On behalf of this Government, I am responding to the recent publication of the Justice Select Committee’s report on Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre. I am grateful to the Committee for its diligence in producing this report and can assure you that all recommendations have been carefully considered.
The response (attached to this letter) addresses the recommendations made to the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service and the Youth Custody Service (YCS)–and incorporates responses provided by the contractor MTC on recommendations addressed to them.
The findings presented by the inspectorates, that resulted in the Urgent Notification protocol being invoked last December, are deeply concerning. The safety and wellbeing of children in custody is always our top priority. While I accept that the challenges presented by COVID-19 have had an inevitable impact on the operations during this period, I am clear that all children, including those ‘reverse cohorting’ should still have sufficient opportunities for meaningful social interaction with staff, and where possible, with their peers to support their mental and emotional wellbeing. It is clear this was not always the case at Rainsbrook, despite assurances provided.
The Government response sets out the actions taken in the aftermath of the UN and in the subsequent months as we–and the provider - have worked to strengthen operational oversight, monitoring and assurance processes at Rainsbrook (and the wider youth secure estate), and contract monitoring arrangements. I am also grateful for the assurances provided by the new Managing Director of MTC that he–and MTC as a whole–are taking these findings very seriously and are addressing the failings identified.
Whilst there have been improvements made–observed by the enhanced monitoring and assurance processes and as acknowledged by Ofsted in their latest assurance report published in February - there is much more to do to ensure MTC run a high-quality service for children at Rainsbrook. The YCS will continue to monitor progress very closely and ensure we see sustainable improvements in children’s experiences. As you are aware, the Lord Chancellor has been very clear that he will not hesitate to take appropriate action should this not be the case, or the speed of change be insufficient.
I remain committed to improving the conditions for children at Rainsbrook and am grateful for your considered report and your continued interest in the youth secure estate.
Alex Chalk, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice
The Select Committee recommended:
We are concerned by Mr Mulholland’s statement that he plans to accept only recommendations “we think are fair or grounded” and recommend that he make a clear, public commitment to implementing the change the inspectorates, as independent external bodies, tell Rainsbrook to make unless there are clear, evidenced and transparently recorded reasons for doing otherwise in any specific case.
1.YCS response: We are clear that recommendations from inspectorates should be taken extremely seriously, fully considered and responded to accordingly by all secure establishments, whether they are run by the public or private sector.
2.MTC response: MTC and Ian Mulholland have made it clear that they accept the recommendations from the inspectorates and MTC is working in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to address all recommendations made.
The Select Committee recommended:
While there is nothing wrong with staff moving across to the youth estate from the adult estate, it is not appropriate for these staff to operate as though they are in the adult estate. We recommend that the management at MTC set out clearly what they are doing to address the existing issue of staff retention, including what incentives and support they offer to staff. MTC should also set out what training is given to staff to ensure that staff are adequately skilled and equipped to work in the youth custodial estate. If consideration has not been given to this, MTC should set out what plans it has in place to ensure that staff are adequately trained and supported to work well in a youth custodial environment
3.YCS response: Staff retention and training is a key focus of the YCS’s work with Rainsbrook and is assessed regularly in governance and accountability meetings.
4.MTC response: MTC have made a number of changes to address staff retention and training to ensure staff are equipped to work in the youth custodial estate as detailed below, and there are early signs of a positive impact:
A refreshers guide to Rainsbrook’s ’Promoting Peace’ strategy was recently issued and is available to all employees. The strategy is a monthly agenda item at the Senior Management Team meeting to ensure consistent review.
MTC also have a series of ‘Toolbox Talks’ helping embed SECURE STAIRS (the integrated framework of care that provides the foundations for how the YCS works with children) into their culture.
On 7 April 2021, a manager development programme commenced to allow their Operational Service Managers (OSMs) better support employees and improve consistent decision making. MTC is currently in the process of recruiting Custodial Care Officers (CCOs) in conjunction with an organisation that specialises in helping companies transform their recruitment and assessment methods, enabling them to attract and recruit the right people for the right roles. This was following research conducted with the organisation to establish the skills and behaviours that candidates needed to be successful as CCO’s.
MTC also recently worked with this organisation to revamp their assessment centre process for candidates to ensure they are getting the best quality candidates. This resulted in the creation of a new role-play scenario and incident report with an improved scoring matrix.
5.Staff retention has improved at the centre over the last 12 months with February and March 2021 seeing staff turnover drop by two-thirds (i.e. from the peak of 10 staff leavers down to 3) - a significant decline.
6.MTC’s Director has developed a new vision for the STC which the leadership is consulting on with staff and children, setting out objectives and core values to create a strong and positive identity for Rainsbrook.
The Select Committee recommended:
We are not confident in MTC’s ability to deliver the action required by recommendations repeatedly made over a period of years by the three inspectorates. We recommend that MTC and the Youth Custody Service report to us by June 2021, setting out in detail what progress has been made against the action plan now developed. MTC should also set out what impact changes made have had on children at the centre. If no substantial improvement is then apparent, the Ministry should consider taking Rainsbrook back in house.
7.YCS response: We are monitoring the situation at Rainsbrook very closely as MTC implement the Urgent Notification action plan to ensure improvements that we all want to see happen at pace. Immediate focus is to work with MTC to secure improvements needed to successfully satisfy the requirements of the Urgent Notification, with contractual Improvement Notices issued to this effect. However, in his evidence to the committee the Lord Chancellor was clear that he will not hesitate to take appropriate action which includes considerations around bringing the provision ‘in-house’ - should the necessary improvements at the centre not be forthcoming, or the speed of change be insufficient.
8.We have started the planning for service provision at the site when current contracting arrangements come to an end. This work is ongoing, and we are taking into account our longer-term ambition to transform the youth custodial estate in line with our future vision.
9.YCS/MTC response: Following the Urgent Notification at Rainsbrook, immediate actions were taken by MTC to implement regime changes and the YCS worked with the provider to create a comprehensive action plan to address the concerns outlined in the report and to improve the quality of care.
10.Changes to the admissions process have been made so that no child is isolated on arrival and all children in the Reverse Cohorting Unit (RCU) have access to services and a greater amount of time out of their room, putting in place vulnerability support plans for all new arrivals To this end, MTC have created new senior management positions to strengthen leadership and operational grip. This includes a Head of Care, Head of Transformation and Compliance, and additional senior operational support to Girls Services, increasing the senior management visibility on the units. MTC have also appointed a Director of Operations who is providing strategic oversight and will ensure a smooth transition to the recently appointed new permanent Director, who took up the post in late March 2021. The director joins with a strong track record of delivery within youth secure settings and his appointment well received by a committee member at the oral evidence session in March.
11.MTC have also appointed a new Head of Education who is undertaking a curriculum review and a wider review of the education department’s delivery to ensure education is more engaging, stimulating and valuable to the children at the centre. To this end, work has taken place to increase the education pathway, reinstating the full pathway model, with a revised and improved enrichment programme now being delivered as part of children’s daily programme. This provides more activities with a provision that is more engaging for children which has seen an increase in both attendance and engagement as well as an overall improvement. Alongside this, the education offer is being refreshed as part of a provider change from Novus to Nacro on 3 May 2021.
12.A full unit painting and decorating programme was also commissioned and has since commenced following input from children so that the environment can be made to feel more homely.
13.YCS response: As set out in more detail below, the YCS have also enhanced monitoring activity at the centre whilst deploying an experienced senior manager to the centre to provide support and operational oversight to MTC.
14.Whilst it is still early in the centre’s improvement journey, its positive changes have seen an increase in time out of room (with the latest published Ofsted monitoring visit report published on 22 February noting ‘early signs of improvement’ and stating that “children are now appropriately out of their rooms for most of the day…” . At a follow up assessment in January 2021, inspectors commented stating the centre “understands the culture change that needs to take place” and reported that they could now see “meaningful” change. Whilst making reference to positive observations of engagement between staff and children, with an increased senior leader presence on the units), with monitors also having observed that more activities are being made available on units. Although delivery confidence in the provider is reasonable at this stage, it is crucial that these improvements are sustained. To this end, robust oversight arrangements are now in place (as set out below in more detail) with regular meetings taking place with the provider, senior oversight within YCS to monitor progress, additional assurance activity from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and regular reports to ministers.
15.However, we fully acknowledge that more still needs to be done to implement recommendations and many of the improvements still require embedding. We are clear that there is still much work to do to sustain improvements at Rainsbrook – and as referenced above, all options remain on the table should this not occur.
The Select Committee recommended:
It is clear that further work needs to be done on the way in which the prison service more generally responds to recommendations. It is important for all organisations that they are able to learn from external sources of assurance. Inspectorates have told us, in this and in other inquiries, that they repeatedly make the same recommendations over a sustained period without effective action resulting. This brings into question how seriously the prison service takes the recommendations made. The Ministry of Justice should set out in detail, what work they are doing to ensure that recommendations made by Inspectorates are taken seriously and acted upon quickly and effectively.
16.Independent scrutiny and assurance play an important role in driving safety and security. We recognise its importance and the transparency it provides, particularly during a period where secure establishments have been increasingly closed off from the community. We treat recommendations made by the independent scrutiny bodies with the utmost seriousness and expect all providers to act upon them in a timely and robust manner.
17.Scrutiny body heads regularly meet with MoJ/HMPPS officials to discuss their findings including areas of good practice and areas of concern. The outcome of these conversations informs policy and operational decision making.
18.In addition to regular official-level engagement, the Executive Director of the Youth Custody Service has quarterly bilateral meetings with HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and with Ofsted, to discuss issues and update them on recent developments across the youth secure estate.
19.We have introduced quarterly meetings with HMI Prisons, HMI Probation and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to strategically discuss their findings to improve performance and better outcomes. These meetings draw together scrutiny body findings and discuss thematic concerns and good practice. Quarterly meetings are chaired by senior MoJ officials, with participation from scrutiny body heads and HMPPS.
20.We have also been working closely with HMI Prisons on their recent Inspection Consultation. In this, the Department has requested the Inspectorate to consider the number and impact of recommendations made by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and continue with their commitment to reducing the number of recommendations.
21.To ensure that recommendations are acted upon quickly and effectively there is also the assurance activity of the HMPPS Operational and System Assurance Group (OSAG). As part of the HMPPS assurance approach, YOIs in the YCS sites are subject to an annual programme of assurance activity to provide an assessment on the quality of delivery against key delivery themes agreed in advance with the YCS and overseen through HMPPS governance structures.
22.HMPPS have operated a three-stage approach to monitor and report on their progress against HMIP recommendations in prisons and YOIs since 2018. The three-stage approach to this is (stage 1 continued throughout this period but stage 2 and 3 activity was paused at critical points during the pandemic):
1. Self-assessment by the operational line
2. OSAG challenge the operational line on their self-assessment and
3. OSAG conduct an in-depth assessment of progress against recommendations
23.OSAG also follow up on progress made against recommendations six weeks after a HMIP Scrutiny Visit report is published. However, OSAG’s established three-stage assurance process for following up with prisons showing limited progress is temporarily on hold due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, the follow up on concerns remain with the Deputy Director for Operations and Governor.
24.Scrutiny Visits have also been used to highlight positive practice. This is defined as innovative practice or practice which leads to particularly good outcomes from which other establishments may be able to learn. The Scrutiny and Intelligence Unit (SIU) within OSAG, has established processes to share positive practice from external scrutiny reports and internal assurance reports from OSAG with practitioners through an online ‘library of good practice’. Ofsted published a briefing on children’s social care providers and made comments on positive practice observed in Secure Children Homes, commenting on the regularity of risk assessments to ensure the safety of children and the nurturing relationship children had with staff.
The Select Committee recommended:
We welcome the implementation of a new assurance process. More is required than that, however, given what we have heard about action plans being written but not acted on. Those charged with overseeing previous assurances processes failed in the basic task of checking for themselves what was going on and we need greater confidence that a new process will improve upon the existing one. We recommend that MTC set out what their new assurance process is and how it differs from the one previously in existence. In particular, what practical steps will MTC take to ensure that its senior managers at the centre know, for themselves, whether improvements reported to them are real and long-lasting? We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Custody Service set out clearly what they will do to assess the provider’s new assurance processes to ensure that they are operating effectively, and to confirm, for themselves, that what they are being told is true.
25.MTC response: There have been significant changes to the leadership of the centre since the first and second Ofsted inspections. As referenced in paragraph 10, a new centre director is now in place, joined by a new head of education and education provider. MTC have reviewed their assurance approach and made significant changes to strengthen operational grip. These include:
26.To embed these crucial initial changes, MTC is creating a new quality assurance model independent of the STC, which will provide assurance to the centre Director and the MTC Executive. The MTC model is identical to the approach developed by HMPPS in recent years and provides a robust and independent assessment of performance. It will be used by MTC to inform its assessment on the quality of operational delivery. MTC has shared the approach with the YCS as it has developed, and it committed to sharing findings of the work as they emerge.
27.Additionally, MTC is also developing ‘what good looks like’ in respect of the actions they are taking to improve the services, and quality standards for work in the future these are also being developed in collaboration and was shared with the YCS in April 2021.
28.YCS response: To assure ourselves, the YCS is holding weekly meetings with MTC to track operational progress, with a monthly improvement board established as the formal route for taking contractual action as necessary. The YCS is monitoring progress closely at these meetings so it can be assured that actions being taken are having the desired impact on improving performance and that MTC is sustaining these improvements.
29.As a result of an urgent review of the monitoring activity, the monitors have increased the time they spend out and about in the centre and on units. They conduct daily visits to all residential units, including the RCU and education where they speak to and engage with children and staff. This allows the monitors to capture evidence to assess MTC’s leadership and operational grip, programme delivery and the safety and well-being of children.
30.In addition, the YCS has deployed a highly experienced senior leader with extensive operational experience as on-site project lead, who is working closely with MTC to build leadership capacity and strengthen grip, and on ensuring actions taken on the back of the action plan are robust with sustained impact. Weekly meetings to consider performance are taking place, in addition to the monthly improvement boards to establish a joined-up approach across operations, contract management and commercial areas.
31.Work with the HMPPS contract management improvement team is underway, and a 12-week improvement programme is being developed and due to commence at the start of May 2021. Through consultation with OSAG leads, a new YCS assurance framework is to be designed, with development ongoing throughout the year. The framework will be based on the MoJ approach to risk management. Delivery of assurance work will be risk led and complemented with the expansion of support and coaching from subject leads. The quality of outcomes will support the importance of creating and delivering bespoke offers to each child to meet their individual needs. Further, the creation of such an open learning approach will also support MTC in better understanding and assessing performance and help maintain high standards of care going forward.
The Select Committee recommended:
The Ministry of Justice, Youth Custody Service, HMPPS and MTC failed in their management and oversight of Rainsbrook STC, and the evidence suggests that, in varying degrees, that failure was not limited to one body. We are deeply concerned that processes in place to oversee Rainsbrook failed to fully safeguard children in the care of the establishment. We welcome work being done to address failings, but the issues identified here in poor leadership and oversight are not new and a greater sense of urgency is required. We welcome the independent review being carried out to understand what went wrong, directed by HMPPS, and recommend that HMPPS share its findings with the Committee and set out clearly what changes will be made to national oversight to ensure that HMPPS, YCS and MoJ have sufficient grip and oversight on all institutions, both contracted and public.
32.As described throughout this document, there were a number of immediate changes implemented to improve operational grip and oversight. Following the Urgent Notification, senior leaders at the site now have a greater on-site presence, in order to support staff and better oversee regime delivery, with the previously referenced Head of Transformation and Compliance providing additional assurance and oversight around improvement activity outlined in the Urgent Notification action plan.
33.After placements restarted at the centre in early March 2021, having been paused in the aftermath of the Urgent Notification, the Duty Director is visiting all new children regularly during their first 14 day period to ensure they have settled into the centre and understand how they will be cared for, and that children reverse cohorting have access to services and time out of their room to support their emotional and physical wellbeing. This additional senior oversight will be modelled and spearheaded by the new Director, who will look to drive forward improvement work at the centre. Monitors also conduct daily unit visits and feed any concerns or issues back to the provider. If these are not dealt with appropriately they are escalated to achieve timely resolution.
34.The Contract Management Improvement Team within HMPPS were also commissioned to undertake a review of the contract management practices at Rainsbrook in response to the Urgent Notification. This review included a detailed analysis of key documents, performance data and governance processes alongside interviews with all personnel involved with the management of the Rainsbrook STC contract. The preliminary review findings concluded that YCS needed to improve its approach to contract management, ensure clear roles and responsibilities and robust governance structures, strengthen first line assurance by creating a stronger focus on service quality rather than just service compliance, and establish a clear framework for future delivery.
35.To address the concerns detailed above, a bespoke package of improvement support has been developed which will involve staff from the YCS, the MoJ commercial function, HMPPS Assurance Team and youth justice policy. This work will continue through to mid-summer 2021. The improvement work, whilst having a primary focus on Rainsbrook will encompass all contracts managed by YCS to ensure lessons are learned.
36.As above, the development of the new YCS Assurance Framework will focus on best practice in contract management and monitoring. The early findings from this assurance work support both the YCS’s and Ofsted’s initial diagnosis; that is, there have been some improvements made around local oversight and onsite capability, but there is still much work to do to improve performance sustainably. This assurance work will complement the review of monitoring that has been taking place since the Urgent Notification at Rainsbrook. Additionally, as a response to the findings, the HMPPS Commercial Sub Committee will be considering if there is a need for additional assurance or analysis of contract health going forward to prevent a similar situation with other contracts.
The Select Committee recommended:
We recommend that the Ministry of Justice review monitoring processes in place across the youth secure estate to ensure that robust central monitoring is in place. The Ministry should also set out how they intend to learn lessons from the failings at Rainsbrook, and ensure that the same mistakes are not made in the delivery of secure schools.
37.The senior operational manager appointed to Rainsbrook is also providing support to the monitoring team at Oakhill STC, with the continuous improvements being delivered at Rainsbrook shared with staff at Oakhill STC. Further, as above, the YCS is developing a new Assurance Framework which will focus on best practice in contract management and monitoring.
38.Over the last 6 months we have been adapting our assurance approach with public sector YOIs. We have removed reliance on historic data to identify risk and successful compliance, with managers across sites looking at performance holistically and reporting to the YCS Deputy Director for Operations through bi-monthly performance meetings (established in July 2020). These are supplemented by Governors Assurance Reports and bi-monthly Deputy Director for Operations visits and other group leads, enabling conclusions and emerging risks to be identified from current data. This approach will be expanded to include assurance on Rainsbrook, and in the interim, additional support has been provided to Rainsbrook from the group safety lead.
39.We are continuing to engage with the inspectorates to enable transparency regarding secure schools. Furthermore, in November 2020 the Lord Chancellor met with the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons to discuss secure schools and how HMIP and Ofsted work together in relation to them.
The Select Committee recommended:
Embedding YCS staff within the institutions whose performance they are monitoring is clearly good practice in principle but is not sufficient on its own. The Minister should consider having additional monitors travelling around sites, or a further form of independent monitoring. We recommend that the Ministry consider how it can manage the risk of its staff either failing to see what is happening or failing to challenge it. Whichever of those things happened at Rainsbrook, neither is acceptable.
40.The YCS enhanced its monitoring and operational oversight capacity at Rainsbrook immediately after the Urgent Notification was invoked, this included the upskilling of the monitoring team so they have the skills to identify and challenge risks. In addition to the immediate measures that were put in place, monitoring practice is being reviewed and procedures have been revised to strengthen the focus on programme delivery, time out of room, and the well-being of children accommodated at Rainsbrook. Evidence from these activities is presented to the provider promptly. Any improvements that are required are identified and their delivery is closely monitored.
41.The changes to monitoring practice are also being translated to Oakhill where the YCS has also increased capacity for operational oversight and monitoring. In addition, there is a programme of work underway to strengthen contract management arrangements at the YCS (see paragraph 31 above).
42.HMPPS have also strengthened the role of second-line assurance in relation to STCs with a team from outside of the YCS conducting additional assurance activity at Rainsbrook as well as at Oakhill.
The Select Committee recommended:
We seek a clear explanation of why the Ministry of Justice chose to extend MTC’s contract by two years when the contractor’s ability to deliver was already in question, and we ask what ministerial involvement there was in making that decision and, in particular, in signing it off.
43.In 2016, the Department (MoJ) and wider HM Government (HMG) - HM Treasury and Cabinet Office - approved the full business case to fund and award the current contract (with MTC) for services at Rainsbrook STC. HMG approvals and departmental spending were agreed for an overall seven-year period: a five-year contract with a pre-determined option to extend by a further two years. In making the decision, performance data was also considered and the site was not showing significant failings in October 2019. The decision to activate the two-year extension was internally approved in November 2019 and formally notified to MTC in February 2020.
The Select Committee recommended:
Consistently sub-standard performance of a contract does not merit renewal in any circumstances. We recommend that the Secretary of State urgently reviews whether his Ministry plans to renew any other contract or any contractor whose performance is similarly consistently poor.
44.All projects considering the future delivery of services to the Ministry are undertaken in accordance with Cabinet Office guidance and the Sourcing Playbook best practice policies. Delivery Model Assessments (make vs buy analysis) routinely incorporate lessons learned from the ‘business as usual’ contract management and performance function to ensure the most appropriate sourcing route is applied for future generation delivery.