Written evidence from Northumbria Probation
Trust (PB 39)|
Northumbria Probation Trust welcomes the opportunity
to participate in this Inquiry and the following pages contain
our detailed response to the key questions posed by the Select
Committee. Our response may be summarised as follows:
question the current NOMS business model in terms of how it is
set up for the commissioning of services, its sometimes intrusive
interface with Trusts as supposed arm's length providers and the
unclear way in which local Probation Trusts are locked into restrictive
national contracts for property and ICT.
emphasise the importance of the end-to-end Offender Management
process which holds together and makes sense of the totality of
intervention for individual offenders. We believe that diluting
that process by contracting-out core elements is potentially risky.
stress the expertise and long experience that exists within Probation
Trusts in commissioning services from other sectors and see no
difficulty in expanding the amount of sub-contracting that takes
place. Indeed we see some sentencing options, such as mental health
treatment, as being very reliant on an active contribution from
other agencies. We note some problems, however, in relation to
the TUPE transfer of staff should existing tasks be contracted-out
and in terms of how volumes may be specified in contracts where
demand and capacity are largely in the hands of a third party,
welcome the potential to work with more offenders who currently
receive short custodial sentences and come out of prison unsupervised.
There is a caveat here, of course, in that Trusts would need the
resources to do this additional work in a wider context of severe
budgetary constraint across the public sector.
whilst we would welcome the opportunity to do more Restorative
Justice work we are constrained by the NOMS Specification, Benchmarking
and Costing and Best Value approaches which have put a price on
our victim work, no doubt to be reflected in Trusts' contracts,
which leaves a limited amount of room for expansion.
on the same theme, all Trusts would be keen to work more differentially
with groups of offenders presenting different mixes of risks and
needs but, again, available resources and an increasing emphasis
on NOMS specifying the detail of our work are potential barriers.
Nevertheless, Northumbria has a good record of innovative, cross-agency
work with women offenders, for example, and highly developed multi-agency
public protection arrangements.
comment positively on recent internal changes to how probation
staff are trained and on the emerging potential for us to generate
income by offering more training than currently to other agencies.
We commend our full submission to the Inquiry and
would be more than willing to provide further evidence if needed.
Northumbria Probation Trust's response to questions
posed by the Justice Select Committee:
1. Are probation services currently commissioned
in the most appropriate way?
1.1 The 35 Probation Trusts created in April
2010 are arm's length providers of services to regional Directors
of Offender Management (DOMs) operating now in a National Offender
Management Service (NOMS) business model featuring active contract
management, a national performance framework, tight budget control
and potential competition from other providers. However, we are
not sure whether this model is the most effective way of commissioning
probation services. We have, effectively, two commissioners. Firstly
we have the DOM and secondly we have NOMS / Ministry of Justice.
We believe that having both does not provide the most effective
commissioning model. Overall, we believe the current model does
not work effectively for the following reasons;
is a conflict with the principle established by NOMS of probation
trusts as arm's-length operators.
way in which the DOMs' regional offices have been set up are inappropriate.
Currently, our "commissioner" also holds our budget
thereby creating a conflict of interest.
lack of a competitive market obviously limits what "real"
commissioning can be but the removal of demand management from
the commissioner also limits effectiveness. No commissioner can
truly buy services with unknown and uncontrollable demand.
1.2 We also believe that for a commercial model
to work, trusts need to have more freedom from the restrictive
national contracts agreed by NOMS for areas such as estates and
facilities management and for ICT. For example, it seems illogical
to us that all trusts pay the same flat rate per square metre
for their property regardless of location. In order to be truly
competitive Northumbria should work to true North East property
costs not a notional national average. We believe Trusts should
have control over all of their assets, including property, and
the freedom to acquire and dispose of them in a commercial way.
1.3 In relation to ICT, we accept the need for
an overarching strategy across the wider Ministry of Justice and
the potential benefits of economies of scale but the current national
contract does not fit with an approach in which Trusts are expected
to be responsive to locally identified needs and work collaboratively
with local partnerships. In our view, future contracts should
agree key specifications within a framework which allows local
flexibility through a range of approved suppliers. Such an approach
would, in our view, maximise the benefits of large scale procurement
whilst at the same time allowing Trusts to select services that
are most suited to local needs.
2. How effectively are probation trusts operating
in practice? What is the role of the probation service in delivering
"offender management" and how does it operate in practice?
2.1 The performance of Probation trusts is a
matter of public record: they are measured on a wide range of
targets in the Probation Trust Rating System (PTRS) although we
would welcome a move from an over-reliance on many numerical measures
to fewer outcome measures, more qualitatively by HM Inspectorate
of Probation, by DOMs under their contract management arrangements
and, from this year, as part of local authority scrutiny arrangements
given that trusts are now part of the responsible authority for
2.2 One major strength of probation is its involvement
at all stages of the criminal justice process, from providing
information in bail decisions, through the provision of pre-sentence
reports to court and the delivery of community sentences to the
supervision of prisoners post-release: in the case of Life sentences
this can literally mean till the offender dies. Offender Management
(OM) is thus seen as providing a consistent thread in an end to
end process by allocating an Offender Manager to an offender,
for the duration of at least the current contact, starting either
pre- or immediately post-sentence. Done well, OM can create a
positive, proactive and motivational relationship between supervisor
and offender, maintain the best possible, up to date assessment
of risk and needs and broker exactly the right package of interventions
2.3 For the individual offender, regardless of
who provides each element. OM can be the glue that holds the work
with an individual together.
3. Are magistrates and judges able to utilise
fully the requirements that can be attached to community sentences?
How effectively are these requirements being delivered?
3.1 As far as we are aware no probation trust
provides the full menu of accredited programmes and other options
created under the 2003 Criminal Justice Act but all will work
with local sentencers, through well-established liaison systems,
to offer a menu of options which best meets local needs in the
context of limited resources. We believe that some requirements
need further development on an inter-agency basis as their availability
can be patchy even within the same probation trust catchment area.
We are thinking particularly of requirements concerning drug and
alcohol misuse and the provision of mental health treatment requirements
where success depends on active support from health providers
4. What role should the private and voluntary
sectors play in the delivery of probation services?
4.1 Probation services have previously had targets
(reaching 7% of total budget at one point) for spending on the
commissioning of offender-facing services from the private and
voluntary sectors. Most services achieved that target and some
over-achieved it. When the value of externally-generated income
(European Soclal Fund, Single Regeneration Budget etc) was taken
into account the sums being managed and the added value achieved
4.2 Currently, there is no spending target. Various
sums of money have been taken from trusts and pooled with other
agencies' funding to create, for example, Supporting People budgets
to provide supported accommodation for all vulnerable groups in
a locality. The spending by trusts on outsourced offender services
is thus much less than it once was, though the expertise still
exists within probation to administer the more modest budgets
now allocated to sub-contracting (in Northumbria this is currently
about 1% of our budget).
4.3 We believe probation trusts would welcome
an expanded local commissioning role. However, we do believe that
certain core aspects of our work, such as offender assessment,
managing risk etc, should remain within probation trusts. The
real value is around commissioning those activities that provide
the added value / wrap around offender services. We believe that
organisations should play to their strengths, delivering what
they have the skills and capacity for, eg the private sector is
successful in running electronic monitoring. The voluntary sector
is successful in adding value but neither sector wants to run,
or is equipped to run, the full scheme of offender management.
We believe that our strengths include the core service of offender
management and report writing for sentencers.
4.4 That said, there are some potential barriers
such as TUPE arrangements applying to the contracting-out of existing
services. We also feel there will be problems over volume targets
which may be summarised in the so far unanswered question of what
would happen if an external provider were to meet all delivery
targets well before the end of the financial year?
4.5 Probation trusts will generally have no objection
to supporting a role for the private and voluntary sectors in
the provision of some offender services. However, other key partners
will also need to subscribe to that direction of travel. How far
will partners like the Police be willing to engage with other
sectors on the sharing of highly sensitive information in relation
to public protection? There is a risk in diluting the invaluable
end to end Offender Management process if parts of it were to
5. Does the probation service have the capacity
to cope with a move away from short custodial sentences?
5.1 Yes, given the resources to deal with a greater
number of offenders in the community. Those who have been given
a community sentence rather than a short. The custodial one will
tend to attract more requirements, and thus more costs, than average.
Any significant increase in community sentencing could be funded
by a proportion of the savings made from a reduction in custodial
5.2 Northumbria has particularly strong relationships
with its courts and this is evidenced by the fact that our rate
of imprisonment in Magistrates Courts cases is only 2.1% whereas
the national average is 4%. Put another way, we are already trusted
to deal with a higher risk group of offenders in the community
than is usual. If the government is considering targets for more
community sentencing care must be taken to ensure that the extra
cases genuinely come from those who otherwise would have gone
into custody and not from those who may have had fines and discharges.
Any targets might have to be differential ones, depending on the
existing sentencing patterns in individual trusts.
6. Could probation trusts make more use of
6.1 Probation trusts all work with victims of
sexual and violent offences where the offender has been sentenced
to at least 12 months in custody. As part of that statutory role
many trusts also offer elements of restorative justice (RJ). For
example, Northumbria has facilitated exchanges of letters between
offenders and victims where both parties agree and we have also
gone further by setting up a limited number of face to face meetings.
The main barrier to extending this work is cost. Trusts have recently
gone through both a NOMS Best Value review and a Specification,
Benchmarking and Costing (SBC) appraisal of victims work and the
costs that are now expected to be incurred in this work do not
allow for any easy expansion into more sophisticated RJ approaches.
Should NOMS wish trusts to do more, the expertise certainly exists
in probation if the funding is available and if contracts are
varied to commission the extra work.
7. Does the probation service handle different
groups of offenders appropriately, eg women, young adults, black
and minority ethnic people and high and medium risk offenders?
7.1 There has been much renewed interest in women
offenders since Baroness Corston's report on women in the justice
system. In Northumbria each local OM team has appointed a "women's
champion" and all locations have women-only reporting times.
There is support across the trust for the development of "one-stop
shops" for women with a range of problems, including offenders,
in the main centres of population. Newcastle upon Tyne already
has two such facilities and rural Northumberland has developed
a "virtual" service which includes, for example, staff
from outside agencies spending some of their time on our premises
and in other, neutral locations. One of our women's champions
was shortlisted in the first NOMS national Probation Awards in
7.2 In other parts of the country we know some
trusts have developed great expertise in working with BME offenders
though this has never needed to be a high priority in Northumbria
given local demographics.
7.3 Across the whole of England and Wales the
probation service displays a high level of skill in dealing with
offenders posing a risk of harm to the community. This is only
made possible with the support of our partner organisations including
the Police within Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements
(MAPPA). For prolific offenders who do not pose a risk of serious
violence or sexual offending most trusts also have well-established
Prolific Offender Schemes, often with significant extra resourcing
drawn in from Police, local authorities and other partners. Many
of these schemes are now being extended to a more holistic "integrated
offender management" approach to involve, for example, short
term prisoners not subject to licence supervision on release.
The potential for further development of this work, and for making
a real impact on reoffending rates, is huge.
8. Is the provision of training adequate?
8.1 Yes. We have only recently implemented a
new national qualifications framework for probation staff and
this has seen many improvements including the fact that our staff
can become qualified Probation Officers without needing to resign,
take a pay cut and risk not having a job at the end of their training.
As well as these changes to how people qualify as Probation Officers
we also have very good arrangements for the NVQ training of Probation
Services Officers and our support staff. We are also committed
to maintaining a range of non-accredited but otherwise excellent
short courses on aspects of our role such as enforcement, pre-sentence
report writing, risk assessment and management, public protection
and safeguarding children, mental health, working with racially
motivated offenders, working with female offenders and (very soon)
work with offenders who are armed forces veterans. These courses
are based on locally identified needs and make full use of local
partnership arrangements to ensure effective dissemination of
knowledge across criminal justice agencies in Northumbria. This
ability to reflect local need in addition to the more generic
probation qualification and NOMS programmes is an important part
of our commitment to addressing the concerns that affect the local
community across Northumbria.
8.2 Northumbria recognises the new environment
that the creation of probation trusts has brought and has ensured
that its training provision reflects this. In addition to our
core service delivery training we have active programmes on leadership
and management development that support the effectiveness of our
8.3 Training within Northumbria has been rated
as high quality in both the most recent HMIP Inspection and its
most recent Investors in People (IiP) Assessment. Further evidence
of this is our ability to "sell" our expertise to others
and recently Northumbria staff have trained local Police and Prison
staff in a variety of risk assessment and management methods.
This perhaps reflects that though not as well funded as these
agencies, our expertise is such that we are the first port of
call for in-depth training in areas such as risk assessment.