I beg to move,
That this House has considered implementation of the transforming rehabilitation programme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. It is now almost 12 months since the formal creation of the 21 community rehabilitation companies and the establishment of the new national probation services. It has since become clear that fundamental flaws in the former Secretary of State’s thinking are beginning to impact on service delivery. The CRCs were initially created to address new work arising from probation supervision being extended to clients leaving prison after serving less than 12 months in custody. The probation service supported extending statutory support to this group with adequate funding. Had a consultation taken place on how that could be best achieved, I have no doubt that genuine alternative methods could have emerged, but it was unfortunately evident from the outset that the Secretary of State’s predecessor was fixed upon the payment-by-results outsourcing model.
Prior to the reorganisation, probation trusts were highly successful, with a good record of reducing reoffending. They had won European-wide awards for public service and all the trusts had been recognised as either good or outstanding by recent inspections. Trusts had established good local partnerships with other agencies, including in the private sector, that had been producing excellent results. In a number of trusts—for example, West Mercia and the Willowdene project—these partnerships have extended into innovative work with the third sector, addressing and supporting the same group of clients whom the transforming rehabilitation reorganisation targeted. Indeed, a major review by the third sector review group indicates that the procurement process was incoherent and meant that third sector providers who were supposed to have opportunities to engage in TR were disfranchised.
It is not only politicians who have opinions on this subject, but the voluntary organisations themselves. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations sent us a briefing for this debate, which made the point that, despite the warm words of the former Justice Secretary, there is very little voluntary sector involvement.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The purpose of a consultation is to listen to the experts. In this case, the experts have described themselves as being used as “bid candy” to dress up the bids, rather than being involved in a truly engaged fashion. I agree entirely with my hon Friend’s point.
Significant challenges were immediately obvious. First, the marketplace was not interested in taking over the management of high-risk offenders for the limited profits associated with managing that target group. Further, the Ministry of Justice had been heavily criticised by both the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office for its poor management of previous contracts in courts, community payback, electronic monitoring and the quality of some provision in private prisons and detention centres. There was therefore limited political support for privatising the whole lot, hence the “split” solution.
Several probation experts argued that splitting the probation service into two distinct groups was a far riskier solution than selling all the service to private providers. The split in the service creates challenges, some of which, with great patience, effort and commitment from all stakeholders, could be managed, but a world full of good will is not going to address the insurmountable structural flaws arising from the split. These include, but are not limited to: local service delivery and management of clients; bureaucracy and inefficiency, with additional processes generated to manage the allocation of cases and accountability; substandard internal communications, especially those founded upon outdated and unstable technology within the National Offender Management Service; and inefficient management of staff due to internal competition, which undermines morale and professional unity.
However, the greatest flaw was rushing the whole programme through to meet a strict political timetable without any adequate testing or piloting. The MOJ also failed to establish workable, sustainable contracts with the CRCs. These are already the subject of significant challenge from the new CRC owners. Equally, in its haste to successfully establish the CRCs, all efforts and energy were focused on the contracts share sale, and very limited evidence emerged of any serious planning or risk assessment of the future management of the newly nationalised National Probation Service.
With no piloting or credible assessment of what the new work meant or involved, the allocation of budgets and staff was largely guesswork. Initially, NOMS stated that 70% of work was expected to be transferred to the CRCs as only around 30% of total clients would be classified as high risk. This was not a scientific experiment, and it quickly became evident that it did not translate. The staffing split soon became 50/50, with ongoing confusion about where some work should sit. Current staffing levels and reliance on expensive agency staff are simply not sustainable, nor value for money for the taxpayer. A case needs to be made to the Treasury for emergency support for the NPS.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this sounds all too familiar? As with other privatisations led by the Conservatives in government, they privatise the profits and nationalise the debts, and long-term liabilities to the taxpayer become greater than they were before.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to put a system in place that works. The old maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, applies. We absolutely have to be open to new forms of innovation, working in partnership with both the third and private sector, but that was already happening. The new system that has been put in place has unfortunately caused a great deal of confusion. I hope that today we can make some progress on sorting that out.
The contracts allow the CRCs to pass back tough cases and still get paid on a fee-for-service basis. A further problem concerns the additional redundancy costs. The probation unions have recently had cause to lodge formal disputes with the national negotiating council on account of one of the CRC owners—in this case Sodexo—refusing to honour the terms of voluntary redundancy under the national staff transfer and protections agreement. Staff terms and conditions should be honoured, and the MOJ should police this as part of its contract management.
I now want to turn to the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation. It is expected that Ministers will cite the latest report from Paul Wilson as evidence that it is too early to form a judgment about TR and that it will be another two to three years before the public can see evidence of the effectiveness of the reforms. Although not disputing the valuable work of HMIP, we believe this is a wholly unsatisfactory analysis that will assist the Government in their attempts to gloss over the reality that is the failure of TR. I do not believe we can afford to wait two to three years for the situation to resolve itself when the consequences of a failing probation service are so critical to public safety.
A further vital point is about transparency. In a letter written to the Select Committee on Justice, the Minister claimed he was putting measures in place to improve transparency. We fully support the need for the performance of the probation services and the CRCs to be properly monitored and for the results of that monitoring to be made public. As such, we strongly recommend that private probation providers are made to comply with freedom of information requests so that they, too, can be openly scrutinised by hon. Members and the public. We also call on the Government to place the details of the 21 private contracts in the public domain so that they are open to scrutiny.
Finally, I want to raise serious concerns about service delivery. The MOJ is proposing a reduction in the number of full reports delivered to courts and a greater reliance on oral reports. Oral reports by their very nature do not allow for a full risk assessment to be carried out by probation staff, nor for any information that is held by other agencies to be collected. As such, they should be used on low-level first-time offences only. However, the push to use these types of reports in the majority of cases will see them being used for wholly inappropriate offences.
We are already aware that, because of pressures on staff and staff shortages, oral reports are being used for sexual and domestic violence offences. Such cases are complex, and there are underlying risk issues that must be investigated fully prior to sentencing. Children’s services and the police should be contacted to see whether there are ongoing risks to children and victims. Without that information, it is impossible to manage the case effectively or safely, or to propose to the court the most appropriate sentence.
I will summarise the seven key recommendations that must be implemented urgently. First, there should be open engagement between the unions and senior MOJ and NOMS management and stakeholders to identify ways to resolve some of the urgent performance issues arising in the NPS. Secondly, there should be a full post-implementation review of TR and the contracts and performance of CRC providers since 1 February 2015.
Thirdly, the NPS should be properly funded, sustainable and effective at managing some of the most dangerous offenders, and there should be funding for information and communications technology that is fit for purpose. Fourthly, there should be effective contract management, including a full analysis of CRC operating models, to ensure a safe delivery of service that focuses on public protection and rehabilitation, not just on cost-cutting exercises. Fifthly, all CRC owners should be made subject to freedom of information requests, so that their performance can be scrutinised by MPs and the public.
Sixthly, there must be robust and fully open contract management to ensure that providers are adhering to staff terms and conditions as underwritten by Ministers. Seventhly, a mechanism should be put in place to enable those in CRCs who are made redundant to transfer swiftly to the NPS at the same grade as they were prior to the split. That would not only ensure that skilled staff are not lost, but help to reduce the pressures in the NPS caused by staff shortages.
A wise person once said that what matters is what works. It is crystal clear to all concerned that the transforming rehabilitation programme conceived by the coalition Government is simply not working. We in the Labour party are pragmatists. As such, we urge the Minister and his colleagues to remove ideology and dogmatism from this matter in order to enable common sense to prevail. We call on the Minister to listen to the experts and fix this broken system before it is too late.
I thank the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) for securing the debate.
It is important to get the rehabilitation of offenders right—important for the communities in which offenders settle or to which they return; important to the victims of offenders’ actions; important to the offenders themselves; and important because rehabilitation will reduce wider financial and social costs in future. Although we welcome and applaud the Government’s efforts to involve charities and the voluntary sector in the effort to reduce reoffending, Plaid Cymru strongly opposes any privatisation of probation services in Wales—and, indeed, beyond. Civil societies can do plenty of things in rehabilitation without managing probation services as profit-making businesses. Indeed, justice services, which are at the foundation of an equitable civil society, are surely ill served by the profit motive, and run the risk of being fundamentally compromised whenever the providers’ financial interest is challenged by the complex needs of individuals and the communities in which they live.
I note that rural areas can be particularly difficult to serve given the issues and costs associated with distances and scattered populations. I would expect there to be a particular focus on those areas because they are difficult to reach. The NPS has had problems in my area, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, in the past, so rural areas should have specific focus. On top of that, the Government must ensure that they abide by their own Welsh language scheme. Welsh language services should be available, whether provided privately, through the third sector or through charities. That is a statutory requirement.
If the Government do not do more to address the root causes of crime and the potential for reoffending, the transforming rehabilitation programme will be just another demonstration of their failure to deliver security and justice. The programme will simply be one of those easy neoliberal solutions to which the Government choose to retreat when faced with some of our biggest social problems. Surely the mix of poverty, mental health issues, addiction and low skills should be addressed as a whole.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on securing this debate. He said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. In Neath we have an integrated offender interventions programme that is funded by the police and crime commissioner and NOMS. It is a perfect example of a community partnership. Since 2012, it has rehabilitated 800 prison leavers per annum and 600 people who have been referred by the courts. The programme concentrates on breaking the cycle of drug interventions and on an exchange system. Does the hon. Lady agree that such schemes are all the more important in areas of Wales where we rely on the support of the Welsh Government?
I do. The community approach is important, as are the roles of social services and local authorities. None of these actions is happening in isolation. Local authorities remain under financial pressure, and that is due to increase, which is an additional concern. These issues require co-operation across public sector organisations.
By privatising large parts of the probation service, the Government are failing to carry out their responsibility. Communities expect the Government to nurture and protect a safe social environment where families and individuals thrive, and where there are improved educational standards and reduced levels of poverty. The Government’s abdication of their responsibility to create that safe social environment not only affects communities but opens the path for recidivism. I appreciate that the proof of success must lie in whether offenders reoffend, especially within 12 months of sentencing, but given that aspects of the new arrangements were described by HMIP in May as “rushed and piecemeal”, the Government must commit to a politically disinterested, neutral appraisal of the rehabilitation arrangements, and respond in the spirit of that which best serves the public rather than the privatisation agenda.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on securing the debate, as do my colleagues on the Justice Committee. It is a pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman here, because his predecessor but one was a great friend and mentor to me as a young barrister. I am glad that the tradition of an interest in the justice system is being kept on in that constituency.
As Chair of the Justice Committee, I had the pleasure last week of speaking about the progress in transforming rehabilitation to a conference of providers. There were people from a range of providers, including NOMS, the NPS, some of the CRCs, to which I spoke afterwards, and a number of voluntary groups. There was not a word of ideology in the discussion. Although people were frank about some of the work that needs to be done—that work has quite properly been referred to today—I say with every respect that I think the discussion was more nuanced in the picture it painted of the work on transforming rehabilitation, and I think it was fairer.
I will make a bit of progress first. In the previous Parliament, the Justice Committee published some work, which I imagine some Members have read, that flagged up some issues. I was interested in discussing those issues at that conference and listening to the feedback. Against that background, I will happily give way.
First, because if one spoke to any sentencer, for example, they would say that the need to have a better approach to those being released from short sentences into statutory supervision was real and pressing. Those people are immediately at risk of recidivism, which leads to lost opportunities for life in every case. Secondly, the need to improve the “through the gateway” services was real and immediate. That is not to say that we should not review and improve the programme as things go along. Of course, that is right and sensible. The Select Committee recognised that point on a cross-party basis, and I think the Minister does, too.
When we drill down into the evidence and talk to practitioners on the ground, although there is recognition that things can be improved, there is also recognition that the scale and objectives of the programme are valuable and, when delivered, represent a real improvement. There is progress on the ground, and we should recognise that as well as the challenges and places where more needs to be done.
If the hon. Lady looks at the Select Committee’s website, she will see that we have published our correspondence with the Minister. I am very grateful to him for his detailed response, which goes into three or four pages of detailed text about the pilot schemes. Rather than taking up time here, it is worth referring hon. Members and the public to that. Because the pilots were cost-saver pilots, the view that was generally expressed was, “It is too early to tell. After all, things such as payment by results won’t come in until 2017.” None the less, there was satisfactory progress, and I think we need to review the pilots in that light rather than taking a sweeping view.
The previous Justice Committee raised several issues, as the Minister recognises. They have been alluded to today, and I hope the Minister can respond to them. One was the issue of IT, which is undoubtedly a real, ongoing problem. To be fair, it was a problem before the transforming rehabilitation scheme was brought in. Public sector IT has been an issue for virtually all my time in public life, but it is pressing because the joining up of information sharing is going to be more and more important, given the dual system between the national probation service and the community rehabilitation companies. It is a critical issue, and I hope the Minister can give us more detail about it.
There was a concern that the laudable objective of statutory supervision could, in the short term at least, place more demand on the system, because if people are found to be in breach, that could put them in a cycle of going back in and out of prison. I would be interested to know, albeit that it is at an early stage, whether the Minister has any evidence about how statutory supervision is working.
The report of the interim chief inspector of probation, which has been referred to, said fairly that there are significant operational and information sharing concerns across the boundaries of the national probation service and the community rehabilitation companies, and continuing frustration with the old case management systems. That was borne out by the practitioners I spoke to, and I hope the Minister can update us about what practical steps are being taken to rectify that issue. On the other hand, the interim chief inspector of probation specifically said that those problems are transitional and can be resolved. He pointed to an urgent and continuing need to support the necessary improvement in the quality of leadership. The point is that those problems are resolvable. To say, therefore, that the system is fundamentally flawed is wrong and not borne out by the evidence. That is not the feeling of those who actually work on the ground.
The issue of the impact on transparency and the local linkages was referred to. A fair point was made about how we deal with the move from the old system of probation trusts to a national system on the one hand, and the CRCs on the other. The CRC people I have met are committed, highly motivated, skilled professionals. I do not regard it as in any way improper to have that sort of private investment in the system. They work well with their colleagues in the NPS, many of whom they have known for years.
There is an issue to consider about join-up, and I hope the Minister can look again at how we ensure that the local linkages are not lost. The ability to work closely with other agencies, including local authorities, criminal justice organisations, social services and the health service—many offenders have multiple issues and will require multiple-agency intervention—requires careful liaison at a local level. I would like to know what we can do to ensure that that is recognised within the new framework. We need to bring in local granularity and nuance.
Another issue that was raised was about getting the information to sentencers and the courts, which value input from the probation service. There is a question about whether the CRCs, which deal with some offenders, have, in effect, a right of audience when dealing with sentencers, as the NPS does. What protocols can we put in place to deal with that? Can we ensure that the representatives of the service at court, who advise on sentences—I know from discussions with the judiciary that they are much relied upon—are getting the information across fully, and that it is properly fed back?
I am not pretending that there is not work that still needs to be done. I think everybody would agree that there is. Equally, we should not simply adopt a partisan stance. I am convinced of the Minister’s good will, and I am also convinced that there is real potential that should be taken on board. That is why the Select Committee wants to return to the issue in this Parliament. I hope we can get some balance on the progress that has been made and the work that we still need to do.
Thank you, Mr Nuttall, for giving me the chance to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on bringing this issue to Westminster Hall for consideration. I want to give a Northern Ireland perspective and talk about what we have done in Northern Ireland, as I am conscious that this is a devolved matter. I also want to talk about what has been done in Texas—I have spoken to the shadow Minister and the Minister about this—as an example of how we can do things better.
Financially, this country cannot go on with the current system. It quite simply costs too much, so there is a financial issue. We are failing not only financially but socially, with overcrowding and rising levels of violence in prisons and stubbornly high reoffending rates. The levels of drug and substance abuse continue to be a problem. How can we fix this? I want to make a constructive contribution to this debate and talk about the steps we have taken in Northern Ireland.
We all need a fairer, more accessible and quicker justice system that will ultimately benefit all of us. It is time we had a rational debate across party political lines about the direction of justice. I want the Northern Ireland legal system to lead the way, just as Northern Ireland has done with sport—look at the Irish rugby team, the Northern Ireland football team and now the Irish hockey team.
The poverty trap and high levels of crime have a vice-like grip on the populace. Innovation in justice is one of the best ways to break the cycle. Northern Ireland is not limited to piloting modern justice systems; it can become a leader in developing them. It is time to have a bipartisan conversation about whether it is logical and feasible to continue with the age-old way of doing things. Is it just a case of, “Let’s do it this way because we have always done it this way and this is the way we understand,” or can we come together to have a pragmatic discussion? I believe that this Westminster Hall debate will give us the chance to discuss what is best for the country, citizens and ex-offenders.
The Northern Ireland problem is not exactly undocumented. According to the “Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2010” report, 30 of the 100 most deprived small areas in Northern Ireland are either in or around interfaces that emerged from the high levels of activity during the troubles. We have had some difficult times, as everyone in this Chamber will appreciate. Despite the promise of a peace dividend, life for people in those areas has not got much better, and for some it has become worse. Moreover, the majority of those 30 areas are also included in the top 30 areas for crime in the Province. There is a connection between deprivation, interfaces and the level of crime.
We need to move the conversation away from patchwork reforms and start talking about serious innovation in justice. Innovation should not be confined to the private sector. We seek to modify many of the pillars of Government and the public sector, not least our chronically outdated justice system. In that sense, it is encouraging to see innovation, or at least an attempt at innovation, from the Minister. Innovation will make it possible to have a positive social impact and make the savings in our public finances that we so desperately need. Mere reforms to patch up a broken system, while saving a bit here and there, are only temporary fixes. In Northern Ireland, examples of potential innovation include early interventions in education and health among the young people most at risk, along with work and education programmes that ensure offenders pay their debt to society and that equip them with skills to help them to turn their lives around once formal rehabilitation is complete. The Government’s rehabilitation programme has some promising aspects, and I am keen to see what we in Northern Ireland can take from it and what others here can learn from the exciting new approaches in Northern Ireland.
The Democratic Unionist Chair of the Committee for Justice in Northern Ireland, Alastair Ross MLA, has created justice seminars that provide the space for the sort of ideas that need to be heard, discussed and critiqued. I am glad that work on such changes has already begun in Northern Ireland. The monthly justice innovation seminars look at new approaches in justice and evidence-based, outcome-driven policy proposals.
Although we are discussing an exceptionally important matter and its by-products, does my hon. Friend agree that the two central issues for most in the community are that justice is seen to be done whenever an offence is committed and that reoffending is seen to be coming down? If those two criteria are met, these other issues, important as they are, will take second place.
As always, my hon. Friend’s contribution focuses attention on an issue. With more approaches like the justice innovation seminars, I am sure that we can find the solutions we so desperately need to benefit us all and achieve what my hon. Friend suggests.
We have seen some unexpected champions of justice reform—this is where the Texas connection comes in. Notably, Texas Governor Rick Perry has actively diverted non-violent offenders away from prison and into education and rehabilitation programs. If Members have the time, they should read about that: it is exciting and innovative and it works. Just one example of the success of Perry’s post-partisan reforms is the improved efficiency, reduced costs and improved outcomes of Texas’s drug courts. When Perry took office, Texas had just seven drugs courts. With poor outcomes from the incarceration of those who needed treatment and needless, astronomical costs, Perry committed to finding smarter ways to reduce crime. By increasing the number of drugs courts to 150 and opening 19 innovative veterans treatment courts, Texas has seen serious results, both financially and socially. Since 2007, an estimated $2 billion has been saved in new prison spending and three prisons and six juvenile centres have been closed. State-wide crime is at its lowest levels since the 1960s and Perry’s reforms have brought about a 39% reduction in the parole failure rate. Those figures are exciting and achievable, and we must take note of them.
In conclusion, choosing the right interventions saves the public purse by keeping people out of prison and saves society the trauma of high crime rates by reducing offending and reoffending rates.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on securing this important debate on a central issue in our criminal justice system.
In my early years as barrister before coming to this place, when I practised in the criminal courts, few things were more depressing than the repeat offender. There were of course some people who came into the justice system, had one point of contact with it and were never seen again, but those who came back time and time again were far more challenging. The challenge was summed up by Simon Hughes, former Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and former Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, when he said in the Chamber on 17 March that 57% of offenders who received sentences of 12 months or fewer had reoffended within a year. That is the scale of the challenge we face.
As for the forthcoming changes, we have 21 community rehabilitation companies, the resettlement services and the National Probation Service, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon mentioned, deals with high-risk offenders. We must guard against fragmentation in this new environment. We cannot have offenders literally being passed around members of staff. There has to be a member of staff with whom they can build a relationship of trust and confidence. We must also ensure that the staff member with whom they deal is properly briefed about their case and aware of the background, because that relationship is absolutely crucial to the rehabilitation process going forward.
Staff morale is also a great problem. Ian Lawrence, the general secretary of Napo, the association for probation officers, said on 20 October:
“There’s a huge challenge to rebuild staff morale in both the NPS and the CRCs: it’s currently at an all-time low, and that’s not me just saying it ‘because I would, wouldn’t I?’ This is information coming back to us from our members on a daily basis. Certainly those facing the prospect of redundancy as the CRC owners start to implement their target operating models, are feeling let down by the last Government.”
I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to speak of the value that he places on probation officers and those who work in rehabilitation services and to talk about the dignity and respect with which they should be treated.
Another often undervalued aspect of the probation service is the pre-sentence report. While it is important at the sentencing stage—because it provides a background to why the offence was committed, how the offender has responded, whether there is remorse and other issues—the report is also helpful for rehabilitation because it points at particular aspects of the case that could be helpful. The Justice Secretary has already spoken about the concept of earned release and reducing the prison population, and the pre-sentence report can play a part in that and in how rehabilitation is viewed.
Increased transparency in community rehabilitation companies would also be helpful. I see no reason in principle why they cannot be subject to freedom of information legislation. Limits of around five years on contracts would also be a step forward, as would giving the Secretary of State the power to terminate contracts in cases of sub-standard performance. Those are both pragmatic and sensible steps.
The Minister will be aware of the Harris review, which was published on 30 July and deals with the serious issue of deaths of young people in custody. It states:
“For those whose liberty has been removed by the Courts, the primary goal of the prison regime should be rehabilitation. At present, prisons are an expensive failure as far as this objective is concerned.”
That simply cannot remain the case. We have to face up to this challenge. The Government are keen on payment by results, and it is by results that we must judge this policy.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall. Effective rehabilitation must be at the heart of the UK’s prison system. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said in his most recent report that prisons are in their worst state for 10 years. We lock up more people than any other western European country and have a reoffending rate of more than 50% within a year of release. We need a more effective rehabilitation programme.
The recent changes were a missed opportunity for effective reform. I am deeply concerned about the programme’s implementation, including the fact that the changes were rushed through, the model was untested with no evidence provided to support it, and the service appears fragmented. To quote the probation inspectorate report of December 2014, “Transforming Rehabilitation—Early Implementation”, splitting one organisation into two created
“process, communication and information sharing challenges that did not previously exist.”
Many will remain a challenge for some time to come.
I will focus on staff retention and morale—
May I first make a bit of progress, please?
On 8 September 2015 my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) raised in the House the issue of Sodexo laying off 600 staff, many of whom were experienced in providing offenders with suitable skills and learning placements. I am concerned that offenders are now not being adequately supervised, risk-assessed or monitored. Sodexo is the biggest provider of probation in the privatised service, and has been attacked by Napo for the staffing cuts.
It is not an underestimate to state that staff morale is at an all-time low. There was an overwhelming lack of support for the policy change among staff before its implementation. In September 2014, results from a survey showed that 98% had no confidence in the plans. According to an article published in The Independent, at least 1,200 staff will have left by the end of the year as a result of redundancy, retirement or a career change due to disillusionment. As Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, has stated, there were only 9,000 probation officers to start with, so such a severe reduction in numbers raises important questions about the safety of the public—for example, victims of domestic violence.
Following the changes, I am concerned in particular about the morale of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff, 74% of whom were women. In May 2015 Napo’s national online survey of BAME probation service staff highlighted an alarming fall in confidence levels and morale: 80% of respondents experienced a decrease in their confidence in the probation service and 83% reported a decrease not only in the morale of staff, but in the service. A third of respondents believed that the probation service breached official guidelines during the transforming rehabilitation assignment process.
Radical and effective reform does not come through privatisation and autonomy. To prove that, we only need to look at the state of the national health service and education in this country or at a report by New Philanthropy Capital which shows that 28% of charity projects have reduced reoffending, compared with 19% of private companies.
I am deeply concerned about the impact of the changes on staff morale and the effectiveness of the rehabilitation programme as a whole. I call on the Government to respond to such concerns.
Thank you, Mr Nuttall. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) for setting out the importance of focusing on the Government’s transforming rehabilitation programme. The debate is highlighting the risks and confusion that are manifest as a result of introducing an untested programme and reorganisation affecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Getting prison and probation wrong fails victims, the public and the offender. The issue is too important. For Labour, therefore, penal reform has to be about evidence-based practice, to ensure that all interventions that are deployed have the highest opportunity of being transformative. Opposition Members will not be heard calling for nothing to be done when reoffending rates sit at about 47.5%—that figure has remained static for many years. Labour is the first to demand intervention.
In June I was the Member in charge of a debate in Westminster Hall that highlighted many of the serious issues in our prisons leading to the failure to help offenders turn their life around. Throughout the debate Opposition colleagues emphasised things that need to be dealt with to stem the reoffending rate. Intervention is vital, but intervention is very different from reorganisation.
The transforming rehabilitation programme has been about more than only reorganisation; it has also been about privatisation. As with health, education and so many public services, the Government’s main interests are political rather than purposeful. They have made it absolutely clear that they will be seeking the involvement only of private and voluntary sector organisations in their programme, not of the public sector—not of those with the highest expertise. We have scrutinised so many Government attempts to transfer the accountability of services from the state to shareholders, followed by cuts. That is what we are now witnessing across the probation service. With each such change, we see a shift in risk from the Government, so that when things go wrong they may simply point a finger—but they no longer have a responsibility to lift a finger.
The community rehabilitation company that serves my constituency and the whole of Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire, Purple Futures, is a combination of Interserve—the main provider, which describes itself as a leading
“multinational support service and construction company”—
and three minor partners, social enterprise and charity P3, Shelter and 3SC, which manages the contract. None of those organisations boasts any expertise in the provision of rehabilitative services for offenders. They have worked together for only a short time and have not built up any evidence to prove that they can transform rehabilitation.
The fracturing of the prison, probation and now rehabilitation services has of course, as with all such arrangements, created serious issues, which also means risk. Predictably, issues of IT, communications—as we have heard—and barriers to information sharing have come to the fore. We have also seen increased bureaucracy. That is why it is so important to be able to scrutinise what is going on, but without access to information and without freedom of information making it freely open to the public, it is hard to scrutinise services and therefore safety.
We have seen the job losses that inevitably follow the privatisation of services. As a result, confidence in the service has fallen, and as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), staff morale has plummeted to only 65%. Again, ideology was put before evidence. I want to contrast that with a successful prison-to-community service just outside my constituency. Askham Grange women’s open prison, provided by the state, has a very different story.
The national reoffending rate is 47.5%, but at Askham Grange it is below 6%, the lowest in the country. Askham Grange is an open establishment operating a resettlement regime for women. It provides support for up to 128 women at any one time, including 10 mothers and babies. Its ethos is built on the maintenance of decent and respectful relationships between all who live, work and visit there. Its focus is to provide support in achieving positive family relationships and to provide individual learning programmes that include education, work skills and personal development.
I am so pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned family relationships. If rehabilitation is to work, it is essential that while prisoners are in custody their family ties are maintained, so that they have a home to go to when they leave, whenever possible, and the best chance of not returning to detention later.
I thank the hon. Lady for emphasising the importance of family. That is why Askham Grange can be held up as a good example, which facilitates such family relationships.
Individual potential is also realised at Askham Grange, with progression through a resettlement regime and into community work and/or paid work placements that reflect the training and skills gained throughout the sentence, as well as those already held. Askham Grange enables women to participate in sport and provides health facilities, a strong chaplaincy service and a wide range of courses, from the Open University programme to creative writing, business administration and employability skills. A range of vocational training opportunities are also on offer, from gardening to service assistant posts, which can lead to City & Guilds qualifications. The Ministry of Justice rated that service as exceptional in all criteria. It is one of only three prisons to have such high commendation.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons provides consistently good reports of the prison. It describes how women feel “safe” there and says that
“Askham Grange continues to be an impressive…prison”.
Indeed it is. With such excellent services, the only shocking thing is that the Government want to close the prison. The independent monitoring board described that as “bewildering”.
The Government want to replace just about the best rehabilitation service in the land with an untried and untested programme—can you believe it? If the Government are really committed to the safety of our communities, turning around the lives of some of the most vulnerable women and truly transforming rehabilitation, it is time for them first to announce that Askham Grange will not close and, secondly, to use the 70 years of evidence-based practice at Askham Grange to provide excellence across our prison and probation services.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on securing this important debate. According to the Ministry of Justice, the aim of the reforms was to ensure that offenders were not only punished, but better rehabilitated by offering them greater support in the rehabilitation process, reducing reoffending rates while continuing to ensure public safety.
Is it not the case that the reforms were untried, untested and rushed through at breakneck speed? The former chief inspector published his first inspection of the transforming rehabilitation reforms in 2014, which was critical and found that splitting the probation service caused significant issues with process, communication and information sharing. The major problems were rushed timing, the fact that the model was untested and, as we have heard, fragmentation.
The speed of the reforms caused real concern and their implementation caused operational problems that could have been avoided or mitigated. Most worrying is the fragmentation, which means that offenders are juggled between multiple members of staff before they finally meet their personal probation officer. Many of the new processes also take longer and are more complex than the previous arrangements. Surely changes are meant to bring more efficiency, not less.
Significantly, in the most recent report from May 2015, the chief inspector of probation said that the picture was “mixed” and that inspectors found that many of the challenges identified in the earlier report remained. The IT systems remain a barrier and a number of tasks at the pre-allocation stage are “time consuming” and “not streamlined”. Those wide-ranging concerns remain unresolved. The Government must take action, and I urge the Minister to address those concerns today.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall, for what I believe is the first time. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) for securing this important debate. Probation can often get pushed to one side in favour of discussing prisons, but I believe that the probation service is the key to unlocking the reduction in reoffending that we all want to see.
Many Members have observed that the implementation of the programme was rushed. There were pilots, which Labour supported. One such pilot took place in Wales, and I think I visited every one of them as they were about to begin. It was hugely disappointing to find that the work put into setting up those pilots was to be for nothing, because the models tested in the pilots were not to be implemented by the Government. Therefore, great time and energy and some expense was wasted, but we are where we are.
The Government were warned by experts—my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon put this well—that we were losing an opportunity by abolishing probation trusts. They were not stodgy, stuck-in-the-past public sector organisations that did not want to change; they were one of the most entrepreneurial public agencies anyone could hope to find, with dynamic, charismatic chief officers and chairs, and boards with strong private sector representation, which were run competitively. They all wanted to be the best. As has been said, they were all good or outstanding. They were working well and had huge capacity to deliver many if not all of the outcomes that the Government sought to achieve through the ridiculous splitting of the service that they seemed determined to embark on.
I want to highlight the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon about the split being born entirely out of political necessity. The Government knew fine well that they could never win public support for the wholesale sell-off of the service when medium and high-risk offenders were to be subject to supervision in the community—where we and our constituents live. The fear was that those offenders would not be properly supervised, and because the Government knew that was a risk, they invented the ridiculous, artificial split of the service along risk lines, when we all know that risk is dynamic.
Anyone who has ever worked with offenders will know that a low-risk offender does not always stay a low-risk offender. Risk changes. It can change quickly and unpredictably, and the people best placed to make such assessments are probation officers. They have the relationship with the offender and they have proven time and time again that they can spot such changes. When changes occur—they could result from a new relationship, drinking, a mental health issue or losing a job—the triggers must be communicated immediately.
I am getting to be rather fond of the Chairman of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). He is quite an avuncular character, but I would caution him against smothering the Minister with love.
The point I am trying to make is that the Minister needs to answer some serious criticisms about programme’s implementation. It behoves all of us, from whichever side of the House, to make problems known to him, although I have to give him his due. These are not problems of his making: he inherited the programme, and I like to think that he would not have liked to have seen this nonsense implemented, because I know he cares deeply about what happens in the community and what happens to offenders, and he cares about victims, too.
I agree that it is important to learn lessons from the process we have embarked on, but is not one of the key lessons to learn that, when we approach such issues, we must put dogma to one side and look empirically at what works? If that had been done, we would not face many of the problems we do now.
That is absolutely right. There was an opportunity to trial the programme. Labour was in favour of pilots, in which so many lessons could have been learnt and problems avoided. Everyone said that there would be a problem with IT—it does not take a rocket scientist to spot that. That was so predictable and so avoidable. With time and training, we could have avoided the problems we are now experiencing.
We cannot just say, “We’ll sort it out as time goes on, but it’ll take a couple of years to put it right.” Problems are being caused now, and problems in probation are a risk to public safety. The Minister needs to get his head around those issues urgently. If necessary, he needs to put in resources to deal with them—because, my God, he will be putting in resources if things go wrong! Let us not wait for that to happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) powerfully outlined the folly of splitting the service. The inspectorate agrees with her, and says that the speed of transition has left staff feeling that they have not been informed about new working processes. Many still do not understand the rationale behind those processes. To their credit, the workforce are hugely motivated and experienced, and have the very best values. They will work incredibly hard to make the changes work, but we haven’t half made their jobs that much harder by going about it in this way. There is only so much that even that workforce can take. I urge the Minister to address the problem of staff morale quickly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) was right that time is being wasted because new tasks are not being integrated with old systems. Staff in court do not have access to the information they need. Things are having to be done on paper and uploaded later, creating extra tasks and unnecessary administration. Information is having to be inputted repeatedly in different places. All that nonsense could have been avoided. Heaven knows, the IT was bad enough before we started this process and needed to be addressed, but imposing a new structure on a system that was already feeling the strain was simply reckless and unnecessary. The Minister could have got the same outcomes in a safer, better way.
There are significant staffing gaps, but efforts to fix them have been too slow. It is shocking that the service can be restructured at breakneck speed, but the hoped for gains, such as involving the voluntary sector and providing proper, meaningful supervision for short-sentence prisoners, appear to be happening incredibly slowly—so slowly that we cannot see them.
Many new processes simply take longer and are more complicated than the previous arrangements. Every serious case review I have ever read has looked at communication problems as a factor leading to that serious case arising. In probation, communication is not a luxury or something it would be nice to get right; it is at the very heart of it all, and probation officers, workers in the CRCs and anyone else working with an offender must be excellent at communication. They therefore need to be given the right systems and support, but that is not happening. That is dangerous, and the Minister needs to get on to it straightaway.
This debate is not simply a rehashing of previous debates between me and the Minister about how ridiculous this whole project was—it is not our greatest hits. Rather, it is about problems with implementation. The decision on the transforming rehabilitation programme has been taken, so now we must make sure that, however chaotic the system is, we can support the workforce to make the programme work and make it safer for our constituents.
I have asked the Minister many times—as I asked his predecessor, the current Attorney General, when the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 was in Committee—about co-location. I have had many assurances that NPS and CRC staff will be co-located. I thought that would be a good way of dealing with some of the problems with communication, as in the past those supervising an offender would have shared an office or have had a good relationship because they would have been used to dealing with one another. Will the Minister say how often co-location is not happening? I suspect that it is more the norm that staff are sited in differed locations. How quickly does he intend to address that? It is perhaps the key to making the system safer.
There are many current problems. Inspectors often find that they are identifying the same challenges now as in earlier inspections, and that the work to put those right, as was identified in the Minister’s letter to the Chair of the Justice Committee, is not having the desired impact. The Government need to do more than they have already said they will to put those problems right. The pre-allocation stage is not streamlined and so is too time consuming. What will the Minister do to streamline that stage, which is a crucial part of the process? There are now, effectively, two risk screening tools, the case allocation system and the offender assessment system. Many staff in both the NPS and the CRCs are expressing serious doubts about the value of completing the risk of serious recidivism tool at the pre-allocation stage.
That issue has been raised repeatedly with Ministers, including when the 2014 Act was in Committee. Unfortunately, at that stage Members were given no information about the new risk assessment tool and were forced to take it on trust that it would be workable and that we would not need huge investment in training on it. I am not convinced that we were given the most candid or well-informed responses in Committee. The Minister needs to add looking urgently at that risk assessment tool to his to-do list.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) quoted Ian Lawrence, the head of the National Association of Probation Officers—we never know, he might just be listening—on staff morale, which my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton also talked about. Morale is at an all-time low. The system is under huge pressure, with 98% of staff saying that they have no confidence in the Government with regard to administering the programme effectively. That cannot make the Minister feel too good about himself. I am not here to add to his woes, but he needs to consider the burden he is placing on staff in the sector. They have a breaking point, and I do not want to see any more good, experienced staff leaving the service because they have no confidence in the Government’s intentions on responsible supervision of offenders in the community. Will the Minister address those points?
Despite the gloss that the Chair of the Justice Committee placed on the mood in the voluntary sector, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations seems to see things slightly differently. The largest membership body for the voluntary sector, it has conducted a survey of how its members feel. We need to take the evidence of that survey very seriously. It found that the pace of change has been slow. Organisations have not been involved, leaving them unsure about whether they will be involved in service delivery at all, and so unable to plan strategically or make decisions on staff. Few voluntary sector organisations have said they have been able to secure contracts to deliver services, which is especially the case for smaller ones. All is not as it seems, and it is certainly not as was promised.
The Government promised to put the third sector at the heart of probation, but the promise was obviously false, as that has not happened. Will the Minister therefore let us know what he is doing to put that right and ensure that the voluntary sector plays a significant role? We want to get the benefit of all the talent in, and experience of, working with offenders that we have up and down the country, but many people who could offer a great deal are, frankly, being shut out. They were not shut out before, because trusts went to great efforts to work with smaller local providers.
I must ask the Minister to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) about Askham Grange prison. I have visited it myself. The best governor I have ever met is running the prison, along with another prison, and is getting tremendous outcomes. We should support that establishment, expand its work and share the good practice there more widely. To close it would be an absolute travesty.
On freedom of information, there is one question the Government have not answered. During the legislation’s Committee stage, the Opposition argued for the Government to bring contracted providers within the ambit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We know how the Lord Chancellor feels about FOI, having shifted responsibility for it to the Cabinet Office, but I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts. In moving an amendment in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said we needed extra scrutiny via FOI, but sadly the Government voted that amendment down. Has the Minister considered whether the issue needs to be looked at again and whether these organisations are making themselves as open and transparent as possible? I would suggest they are not.
To conclude, I want to pray in aid the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who, to his credit, has showed huge interest in all things related to justice. He was a member of the Justice Committee, and he had some quite insightful things to say about the Government’s programme. He said:
“The losers are the ex-offenders, the community…all of us…who must pay the costs in reoffending, more prisons and more sentencing. Surely, there is a better way to go about this—one that would show some respect for those who have given their lives to the probation service and who in a decent and professional way try to improve people’s lives, rather than working solely for private sector companies whose main interest is making money out of the system.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 13 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 236WH.]
That was his way of putting it, and I would add that the system we have is simply chaotic. We knew things would take time, but it is dangerous to let too much time to go by without intervening. The plans were poorly conceived, and they have been irresponsibly executed. I therefore encourage the Minister to respond to my questions and to the seven or eight suggestions and requests made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on bringing this important issue before the House. I think this is the first Westminster Hall debate he has initiated, and he conducted himself extremely well. I am also grateful to all the other Members who have taken part. I will begin by trying to address as many of the specific points Members raised as I can, before getting on to the bulk of my remarks.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether using oral reports was resulting in more risk. In all cases where a report is undertaken at court, a risk of recidivism assessment—a risk of harm screening—is undertaken.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about FOI requests and transparency. I can tell him and all other Members present—my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who chairs the Select Committee, and others also asked about this—that the Government have committed to publishing management information detailing the performance of the CRCs and the NPS. Members will not have to wait long for the next release of that information. We are committed to transparency, because we have to proceed on the basis of results and how we are doing, and we will take corrective action where necessary.
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) spoke very knowledgably in a debate we had on prisons earlier this year, and she has a serious interest in all these matters, which I greatly welcome. She asked a number of questions, but particularly about Askham Grange. The women’s prison estate is the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage). However, I can tell the hon. Lady that any decision to action the closure of Askham Grange will be taken only when the new resettlement model recommended in the women’s custodial estate review has been implemented and we are satisfied that the new arrangements give women the opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for release. Having said that, I acknowledge the outstanding work that is clearly being done at Askham Grange. I also recognise the uncertainty felt by the staff concerned. Where prison establishments have closed, we have always taken good care to preserve skills and keep them in the system, and to give people the opportunity to transfer.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) rightly asked about the Welsh language. The Working Links service directory is being translated into Welsh, which I am sure she will welcome.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) asked whether there was confusion over the allocation of offenders. The pre-sentence case allocation system is based on a score for the risk of recidivism and harm. That score clearly defines whether an offender is to be allocated to the NPS or the CRC, so I do not fully recognise his description of confusion.
A number of Members asked about possible redundancies in the probation service. CRCs are contractually required to maintain a professional and appropriately skilled workforce to deliver the services set out in their contracts. That is being robustly managed by the National Offender Management Service. Furthermore, any probation staff who were employed as at 31 May 2014 will, if they are eligible for voluntary redundancy, be entitled to the enhanced voluntary redundancy terms, as set out in the national agreement on staff transfer and protections, where a voluntary redundancy situation arises. Those terms stand unless otherwise renegotiated in accordance with applicable employment law.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), in what I thought was a thoughtful and good speech, rightly made the important point that the reoffending rate has remained too high for too long. He is absolutely right, and I can assure him there is no divide in the Chamber about that: we recognise that fact, and we are determined to do something about it, working first in the prison system and then in the probation service.
In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) rightly mentioned the importance of family relationships, and I want to reassure her that I do get that. My enthusiasm for the issue is shared by the chief inspector, who highlights it on page 62 of his annual report for very practical reasons. He notes that the majority of accommodation for those leaving prison is provided by family members, as are a lot of employment opportunities. If we keep those family links strong, it will help in rehabilitation.
The Chair of the Select Committee made a very balanced speech, for which I am grateful. He said he had recently attended a conference on these issues. I am sure he will, like all good Select Committee Chairs, proceed according to the evidence. I would not expect him to do anything else or to give me, as a Minister, an easy time. I know he will continue to hold the Government to account, depending on what happens.
My hon. Friend mentioned problems with ICT. It is fair to say that those problems were there before, and I will say a little in my remarks about what we are doing to address them. I have already mentioned the issue of transparency, which he raised.
In terms of being held to account, the Minister has undertaken to give us updated performance data, which I am sure the Select Committee will welcome. One issue the Committee raised was that, given the commitment to largely local delivery, the new arrangements should not disrupt local partnership arrangements that are working well, particularly where CRCs are covering quite wide areas. Will the Minister make sure that we also have up-to-date data on that, and that the issue continues to be monitored closely, because we clearly do not want things that work well on a multi-agency level to be disrupted?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for raising that important point, which other Members also raised. What I would say to everyone here today and to all those who are listening to the debate, or who will be reading it later, is that the voluntary sector is a precious asset. We do not have a right to it. These people have shown good will, and many of them have given up their time and shown a serious commitment to helping us with these issues. We have a duty to nurture and treasure them, and I want to make sure that we use them as effectively as possible—and sometimes perhaps a little more strategically than we have done. However, I do get the importance of valuing the voluntary sector.
I want now to move on to my substantive remarks, about the reason for introducing the reforms. The reoffending rate has decreased by 2.3 percentage points since 2002, to 25.3% at the end of September 2013. However, the group of offenders with the highest reoffending rates remains those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. Almost 60% of those adult offenders go on to reoffend within a year of leaving prison. They are the one group that previously remained out of scope for statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community. As many have said and as I am sure we all agree, that statistic is evidence that a new approach was needed. We came to office in the previous Government determined to change that and, as a result, implemented the transforming rehabilitation reforms, better to focus the system on reducing reoffending, protecting the public and providing greater value for the taxpayer.
The key point is that we would not have had the money to introduce supervision for the under-12-month group without the reforms. No Member who has spoken has mentioned that. We could not have done what everyone has called on us to do without putting in a lot of extra money that was not available.
I want to put that right: the proposal that the Opposition made at the time was backed by the chief officers of probation trusts, who were willing within existing budgets to take on that responsibility, and in some cases were already doing so. What has been happening was not necessary.
I disagree with the hon. Lady that it could have been done within existing budgets, because it meant 45,000 extra offenders a year having probation supervision. That is why we needed to bring other players to the table.
The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 made a number of changes to the sentencing framework, most notably by providing that everyone released from short sentences will now receive 12 months of supervision in the community, which did not happen before. That, as I mentioned, represents some 45,000 offenders, so we needed to make significant structural changes to both the probation and prison services. Offenders who pose a high risk of serious harm to the public, or who have been convicted of the most serious offences, are being managed in the public sector under the National Probation Service, which sits within the National Offender Management Service. Medium and lower-risk offenders are being managed by the 21 community rehabilitation companies, which remained in public ownership until 1 February, when eight new providers took ownership of them and began running them.
The CRCs are being run by a diverse group, including a range of voluntary sector providers with experience in rehabilitating offenders. Those providers will be remunerated via a system that rewards them for reducing reoffending: payment by results.
I want to make a little progress, but if I have time later I shall willingly give way.
There was also substantial reform of the prison system. To support improved rehabilitation outcomes, the prison estate was reorganised to facilitate a through-the-gate model, whereby offenders are given help and support from within custody into the community that they will return to on release. We established a network of 89 resettlement prisons in what has involved a large-scale reorganisation and reconfiguration of the prison estate. Short-term prisoners and prisoners in the last 12 weeks of their sentence are being housed in those prisons where CRCs provide a through-the-gate resettlement service, including support to offenders for accommodation needs, employment brokerage and retention, finance and debt advice and support for sex workers and victims of domestic violence.
How is the new probation system performing? We have heard a lot of attacks on it this morning. Members will know that the transition took place on 1 June last year. Based on the wide range of information that we published this July, performance is broadly consistent with pre-transition levels. Probation staff in both the NPS and the CRCs have worked hard to implement the reforms and we will continue to support them as the new ways of working become embedded.
I want to do something that the hon. Lady called on me to do—to thank the probation staff who have worked very hard through a difficult time. Change is never easy, particularly if it is being applied to people under a new organisation. The staff continue to work hard and to engage proactively with the reforms.
I am going to talk a little about Wales, which I am sure the hon. Lady would like me to, as several Welsh Members have spoken in the debate.
The owners of Wales Community Rehabilitation Company are a shining example of collaborative working. The contract to run the CRC was awarded last December to Working Links, which is a public, private and voluntary company working in strategic partnership with Innovation Wessex, a probation staff mutual. I want innovative responses to causes of crime such as addiction and lack of housing, employment and skills, which the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd mentioned. One of the keys to maximising innovation is through the widest possible participation of supply chain partners. Working Links owns the contracts for three CRCs in total, and in Wales has signed contracts with St Giles Trust and Safer Wales to support their through-the-gate services. Furthermore, Wales CRC has also continued with a number of existing supply chain partners, such as Turning Point and the Pembrokeshire Care Society, which were inherited from Wales probation trust. That kind of cross-industry collaboration will help to build a better justice system through the sharing of evidence and intelligence developed from innovations across the sector to deliver better justice outcomes.
Several hon. Members spoke about employment, training and education and we will continue to focus on those. In Wales a working group has been established to map employability provision across Wales. The group includes the National Probation Service, Wales CRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and other employment, training and education providers. It is another good example of the collaborative partnership working that the Select Committee Chairman and others have called for in the debate. We want to ensure that it continues in the same way.
I never miss an opportunity to celebrate the excellent work that our probation staff do. They are on the frontline, delivering services that help to keep us all safe. I would therefore like to highlight the fact that the 2015 Probation Officer of the Year award went to a member of staff from Wales CRC, Wendy Hyett, for her excellent diversionary scheme for women offenders. I was pleased to present her with that award.
The transforming rehabilitation reforms have made substantial changes to the way in which offenders get help, in the through-the-gate process and in the community. The reforms are still bedding in, and while they do that we are turning a greater focus on the rehabilitation of offenders in prisons. As the Secretary of State and I have said before, reform of our prisons is a key area of focus, and we have made it clear that our current prison system fails to rehabilitate offenders or to ensure that criminals are prevented from reoffending. Our prisons must offer offenders the opportunity to get the skills and qualifications they need to turn their lives around. That will be a continued focus for us, along with a focus on education and keeping family links strong.
I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I will write to those whose specific concerns I have not been able to deal with, and I assure the shadow Minister and all those present that we shall continue to monitor the progress of CRCs robustly. We have very robust contract management for every CRC and will hold them to account on what they have said they will do. We shall carry on publishing the data at quarterly intervals, and the next release of that data will be soon.
I thank the Minister and all hon. Members who have attended the debate, which has been excellent. The fundamental point that the Opposition would make is that there is nothing wrong with experimentation and innovation, but that there is a fundamental structural problem now: the splitting and fragmentation and the proliferation of providers have created lack of clarity and are increasing bureaucracy and inefficiency. The Conservatives are always keen to cut red tape and bureaucracy, but the reforms are having the opposite effect. The Government are applying a false economy and are playing with fire, with the risk to public safety. We urge them, constructively, to create a cross-party taskforce and work in partnership to build a streamlined—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).