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Probation: Voluntary Sector

Volume 798: debated on Wednesday 5 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that the voluntary sector can contribute to an effective national probation service.

My Lords, voluntary organisations play an important role in helping offenders turn their lives around. We are determined to strengthen this role. In May, the Government set out our plans for future probation arrangements, including that the National Probation Service will directly commission specialist and voluntary sector organisations to deliver rehabilitation services. We are engaging closely with voluntary sector providers to ensure that our arrangements maximise their potential engagement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and welcome the proposal in the Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence consultation, which promises a clearer role for the voluntary sector. My concern, however, is that the consultation proposes ongoing mini-competitions and a mixed market for services. Can the Minister tell us how the Government will ensure that smaller charities are helped to spend less time competing for contracts and more time serving the community?

My Lords, commissioning of interventions for each area will be driven by a regional probation director, who will have a special responsibility to make use of locally available services and to adapt provision to match local need. In addition, we intend to remove some of the barriers that have been in place for smaller voluntary organisations, such as the requirement to provide parent company guarantees, which these voluntary organisations could not meet.

My Lords, the National Probation Service has more than a quarter of a million people under supervision at any given time. A lack of resources and Chris Grayling’s reforms have not helped, as was clearly demonstrated by the National Audit Office. We welcomed the setting up of the National Probation Service, but we now have another problem about the extent of its workload. Is it not time to set up a thematic review to examine whether present resources are adequate to meet the implementation objectives of both the Prison Service and the National Probation Service? How do we involve the voluntary organisations in this critical exercise?

My Lords, there is a determination to ensure that the voluntary sector is fully engaged in the future delivery of probation services. Indeed, although there are only 94 voluntary community or social enterprises delivering services in the current CRC supply chain, we know that there are many hundreds of such organisations that are either signposted by the present system or are available to be used, and we intend to go to them in so far as we can. As regards the future organisation of those services, we are in the process of gathering data on all staff across the probation system to inform our workforce planning for this new model.

My Lords, this House debated the Government’s Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which was an early example of Chris Grayling’s ideological approach to policy and his limitless capacity to get things wrong—in this case, at the cost of over £400 million. Now, a year after a devastating report from the Justice Select Committee, in a belated decision the Government are abolishing the community rehabilitation companies, but why are they insisting, in effect, that the role of the National Probation Service is to contract out much of the service to private companies?

The mixed-market model that we have engaged in has proved effective in a number of respects, and we continue to believe that that is the way in which to deliver services. Indeed, I notice that the noble Lord’s suggestion might well have the unfortunate result of excluding much of the voluntary sector.

My Lords, I ask my noble and learned friend how Her Majesty’s Government will ensure that the importance of family and other supportive relationships is recognised as the golden thread that runs through all probation processes, when they transfer responsibility for management of all offenders to the National Probation Service.

My Lords, the support of family and other social networks is a critical factor in helping to reduce reoffending, and we want to build on that where possible. Over the past couple of years, we have been implementing the recommendation of my noble friend’s first report on male offenders, and we plan to act on his more recent report on female offenders.

My Lords, the consultation response that the Minister mentioned is long on thoughts and ideas but particularly short on any implementation plan. Can the Minister please tell the House when the director-general of the probation service will produce an implementation plan to give effect to all these ideas in the consultation response?

My Lords, our plans regarding this matter are more developed in respect of Wales, where the model was originally considered. We are looking to transfer offender management functions from the community rehabilitation companies to the National Probation Service before the end of 2019 in Wales. Beyond that, it will go into 2020. That is the sort of timescale we will have in mind when it comes to the position of further probation reports.

My Lords, a few minutes ago, the Minister referred to the great successes of this mixed-market model. Can he help people such as me by giving a couple of examples of these great successes? Can he then explain why it has been so necessary to introduce such proposals for major reform?

My Lords, I am not sure I used the word “great”, but there have been successes so far as that model is concerned. Indeed, if we look at the statistics, we see that there has been an overall reduction, by a number of percentage points, in the reoffending rate for offenders managed by CRCs over the same offenders in 2011. In addition, we have seen that a proportion of CRCs have been consistently successful in reducing reoffending. However, we recognise that the model has not worked as we had hoped. In particular, it has not enabled us to engage with the voluntary sector in the way we had anticipated. We are desirous to achieve that objective.