UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 519-xii

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Justice Committee

The Role of the Probation Service

Tuesday 14 June 2011

MR Crispin Blunt MP, Colin Allars and Martin Copsey

Evidence heard in Public Questions 714 - 753

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Justice Committee

on Tuesday 14 June 2011

Members present:

Sir Alan Beith (Chair)

Mr Robert Buckland

Jeremy Corbyn

Chris Evans

Ben Gummer

Yasmin Qureshi

Elizabeth Truss

Karl Turner

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr Crispin Blunt MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice, Colin Allars, Director, Probation and Contracted Services, and Martin Copsey, Head of Community Commissioning, NOMS, gave evidence.

Q714 Chair: Mr Blunt, Mr Allars and Mr Copsey, welcome. We have been doing work for some time on the future of the Probation Service. We didn’t think we could get very far with today’s questioning without first finding out whether the Government’s change of plan on early guilty pleas is going to result in a big raid on the budget of the Probation Service.

Mr Blunt: I do not think those discussions are concluded. When they are, then of course we will come forward with a full set of proposals in response to the Green Paper consultation when we are ready to do so.

Q715 Chair: Are you worried that that might be an outcome?

Mr Blunt: I am permanently worried about everything that might happen within the whole remit of my responsibilities. Probation, as with all the other parts of the offender management system, is faced with very significant financial challenges as we stand today in order to make its contribution to righting the fiscal position of the whole Government. All of these things have to be looked at very carefully.

Q716 Chair: Although the Committee never took a view about it, some of us felt that the projected financial savings would never have been achieved from the guilty plea change. We would take it rather badly if we saw the vital work of Probation undermined because savings that would never have happened have to be re-provided from a service which might not be in a strong position to make them.

Mr Blunt: Everyone is extremely well aware that Probation has been on a falling trend in financing since 2008-09. As far as this Administration’s savings are concerned, the relative position of Probation has been protected quite significantly from the overall expenditure settlement that the Ministry of Justice has undertaken to contribute to the Government’s wider position. The Department is finding 23% and Probation is finding very significantly less than that.

Q717 Chair: In your experience, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the probation system as we now have it?

Mr Blunt: I have been lucky enough to be the Minister for Probation now for just over a year. I have been struck, frankly, by how good the Probation Service is. In going round the country and seeing the work of front-line probation officers, what really energises me is that we are moving into an environment where we are going to pay for results and measure outcomes. This is a service that in my view delivers a very significant social and economic benefit to the United Kingdom. We are going to move into a position where we measure those outcomes rather more than we have done in the past, where they have been delivered through targets, measurement of performance and inputs-what they do rather than what they achieve. One simply has to ask the question: what would happen if there was no Probation Service? What would we be doing with the 250,000 offenders who are either being supervised post- prison sentence or on community sentences by Probation, and what kind of positive input into our society is the Probation Service making today? The answer is extremely positive. Overall, I am honoured and delighted to be the Minister for Probation because the work that 20,000 odd probation officers and probation service officers do up and down the country is of very significant value.

Inevitably with the organisation of a service like that, particularly within 35 probation trusts and given the scale of the challenge they have to meet in supervising 250,000 offenders, from time to time things will go wrong. That is why we have all the process of learning from what happens. If one then looks at the systems that are in place, I am conscious that the United Kingdom is a place to which people come to see how we deliver offender management in the community. I have had Ministers from developed as well as developing countries come to see me who are determined to learn from what we do in the United Kingdom.

The OASys system and the developments around the whole process of integrated offender management are all areas where we cannot be complacent, but, relative to other countries, the United Kingdom can be proud of the oversight of offenders within the community that the Probation Service delivers.

If I am to identify one area of concern, for me, it would be around the rather variable delivery of community payback. It is one of the reasons why I thought it appropriate that the community payback competition that was planned by the last Administration should continue. It is very important that punishment in the community carries public confidence and community payback is the principal vehicle by which to deliver the punitive element of sentencing within the community. That is something that can be improved on, both in terms of delivery and the simple economic efficiency with which community payback is delivered. It strikes me as rather odd that we put nine million hours of labour into the community and it costs us getting on for twice the minimum wage to administer it.

Q718 Mr Buckland: Thank you for that overview, Minister. I want to turn to specifics and the future role of probation trusts. Are they to be commissioners, providers or are they to be both? What is the role of probation trusts going to be in the future?

Mr Blunt: We have to accept that we are in quite a complex environment. For example, if we take the whole payment-by-results environment which we are now developing with NOMS as the commissioners of this process, there are now a very significant number of different pilots as we seek to learn how to deploy payment by results. Two of those pilots will directly be around two probation trusts. We are in the early stages of getting to work on precisely how those schemes will be structured. That follows on from the prison-based pilots. They are public so far as the pilot in Peterborough and the Serco pilot in Doncaster Prison are concerned. It follows on from the work we are doing around six different community-based pilots. There is one with Manchester and five with separate London boroughs from the Diamond Districts. It adds to the work that is also being done by the YJB on four payment-by-results pilots that they are delivering and that link into the whole degree of early intervention within the youth justice area.

The challenge that we face is that you cannot see all of this in isolation. Probation is part of a wider regime, which delivers, if it is successful, better people once they have been in the custody of the state. The challenge that we face is to link all this up so that we drive earlier intervention in order to prevent people coming into the justice process in the first place, ideally. At its most basic, within the local authority pilots, that means driving early intervention to support mothers who are giving birth to children in circumstances where it is all too predictable what the outcomes are going to be unless those mothers are properly supported. It means looking at what happens with the children going into care, given the quite significant links between children in care and the very disappointing percentage of those children in the care of the state who then end up in the custody of the state, etcetera.

In this environment, I don’t see the simplicity of being able to say that probation trusts, who are currently providers commissioned by Colin and his team, are going to simply remain as providers. If we are to get the charitable and voluntary sector, in particular, properly engaged in the rehabilitation of offenders and in delivering a revolution in rehabilitation, that cannot be done without engaging all those people in our society who frankly want to help the state with the task of rehabilitating offenders and putting people back on the straight and narrow.

Getting those little platoons engaged, which I know is much of the evidence that you have taken and looked at, I don’t think could be done if we try to leave the commissioning role at the level of the National Offender Management Service. I think we are going to have a period where probation trusts will need to be in the position of occasionally being both provider and commissioner. We are in a complex environment. That is a very long answer to your question, Mr Buckland, but the answer is commissioner and provider. As far as I am concerned, we need to manage the complexity and the competitive issues that obviously then flow from that to make sure that there is proper transparency and that the Chinese walls between those people who are commissioning services at probation trust level are not simply favouring their own people.

Q719 Elizabeth Truss: By having the commissioning of probation separately, is that just one piece of the jigsaw or has the MoJ looked at integrating the Prison Service and the Probation Service so that the whole idea behind NOMS of having a completely integrated solution works and you just commission in the local area for offender management in general rather than specific services like community payback and probation?

Mr Blunt: That would be the ideal. Obviously that was the objective, as you rightly say, of setting up a National Offender Management Service in the first place. I have read the evidence you took from Martin Narey where the intention was that there would be a probation officer and offender manager who was then going to be in charge of the offender throughout their period, presumably, of pre-custody, custody and post-custody. They would be the ones who were determining the appropriate interventions and sentence planning for that individual.

That runs into the system that we have now where the prison system has been running at over 100% of capacity for some time. We have 20,000 prisoners living in overcrowded conditions, which means that we are basically running a hotel chain that is absolutely full. That then delivers in its wake a whole bunch of problems about making sure that these people are properly incarcerated and the sentence of the court is delivered in terms of people’s role in prison. That is a big administrative challenge. To try and put on top of that the ideal of having probation-

Q720 Elizabeth Truss: But couldn’t that challenge be given to a provider? For example, if one was commissioning for Norfolk and Suffolk, you could commission places at prison as well as places on community service. Are there not a lot of benefits from integration such as similar skills required to get prisons working in the same way as getting people working in the local community? Is that an administrative headache that needs to be dealt with at a national level? If you try and deal with it at a national level, does that not just create a whole ream of bureaucracy?

Mr Blunt: No; I think it is a capacity problem. We have a prison estate which has roughly 87,700 places in it at the moment. We have 85,000 prisoners. That is it in its overcrowded state. We are carrying within that 20,000 prisoners and we are effectively 10,000 places short of having normal capacity. It means that your prison estate and prison capacity has to be managed on a national basis.

Q721 Chair: Why does that follow?

Elizabeth Truss: I do not see why that follows.

Mr Blunt: It follows because, if you break the Prison operation down into the regions, there are very few counties, local authority areas and regions where you have a neat match between Probation-

Q722 Elizabeth Truss: But surely they could simply buy it?

Mr Blunt: I would like to do it, but I think it becomes quite difficult, if not impossible, to drive the savings that you require. If your prison is a local institution that is just serving the example you gave of Norfolk and Suffolk, then in order to drive the savings you have to close the prison institution as a whole. We have the estate as it is now. The prisons are not in the right places and are not properly geographically aligned with the probation, police and local authority areas from which people come. In my judgment, for now, given the resource environment in which we are operating, it is too much of a challenge to move to the scenario you have described. I would like to be able to get there but it is not realistic in the current environment.

Elizabeth Truss: Could I suggest that that could be done on a cost transfer basis? For example, Norfolk and Suffolk could buy in prison places if that was what was required. If you give the problem of managing capacity to a local provider, then the capacity starts to fit the sentences locally. You have more local budgeting and then you help address those capacity issues. If the capacity issues are managed at a national level, are we not always going to have this problem?

Q723 Chair: You have to ask why it is like that. Is it not a consequence of having had national commissioning for so long?

Mr Blunt: That is an entirely reasonable question, Sir Alan. Regrettably, I inherited the system as I found it. Making a very significant transition in getting people to think about the outcomes and to think about how effectively they deal with the people in their charge, both in the community and in custody, is a very significant challenge in itself. NOMS and the probation trusts have both just been through very significant changes in their own structures. Obviously NOMS has taken out its regional level. Probation trusts have just been formed. They are just over a year old. I want to present the existing system with the very substantial challenge that we are delivering to them, to which they are responding incredibly positively, particularly in the probation trusts with the leadership of the Probation Association and the Probation Chiefs Association.

I have to say that I remain absolutely open-minded about the future shape of the service and will look forward to the conclusions that you and your colleagues reach and what judgments you draw-I fully accept the desirability of the position that Elizabeth has outlined-about its practicality, particularly in the resource environment that we are in.

Q724 Ben Gummer: Minister, how do you see the various PbR pilots, which no doubt will be rolled out at some point into PbR contracts, interacting with PbR in other Government Departments, be they Work Programme, drug addiction or other health outcomes?

Mr Blunt: We are in the later stages of discussions, to which I know Helen Edwards alluded when she gave evidence to you, around an offender stream within the Work Programme. We are not yet ready to make an announcement about exactly how that will work. The principles that Helen outlined to you are clear. People qualify for the Work Programme once they have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance for a certain amount of time. With offenders and those who are in prison, the vulnerability of them reoffending is at its height when they leave prison. The support to them needs to be front-loaded. Of course, with a criminal record and all the causes of that criminality, they are a particularly challenging group to get back into work. Therefore, the construction of the Work Programme around offenders needs to be done with some care. However, it is likely to be extremely important, work being such a strong desistance factor. In terms of the wider achievement of justice objectives around reoffending, the Work Programme is very important.

We will examine how we reinforce any Work Programme scheme that we are able to bring to fruition around a reoffending metric as well as around an employment metric on a pilot basis. What we are trying to do as far as possible with all the various justice pilots, which by 2013, once these are in place, will be a very significant number of different pilots, is to make sure that these are happening in different parts of the country so that we can measure the results of all the different pilots. We can measure the results of the prison-based pilots and the results of the community-based pilots, which are on a justice reinvestment basis. We can measure the effectiveness of the probation trust-based pilots, looking principally at community sentences. We can look at the four pilots of the Youth Justice Board and how they interact so that, when the Department of Health do their drug pilots, we will not be choosing the same areas as the pilots for probation trusts, for example.

Q725 Ben Gummer: I did not phrase the question perhaps as I should have done. The thing that has concerned this Committee is the complexity of integrating the measurement of payment by results across what will be, as you rightly identify, drugs and work being two key desistance measures with the PbR pilots within probation or prisons, and, likewise, probation trust pilots, prison pilots and work-based pilots for organised prisoner work. We are not quite sure how you bring all these pilots together, how the private or voluntary contractors know whether they are going to get a bonus and how you can attribute that bonus to one organisation or another.

Mr Blunt: If there is overlap-someone takes a drug-addicted prisoner and turns him into a tax-paying employee, and they get the bonus for getting someone into work; they get paid for getting a drug addict clinically independent of drugs; and they get paid for stopping an offender reoffending, so they manage to score under three different schemes-I suspect that is probably a perfectly satisfactory state of affairs.

Q726 Ben Gummer: Except that you are paying three times for the same thing.

Mr Blunt: It is our job to make sure that one of the schemes isn’t paying for all three of them up front and they are getting double paid underneath. If the schemes are operating in isolation and a payment-by-results provider is cute enough to be able to get him into the Work Programme to deliver the employment outcome, to get him into the drugs programme to deliver the drugs outcome and to get him into the offender programme to deliver the offending outcome, I think that is a satisfactory state of affairs. I don’t see that as a problem.

Q727 Chair: But that doesn’t work in the system now. If someone who is supported by the Government for the provision of work delivers someone to an apprenticeship which the Government is funding, the system takes steps to ensure that they are not paid twice for delivering in that way.

Mr Blunt: I presume that is because you have two work-related outcomes, both based around work. The biggest challenge is the drug-addicted prisoner. How do you turn the drug-addicted prisoner into a tax-paying socially positive member of society? There are three different metrics there. You have to stop them reoffending; you have to get them clinically independent of drugs; and you have to get them into employment. If you have the Work Programme which also has an offending metric in it focused on offenders, then the Work Programme provider will obviously be paid rather more for those people than they are paid for people who they are more likely to succeed with in getting into work who don’t have the underlying issues of drug addiction or an offending record to take into account.

Q728 Ben Gummer: You seem to have a far greater confidence in comprehending all of this than almost everyone who has given evidence to the Committee. Why is it not just simpler to attach the bonus premium to the offender himself or herself from beginning to end and allow one contractor to deploy whatever is needed?

Mr Blunt: Because our problem as the Ministry of Justice is to take the savings. We can’t pay for results if we don’t get the results. Our benefits of results are a sufficient reduction in reoffending so that we close prisons. In order to close a prison, you have to drop the reoffending rate by a very significant percentage for a very large number of people. Therefore, the measurement is against a cohort. With regard to the Peterborough measurement, you have 500 prisoners leaving Peterborough jail each year who are sentenced to less than 12 months and who receive no probation supervision; so there is no intervention coming to them from the state from the moment they walk out of the prison gates. We know on current statistics that 59.4% of those prisoners will have been reconvicted within one year of walking out of prison. The Peterborough model is, year by year, 500 prisoners each year for six years. They will get paid if they reduce the reoffending rate down to 52½%, and that is measured against the entire cohort.

How Social Finance, the St Giles Trust, the YMCA and the Ormiston Trust, who are the principal agencies delivering those interventions, drive down that reduction from 59½% by 7½%, to get paid is, in the end, a matter for them. In Peterborough, they are choosing to deliver interventions to all 500 prisoners. That is their choice. I know you have had a number of discussions about cherry-picking and picking the people who are easy. That is why we measure against the whole cohort. If people do behave like that, they have to deliver for us in sufficient numbers so that in the end we can close prisons, because there has been a significant reduction in reoffending.

Q729 Yasmin Qureshi: Minister, I want to make one slight comment and then I have two little questions following on from that. Can we have a discussion on the issue of funding, moving away from the commissioning aspect of things? In the recent settlements made for various probation trust budgets, what is the rationale for certain areas which have a very low crime rate only getting a 1.74% cut, and others, which have a higher rate of crime, getting cuts of 9%?

Mr Blunt: On that detail I am going to turn to the Director of Commissioning.

Colin Allars: I may need to write to you if you want detail on individual trusts. Those budgets were set when we had the directors of offender management in place, so the regional directors were responsible for the trusts. We sat with each trust and worked through what the needs were within their area, what their provision was and talked to them about the opportunities they had to make efficiencies and savings. We sought to agree with them. In all cases we may not have shaken hands and been entirely happy about it, but we reached agreement with every trust on what the right level of provision was against the targets that we set for them within their contracts.

Q730 Yasmin Qureshi: Are you saying all the probation trusts were happy with the budgets they have had and the percentage of cuts they are receiving?

Colin Allars: No, I am sure they were not. I am sure they would have wanted no cuts at all, but we sought to do that in an open way with them. We explained to them the basis on which we believed they could operate with the budget that they had and set the targets that they were to deliver within their contract against the amount of money that was available to them. They have all signed up to the targets within their contracts and the funding that is attached to that.

Q731 Yasmin Qureshi: They would have no choice but to sign up to their targets. They can’t turn round and say, "No, we are not going to be signing up to these targets." You do accept the fact that, as a result of these cuts, there is going to be a reduction of about 3,000 front-line probation officers. It is not rocket science to work out that less money and fewer staff means that fewer offenders will be managed properly. There will be fewer resources to help to intervene, say, with young people who are committing crimes, with the cutback to the youth services and others, which is all part of probation. Is it not a false economy here? It might cost a little more to have good reoffending programmes, more probation officers or youth workers, but if we can prevent somebody from committing a crime, then with regard to the costs associated with committing a crime or prosecuting people and putting them away in prisons, it is going to cost, say, £30 more as a figure as opposed to trying to save £2.

Mr Blunt: Regrettably, we are not in that fiscal environment. As an Administration we have to take emergency measures, frankly, in order to right the nation’s finances. Of course I would be much happier as a Minister to have had even a flat-line budget, let alone the normal circumstances which previous Ministers in my position have enjoyed of a rising budget. But we are not in that situation.

The benefit of that is that it forces us to innovate and think about how we deliver our services. One of the areas to which you draw attention is about the benefits of early intervention and whether we are making a false economy here. We need to look at the different roles of all the different public services that intervene to support troubled individuals in whatever way. Yesterday I was talking to the leader of Westminster City Council, Councillor Colin Barrow. They have family recovery units. Within troubled families there are a significant number of offenders in that framework. They have mapped out 14 different public organisations who are then involved in supporting individuals within those families.

There are obvious efficiencies to make by bringing all the state’s services, both nationally and locally, together in order to support these people so that they don’t have to explain themselves 14 different times to 14 different agencies. You have had evidence here where five or 10 different agencies would be engaged with supporting offenders. That is where we have to build on the whole process of integrated offender management. For our most serious offenders, Parliament mandated MAPPA through statute and how offenders who could do the most serious harm by reoffending should be managed.

However, it is a process that is being rolled out and delivered across the whole piece. This is where you drive the savings from. It is from all the public authorities who can play a role in delivering the interventions to help people put their lives back together actually co-operating with each other and driving the efficiencies out of the system. It is integrated offender management as an approach and a description of what is happening around the management of prolific and priority offenders as well as rolling out through MAPPA. Frankly, that needs to be delivered to all offenders and to encourage all the public authorities to work together effectively. That is one area of efficiency.

The next one is to look to the army of auxiliaries out there: the tens of thousands of people and thousands of groups who want to get engaged in the rehabilitation of offenders and who think it is the right thing to do to help people get back on the straight and narrow, as I said earlier. If we can engage them with a much more efficient delivery of public services to these people, then we may address some of the concerns that you rightly raise about the necessary reduction in budget, even though it is significantly less for Probation than it is for the Ministry of Justice overall.

Q732 Yasmin Qureshi: You are saying two things, if they happen as you have set out. One is the rationalisation of resources and the other is about other people getting involved. If those two do not happen, then what happens? You are being very optimistic and saying that if these two things happen then you can resolve this problem. But what if it doesn’t happen? What if the rationalisation issue makes only very minimal changes?

Martin Copsey: I think that is a plan B question, Chair.

Q733 Yasmin Qureshi: If loads of people do not come forward to help, then what happens?

Mr Blunt: We do not have a choice. The comprehensive spending review has been settled and we have to manage within our resources. The other element of this is driving efficiencies out of getting all the public services to work more effectively together. There are very good examples of this happening on the ground, as I alluded to, with Westminster. There are very good examples around what is happening with the management of prolific and priority offenders, which is not mandated by Parliament as MAPPA is. How do we get the finance into this in order to create the capacity now to take the savings later? That is what payment by results is all about.

Social Finance has come in and financed the St Giles Trust, the YMCA and the Ormiston Trust to deliver new interventions. That is new financial capacity that has been brought in against their confidence that, by doing things more effectively and more efficiently than is done now, they will drive down the reoffending rate and help us secure the future savings, meaning that we are not seeing these people circulate round the criminal justice system ad infinitum.

Q734 Yasmin Qureshi: Therefore, you would disagree with quite a lot of people who are in the criminal justice system, such as the local chief of the bench of my local magistrates’ court whom I went to see a few months ago, who said that with the proposed cuts, especially to youth and probation services, a lot of the interventions they were doing with young people will stop. There will not be the resources and there will not be the people to help. That is going to lead to a rise in crime as opposed to the fact that for the last 13 years they have seen a genuine decrease in youth reoffending and youth crime. They seriously said that, with the proposed cuts and with the way things are going to happen, they are going to increase the levels of offending.

Mr Blunt: If they stay in that mindset-

Yasmin Qureshi: That is a magistrate saying that.

Chair: Let the Minister answer the question.

Mr Blunt: Yes, I know, but if they stay in the position that the system is not going to change and all that has happened is a cut, if you apply that analysis, that will be correct. However, if you give people professional freedom in order to co-operate with other public authorities and the financial freedom to have budgets transferring between different heads, the freedom to find new sources of finance from outside to secure capacity today against results tomorrow, and the freedom to engage with the voluntary, charitable and private sector more effectively than they do now, then I think they can do considerably better than they do now, accepting that there will be fewer public resources driving this. People are forced to innovate and to think differently about how we are going to deliver the public services.

Q735 Chair: But you do not give probation trusts that kind of freedom. They are stuck with buildings that you insist they keep. They cannot just sell a building and invest the money into other things. They are stuck with being unable, unlike hospital trusts, to have reserves and carry them over to another year because it might be a more sensible and prudent way to use the money. The kind of freedom which you are advocating is not there in the system.

Mr Blunt: As you might imagine, on some of those issues, as the Minister for Probation, I am anxious to deliver as much freedom to them as I can. However, given the financial emergency that we inherited in May of last year in managing the whole Government’s property portfolio, which was not being done well, there was very properly the necessity for that to be taken over and managed directly so that some sense was made of the entire Government’s property portfolio, as it was with the entire Government’s not wholly positive record about IT procurement, for example. Some things were taken into the centre in order to deliver some serious and substantial savings in those circumstances and efficiencies were driven from the centre. I note the point you have made, Chair. It obviously goes with a localist agenda, trusting professionals and everything else, and, when the time is appropriate, delegating these things and getting responsibility back closer to the ground. I fully accept that.

Martin Copsey: Perhaps, Chair, I might just add a point on freedoms. You will have heard from colleagues already about the significant revisions to national standards that we have introduced this year. Those are greater freedoms we are looking to give to offender managers on the ground to effectively manage, assess and deliver interventions and change to the offenders they work with on a case-by-case basis. I understand that those greater freedoms to work in that way have been welcomed by the stakeholders in the probation world. I do understand that that will result in much greater discretion and autonomy at a local level to work in an innovative and creative way as an offender manager with individual cases.

Q736 Jeremy Corbyn: Just at a time when the railway industry and the National Health Service are learning to their cost that a plethora of subcontractors does not lead to efficiency-it actually leads to greater cost and much greater difficulties of management and risk, so far as the NHS is concerned-why do you say, as you did earlier, that there should be no preference given to itself, as you described it, when the probation trusts are giving out contracts?

Mr Blunt: If we are to get proper engagement in the rehabilitation of offenders by the voluntary, charitable and private sector, and if we get to a position where probation trusts have the freedom to commission these services themselves, the competition has to be fair. You took evidence from the chief executive of West Mercia Probation, who has procured services for his probation trust and you also took evidence from the specialist in writing reports for court. I can’t remember the name of the institution now. You are not going to get confidence in the market if you say, "The people on the inside track have an inside track advantage." That is why we have been extremely careful at the national level with the management of the competitions around the prisons that were recently competed, for example.

Q737 Jeremy Corbyn: What do you think this does for the morale in the Probation Service?

Mr Blunt: We are in a new environment about how people who are engaged in offender management are going to have a career in the future. I would say this to both probation staff and those who are engaged in community payback now, currently administered by probation trusts. We do not know what the results of the competitions are going to be, but it is a reasonable assumption that some will be won by the public sector and some by the private sector, and no doubt there will be areas that are won by a combination of the public sector working in association with the private sector. Who administers you in the course of your career is likely to change. As a prison officer, probation officer or offender manager, depending on what service you are delivering, over the course of your career from now on you are likely to move between the private and the public sector because we are operating in a mixed economy. Obviously, in Birmingham, the prison officers there are going to transfer to G4S, who won the contract there. At some point Birmingham is going to get re-competed and the public sector might win the future contract for that, so people will transfer back again.

We have to manage that. I don’t think people should be frightened. It is not a threat that the administration of your career is going to move between the public and the private sector. Indeed, it is actually a benefit, because you are going to learn from the different strengths that come from working in the private and the public sector. It is an opportunity rather than a threat for all of those engaged in offender management that we have a properly competitive service. There is always going to be a discussion in this area about what should be absolutely reserved for the state. We will make clear when we present our competition strategy where our judgment is today as to where those boundaries lie. I do not think this is something that people should get worried about. There are advantages working in the public sector and advantages working in the private sector. If you have a career where you are able to do both, then you will be able to draw on that experience to the benefit of both sectors.

Q738 Jeremy Corbyn: Last week we had a major private sector provider here who told us that his company had 300 subcontracts in dealing with its contract. You are the Minister responsible for the entire service. You are answerable to Parliament for what goes on. Does it not concern you that you are three or four steps down the line with different contracts, with different providers? When something goes horrendously wrong, as it may, who is going to take the rap for that?

Mr Blunt: The Minister for Prisons and Probation appears to take the rap for most of these things, so I would anticipate it will be me. Of course, that is properly so, because the contracts will have been let out of the Ministry of Justice and its agency in the form of the National Offender Management Service, and in the end the buck does stop with Ministers. We are trying to make clear that Ministers will take more responsibility for what happens, which is why, for example, our proposals are for bringing the YJB within the Ministry of Justice. I am perfectly clear where the buck stops. That is why, in terms of the management of the contracts, the requirements on those who have contracted with us have to be robust and clear about what their responsibilities are under any contract we let.

In the answer you received from the Work Programme provider, they made clear that their expertise was in bringing together 300 different subcontractors to deliver the Work Programme across a substantial chunk of the country. That is what, crudely, their unique selling point was as a business and that is what they were bringing to the party. They will certainly do it probably rather better than trying to run it out of the Ministry of Justice. In the end, we have to engage thousands of groups of volunteers and charities in the exercise that we are all engaged in, which is trying to rehabilitate offenders more effectively.

There is a vast capacity out there in the country that wants to help the state with this task. If we fail to have a mechanism that can deal with the complexity of engaging all those often very small groups who want to help on a very local level-if our system doesn’t deliver that-we will have failed to maximise our country’s capacity to deliver the rehabilitation of offenders. That will be a profound missed opportunity and it is why we have to address and work with the complexity to which you allude.

Q739 Jeremy Corbyn: Interestingly, the three private sector providers that were before us were either unable or unwilling to tell us anything about their income projections, their profit projections or how much they expected to make out of all of this. Does it not concern you that there are a whole lot of people queuing up to make a great deal of money out of the privatisation of a lot of public services?

Mr Blunt: We will have to see. People will have to make judgments here in letting the contracts and identifying what normal profits will be and where their investors are going to put their money up. I would sincerely hope that it will not just be Social Finance coming forward to finance schemes like Peterborough, and social philanthropists and charitable trusts investing in Social Finance to deliver Peterborough. I sincerely hope that with our payment-by-results schemes we will be able to convince the market that this is a proper investment vehicle, because they should be sufficiently confident that they are going to add to our capacity to drive down reoffending and so improve the people in the care of the state, either in custody or in the community, that we are going to be able to take the savings that they have invested in creating the capacity to do it. That has to be the objective.

In the course of all of this, people will make losses and some people will make supernormal profits, because people will make judgments both in writing the contracts in the public sector and in taking up the contracts in the private sector which they will get right and get wrong. We are just going to have to learn as the market develops to make sure we get closer and closer to what should be a proper rate of return because it does not suit anybody if a company makes a disastrous decision, loses its shirt and then finds it is in difficulty delivering its contract. That does not help us any more than it does if it then becomes a national scandal that this company appears to be fleecing the taxpayer by having taken them to the cleaners in writing the contract.

Jeremy Corbyn: Like the care homes.

Mr Blunt: There are examples of both in letting these contracts. This is something that investors in the private sector have to get right and it is something that we have to get right in terms of our contracts.

Q740 Jeremy Corbyn: You are a man of vision. In five years’ time will there be a Probation Service?

Mr Blunt: Is there a Probation Service now? We have 35 probation trusts. Is that a national probation service? I know there was something formerly called a "National Probation Service", which was a project that was abandoned in the early 2000s. I refer to "the Probation Service". Exactly how it is going to be delivered in five years’ time we will see from the development of a localist agenda, how much probation trusts remain a creature of NOMS or what their development is with all the other local services that are delivered in their local area. One of the reasons we are running all these different pilots is to identify what is going to be the right way forward. Will there be offender managers delivering what we see as a Probation Service in five years’ time?

In the end, the people who have the nation’s offender management expertise are the Probation Service. Is that expertise going to need to continue? The challenge identified in the formation of NOMS is how to get the offender managers in charge of an offender in his whole progression through the justice system more effectively so that they can deliver proper co-ordination of that sentence, and the sentence planning and rehabilitation programmes that are required to secure a successful outcome for that offender and society so that there are not future victims of crime because he has ceased offending. That dynamic and that requirement are not going to change.

Q741 Chris Evans: Earlier on you were talking about intervention. I recently spoke to a methadone dispenser who works for a charity. He said that he has about 50 clients with him and every one of them has been through the criminal justice system six or seven times. They have disappeared and very often their lives are chaotic. What role do you see the Probation Service playing in ending that cycle of going round the system, where they are in rehabilitation, they disappear, they then get picked up for a petty crime and then they are back at the beginning? How would you see that vision you have set out developing there?

Mr Blunt: The best example is in the management of prolific and priority offenders, many of whom are offending again and again and again on an unbelievably regular basis in order to fund their drug habit. I will ask Colin to comment. He has just finished being a director of offender management in the south-west, where integrated offender management was being delivered in Bristol and elsewhere.

Plainly what we have to do, and I saw it in Leeds when I went up there recently to see how they manage PPOs, is bring all the different agencies to bear on your drug-addicted offenders in that way. At one level, if an addict is not prepared to engage and give up his addiction, the penny hasn’t dropped that he needs to get on the programme and he is going to continue thieving in order to fund his habit, then at that point you have to have a police strategy which is to catch and convict and get those people out of circulation as quickly as possible in order to protect the public.

You should be trying to support those people who are prepared to get engaged in addressing their addiction. You have to accept that this is not magic. It does not usually work at the first attempt. It takes people a number of times to address their addiction. The second half of that, of course, is that for those people who are caught, convicted and put into prison we have to have a rather more effective delivery of drug treatment in prison and a rather more effective linkage from that drug treatment in prison back when they come out into the community. We are working on all of that. We are going to deliver drug recovery wings in prison as well as having proper identification of who these people are through integrated offender management and proper support of PPOs. That process is being developed, I am pleased to say, all over the country. Colin, I don’t know whether you want to say anything more about that.

Colin Allars: You have probably covered most of it, but it is quite timely that the Dispatches programme last night looked at the impact within Bristol of the integrated offender management unit.

Chair: Can you speak up a little?

Colin Allars: It is quite timely that, last night, the integrated offender management unit within Bristol was the subject of a documentary on TV. I have to confess that I only saw two thirds of it because my IT packed up halfway through. I got to the good bit, and if it went terribly awry thereafter maybe what I am about to say is all wrong. Bristol is a very good example of where agencies locally have come together, pooled their resources and looked at the needs of offenders within the system. Regardless of whether they have a statutory duty to work with that offender and where they come from, they just look at the needs of offenders and manage them collectively. Gradually, over time, they have co-located; they have looked at how they pool resources and how they pool expertise. They have had, as I think the senior police officer that spoke to the Committee pointed out, a real impact on crime rate reductions within Bristol. That seems to me a very good example of how partnership working and pooling resources has an impact.

Q742 Chris Evans: When I spoke to him, he felt that the issue was not so much drug offences or drugs being the problem. The problem, essentially, was whether you are a substance abuser or an alcoholic. It is a mental health issue. The feedback he was getting from his clients was that, inside prisons, there is not a recognition that you should be looking at this problem from a mental health point of view. I would be quite interested to hear your thoughts on addressing those problems of mental health through the Probation Service and through the prison population as well.

Mr Blunt: We need to make sure that people get health treatment. As came out of the Bradley Report, we have not been very good at making sure that people are getting mental health treatment rather than justice treatment. That is why we will deliver liaison and diversion in every police custody suite and every court by the end of this Parliament because it is a priority to direct people. They need to have their health requirements addressed before their justice requirements. It means we have to improve on the delivery of mental health outcomes in prison.

I am conscious that there are issues about the speed with which people can get referred to mental health services out of prison. That needs further work. In the same way that people are being diverted from police custody suites and courts, that should be the principal net through which people are caught in order to be sent to appropriate mental health treatment. The Probation Service is then sitting rather behind that, but it should obviously have the same capacity to refer. Hopefully, if you are catching people who are mentally ill and getting them engaged with the right mental health programmes from police custody suites and from courts, then you have got them before they get to probation.

Q743 Chris Evans: Do you think the right attitude to take is that substance abuse is a symptom of an underlying mental health issue and that maybe the whole prison treatment should be looking at it from the point of view that this person who is doing whatever drug or whatever substance is mentally ill and needs help in that respect? Perhaps I am getting too philosophical; I don’t know.

Mr Blunt: Very properly, I am delighted to say, this is in a formal sense the responsibility of the Department of Health. It is the Department of Health who commission and provide services. You are inviting me to trespass into what is clinical territory, which would be singularly unwise. The truth is that the picture is extremely complex as to what the cause and effect is. It is pretty clear to me that people who have abused cannabis open themselves up to mental health conditions. There are people who will address their mental health conditions by drinking too much and abusing drugs. So which way round is it?

Of course, there is an enormous overlap. If you take offenders, the number of different problems that they are trying to resolve in order to get them to go straight, not reoffend and put their lives back together and become social members of society again are overlapping, complex and difficult. You have a whole bunch of things to do with mental health and substance abuse issues, communication skills, ability to read and write, social attitudes, etcetera.

Q744 Mr Buckland: Minister, and Mr Copsey in particular, you gave evidence about the importance of giving professionals discretion locally. How do you square those remarks with the probation instruction issued in May of this year relating to pre-sentence reports, which to my reading seems a very prescriptive and dirigiste way of dealing with what are very important documents that assist sentencers quite considerably in coming to considered conclusions? There is a danger, is there not, that in over-centralising the approach we are going to diminish the quality of the reports and fetter the discretion of probation officers in terms of their professional decision making?

Martin Copsey: Yes; I think I indicated direction of travel. It is our intention over time to move to an environment in which individual practitioners, whether in delivering assessments or interventions or planning that work, have greater discretion and greater ability to determine exactly how they do that. I think the court reporting arrangements are a good example of where we have already moved to give probation trusts and local areas much greater discretion in the type and nature of report they deliver to courts. You will probably be aware that, historically, the vast bulk of reports produced were things described as standard delivery reports, which are written reports. We now give a much greater discretion for local court-based staff to make a decision about whether in that particular case, in consultation with the court, that should be a standard delivery report, a fast-track report or, indeed perhaps, an oral report. Again, it seems to me it is about that probation representative in court engaging with the court to understand what sentencers want and to scope the report appropriately to address those needs.

Q745 Mr Buckland: We have moved back, have we not, to a position where what we used to call stand-down reports are being encouraged? Frankly that is a good thing. My worry is in terms of the delivery time. Are we not in danger by reducing the delivery time of what I still call standard reports that the quality of those reports could diminish because professionals have less time in which to consider the issues and to write a report that is a full reflection of the offender and the risks and issues posed?

Martin Copsey: Part of the challenge here is to make sure that those cases which require full reports, which will be the more complex and more serious cases, actually get that level of attention. In the past everybody probably got that level of attention, and in some instances that might have been unnecessary because it might have been a very specific issue or a very specific sentencing option that the court wanted to know about, for example, unpaid work. They would still have had that full report. We have now moved to an environment where there are, as I have said, different types of reports at different levels, taking different amounts of resource and time. That enables individual staff to make a judgment more linked to the needs of that case, the needs of that offender and the court, and to tailor that level of reporting and that level of assessment to that case. I hope, through that, we will see an improvement in the quality of targeted assessment and information for courts.

Q746 Chair: Can I return to probation trusts for a moment? The community payback contract mechanism looks like charging off in the wrong direction entirely in terms of the large areas which were chosen for the purpose, which I assume were dictated by these quite large contracts. It has resulted in authorities being grouped together with areas with which they have nothing in common or a very long way away, from south Yorkshire to Northumberland. In some cases there is a really strange jumble of areas. Is the Department not set on a course which is inimical to what we were discussing earlier, that is a genuinely local and recognised-to-be-local system of commissioning?

Mr Blunt: There is an issue about trading off a number of different factors against each other in trying to produce the appropriate competitive lots. The truth is that there is not a right answer that would best meet this. If we had insisted that localism was an appropriate commissioning base, you might be tempted to run 35 different competitions based around each probation trust. That would have been beyond the capacity of the Ministry of Justice to manage and beyond the capacity of the market to invest in.

Q747 Chair: But there are more naturally recognised groupings than the ones that were used in community payback.

Mr Blunt: Correct. I would ask the person who has most responsibility for the design of the lots to say something.

Martin Copsey: The answer to that is that there is probably no ideal design in terms of lots. What we try to do in lot construction is to have roughly equal proportions of volume of activity. The ambition through that and through the competition process would be to deliver a number of outcomes. Clearly we want to see efficiencies and value for money delivered in those contracts, but we will certainly want to see innovation and performance improvement, and we will certainly want to see the ability of those successful bids to demonstrate proper and rigorous local delivery arrangements, which, as the Minister was suggesting earlier on, will be critical in terms of enhancing voluntary third sector local groups and local communities in working with those offenders and the community payback scheme to deliver the types of projects and outcomes that local communities want to see.

Mr Blunt: Therefore, in order to drive what we think is the best competitive option for lots of around a million hours of work being competed into the market-that is roughly the size of each of the lots-you are correct to point out that there are then the disbenefits of a new set of boundaries around the regions that are being designed around the payback, which is forcing probation trusts to engage in a set of discussions with probation trusts with whom they have not normally engaged in order to put the public sector bids together, if that is how they are going to approach it.

What has been very encouraging in this process is just how innovative the probation trusts have been in responding to this. You are quite right, and I heard the criticism, as you will have done, about the shape of the proposed contracts. Having made their complaint, which I think Sebert Cox and others repeated here about the process, they have engaged with it in a way that is very encouraging, which reflects the whole approach of the Probation Association and Probation Chiefs Association to the new environment which we are in. They are making partnerships not just with each other as probation trusts to put these bids together, but they are looking innovatively at partnerships with private sector companies in order to deliver the most effective bid in their case to secure these contracts. We are in the early stages yet, but in terms of the partnerships we are seeing, not just within the public sector but between the public sector and the private sector, what is happening is very encouraging. I want to take this opportunity to give credit to the Probation Association and the Probation Chiefs Association for the leadership they are showing in this whole new environment. It is not just around this particular contract but also their whole approach to payment by results and a much greater focus on outcomes. They have picked up the challenge that has been put down to them and are running with it in a way which I would highly commend.

Q748 Elizabeth Truss: Is not one of the issues with the strange shape of these lots the fact that it is a lateral-based commissioning on certain types of service rather than a geographical-based commissioning? I just want to understand how much the Ministry of Justice has examined the possibility of commissioning on a vertical basis all of the community service probation products and also the prison commissioning? Has that really been looked at or has it been dismissed as too difficult?

Mr Blunt: In that sense, community payback arrived to me in isolation-23% of what the Probation Service does by cash value across the delivery of services-as a competition that had begun under the last Administration. The decision I was facing was whether or not to continue with it. I am extremely conscious that we have to carry public confidence about effective punishments in the community. Community payback is the most appropriate vehicle by which to do that. I want to deliver much greater clarity about what the purpose of community payback is. It is the punitive element of a community sentence. If it is rehabilitative because it happens to work well and people go on well-managed schemes and they come out better people having been on well-managed schemes, that is well and good, but its purpose is to deliver punishment.

I was concerned that there was too much differential performance in the delivery of community payback across the country. I do not think it was very difficult for ITV to go in and put cameras on offenders who were being administered in community payback and produce a television programme that produced a very negative view of community payback. I spent a number of my early visits going to visit community payback schemes around the country and was struck by the fact that if you visit a community payback scheme during the week you are likely to see about half the people who are meant to be there actually there. At the weekend it is about 75%.

Elizabeth Truss: My question was not really about that.

Mr Blunt: I know. Forgive me for the length of the answer. Therefore, community payback’s importance in delivering confidence in community sentencing meant that I then came to a judgment, obviously along with the Secretary of State, that it was appropriate for this competition to continue. The importance of getting community payback robustly delivered with greater intensity, to carry greater public confidence, was an urgent necessity, and so we proceeded with the programme. As you have said, the alternative would have been to look at a vertical integration of services, including prison and everything else.

Q749 Elizabeth Truss: The answer is that the Ministry of Justice has not looked at the savings and efficiencies that could result from vertical commissioning.

Mr Blunt: We discussed this earlier. There have been discussions, for example, about Cumbria, where there is a rough balance between the prisons that serve the population there, the probation trust, the police and everything else. Should we look for areas where we could do, in effect, vertical commissioning with a completely localised vertical process, as you describe it? The decision has been taken that in fact we should proceed with our payment-by- results pilots that we are engaging with across prisons, probation and communities in the youth justice area and in co-operation with the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions. That is what we have decided to do.

Q750 Ben Gummer: This does fit into our discussion on probation but you are also responsible for sentencing. In looking at additional savings that might need to be made in the MoJ, have you looked at the abolition of the Sentencing Council?

Mr Blunt: It was considered early on, but I was conscious that politicians appeared to have been redesigning the Sentencing Council. Previously it was the Sentencing Guidelines Council. I think there were two bodies responsible for this as recently as last year. It did not seem sensible at this stage to rip up the new framework and to start again. We decided to let the existing framework run and see how it performs.

Q751 Ben Gummer: But you have just identified a whole series of local peculiarities about capacity. You have also professed a need for there to be local commissioning, albeit on a different model from the way that this Committee seems to be moving. Surely it would be appropriate, therefore, to have local sentencing.

Mr Blunt: I would be interested in the views of the Committee as to whether you think there should be consistency in sentencing across the country. Certainly one of the principal assumptions has been that, if you commit an offence in one part of the country, you should be getting a reasonably similar sentence wherever you have committed that offence. That is what the Sentencing Council and their guidelines are for. It is to achieve consistency in sentencing.

Q752 Ben Gummer: Sentencing is part of the commissioning process. The Government cannot in one instance insist on local provision of sentencing and in another a nationalised sentencing directoire. That is something that even Sir Brian Leveson is not able to reconcile.

Mr Blunt: To a degree, you are of course intellectually wholly correct. The logic of a vertically integrated service, and, say, a police and crime commissioner who is responsible for the management of criminal justice policy in their area, would be to allow local sentencers and a police and crime commissioner the freedom to pursue the criminal justice policy in their local area as they see fit. If they want to bang people up and their sentencers want to send people to prison for exemplary periods for burglary or whatever else it is in the county of Surrey, for example, and to have an extremely robust sentencing policy, well, that is fine as long as the people of Surrey are prepared to pay for it through their council tax because of all the prisons they are going to have to build to hold them. Equally, they could pursue a different policy which is focused on sharing the savings with the Ministry.

The issue in those circumstances is that we would go to a completely different environment where the state was not procuring custody. I do not think we are quite ready to make that jump yet. It is a very interesting discussion and I will look forward to the views of the Committee about where this should be taken. Should there be differentiated sentences in different parts of the country? How far should the relationship between sentencers and their local criminal justice agencies go in terms of influencing what sort of sentence there should be?

The position of the Government is quite clear. There should be consistency in sentencing across the country to make sure that there is a robust message sent out about the wholly unacceptable nature of crime and the necessary consequences of people who perpetrate crime and what they do to their victims. In the end, we are in the business of carrying the confidence of the country in making sure that the victims of crime know that their offenders are, as far as possible, going to be caught and appropriately punished and that our entire system is going to work to effectively rehabilitate offenders so that they do not create more victims of crime in the future. I do not think we can reconcile those necessary national objectives by having a very local different sentencing regime and doing without the services of the Sentencing Council. Crime and punishment is a national issue, and in the end the responsibility, as you say, for sentencing policy-through me to the Secretary of State and to the Cabinet-sits with me. It is a national and not a local issue.

Q753 Chair: In the past the Committee has not challenged the assumption that sentencing should be consistent across the country but has regularly expressed concern that the structure that we have denies the sentencers the opportunity to deliver the appropriate sentence because one part of the commissioning process, namely, prison, is so remote from all the other decisions. The sentencer knows that if he imposes a custodial sentence a van will come and take the prisoner away to, perhaps, an overcrowded prison, whereas if the sentencer believes that a different kind of punishment and rehabilitation is required he has to establish that that is available in the area. There is an automaticity about prison commissioning which does not apply to a number of other disposals. That has been the Committee’s previous area of concern.

Mr Blunt: I hope I can give the Committee some comfort. We have just reviewed with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the offender learning provision. You will see in that that there has been a change in the procurement unit that is available to NOMS. The future procurement unit for offender learning into prisons, which is about £150 million out of the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will be the prison cluster. It is going to be up to NOMS to identify the prison cluster. I am absolutely clear that the prison cluster needs to reflect the individual prisoner journey.

There is a way in which we should be able to get to a system whereby a Category B local prison serves the courts where people first get sent to after sentence in the courts or on remand before they get sentenced and will spend short sentences. If they are on a longer sentence, they will move to a Category C training prison and they will then move to a Category D resettlement prison. All of this depends on the length of their sentence. We have an estate that ought to be able to be managed to support the offender journey.

There has been criticism-and I think it has been expressed to the Committee here-that people are on programmes, then they are moved and they lose the programme they are on. If you are procuring support and programmes into prison that is through a cluster of prisons, and you get roll-on roll-off programmes so people are in the appropriate institution for where they are in terms of their sentence but the programmes are still available from the same providers within a prison cluster, I hope that will be a step forward. I hope it will then make it easier to make these local links between the local probation trusts and the prisons and the management of their offenders.

Chair: Minister, Mr Allars and Mr Copsey, thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 17th June 2011