Written evidence from Sodexo
Q1. What are you views on the decision to end the competition for Probation Delivery Partners, and bring those service back into NPS delivery?
As a partner in the provision of probation services since 2015 we were deeply disappointed by the decision to end PDP. We have been consistently surprised by the view that re-nationalising the probation service will improve performance. Our view is the opposite; a strategy to renationalise and re-create the service that existed prior to 2015 will lead to the same performance that has frustrated successive governments with the outcomes delivered by a public sector probation service in the past.
We see no evidence to suggest levels of re-offending will improve, and no evidence that innovation will increase, in fact we anticipate the reverse, that re-offending will plateau and innovation will decrease. We are surprised that the reducing re-offending agenda, a priority for ministers over many years, appears to have slipped down the agenda.
We were told that Covid19 was the main reason for dropping the PDP competition. We are astonished with the view that during a pandemic of unprecedented uncertainty it is somehow considered better to reduce the provider options to a single provider, in the hope this will increase stability. Any organisation with experience of complex change understands that a range of delivery options provides greater stability when the route ahead is uncertain, and uncharted.
We have worked to engage and involve the voluntary sector in our work with offenders in the community. We are not convinced that the commitment to subcontract work to the voluntary sector will continue at the same level.
In our view it is not a correct assumption that in-sourcing is simpler and faster than continuing the outsourcing policy. The risks of trying to in-source within 12 months are significant. The Authority cannot know how long it will take, and how difficult it will be, to transition all CRC services, because it does not adequately understand what it is proposing to in-source. Across the 21 CRCs there are multiple different operating models to deliver case management, interventions, programmes and other services, and the Authority is proposing to converge all models into one on a single day in June 2021.
Q2. How were private sector providers involved in the decision to end competition?
Although the Department will have a different view, there was no meaningful opportunity to represent alternative proposals. It was clear from the point that the PDP bidding process was suspended that the decision to renationalise was a long way down the track. The engagement that followed was completed within a short space of time and had the feel of being taken through a process for the sake of process, the outcome of which was already determined.
We anticipate that as a result it will be increasingly challenging for the Authority to expand its pool of core and expert Justice Providers.
Q3: What are your views on the new model of probation?
The impact of this forced change on our organisation leaves us finding very little if anything positive about these changes. The new model for probation is based on a set of principles identified for Wales which, so far as we can see, are largely untested.
In Sodexo we hold the view that ‘fine tuning’ delivery arrangements improves performance; country wide structural change has the opposite effect. Major centrally driven structural change such as is being implemented currently has a four to five year turn around. This scale of structural change has a negative impact on service delivery and takes about five years to bed in. Creating the CRCs is a good case in point, by 2019 the changes implemented in 2015 were beginning to deliver. They were not necessarily perfect, but with good will and local solutions they were working, inspection reports were improving, relationships were working, and contracts were delivering. Changing them again now is likely to bring another five years of uncertainty and inertia.
Q4: Does the new model address the issue of confidence in community sentence options?
The changes remove the indirect relationship between the CRCs and the courts, however there is no evidence that the changes will improve confidence in service delivery.
Confidence does not come from promises of new structures. Confidence comes from successful local delivery.
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?
The ETTG model is still evolving.
Q6: What progress has been made in implementing the probation reforms in Wales?
Q7: How will the National Probation Service ensure that it maintains the innovation and best practice achieved during the Transforming Rehabilitation Reforms?
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?
The Target Operating Model (draft) refers to the importance of the VCS, local services and the continuation of a mixed model of delivery for the future of probation services. This is positive. There can also be no doubt that much work has been put into the creation of the Probation Dynamic Framework (PDF) and the competitions are now in progress. However, care is needed to avoid overengineering and resulting in a different model to that envisaged. Potential areas of concern include that the commissioning services in advance of June 2021, via a national process rather than novating current operational sub-contracts and allowing the new Regional Director to take forward a varied commissioning model based on local requirements. The size of the regions may mean that smaller VCS organisations are unable to bid directly unless doing so in formal partnership with but this itself requires a certain level of scale. We are anecdotally aware that some VCS organisations are concerned that the process and the procurement requirements (e.g. cyber essentials, parent guarantee, liabilities etc.) do not support SMEs to bid on their own. The CRC Innovation Fund created the mechanism for the commissioning of small and local providers. It is unclear how this arrangement will operate in the new arrangements.
Q9: What is the anticipated effect of procuring resettlement and rehabilitative services using a dynamic framework?
Sodexo has always had valued sub-contracting arrangements with the VCS and has always been supportive of the PDF. The Probation Dynamic Framework (PDF) in our view has real potential. If effective commissioning structures are put in place at a regional level and a clear resettlement model agreed, then the PDF can be the conduit for a range of effective resettlement and rehabilitative services. The PDF can enable the commissioner to respond to changing needs, meet local variations and demands, jointly commission solutions with others and create natural social value in local communities, including but not limited to the growth of peer-led organisations. It has the potential to create a strong justice network amongst providers and enable co-commissioning to emerge as regions become more sophisticated in their commissioning approach
It is a nationally driven exercise which intends to appoint sub-contractors for a three-year contract (with the possibility to extend). The timescales challenge meaningful local engagement, in both in design and selection. Commissioning and contracting expertise is required to optimise the use of the PDF, ensure a fair system is in place to balance performance management with support, and create a positive culture based on real partnership
Q10: What progress has been made so far in the commissioning of services through the dynamic framework?
Q11: CRCs and NPS staff are being brought back together under the new model. How is this transition being managed?
We believe the best way to support our staff through any complex change programme is through ongoing effective communications and engagement. At the same time focussing in our staff health, wellbeing and safety and learning and development.
We have a dedicated Sodexo CRC intranet section for Probation Reform information. This gives staff one place to access:
We have good representation at all levels of the Probation Reform Programme with Sodexo CRC CEOs and CRC Directors being on a number of Transition Programme Boards and Sodexo CRC staff in specialist roles such as HR, Estates, Learning and Operations being part of Regional Transition Boards and working sub-group, to work collaboratively with NPS colleagues. We follow an agreed governance process to confirm our communications approach to specific Probation Reform milestones or announcements and we then use a mix of one-way and two-way communication methods in Sodexo CRCs to communicate with staff.
We hold regular staff listening events, with the last event having a dedicated session on Probation Reform, delivered by our Sodexo CRC Transition Leads. We also provide staff and their families a free 24/7 Sodexo Support Me service, which provides support on work, health, relationships or money related matters. Staff also have access face-to-face counselling through this service.
Finally with staff learning and development, we continue to invest in our people and provide career opportunities to help staff develop their skills and knowledge, while supporting them to prepare for transition to new organisations.
In each Sodexo CRC we have an established and active Service User Council comprised of current and ex-service users representative of our local offender profile. Each council is operated in partnership with the organisation User Voice who are a key operational partner to Sodexo Justice. In the majority of our CRCs our service user engagement arrangments have developed and are now co-commissioned with the National Probation Service. This helps on securing a whole system approach the council meetings are jointly chaired by the CRC Director and an NPS Senior Leader.
Alongside this in each NPS region, a Recovery and Transition Board structure is now established, chaired by the Regional Probation Director. Each CRC is represented at this Board. Reporting to the Board is a sub group structure comprising work-streams of Operations; Estates; People and Digital, Data and Technology (DDAT). These work streams are designed to carefully consider implications for all stakeholders, but primarily our Service Users to ensure we address any potential disadvantage or detrimental impact to engagement or compliance that our Transition planning creates. Specifically with regards the Operations work-stream SU Council representatives will be involved in task and finish activity to shape activity and outcomes aligned with required actions for “day 1”.
Q12: CRCs currently use several different operating systems – how easy will it be to merge these into one model? Do you foresee any challenges?
There are at least 8 different operating models to insource (8 parents and the NPS) and variations in approach also exist between the different NPS regions. The Authority does not have a detailed understanding the operating models across all services and cannot therefore know the challenges and risks associated with getting from our respective and different models, to the new NPS Target Operating Model – which itself has not been deployed, and will require regional adaptations which are not yet designed. It is possible in theory and on paper to design a programme which delivers to a 12 month timeline, but in practice the delivery of such a programme cannot, in our view, be assured.
Q13: What impact is the transition having on the voluntary/third sector organisations already providing probation services?
Some in the voluntary sector will be thankful that the Dynamic Framework is not being removed entirely, but a large section of the sector is anxious about a future without CRCs or PDPs. CRCs provide substantial support to the VCSE market, who benefit from our counsel, financially, help to provide stability. With the limited opportunities in the Dynamic Framework procurement, the Authority will be potentially reducing the diversity and richness of VCSE organisations.
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?
The Authority has taken the view that the benefits of reintegration within a 12 month period outweigh the chance of the programme failing, and the operation of the probation system being put at risk, without mitigating that risk by exercising the contract extension option. It is worth recalling the challenges associated with Transforming Rehabilitation (TR). That programme was completed over a period of years, with many resources deployed and without the added complexity of Covid-19. One of the criticisms of TR is that it was carried out too quickly. TR involved contracting from a single common operating model to multiple models. The Authority’s proposed in-sourcing of CRC services, going from multiple models to one, is arguably more complex than TR, but will be attempted in a much shorter timeframe.
Q15: Does the new model address workload issues, e.g. high caseloads, recruitment/retention?
The challenges of workload, caseloads and recruitment/retention currently exist to varying degrees across both CRCs and NPS. Reintegration in itself will not solve them. It is worthy of mention that workload management tools exist in CRCs and are deployed to good effect. Recruitment has benefited from slicker arrangements that reduce the time between application and taking up post, and that, for many of our staff, there is disappointment that they are leaving Sodexo.
Q16: What progress has been made towards probation being recognised as a “skilled profession”?
Q17: What impact has Covid-19 had on the probation service?
One of the arguments for renationalising was that the Authority needs control of the probation system in a Covid-19 world. We do not agree with this argument. We are proving through our fast and flexible support of the Authority’s response to Covid-19, that we are entirely capable in this environment and willing to adjust our practices to meet changing needs. Sodexo deployed remote working immediately following lockdown, deployed caseload management and oversight and reintroduced a blend of remote and face to face contact with service users as restrictions evolved. We have also introduced Structured Interventions via Teams, and arrangements for some to undertake Community Payback whilst working from home. Issues of backlog across the system will need to be addressed nationally, both operationally and contractually.
Q18: What lessons have been learnt from this period of Exceptional Delivery, that should be taken forward into the new model of probation delivery?
The original Sodexo operating model was to blend in person and remote management of cases depending on risk and need, with an emphasis on early and intensive support. The restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 have opened up the question again about the wisdom of the traditional approach to supervision and suggest that a blended approach could be beneficial in better deploying resources flexibly and efficiently in line with risk and need. The use of technology in case management, interventions and CP is an area for imagination and innovation.
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)
In our view there is a mistaken belief that a probation service can be successfully run centrally. Probation is a local, community-based service that operates within the nuances and idiosyncrasies of local communities. The differing attitudes of local authorities, different demographies, the differing approaches of local police forces and the ethnic population make up, to mention but a few of the variables, create unique arrangements within which to deliver services.
Much criticism has been directed at Transforming Rehabilitation, and the then Secretary of State has been vilified for failing reforms. It is true to say the reforms were complex, perhaps more than might have been ideal, but locally they were beginning to work, and they could have been further fine tuned to deliver improved outcomes far quicker than more wholesale structural change.
A single sector public service seems to us a highly retrograde step and excluding the private sector from probation will undoubtedly stifle innovation.
The Committee should perhaps look at how changes to organisations like Probation are brought about and the frequency and disruption that comes from throwing everything back in the melting pot every five years or so.