Probation Service

16th May 2019

David Gauke sets out the Government's proposals for the future of the probation service.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Government’s response to the “Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence” consultation. Earlier today, I laid this Government response for consideration by both Houses. The response sets out our proposals for the future of the probation service. Across England and Wales, the probation service has more than a quarter of a million people under its supervision at any one time. An effective service is key to protecting the public, punishing those who have broken the law and reducing reoffending. I pay tribute to the hard work and professionalism of staff in both our national probation service and in the community rehabilitation companies who deliver this vital work.

The transforming rehabilitation reforms from 2014 aimed to encourage innovation and more modem ways of working. We introduced a payment-by-results system, creating incentives for providers to achieve reductions in reoffending; and we extended statutory supervision and resettlement to all offenders released from prison, supporting an extra 40,000 offenders for the first time. Since those reforms, we have seen a reduction in reoffending and other positive developments. However, there are challenges in the system. The changes I am setting out today are designed to make the system work as effectively as possible and meet our aims of a probation system that commands the confidence of the courts and the public.

Last summer, we took action to stabilise current delivery and, as a result, there are now about 500 additional staff in place to focus on resettlement services for offenders. At the same time, we announced a consultation on our plans for the future; I am grateful to the individuals and organisations who engaged and provided valuable feedback. We have reflected carefully, and considered how to most effectively use the innovation and expertise of both the private and public sector to continue to drive down reoffending. I am today setting out plans that will see responsibility for the management of all offenders transferred to the national probation service. These arrangements are different from those set out for England in the consultation last summer. However, I believe that bringing responsibility for the delivery of all offender management within the NPS will remove some of the complexities that have caused challenges in the current model of delivery, and make it more likely that an offender will have continuity of supervision throughout their sentence, while strengthening processes for managing risk. Alongside those changes, we will develop a more clearly defined role for the private and voluntary sector in delivering core interventions to offenders and securing innovation in the provision of those services.

Each NPS region will continue to have a private or voluntary sector partner—an innovation partner—directly responsible for providing unpaid work and accredited programmes. The NPS will be expressly required to buy all interventions from the market, spending up to an estimated £280 million a year. Contracts will be designed flexibly, so that innovative approaches that show results can be quickly identified and spread across the wider system. Those interventions, such as unpaid work, accredited programmes, and resettlement and rehabilitative services are central to delivering the sentences of the courts. Subject to market engagement, I look ahead to launching procurement for those services later in the year with competitions for unpaid work and accredited programmes.

We want to make sure that services are responsive to local needs, and for resettlement and rehabilitative services we will create a national dynamic framework. It will be accessible to all providers, including specialist smaller scale and voluntary sector providers with the expertise to support the most complex offenders back into society. That direct relationship will create a greater role for providers in delivering probation services and ensure that innovation can be identified and replicated across the system effectively. I am confident that this model, based on the arrangements we consulted on in Wales, offers the most sustainable approach for probation and is the best option to build on the positive changes made under transforming rehabilitation, strengthen the system and sentencers’ confidence in it, and continue to break the cycle of reoffending. We have no intention of reverting to the former probation trust model.

Since the consultation we have established a director general post in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, responsible for overseeing probation delivery, and we will appoint probation directors across each new probation region. Probation works best when local partners work together, and those directors will be accountable for the quality, delivery and commissioning of services in each area, alongside building stronger relationships with local partners to ensure real joint working, including through co-commissioning opportunities, where possible.

Alongside those organisational changes in the NPS, we will overhaul NPS capability in commissioning and innovation, and deploy cutting-edge technology. CRCs have taken some steps to demonstrate how digital tools can improve practice. We will transform the use of technology in probation, investing in a digital and data strategy that will replace all of our core systems and better utilise data to inform professional judgment. We will complement that with a new targeted innovation fund. We will ring-fence an initial £20 million a year in a regional outcome fund to attract match funding from other Departments or commissioning bodies, including social finance providers and social impact bonds. The fund will be reserved for innovative, cross-cutting approaches and will enable us to test proof of concept services before scaling them up.

I want to go further than what was set out in the consultation: when parliamentary time allows, we will look to introduce legislation to implement a statutory professional regulatory framework that puts probation on a par with teaching or social work. It will set ethical and training standards for different roles, to recognise the skills and expertise of probation staff and to support their ongoing professional development and expertise in providing a critical public service.

The changes I have set out will mean that in future it will be easier to respond to the changing profiles of offenders and to drive improvements across the probation system. We will continue to leverage the innovation of the private and voluntary sector, and to ensure that probation is working with partners across the criminal justice system to reduce reoffending. It is essential that we take the time to get the changes right. We have put in place arrangements to allow us to extend CRC contracts to ensure that we have the necessary time to get the transition to the new system right. We intend to use the arrangements to end contracts in spring 2021. My officials will now engage with prospective providers and wider stakeholders and finalise our proposals ahead of seeking to launch procurement exercises later this year.

The changes I have outlined will help to deliver a stronger, more stable probation system that will reduce reoffending, support victims of crime and keep the public safe, and that will merit the confidence of the courts and the public. I commend this statement to the House.




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