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Nathan Dick, Head of Policy and Communication at Clinks, asks how the third sector will be affected by the fact that none of the TR Preferred bidders are from the sector


Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) has taken its next step. We now know who the preferred bidders are, and where they will work. These new partnerships are going to herald a significant change in how ‘offender management’ is carried out.


The Ministry of Justice statement on preferred bidders, which came out on 29th October, listed by my count, 14 charities, seven private sector organisations, and two public sector mutuals. This doesn’t give us a true picture of all the providers in the various supply chains, or the extent to which they will be involved in delivering services. It also doesn’t clarify who the primary contract holder is – though it’s unlikely to be a voluntary sector organisation.


What we do know is that this process is liable to change. As of 6 November GEO Group UK withdrew from of the competition because they had “not been able to reach an acceptable agreement” with the MoJ. This means that the GEO Mercia Willowdene partnership is no longer the preferred bidder for Warwickshire and West Mercia CRC.  EOS, which is part of Staffline Group plc, are now in discussion with the MoJ and are said to be speaking with Willowdene Rehabilitation (social enterprise) and the staff mutual Mercia Community Action who were formerly in partnership with GEO.


What role will the voluntary sector actually play in delivering services?


It’s clear we need to progress the conversation we have been having around TR. A lot of our focus has been on the commissioning process, and rightly so. The discussion needs to turn to what services the voluntary sector will deliver, what sort of a strategic role they will get, what the volume of work will be, and what payment mechanisms are established to pay them.  Close scrutiny of the eight new partnerships will be essential.


The voluntary sector organisations listed in the partnerships announced last week are mostly large (by criminal justice standards) Nacro, Addaction, CRI, and Shelter, and you would expect them to be delivering a significant element of the offender management, but at the moment this role hasn’t been defined. There are also some medium sized organisations such as St. Giles Trust and P3. We must not forget that there are also some comparatively small organisations listed in those partnerships, for instance, A Band of Brothers, Thames Valley Partnership, and Willowdene Rehabilitation Ltd (if they can secure a new partnership). The roles, services, and volume of work that all these organisations undertake will doubtless be incredibly different.


It seems apparent that the MoJ understand the vital role the voluntary sector plays in resettlement and rehabilitation. It makes me ponder, not for the first time, whether any of these partnerships would be able to deliver any of the services they bid for without the expertise and professionalism of their voluntary sector partners.


Why didn’t we get a voluntary sector lead preferred bidder?


I know that many are disappointed that we won’t have the chance to see how the voluntary sector would have done things differently. It has been well publicised that organisations like Catch 22, Home Group, and Turning Point were not successful in becoming listed as preferred bidders, despite a committed effort.


Clinks is disappointed too, and we want to make sure that we know why there was no voluntary sector lead preferred bidder before we can progress on our members’ behalf; we need to know the facts. Some of the reasons why it was difficult for the voluntary sector to bid as lead providers in the first place are well documented in our early (and ongoing) responses to TR e.g. the size of the contract package areas, the financial backing, the financial risk, the introduction of payment by results, and some more ethical considerations about the role that charities should take in delivering orders of the court, and some of the risks often raised in relation to partnering with large private sector organisations. But in the end we don’t know what factors really determined the outcome.


What about the 13,500 other voluntary sector organisations that work with this client group?


We should be clear that the voluntary sector in criminal justice is made up of a small amount of large providers, a slightly larger amount of medium sized organisations, and a vast amount of small ones (See research by TSRC). We know that the bulk of the voluntary sector’s work is at a very local level, in local authorities and neighbourhoods. How these organisations will be involved and engaged in the newly emerging Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) is anyone’s guess at the moment.


The MoJ has spoken about 300 material subcontractors in the bids, with the majority of these being voluntary sector organisations. They have also pointed to the fact that 700 voluntary sector organisations have registered as potential providers with the MoJ. A further 500 organisations have registered on Clinks’ Partnership Finder. Even if we combine all of these databases it only represents a small snapshot of the sector, and it doesn’t tell us anything about how they will be engaged.


For Clinks, the test of these new CRCs will not only be whether they positively impact on reducing re-offending, but also the extent to which they can address the diverse needs of their service users, and how they’ll work with specialist services to make a real difference. We know that the sector offers a wealth of expertise in a number of areas, which include (but are not exclusive to) women’s services, the needs of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic service users, older people, people with disabilities, and care leavers. In Clinks’ recent discussion paper ‘What does good rehabilitation look like?’, we found that the voluntary sector’s role in providing specialist and flexible services is key to improving the lives of people in the CJS.


A longer version of this blog was originally posted on the Clinks website. Clinks is a member of the T2A Alliance. It supports the voluntary sector in Criminal Justice, providing information and voice to the sector, as well as working to bring about positive change for people in the Criminal Justice System. Find out more about their work by going to their website.