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Probation reform; it is time for the voluntary sector to work together

Earlier this morning the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, announced new plans to reform the probation service as we know it. Reforms will be made for the National Probation Service to become stronger in light of the challenges faced by the previous privatisation of low and medium risk case management.

Leading on this monumental change, Gauke is looking for “a smarter justice system that reduces repeat crime by providing robust community alternatives to ineffective short prison sentences - supporting offenders to turn away from crime for good.”

David Gauke and Jacob Hill meeting in Brighouse, West yorkshire

The key elements of the Probation Reform will see:

  1. The National Probation Service regaining overall responsibility of all Offender Management offering one consistent service

  2. Up to £280 million invested in voluntary and private sector organisations to deliver innovative rehabilitation services - £20 million per year to invest in particularly innovative approaches

  3. A holistic approach to services to cut reoffending and reduce crime. This will involve bringing a whole range of providers together to address a range of issues that contribute to reoffending

  4. Investment in a digital and data strategy that will better utilise technology to inform the professional judgment of probation officers

  5. Probation officers subject to a statutory regulatory framework that will hold them accountable to similar professional standards faced by doctors and lawyers

  6. Three launch events discussing the reforms in more depth held the week commencing 27th May in London, Cardiff and Manchester; this will be open to stakeholders.

What does this mean for the voluntary sector?

As a member of the voluntary sector, this is always the first question I ask when a new government initiative is launched. This Probation Reform, however, clearly spells out what this could do for community led organisations.

There is a clear desire from the MoJ to see the voluntary sector better utilised to deliver ‘holistic’ services to service users. I am hoping this will see closer collaboration amongst a range of providers including: health, housing, substance misuse, employment support, therapy, community reengagement and services that build on people’s soft skills and resilience.

The £280 million investment in the voluntary and private sector, along with making it easier for them to provide services by reducing bureaucracy, is a significant step in the right direction. I hope to see more 'grassroot' services that intuitively know the confines of the Isle of Wight or the intricacies of central Birmingham delivering relevant, appropriate and locally supported services. I believe this will see greater engagement from service users and ultimately a reduction in reoffending.

Whilst the £280 million will predominantly contribute to the day-to-day running of voluntary and private sector services in the probation service, I believe the real opportunity comes with the £20 million that has been set aside for particularly innovative and new approaches to reducing reoffending.

It is time for the voluntary sector to work together

Under current funding models, it is more common than not that voluntary sector organisations, who largely do impactful work, are competing for scraps of funding where true collaboration is not financially viable.

What if there was a model that could be adopted that enables seed/mobilisation funds to be distributed to as many eligible providers as possible, see the uniformity of success/impact measurement, and ensure the MoJ would only pay the full sum upon truly successful contract completion?

We believe there is a way

Offploy has been researching the idea of Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) for some time now and, inspired by the Peterborough SIB, we are convinced this could be one of the main answers to creating a thriving, collaborating voluntary sector that offers choice to both service user and commissioner.

We think it would be a great idea to see SIBs that package a whole range of support services that meet the needs of a variety of service users. The model is such that it will have provision to deliver both the core services for the many and also the ‘call off’ services that may only be required for a handful of service users. This would offer a service appropriate to every service user ensuring it is accessible to all and will offer the greatest impact to individuals and to society.

This approach could see the MoJ form an agreed social impact methodology for measuring the reduction/frequency of reoffending and the impact these SIBs would have on society.

It could see start-up capital go towards the mobilisation of multiple providers of one or many SIBs who have secured private investment. This will enable the provider to bridge the payment gap between mobilisation and delivery and only the MoJ would only pay out to those who deliver on the agreed outcomes.

The key bit: The risk sits with the lenders as opposed to the traditional payment by results model where the risk sits with the delivery organisations.

Image courtesy of Cabinet Office. Sourced from the Big Society Capital website

This comes at an ideal time when social lenders are more open and eager than ever to lend to social projects that can offer a return on investment on top of a positive social impact.

Under this model, we would see:

  • better funded voluntary sector providers;

  • longer-term contracts potentially spanning four to seven years;

  • significantly lower risk to the commissioner;

  • most importantly, appropriate, local services often built in collaboration with the very service users they support.

We’re eager to share this idea because we believe it could be one of the main models adopted to truly grow the support offered by the voluntary sector to people with criminal convictions.

We are keen to collaborate and we are also keen to see this happen in many locations. Whilst we will focus on as many providers as possible coming together under this model in the Yorkshire and Humber region, we would be keen to hear the thoughts of organisations or individuals with an interest or previous experience in Social Impact Bonds from all over the country and how this could be mobilised.

Further reading on Social Impact Bonds

About Offploy Community Interest Company

Offploy is on a mission to reduce reoffending and make society safer by placing people with criminal convictions into meaningful, mentored and sustainable employment.

Our peer-led service sees people with criminal convictions peer mentored through a nine step journey, which addresses an individual's employability and pastoral needs; this will support our candidates into sustainable employment.


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