Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 412)



  Q400  Alun Michael: It always has been, even prior to the 1998 Act when it was made explicit, if I may just point that out. But it does not seem to get to the attitudes of those who are actually managing data.

  Mike Stewart: If I may also, on the access to mainstream funding options. It is not necessarily and is often not the case that offenders require, if you like, mainstream learning or are not able to respond positively to things like NVQ Level 2, or whatever. The sorts of issues we are talking about, and I think the evidence suggests that offenders with complex needs respond best to specific, very focused targeted stuff a lot of which is not funded through the mainstream and tends therefore to be supplemented by ESF funds and local regeneration funds and so forth and so on, and it is that where the majority of the people I think we are talking about tend to end up rather than into mainstream learning.

  Q401  Alun Michael: But the flexibility that Mr Porée was talking about earlier should overcome that problem.

  Ian Porée: It certainly should.

  Q402  Alun Michael: Just to make sure that was a yes!

  Ian Porée: That was a yes.

  Q403  Dr Palmer: To what extent do you feel that employers in both the private and public sector and outside the prison service are doing enough to help to engage offenders? We have heard about the very low proportion that walk straight into a job. Is that because most employers just are not interested?

  Ian Porée: I have described the situation we are better placed now than we have been for a very long time and there are a number of very good reasons for that and one of them simply is the availability of relevant skills within the market has meant that employers have had to look a little further, some of which look to other parts of Europe and clearly some of them are looking much more intentionally now within the prison system. So the level of employer engagement is steadily rising all the time and the barriers to people being concerned about employing ex-offenders are certainly coming down all the time. I would include in that some services which we deliver across government itself. The Ministry of Justice is expanding the level of services that it takes from within prison industries as part of an example to other employers, particularly private employers, that actually we can make better use of some of those services. I mentioned the example earlier about working within a prison kitchen and the Holiday Inn started a year or so ago with being very nervous about could they in the corporate brand manage the risks of having ex-offenders within their kitchens. They have spent a lot of time within our system; they are hugely impressed about the quality of services, the quality of training that you get, and I guess if you have worked in a kitchen for a long time you are a very effective industrial chef essentially. So they are starting now to take people straight out on release, obviously well identified in advance and understanding the individual. Clearly we do the risk assessment because of course we understand the individual's risk before they are even released. So as an employer what you get is someone very well risk-assessed; you have a very good understanding of their skill set and therefore it is a very valuable employee that you get. A number of those employers are now starting to invest in the prison workshops themselves and so essentially they would provide, either themselves or through learning and skills training funds as employers, the training staff within the workshop. Some of them invest some capital in terms of some of the equipment to train effectively. So again we have examples of both direct employer engagement where they would guarantee jobs for individuals within the system. And we have examples like Cisco, who have invested heavily on raising skills in their industry so that is information and communication and technology skills delivered in workshops in prisons. They have expanded rapidly and continue to grow. That is more about a net investment in skills in their market and so they have qualified technicians coming out of our system because they have made the investments in their training packages, their equipment and essentially it is ever increasing. So my view is that it is a significant improvement.

  Q404  Dr Palmer: How do these partnerships in practice arise? If I am running a garage near a prison, can I expect to get a call from the prison governor suggesting a partnership, or should I make the approach, or is there some regional co-ordination? Is it random?

  Ian Porée: It is certainly not random. It is probably all of the above. We have some national co-ordination working with big national employers who indicate an interest. There are a number of regional partnerships and, within the new regional directors of offender management, they will have capability for employer engagement, looking for big regional partnerships. In particular, the training prisons would have people who would go out and do work with local employers to find relevant partnerships for employment opportunities. The reality of course is that the stability of the small local partnerships exposes the prison to a kind of sustainability of those jobs at risk that some of the bigger partnerships do not necessarily have, but they are all manageable and all properly assessed in terms of how that works, and there are local employer bodies who actually do proactively engage with us, so it is not just us reaching out, but there are certainly employer bodies who do reach out.

  Mike Stewart: You asked whether employers were doing enough and, as Ian said and again in my experience, prison governors in particular and prison staff in particular are usually very good at engaging with employers on the whole, but I do not think, if you like, that we, on this side of the divide between the employer and the customer, have done enough to understand and assess how best to get to the employer. Why should the employer do anymore? What are we asking them to do? The best people at working with that tend to be experienced people who have been doing it a long time, but they move on and then somebody else comes in or the HR person at the local garage disappears and somebody else comes in. It needs constant renewal and so forth, like any good recruitment agency would do. I think we are still under-performing in relation to getting employers on board, and I do not think there is actually a problem getting employers on board if the approach is right and the service offered is good enough.

  Q405  Dr Palmer: Would you recommend throwing some money at them, basically saying, "If you take one of our trainees, we'll pay a quarter of his salary for the first six months", that kind of thing?

  Mike Stewart: Well, I am an employer and, if you offered me that money, I would certainly give it a run, but it would only last as long the money lasted, and I think that is where these kinds of things have been tried, that they have an initial impact. To be honest, if it is a way in, but as a kind of mainstream, "This is what we do", I do not think there is a long-term value in it personally.

  Jon Gamble: I do think there is that opportunity within the brief and the configuration of the advancement service in terms of partnership with DWP and Jobcentre Plus, and certainly with flexibilities within Train to Gain where brokers can actually broker those relationships between employers and offenders and ex-offenders through access to training money, making sure, as Ian says, that all the other checks are in place, that there is a training budget available for those individuals working with employers. Our experience certainly in the East Midlands recently was where we trialled that sort of approach, through European money, not through mainstream public funding here, and we did in fact manage to engage a group of employers, again national employers, in terms of Trackworks and Streetworks, and Ian has already mentioned the hospitality and catering. At the end of that was an event where employers were invited to actually share the findings and over 200 employers turned up to that one-day event, so there clearly are opportunities there, and I think that the message that we would have is that as much of the mainstream initiative in policy change and reform that we can drive into the Offender Learning and Skills Service has actually got to be of positive benefit and the Adult Advancement and Careers Service, which is a referral service working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus, actually can make some inroads there as well.

  Q406  Dr Palmer: Finally on this specialist question, we had a letter from, I think it was, the Howard League, saying that they had operated one scheme within a prison to actually set up a business which would operate on normal business guidelines and would pay tax and so on, and this foundered on the rule that prisoners, if they got any money at all, would be paid cash in hand, and it was not really designed to be integrated in the standard system of employment, tax, National Insurance and so on and they have had to fold the scheme as a result. Do you feel that there might be scope for looking again at the regulations there?

  Ian Porée: The status of a prisoner as a regular taxpayer is a complicated issue which, I think, was only one of the elements of that scheme. The fundamental viability of the business model, I think, was more the issue about actually whether there was a viable, sustainable business, but, yes, the question of can offenders earn money at minimum wage and pay tax within the system, I think, is quite a complicated area.

  Q407  Chairman: It is done in other countries. A number of other countries do it, not generally, but specifically where there are schemes like the one Dr Palmer describes.

  Ian Porée: The US Federal Government has essentially created a separate employer legal entity which draws in contracts against which the prisons then match essentially workers to deliver those contracts and those services, and it helps regulate interfering with local market wages and competitive elements in a local market so that you cannot undercut other local businesses out of essentially using prison labour. Essentially, you do then also need to cater for all the other issues related to the fact that the State is essentially paying for board and lodging and the element of reparation and punishment associated with the prison sentence. Certainly other countries have found models which actually allow you to mainstream essentially industries within prisons to a much larger scale.

  Chairman: With the prisoners paying tax and paying for their board and lodging as well.

  Q408  Mr Heath: And reparation.

  Ian Porée: And, in some cases, then investing in reparation. The complicated element is whether you can link one victim with one offender in reparation. I think that, if you disconnect the victim and the offender and you have a payment into local schemes or a trust of some sort for reparation, you can then deal with the reparation element of the sentence as well as the kind of regular earnings.

  Chairman: There are difficulties for every solution.

  Q409  Mr Heath: Can I just pick up on something that Mr Stewart said and, I think, Mr Gamble mentioned in passing as well, and that is the use of explicit funds, like the European Social Fund, like the fund from DCLG for deprived communities. Have they made a real difference in this area and have they been properly exploited? What sort of added value have they added to the sort of work you are doing?

  Mike Stewart: I think certainly Ian's guys have probably exploited it. I certainly think the Prison Service, after years of not being able to actually engage with the European side of things for structural reasons, have engaged in a big way, and I was working with colleagues within the Prison Service on a programme called PS Plus which has run in various forms over six years and which has drawn in £221 million over that six years and dealt with 80,000 offenders. Ian will talk more about that.

  Q410  Mr Heath: Sorry, I do not want to pre-empt what Ian has to say about that, but I am interested, in terms of the European Social Fund, does that mean you have got to put the prisoners in the right places to do that? I will leave you to think about that one.

  Mike Stewart: In that case, I do not think they had. ESF has actually underpinned an awful lot of offender employment work ever since it came in, frankly, for precisely, I think, the reasons that I was talking about, that the mainstream funding will not deal with the complexity of the issues that most of the offenders we are talking about present, whereas ESF funding always did. That has, over time, been ratcheted tighter and tighter and tighter, I think for understandable reasons, that people are requiring more and more justification for the funding than they did in the early days, but certainly it has been a big underpinning of a lot of offender employment work for many years now.

  Jon Gamble: I think that is true and it certainly has enabled the testing and trialling of a number of different approaches that you would not have had the opportunity to do with a mainstream OLASS fund, and there is a further £16.4 million available up until 2010 through the Learning and Skills Council's ESF matched fund just for offenders as opposed to a number of other ESF funds that offenders, certainly in the community, could have access to. I would also say that it was an ambition of the Offender Learning and Skills Service, in moving to the LSC, for the LSC to encourage its providers and use its systems to actually enrich the offender learning experience. For example, £11 million has been invested in the IT learning centres across every prison in England to support IT skill development and also to support learning for literacy, language and numeracy through interaction with programmes. UFI Learn Direct also invest upwards of £1 million a year in learning centres in prisons, and we have also managed to achieve just under £6 million of capital funding last year to actually improve the learning environment, not for capital build because that is the prison estate, but actually to make improvements in the learning environment in custody. The whole impetus here is to draw in related funding where it is appropriate because we need to make a distinction, I think, between the Offender Learning and Skills Service which goes much wider than a discrete Offender Learning and Skills Service budget which is, as I have said, this year in the region of £160 million.

  Ian Porée: I would just mention that we have made very good use of European Social Fund various pots of money. The PS Plus service reached 80,000 people and there were 2.4 million hours of work delivered, 71,000 positive outcomes, and there were over 4,000 jobs. It was very good use of that available money at the time, but I still do agree with Jon, that the biggest value we have received out of making use of that money is to develop essentially our best practice models about how do you take somebody from a kind of very excluded state with no history of employment and no relevant skills to move them forward positively to be much better-placed to be able to receive, so in many ways that it has been an investment in developing best practice is probably the best learning that we have got out of all of that resource, and we will continue to make bids for any of the other available resources.

  Q411  Mr Heath: There is a danger of our drowning in acronyms when it comes to this! I do not know if anyone has any sort of breakdown of the sort of total take from these sorts of sources, but it would be quite helpful, I think, and, whether the NOMS would have that available or the LSC, I am not sure.

  Jon Gamble: What the LSC can say is that there was £30 million of EQUAL Engage funding available to it and, as I have said, there is now £16.4 million of ESF funding available to 2010. The EQUAL Engage is now over and that was a matched funding amount, by the way.

  Q412  Mr Heath: This is in danger of being a very open question, but one of the things that we have noted all the way through this inquiry is the fact that we still have departmental silos where the benefit from investment in one area is repaid in a saving in another department and it is very difficult to marry all those elements together, so my question to you really is that, if you had control of all of the departmental budgets which were relevant to this subject, are there changes in distribution that you would make in order to achieve the better outcome for what you are trying to achieve?

  Mike Stewart: I would put it all in one big bag and give it to the local authority and say, "Sort it out".

  Ian Porée: I would agree a set of very clear common outcome measures so that we are all delivering the same outcome, and that is already drawing the resources from the different departments to focus on the same individual because in many cases that is all we are trying to achieve.

  Jon Gamble: That would be my suggestion too, that often different agencies have different targets and, while we are running on the twin track with different targets, we may be missing the point in terms of getting offenders into employment and helping to reduce re-offending.

  Chairman: Well, apologies to two of my colleagues who had further questions they wanted to raise, but I will have to draw this part of our proceedings to a close so that we can bring in Mr Rickard and Ms Edghill.

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