Today (19 September 2013), the Government has given a formal notice over a forthcoming competition on the sale of 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies and linked contracts to provide probation services for those offenders assessed as a ‘low-medium’ risk of causing harm to the public.
Also today the Government has issued directions to Probation Trusts to begin a formal 28 day period of consultation on a staff transfer process outlining the suggested principles and terms of splitting resources and cases to establish Community Rehabilitation Companies and the new National Probation Service.
This marks a step change in the Government pushing forward with plans to implement the Transforming Rehabilitation programme announced in May 2013. The PCA have voiced significant concerns with these plans particularly over risks to public protection from splitting the management of offenders over public and contracted sectors, and the high risks of losing professional expertise and successful local partnership initiatives during and after the transition.
Despite the PCA’s very considerable misgivings – which are shared by very many other organisations – the Secretary of State for Justice has been unwavering in his intention to go ahead with these changes. The PCA believes that the priority now is to ensure that the transition to the new organisations, the National Probation Service and the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies, should be done in as safe a way as possible. This should be about securing an effective and well managed transfer of the probation caseload on 1 April 2014, the date planned for these new arrangements to come into effect following the abolition of the current probation trusts.
We have consistently argued that the time frame for these changes is impractical and unrealistic. We do not think that the transfer should be dictated by the time scale, but by an objective assessment of the conditions needed for a safe transfer putting first the safety and protection of the public.
The transition to these new organisations will be very complex, entailing splits in staff, resources and caseloads, and the development of new protocols for working across the public and contracted sectors (with support from ICT systems). This all would need to be in place, fully tested and staff trained, before Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service should be allowed to ‘go live’.
As the Government looks to begin implementation of its plans, the PCA believe it imperative for the Programme meaningfully to engage and draw on the expertise of the leadership and professionals of Probation Trusts, in particular to develop objective ways of assuring that changes can be carried out safely.
In all this it is extremely important to maintain the support of all staff. We welcome the assurances for continuing dialogue and consultation. That needs to be meaningful, with the changes and plans fully articulated and other information needed, so that staff can make informed comments and choices about their future.
The Ministry of Justice has also published today ‘Transforming Rehabilitation: a summary of evidence on reoffending” providing an overview of key evidence relating to reducing reoffending. The PCA welcomes that this report clearly acknowledges that “the skills of practitioners in supervising offenders and delivering interventions are known to contribute to reducing reoffending and also to improving other outcomes” (section 3).
All this underlines the case for establishing an independent Probation Institute, to promote professional skills and standards in a more plural probation service delivery market. The PCA, with the Probation Association, the Ministry of Justice and other key stakeholders is working to bring about the creation of such an Institute.