. Many organisations contribute fantastic services, especially at the local community level, that support rehabilitation and pick up gaps in provision where statutory services end. It is reported by NAVCA all too clearly that CVS providers are under considerable financial pressures and demands.
Reducing reoffending is everyone’s business, if tackled in partnership the local community has opportunities to reduce costs as well as be safer, with fewer victims of crime. Keeping up with your own government departments changes is challenging in itself at present, but for the leadership of probation it is also essential we keep up with the changes across local public services and make every effort to ensure that the strategic priority of reducing reoffending is recognised as a shared one.