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Probation: Voluntary Sector

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to increase the contribution made by the voluntary sector to the delivery of probation services, following publication on 17 April of the report by HM Chief Inspector of Probation, Probation Supply Chains.

My Lords, the report of 17 April from Dame Glenys Stacey is one for which we are grateful. The voluntary and charitable sector has a viable role to play in helping to reform offenders. We recognise that community rehabilitation companies have faced financial challenges, which means that many of them have not been able to develop their engagement with the voluntary sector to the extent envisaged. We will carefully consider the inspectorate’s recommendations as we work to improve probation services.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The Chief Inspector of Probation has repeatedly drawn attention to the failure of the transforming rehabilitation reforms—rushed, rather than thought through, by Chris Grayling—to protect the public or satisfy the needs of offenders under probation supervision. In her latest report, she draws attention to the reduction of the contribution contracted from the voluntary sector, an essential partner under the old system, and the failure of community rehabilitation companies to analyse the needs of those under their supervision, a given for all former probation trusts. Can the Minister please tell the House what the Government are doing to rectify this, and whether the chief inspector’s particular recommendations to the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will be actioned?

My Lords, if I may, I will quote from the chief inspector’s report of 17 April:

“We found that the quality of services was variable, but reasonable overall”.

We intend that the service should be more than reasonable, and we are considering her recommendations.

My Lords, the report demonstrates that probation services have been going badly wrong, with a failure to involve the voluntary sector on anything like the scale envisaged. Allowing the community rehabilitation companies to design and implement their own delivery models was a mistake and has led to uneven and inadequate delivery. Do the Government now plan to tie CRCs to more rigorous contracts by variation, or on renewal? Might this not also enable CRCs to provide much more in the way of needed services to the National Probation Service?

My Lords, the community rehabilitation companies faced unexpected difficulties when it was found that the financial float of those companies was less than had been planned for. We have already discussed the terms of the contracts with the CRCs and they are the subject of further consideration. We are certainly determined that there should be a diverse provision so far as probation is concerned, and one that does involve third sector organisations.

The chief inspector has stated that the present system is fundamentally flawed and that she doubts whether the service can ever be restored to the standard we should accept. Will the Government now join with her, the relevant trade unions and the judiciary to examine how the performance and reputation of a critical part of our system can be restored?

My Lords, with regard to the present provision it should be noted that the community rehabilitation companies have reduced the number of people reoffending. Indeed, our reforms mean that they are monitoring 40,000 offenders who had previously been released with no supervision.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that one of the reasons why it is very difficult to know what is going on in the community rehabilitation companies is that, under the Grayling legislation, as it was previously referred to, they are specifically excluded from the Freedom of Information Act?

My Lords, I do not consider that a material consideration, given that they are subject to the very report that we are discussing presently, Dame Stacey’s report of 17 April.

My Lords, the Minister should not speak about unexpected difficulties, given that the likelihood that the amount of work going to the CRCs would be lower than the Government predicted was something of which the Justice Committee warned, along with many other things.

My Lords, the flow of work between the NPS and the CRCs was indeed lower than the Government had anticipated when they implemented these measures.

My Lords, could the Minister perhaps answer the question that I put to him? Will the Government sit down with the trade unions and the judiciary to deal with the crisis in the system?

My Lords, with respect to this reference to crisis, I remind the noble Lord of what the chief inspector said in her report:

“We found that the quality of services was variable, but reasonable overall”.

We aim to improve that. We do not intend to sit down at present with particular parties, but we are addressing the recommendations in the chief inspector’s report, which is the proper way forward.

I am not in a position to answer such a general proposition but I will undertake to check the relevant statistics in that area and to write to the noble Lord in due course. I will of course place a copy of the letter in the Library.

My Lords, the Minister said that, for some reason, the CRCs did not need to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act because there was a chief inspector. Could he explain exactly why the chief inspector is a substitute for citizens posing questions to and seeking information from the CRCs?

It may not be a substitute for citizens seeking information, but it is a means of ensuring that the conduct of the CRCs and the results of their work are put into the public domain by those who have a clear understanding of how the work should be performed, and are the subject of published reports.