Written evidence from Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner at Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire
I am the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for South Yorkshire, elected to office in 2016 by members of the South Yorkshire public. I am also the Chairman of the local criminal justice board.
As set out in my Police and Crime Plan, I look to do all that I can to help keep our local communities safe: to tackle crime, protect the vulnerable and to treat people fairly. I am keen to ensure that the future Probation Service is one that works, and works well. Also, I want to be assured that those managing the latest Probation reforms have learned lessons from previous reforms, and are enabled to set up a new Probation service that can and will be successful, from Day 1.
I provide evidence in relation to those matters where I believe I am best able to make comment and offer a valuable contribution to the inquiry.
Q1: What are you views on the decision to end the competition for Probation Delivery Partners, and bring those services back into NPS delivery?
- Welcome the decision – probation should be a public service
- That said, would not wish to lose some of the nuggets of success achieved in the last few years, for example
- Local Innovation
- Flexibility to respond quickly to change in local circumstance
Q3: What are your views on the new model of probation?
What do you like about the new model?
- Core probation service is provided by a single organisation – which should operate more efficiently than has been the case brought about by the current split of service
- Greater clarity of responsibility and accountability for offender supervision, offender management, resettlement and rehabilitation
- Additional investment to support key resettlement pathways in relation to Accommodation, Employment, Training & Education, Personal Well-being, Women’s Services, Dependency and Recovery and Finance, Benefits & Debt is to be welcomed.
What do you dislike?
- A regional rather than local organisational structure, and whether key local connections (with the likes of Community Safety Partnerships, Local Authorities) will be sustained over time
- Not sure of future ‘fit’ with the devolved elected mayoral model - fear that the probation region approach may add further complexity to an already complex local delivery landscape
- Whether the new model will receive and bring forward the right level and calibre of resources to enable it to deliver all that is expected of it – will there be adequate re-investment (or will reform be seen as an opportunity to cut costs)
Q4: Does the new model address the issue of confidence in community sentence options?
If yes, how?
- Has the potential to provide confidence – but with the impact of COVID, ability to deliver those sentences on the ground are likely to be problematic for some time (see comments later)
- Again, as part of transition arrangements, sustaining confidence in availability and viability of community sentence options, will be key
If no, why not?
Q5: The new model aims to strengthen integration between prisons and probation by integrating through-the-gate roles, processes and products with sentence management. What is your view on this? Do you anticipate any gaps/challenges?
- Seen recent improvement in ‘Through the Gate’ delivery and that has been achieved through successful arrangements in place and operating locally – the question is, will they be maintained and built upon
- as part of managing the transition,
- as the new Probation Regions are established, and
- as the commissioning arrangements, initially for Day 1, but then beyond as part of Day 2 arrangements, are established
- Recent successes have been based on effective local relationships that have been established with the likes of accommodation providers, substance misuse services and local employment, training & education (ETE) services – will those relations withstand the challenge of further transition, and this time at a regional level
- The Probation Dynamic Framework that will be established and expected to be in place for Day 1 - some of the key relationships that support resettlement will hopefully be retained, but no guarantees or certainty at present
- Accommodation and ETE providers are now expected to be commissioned and provided on the new regional footprint rather than a local one – for accommodation in particular, working effectively with local authorities, social housing providers and other local accommodation providers will be key.
Q6: What progress has been made in implementing the probation reforms in Wales?
What lessons have been learnt so far and how are these being shared?
- As well as following the lessons from the experience in Wales, need to be clear about differences and uniqueness of the arrangements in Wales, and whether they will translate to the English situation
- Key enablers to success in Wales – are they present in England and in each of the Probation Regions?
- Difficulties experienced in Wales – are they likely to be present and repeated in England, and any negative impact to the same or different degrees
Q8: Does the new model offer a level playing field for small and specialist voluntary and third sector organisations in regard to the commissioning? Given the challenges in the previous model, how will a new national service secure input from smaller providers?
- It is difficult to confirm what impact there might be on small and specialist voluntary and third sector organisations – but there are some concerns
- There is no fixed time period for would-be providers to be able to join the Framework – which is welcome – and no maximum number of qualified suppliers, but it is unclear as to whether there is a risk of insufficient qualified suppliers being available to provide full coverage across the country, and what would happen then
- The commissioning arrangements appear now to be progressing at pace, although may be quite onerous for some smaller providers in the time available, particularly if they may be looking to bid to deliver Day 1 services at either regional or PCC area level
- Changes to the arrangements, and COVID, has meant that not all face-to-face market warming events took place – so whether that places providers in some probation regions at an advantage/ disadvantage over others, remains to be seen
- Timescales for commissioning and co-ordination with other government commissions may adversely affect potential providers. For example, the ‘Probation Dynamic Framework’ registration and ‘ETE Day 1 competition’ has been taking place at the same time as one concerning employment and health needs for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Dynamic Framework in the North East. This may well have presented a challenge for some providers, and may have forced them to have to make a choice as to where to concentrate their efforts. This may place smaller organisations at a disadvantage. To what extent are these competitions being co-ordinated centrally?
What impact has Covid-19 had on this, if any?
- As mentioned, face-to-face market warming events did not take place across the country – (not entirely due to COVID, because sessions in my region did not go ahead in December 2019/ January 2020 as had been intended), and therefore latterly market warming has been offered virtually. Whether take up has been strong, particularly from suppliers in those areas where no face-to-face market warming took place, I am unsure
- Relatively tight timescales for the commissioning process to be ready for Day 1 services, may now be more challenging in light of COVID – particularly if there should be a second wave in the weeks ahead
- Planning to deliver services in a post-COVID world is likely to be quite difficult to envisage at present for some providers
- there has been limited time to establish new ways of working that are properly ‘tried and tested’
- whether proposed delivery arrangements will even be viable (or able to be assessed as viable) could be a risk
- whether smaller organisations will survive, economically, through to June 2021 and beyond to be able to deliver services is unclear
- will there be adequate contingency arrangements and mitigation in place to ensure the capacity and capability to deliver services in light of the associated risks presented by COVID
Q9: What is the anticipated effect of procuring resettlement and rehabilitative services using a dynamic framework?
- The framework will need to be sufficiently responsive to meet needs locally and it is not altogether clear at this stage of the extent to which it will be. The distribution and capacity of qualified suppliers on the Framework to deliver across service categories and geography will be key
- Dynamic framework should offer the prospect of being able to respond quickly and flexibly to meet local need
- Regional Probation Directors believe they are well-placed to commission/ co-commission services with a range of partners, which will reflect gaps in provision
Do you foresee any problems with this model?
- Management and maintenance of the Framework
- How often commissioning arrangements and call off competitions may need to be undertaken, alongside available capacity and expertise to do so, may present a risk
- Monitoring the effectiveness of services provided
- Not sure whether there will be full coverage of services available, particularly to service the needs in more remote or rural communities
Q14: The Ministry of Justice made the decision to end the competition for Probation Delivery Partners and bring these services into the NPS. These services are to go live in June 2021; is there sufficient time to transition probation over to the new model?
If anything, what needs to be taken into consideration during this time?
- Timescales do appear challenging and with uncertainties associated with COVID and potential second wave/ local lockdowns occurring
- Brexit is also likely to occur early 2021 – unclear as to whether this will impact adversely on the planned timing of probation reform, as the basis of the UK’s departure remains unclear
- COVID and all that has changed because of it in terms of managing and supervising offenders and delivery of community-based sentences, perhaps makes it imperative that change does occur as soon as possible (although before June 2021 would likely be unachievable)
Q17: What impact has Covid-19 had on the probation service?
- the immediate impact and/or
- the anticipated long-term impact
- Delivery of probation services has, I understand, been extremely challenging during COVID, particularly their work out in the community – and it continues to present significant challenges for probation personnel in the management of risk – the full impact of which is not yet known
- Traditional and established ways of delivering community orders has had to be adjusted, in some instances unexpectedly in positive ways, but the impact and effectiveness of those changes in terms of rehabilitation is not yet fully understood
- Long term, there is likely to have to be different approaches to rehabilitative work and completion of community sentences – some of which is likely to demand additional resource in order to do so (for example, unpaid work is having to operate at a significantly reduced capacity at present in order to do so safely)
- The economic and social challenges facing the country in the aftermath of COVID will undoubtedly impact upon Probation’s service users and their prospects to rehabilitate successfully and reduce reoffending are likely to be so affected
- The delays at court, exacerbated by COVID, is also affecting probation and its service users now, and potentially into the medium to longer term – the concern is that local communities will ultimately suffer as a consequence if justice is delayed and if offenders are not well managed or supervised, nor supported through effective rehabilitation
Q19: Are there any other areas relating to the Probation Reform Programme that you would like to brief the Committee on, that are not already covered by the Terms of Reference above? (If yes, please provide information)
- Role of Police and Crime Commissioners under the new arrangements needs clarification, their future involvement in Probation Reform which may follow as Part 2 of the PCC review - but this inquiry presents an opportunity to highlight those areas where the PCC Review Part 2 could focus
- Impact of the devolved elected mayoral model on the new arrangements in future is unclear, particularly as not all necessarily looking to replicate the arrangements in place in Greater Manchester or London. For example, in my region, there could be at least two City Region devolved elected mayors, and they would still not encompass the entire Yorkshire & the Humber probation region.
- The bureaucracy of the contract management regime in place to oversee the performance of Community Rehabilitation Companies should not be expected to continue in its current guise into the reformed probation service – a concern might be that management of the Dynamic Framework and commissioned suppliers may subsume any resource that may otherwise be released.