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Justice Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 97-ii
Taken before the Justice Committee
on Tuesday 22 May 2012
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mr Robert Buckland
Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: James Allen, Head of Public Services and Partnerships, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and Clive Martin, Director, Clinks, gave evidence.
Chair: Good morning and welcome. We have Mr Clive Martin from Clinks, an organisation we have had contact with and evidence from before. Indeed the same goes for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, where Mr Allen is Head of Public Services and Partnerships. We are very glad to have you with us this morning. In general, we are very interested in the kind of work that your organisations do, but at the moment we are looking particularly at how the Ministry of Justice functions. You have perhaps a particular opportunity to view that because of the work that your own organisations or those that are associated with you carry out for the Ministry. I am going to ask Mr Buckland to open the questioning.
Q369 Mr Buckland: Good morning. I want to start off by asking questions about the role of the voluntary sector and its relationship with the Ministry of Justice, particularly at a time when, as we all understand, budgets have become tighter and financial constraints are far more evident. How would you say the Ministry’s relationship with the voluntary sector has changed in this climate? If it has changed in a negative way, are there examples of other Government Departments that are doing it right that could be applied to the Ministry?
Clive Martin: It is probably worth saying a bit about the history of the relationship. Over the past 10 years a lot of expectation has been built up about criminal justice reform, particularly in prison and probation, and the role of the voluntary sector in helping deliver that reform mainly through commissioning. We had regional offender managers and so on and so forth. None of that has really been achieved or has brought about the success that the voluntary sector anticipated. There is a fair amount of cynicism in the sector to begin with, with an understanding that the needs of offenders and communities particularly are growing at the same time. That has then been overlaid by the cuts and different reforms.
The sector is experiencing that in two different ways. Generally, relations with the prison part of NOMS and the Ministry of Justice are probably fairly stable and have not as yet experienced a huge amount of disgruntlement to the extent that we would expect. There have been funding cuts. People are working to tighter budgets but there is still access to prisons. Prisons still seem to be able to cope with the number of organisations coming in, coming out and so on. It is slightly different looking at organisations where the primary relationship is with the Probation Service, where there seems to be a larger amount of uncertainty about the future. There are other political initiatives that are making that territory more difficult- particularly local commissioning, health reforms, the election of police and crime commissioners and so on. The agenda at a local area for organisations working with the Probation Service is more complicated and that has caused more difficulty.
In terms of the cuts or the tight financial situation itself, we have recently done a survey of our members, and 95% of those organisations report that this is having some impact on their work. Rather startlingly, 77% of them are using their free reserves to support their work. It is a fluid situation, but it is probably very variable according to whether the focus is prisons or probation and according to the locality.
James Allen: In terms of the MoJ specifically I do not really have much to add to Clive’s comment. However, from our experience this does mirror what is going on across Government very closely. There is no getting away from the fact that funding cuts are having an impact on that. That can make relationships difficult, although it is the way that those cuts are implemented and the level of certainty that organisations have that has a bigger impact on that relationship. We have seen cuts being implemented fairly quickly and deeply as well, but, where that is communicated clearly and where the voluntary sector is brought in early to shape a change in the service, then that tends to help the relationship.
Q370 Mr Buckland: Mr Martin touched upon the fact that the cuts scenario is important, but prior to that there has been a build-up of a certain expectation over years that has never really been met. Is that down to a failure of communication over the long term between the Department and its predecessors and the voluntary sector?
James Allen: More broadly across the whole public services delivery landscape in the voluntary sector, there was a huge amount of growth over the decade that preceded the Comprehensive Spending Review and the implementation of those cuts. There was growth of about 120% in terms of services delivered by the sector overall. Sometimes those services were built up in a sustainable and sensible kind of way and sometimes they were not. There is clearly some responsibility for that on both sides. Some of the responsibility there is that of the Government. Contracts, grants and so on were not necessarily designed in the most sustainable and far-sighted way, but some of that responsibility lies with the sector as well. We recognise that we are now getting better at building services that are sustainable.
Q371 Mr Buckland: In terms of your getting better, which is good to hear, and how you and the Department work together to get it better, what would you say are the pluses and what are the areas of work still to do?
James Allen: It is important to resist the temptation to identify good and bad Government Departments and similarly good and bad local authorities because, unfortunately, the picture is a lot more complicated than that. There are things that the MoJ does well. My relationship with the MoJ does not go back very far. I have more experience of working with other Departments, but I have to say that I have been quite impressed with the way that they have brought the sector in during the consultation stage. Looking at some of the changes that are coming in-payment by results, for example-I am impressed by the amount of time and resource that the Department is prepared to put into pilots, which is in stark contrast to other Departments. The Work Programme is something that I spend a lot of time looking at. That is an area that could have benefited from more piloting and gathering of evidence. So there are clearly things that MoJ does do well.
Clive Martin: There are two things for me. One is a very clear intention in the MoJ at a very high level to embrace and support the voluntary sector. That is clearly there. Two things happen as a result of that. One is that it gets caught up in the commissioning frameworks, which are much more difficult for the voluntary sector to penetrate and implement. You have a warm embrace, if you like, but then, when it comes down to the business of securing the work via contracts, it becomes bogged down in different commissioning practice, European legislation and so on and so forth. That is a difficulty.
If the voluntary sector is a key element of influence and advocacy for certain parts of our community, I think we still need to move on the way in which that is done. There is a really good example of that in the Probation Review that is currently out for consultation. The Probation Review makes some very strong assumptions about the nature and management of risk-both public and offender risk. Had there been some early discussions with the voluntary sector, I think the way in which that discussion about risk has been framed would probably have been different. From our point of view there has clearly been progress and there is opportunity for dialogue and discussion, but it still has a bit of a way to run in terms of that.
That becomes more complicated when you begin to look at a local level. If I look at a probation trust, for example, it is very difficult to see how and where voluntary sector organisations might influence some of the behaviours of those probation trusts.
Q372 Mr Buckland: It has been suggested to us by the Independence Panel-or they claim-that charities are, in effect, muting or censoring their public utterances because of fear of a failure to get commissioning contracts or some sort of reprisal. Do you think that is a bit dramatic or is the picture a somewhat more constructive and open one?
Clive Martin: It is certainly hearsay. It is very difficult to get hard evidence about. There are certainly things that would concern us. For example, in probation the lack of a very clear distinction between the commissioner and provider role is an issue. Prisons are a much more complicated issue, where you have voluntary sector organisations going in and out of prisons on a daily basis. Part of their role is to advocate for those prisoners in that establishment, which often does not always make them popular. Then to have those same organisations bidding for work within those organisations is complicated. I would not like to say there is hard evidence of it, but there is certainly a feeling that that happens and there are certainly some structures that lack the clarity to reassure that that is not the case.
Q373 Chair: I trust you don’t feel at all restrained in giving your evidence-either of you-to us today, but then we are in a representative capacity for these organisations. Perhaps you are the people who should tell us if there is a problem.
Clive Martin: Exactly; that is certainly part of our remit. In recent cases, for example, where organisations still intend to bid for other work and they have lost a contract somewhere along the line, they feel reluctant to make that too publicly known because they have other contracts in the bag. From our point of view there is another, separate issue-and it sometimes gets confusing so it is worth just stating-around contracts going from one voluntary organisation to another voluntary organisation. There is not a huge amount we can do about that unless the process has been incorrect. That is particularly interesting at the moment around some gender-specific services or services specifically for people from black and minority ethnic communities, where you might want a particular organisation to deliver a service for other reasons besides just their pure ability to win that contract at that particular time. That is not saying you should give contracts to organisations that do not have good contract proposals, but there are other issues there that are important in terms of public confidence and so on.
Q374 Steve Brine: I want to get into some specifics. Clinks have argued to us about the brokering role that VCS organisations take on, and specifically with Devon reForm. Would you tell us a bit more about that and how that is working? Can the voluntary sector only win contracts by forming these sorts of consortia? Is that the future? Maybe Clinks would like to start there.
Clive Martin: The drive for consortia in the sector is key as contracts are scaled up. It is not just about contracts; it is also about what makes sense in terms of reforming offenders. What makes sense is a joined-up system of referrals from housing to drug-addiction programmes to education and employment and so on. There are solid operational reasons for consortia to be formed. There are very few voluntary sector organisations that can span across the whole range of services that might be needed.
The problems in the past with forming consortia have been to do with lead responsibility, risk and capacity. That is where it becomes a stickier issue. From a commissioning point of view there has always needed to be one responsible agent. Commissioners have been reluctant to contract to a consortium that does not have a credible or past history of development. You have one key responsible agency; the delivery lies with them, and the scope and capacity of that has been variable.
There has been success, both in the south-west and in Yorkshire and Humberside, particularly around integrated offender management where a voluntary sector organisation, normally a non-service provider-in the past it has been Councils for Voluntary Service-has had a key consortia role. It has worked very well. It seems that consortia are good, both in delivery and commissioning, but it needs quite a lot of unpicking in terms of the skill to deliver those. Where that will come from is up for grabs, I would guess.
Q375 Steve Brine: Mr Allen, over to you: Devon reForm.
James Allen: I am not really qualified to talk specifically about that, but could I say a bit about consortia? We have a lot of experience of working with organisations in the voluntary sector to form those consortia. The short answer to the question as to whether this is essential really depends on the size of the contract. If contracts are issued at a very large scale, then that probably does push organisations to collaborative working or consortia, or perhaps merger, depending on the nature of the contract; but there is no reason per se why working in consortia is better than organisations working separately to deliver smaller contracts. Generally speaking, we see enormous benefits of collaborative working in the sector. It is something that we are encouraging organisations to consider, but there are challenges in forming consortia as well. There are financial challenges. There is often an investment cost in setting it up. There is sometimes a danger when delivering very specialist services that you lose some of the unique characteristics of two organisations when you bring them together.
The overarching point about collaborative working is that we feel that is a decision that should be led by the sector. It is for those organisations to decide whether they should be working collaboratively or in consortia rather than necessarily for a commissioner to be telling them that they should be working together to deliver this service.
Q376 Karl Turner: It has been claimed that some voluntary organisations have been used as "bid candy" by large firms. How prevalent is this practice, if it exists at all? What impact does it have on the voluntary organisations? We wonder whether you think a code of conduct might help.
James Allen: If I could start by talking about the so-called "bid candy" issue, we are confident that it is happening. In a similar way to proving that organisations are not speaking out because of fear of reprisals, it is quite hard to gather evidence on that. Anecdotally, a significant number of organisations are telling us that they think this has happened. For example, organisations are named as part of supply chains and then referred absolutely no work or they are not clear whether they are on the supply chain or not. When that is happening a lot, as it is in parts of the Work Programme, it would suggest that this might be going on. The impact of that certainly is to undermine confidence in the programme. Organisations are saying to us, "We are not prepared to bid again because we think this is too much of a risk." The potential consequence in the long term, although I do not think we are there quite yet, is that it damages the relationship between the sectors as well. In an era when we are trying to build better relationships between the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector, if there is a perception that this is going on and nothing is being done about it, then it damages that relationship and that long-term trust as well.
Clive Martin: Part of the issue is clearly just the way in which these things work. Organisations are going to be part of a bid that might or might not be successful and I suppose we all have to live with that. I guess the damage comes when organisations are being asked to sign exclusivity arrangements with certain providers. There are all sorts of seemingly ill-informed reasons to do that. That essentially means tying themselves up with one provider that potentially won’t win a contract, thus damaging their business opportunities in the future. That is something that we think is potentially more dangerous than just being fair game, where you are in the bid, it does not win, you get over it and move on.
Connected with that is the inability to understand exactly what the nature of those relationships are and whether someone is in a contractual relationship where they become a gatekeeper role for other voluntary sector organisations or not. As James says, we certainly think it is going on. The impact of it and the extent to which it happens is more difficult to gauge.
Q377 Karl Turner: What measures do you think might help the voluntary sector in that?
Clive Martin: First of all, a more open process. Why does a potential prime provider choose another voluntary sector organisation to become part of its network? Some sort of open process about that-some sort of tendering process-would be useful. Secondly, some sort of understanding as to what the risk involved in that bidding process was and what capacity needed building would be useful-in other words, "If you bid with us, this is the expectation of it and this is what we are prepared to do." Again, some sort of transparency and some idea about the resources involved in that and how they would be met would be useful.
Q378 Chair: How does it work in practice? If you are a well-established but small local organisation providing an experienced drug rehabilitation programme, let us say, and your chance for the future depends on subcontracting to a provider covering a much larger area, you presumably want to keep open the opportunity of subcontracting to whichever provider gets it, don’t you, unless you go into a consortium? From the start you need to keep all your options open, don’t you?
Clive Martin: That is our view. You do need to keep all your options open. That is why it is hard to see sometimes why organisations sign themselves up to work with a particular provider. They obviously do it for their own reasons, but to keep your options open is certainly something that you would need to do for as long as possible because that is the only rational position to take up. Sometimes it works like that and sometimes it does not. That is purely down to some discussion that has gone on between the prime and the organisation involved.
Q379 Chair: Do you have any redress or any ability to restrain a prime contractor who tries to give the impression that he will work with you but there is no guarantee that he will in the end?
Clive Martin: We have no ability to do that, no. We see voluntary organisations responding in different ways. Voluntary organisations, by and large, are very enthusiastic about their work. They will talk to prime providers, as they should. Sometimes that results in a contract; other times it involves a prime provider almost collating and understanding the work in a way that they can then bid for it themselves, but there is very little that can be done about that. From our point of view, it is more about making organisations aware of some of the pitfalls of these discussions rather than trying to control what they are doing. We cannot believe in the independence of the sector and then suggest to organisations how they keep their independence. We can only provide guidance and point to where other things have happened.
Q380 Mr Llwyd: I would like to ask you one or two questions about payment by results. The Howard League gave evidence to this Committee. They were very sceptical about it. They referred, for example, to the complexity of application processes; the idea that one size fits all; the danger of cherry picking; the fact that they said it is not based on any meaningful outcomes; and that there was no record of success. That is all they had to say. In your opinion, do you think that payment by results will deliver beneficial outcomes for the public purse? Furthermore, do you think it is feasible to have a PbR element in all contracts?
James Allen: As to whether it will definitely deliver savings for the public purse, it is impossible to answer that. The attractiveness of PbR is obviously related to the potential to save money. I would agree with the Howard League on a number of the challenges that they have identified in payment by results, both within MoJ and across Government. Having said that, we do not think there is any reason why payment by results can’t work. All of those concerns are about the way that those PbR contracts are designed and the way that the transition from either a grant funding or an up-front contract payment model to PbR is managed. If it is applied skilfully, PbR can be part of the solution in moving towards more outcomes-based commissioning, which is what most people say they want and what we would support.
That said, there is a lot of nervousness in the voluntary sector about payment by results. There are a lot of structural challenges as well where organisations do not have the capital, for example, to be able to bid for those contracts. They do not have the risk appetite, if you like, whether that is about money or culture, to be prepared to wait for a long time before payment. Our view is that none of those are challenges that cannot be overcome. I would not say there is any contract that immediately springs to mind that absolutely could not have PbR as part of it, but PbR should be used as one of many mechanisms of funding. There might, for example, be the need for grant funding as well if you want providers to innovate within a service alongside that kind of PbR model.
Q381 Mr Llwyd: Is there a danger, Mr Martin, of cherry picking in terms of the more obvious cases being dealt with and the more difficult being left behind?
Clive Martin: Yes, there is, but I imagine that all depends on how well the contract is designed and the way in which the incentives are made. In principle, that could well happen, but, again, it would depend on the thoroughness of the contract and the way in which it is designed to ensure that it is not only those people with whom you can succeed who trigger the payment. It feels to us that payment by results has potential but it needs quite a staged process in order for us to get this right, both in terms of developing the market and the mechanism, whether it is a binary mechanism or not. We need to ensure that it does not create other perverse behaviours in letting all sorts of groups of people fall off the edge of the contract. In principle, they are right about cherry picking, but there is no reason that could not be overcome.
Q382 Mr Llwyd: You refer to the binary model. What difficulties do you think a binary model would present to the voluntary sector? How could these difficulties be resolved, in your opinion?
Clive Martin: The binary model of offending/reoffending presents a number of issues. I know it is blindingly obvious, but it is just worth reminding ourselves that capturing reoffending data is slightly different from whether someone has reoffended. It is not a foolproof method; it is just who gets caught again. There are all sorts of difficulties then about who provided the intervention that worked, who should get the payment and at what level the payment should be. All those are attributable factors.
The other thing that sits in the middle of all of that is the new theory, which the MoJ in our view is rightfully embracing, around desistance and how a person’s journey towards reoffending is not a one-off event. It is not something that just happens; it is a decision people make. They are likely to reoffend, but, once they have made the decision, their progress generally gets better. That comes about through the better quality of their relationships, more enhanced self-worth and all those sorts of things, which you would want to reward people for. The straightforward offending/reoffending is problematic at the moment.
Q383 Mr Llwyd: Mr Allen, do you have a view on that?
James Allen: The obvious challenge that we see very often from a financial point of view is just that organisations are not prepared or are not able to take the risk. There is no reason why, under a PbR contract, there cannot be an agreement that there is an element of up-front payment, for example, and an element of payment by result, depending on how that is agreed. The overarching complexity here, which a number of people have grappled with for a long time, is how you define and attribute those outcomes. It is enormously complicated and it gets more complicated when dealing with people with chaotic and difficult lives, who have all kinds of interactions with different parts of the public sector, the voluntary sector and the private sector. Deciding who gets the credit for quite a messy and unclear outcome at the end is incredibly complicated. That is a danger, I think, with trying to move towards a yes/no very straightforward kind of model.
Q384 Mr Llwyd: I think Mr Allen mentioned earlier on about smaller ventures being limited in terms of capital in the bidding process. How can the voluntary sector make use of social finance initiatives?
James Allen: Social finance is a relatively small but growing market. Our view is that for some organisations that can provide a useful vehicle for getting that kind of capital. It is important to be quite circumspect about social investment. It works really well for some organisations in some situations, but it is not a solution for the whole of the voluntary sector. Its usefulness will grow as people become more familiar and comfortable with it and they develop the kind of skills that they need to access those sorts of financial instruments. But social investment should never be seen as a replacement for every other type of funding. That is never going to work. There will always need to be other forms of investment in the sector. That said, from a practical perspective, we are increasingly getting requests for training from small organisations that are becoming aware of it and want to use it. At the moment the level of understanding in the sector is very mixed. Among small organisations I think there is quite a low level of understanding of what social investment actually is. We would see it as our responsibility to work with those organisations, to help them to decide whether this is the right route for them or not, and then to work with them in a practical way as well to access that finance if they do decide to go down that route.
Clive Martin: I would echo all of that. I would say, particularly in this part of the voluntary sector in criminal justice, if you look around at even the household names of Nacro and organisations such as that, you do not have any organisations with major free reserves to use. Most of the organisations are on pretty tight income/outcome budgets; so there is no established capital. Alongside that, there is no real history or sympathy in public terms of public fundraising, which means you have very little flexibility in how you can use your funding and what you can do with that. You also have some organisations that already have current liabilities in terms of pension funds and so on.
The raising capital part of the market for many voluntary sector organisations in this field is limited. You do, of course, have voluntary sector organisations outside this field that do have larger capital reserves. Some of those could be deployed in this area, but that, again, is a transition issue rather than something that we could achieve tomorrow.
Chair: Thank you both very much indeed. We are grateful to you for your help this morning.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Michael Spurr, Chief Executive officer, National Offender Management Service, gave evidence.
Chair: Good morning and welcome, Mr Spurr. The Committee benefited greatly from a free-ranging visit to the National Offender Management Service in which we wandered all over your building and talked to all of your staff, who were very happy to talk to us and explain what they were doing. We now want to pursue some of the issues that we are concerned about in looking at how the MoJ and NOMS are organised and function. I am going to ask Mr Buckland to begin.
Q385 Mr Buckland: I want to deal first of all with the change in the nature of the Board that runs the Ministry. We know there was a change from the corporate Board to the Departmental Board after the election. The net effect of the change is that NOMS is no longer a constant presence on the Board. Is that a problem?
Michael Spurr: It has changed. That is how it started but we are now a constant presence in all of the delivery agencies. The Court Service, the LSC and NOMS now are full attenders at the Board. Initially, the Board met with two of my colleague Director-Generals attending from the centre. It became clear that, if the Board was going to be really effective, it needed to look at how the Department was performing across all of its business, and it made sense to have the chief execs from three delivery agencies on the Board. The Secretary of State therefore asked us to attend and we have been attending for the last six to nine months.
Q386 Chair: In attendance or as members of the Board.
Michael Spurr: As members of the Board.
Q387 Mr Buckland: So you are now members of the Board.
Michael Spurr: We are now members of the Board, yes.
Q388 Mr Buckland: That is helpful. We know also, importantly, that the structure of NOMS was changed. The old regional structure was removed and now it is a different operating model. What impact has that had on delivery?
Michael Spurr: On delivery, at the minute I am pleased to say we have been able to maintain good performance, with the one exception of a serious Category A escape, which was not about the restructure, but that was something that obviously we did not want to happen.
Q389 Mr Buckland: That had not happened for about 16 years, had it?
Michael Spurr: No, but there were local failures there that were not about the structure. We have obviously been investigating that and there will be a statement to Parliament in due course about what that led to. I did not want to minimise that; that occurred. If you take the range of performance, that has been maintained. If you look at the Inspectorate of Probation, for example, they would say that performance across probation trusts has continued to improve. I think that is true. London has just had the most positive inspection it has had. It has been one of the more problematic areas.
Equally on the prison side, if you speak to the Chief Inspector of Prisons, not everything is where we would want it to be, but you can demonstrate in the individual health prison tests that prisons have continued to improve. Overall performance has been maintained, the Cat A escape being the exception. We have only had four escapes from prison or prison escorts this year. We used to record them not very long ago in the hundreds. With regard to absconds from open prisons, at the beginning of 2003, for example, 1,300 people ran away from open prisons. There were 182 last year, and yet open prisons are operating fuller than they ever have been. On reoffending, the latest data continues to show that, both across those coming out of custody and those coming from community, reductions have continued. There was a five percentage point reduction in the last figures since 2000.
We have been able to manage that whilst doing the restructure. Obviously that reflects a lot of hard work by people who are doing the delivery. I am not taking that away at all, but it is not the case that, as we have done the major restructuring and taken a lot of money out of the system, performance has significantly deteriorated.
Q390 Mr Buckland: On the measure for escape, there has not been any change of the criteria.
Michael Spurr: No.
Q391 Mr Buckland: We know there are escapes and there are escapes, aren’t there?
Michael Spurr: No. We measure escapes in three ways. There are Category A escapes, escapes from prison or prison escort and contractor escapes. If you want the full total, this year there was one Category A escape, four escapes from prison or prison escort and 13 escapes from contractors. There were then 182 absconds. That is about all the ways that you would get out.
Q392 Mr Buckland: I am very grateful, Mr Spurr. I used the phrase, which caused a bit of amusement, "there are escapes and escapes", but from my experience, having prosecuted and defended in escape cases, what I am trying to say is that there are different types of escapes.
Michael Spurr: I understand that, and we have not massaged the figures, which is the most important thing.
Q393 Mr Buckland: That is what I wanted to know. We have dealt with delivery therefore. How has the new model helped NOMS meet its required savings targets?
Michael Spurr: It has been fundamental to it. We developed in the first two years of the agency. NOMS restructured as an agency in 2008 and we were operating on a regional model with the aim, at that point, to devolve responsibility to individual directors in each region who would have responsibility for both what was being commissioned in community and at prison level. We moved away from that regional model because it did not fit with the view that is about having much more local involvement rather than regional devolvement and because it was necessary to be able to drive savings.
The functional model enabled me initially to reduce the number of directors, for example, by seven. I took seven directors out from the start, and we are going through a major restructure, which, by the end of the spending review, will save £91 million. We have at this moment saved £63 million of that already. So the bulk of it has been done in the first two years. We have reduced our total headcount at headquarters by 649 posts. That is everything above establishment and probation trust level, because it is not just pure administrative headquarters; that includes all our training facilities-for example, training new prison officers and so on.
We have managed that with good consultation with trade unions and being able to exit people through a range of schemes. We have not filled vacancies for some time. We have reorganised internally and had some voluntary exit schemes for people to leave. So we have 649 fewer people, £63 million delivered to date, and it will deliver £91 million by the end of the spending review period.
Q394 Mr Buckland: We were grateful for our visit to NOMS. An abiding concern that members of the Committee have is the danger of duplication between your work and the work of the MoJ. Where would you identify duplication now and where can you eliminate that?
Michael Spurr: You are absolutely right. One of the key factors is moving towards a new functional model and also a new operating model that says, "We will take services from the core Department where it makes sense to do that so that we do not duplicate." That is absolutely a core part of how we are operating. Estates is now managed, as you will know, across the Ministry, as is procurement. Procurement used to be managed just in NOMS but is now managed across the Ministry. Audit is now being done across the Ministry, although I have put additional funding into the MoJ audit function to ensure that I maintain operational audit because I want operational audit alongside financial audit to ensure that we are maintaining the performance levels I mentioned earlier.
There are still areas. I guess the area is about the transition from the strategic development of policy to the implementation of it, which is primarily the responsibility of the delivery agencies, but, inevitably, there is a crossover. As we are developing payment by results, as we were talking about earlier, the pilot and the models have been developed quite properly, using the analytical resource and the Ministry using the policy expertise. We are now into the implementation phase where we are directly responsible for the implementation. What we have to avoid is rehearsing or redoing work that has already been done or duplicating work. We are working closely with our MoJ colleagues to avoid that happening. We will continue to have to look very closely at where there is potential for duplication as we implement the new operating model over the next year or so. We will do that because I cannot afford, quite frankly, for there to be duplication between us and the MoJ or indeed across various directorates within my own organisation. What is the responsibility with the switchover, the commissioning and the contracting, for example-how we manage the contracts? We have been very clear with probation trusts, for example, that there will only be one line of communication through to probation trusts. The contract managers, who all have probation backgrounds, will be the ones who do the dialogue so that there is a clarity about who to come to about issues. Sometimes in the past you were not quite sure and there were too many people involved in this who had got their fingers in the pie. We want to give clarity of communication and accountability. So we are working on it.
Q395 Mr Buckland: With regard to the development of strategy, do you regard NOMS as still having a key role in that and how does that interchange with Transforming Justice? They are developing a strategy as well, aren’t they?
Michael Spurr: Transforming Justice is the right model to develop the strategy for the Department. We have expertise in particular areas that the Department is responsible for, so it would be mad for us not to contribute to the development of the strategic position. I am very clear that Antonia Romeo, who is the DG for Transforming Justice, has put what I think is going to be a very talented team together. In fact she has just recruited a person from NOMS to be part of that team. I think it is very helpful bringing people from different parts of the programme to the strategic team. We will input into that so that the future has proper operational advice, but the strategy needs to be developed departmentally.
Q396 Mr Buckland: In other words, you will not be going off doing your own thing in your own silo on strategy. You will be working with Antonia Romeo’s team to create a strategy for NOMS and the Ministry.
Michael Spurr: Yes. The NOMS strategy must reflect what the departmental strategy is and not the other way round. Absolutely we are going to operate like that.
Q397 Chris Evans: Do you agree with what the Prison Reform Trust told us? They said that the Probation and the Prison Service are two different organisations operating in two different environments and there is a lack of communication in many areas between the two. Do you think that is a fair comment?
Michael Spurr: As ever, there is some truth in it. They are different organisations doing, in some senses, different things. The one thing that is common is that the responsibility that the agency has-and probation and prisons deliver this in different ways-is discharging the punishment, orders and sentences of the courts for offenders who come to be managed either in the community or in prison. There is some crossover in terms of the work because it is increasingly the case that offenders who come into prison are equally going to be managed in the community on release unless they are serving less than 12 months.
It is equally the case that we have tried to develop-and I think it has been right to do so-an offender management model that recognises that you should try and manage an offender through the whole period of their sentence, whether that is in prison or in community. Offender managers in community, who are going to have a lot to do with those offenders, have to be part of decision making, particularly when offenders are coming towards release. They do some different things; of course they do, but there are close links between them. Communication has improved enormously over recent times. It will improve further as we develop better and joined-up assessment systems. There is the OASys system, for example, which is now shared. Case management is increasingly shared through the OASys system, which is a risk-assessment system. That did not occur before; it does occur now. That makes lots of sense.
The point is often made that probation have very strong links with the police and with the courts. They do indeed and that is very important. We should not minimise the importance of probation working in the community with the police and the courts. I would not do that. Prisons, on the other side, work with the police and other services in terms of a range of security issues with offenders in prison. Both of those are important, but it does not mean there is not an important relationship between probation and prisons, though the work they do differs depending on where the offenders are.
Q398 Chris Evans: From what you have set out there, I think it is quite clear that there is still this "them and us" culture in there. We still get the perception that the Prison Service is in charge and the Probation Service is the junior partner. Your whole answer to the question there was about the Prison Service and you did not give that much time to probation. I just feel there is a "them and us" culture there. How can you overcome that? That is a perception I am getting everywhere-that probation is the junior partner in NOMS. How can you overcome that barrier?
Michael Spurr: It is a fair question. I do not think it is a fair interpretation of my answer to say that I did not speak about probation in that. I did talk about offender management and I spoke about probation being important.
Q399 Chris Evans: But the bulk of your answer was about prison.
Michael Spurr: That is your interpretation of what I said. I do not think it was fair. If that was the impression, it certainly was not intended to be the impression. You cannot get away from the fact that the agencies are responsible for a number of different things. Probation is delivered by independent non-departmental public bodies that are probation trusts. I am not responsible for the direct employment of probation staff. I am responsible for the direct employment of 40,000 publicly employed prison staff. I am not responsible for the 14 prisons that are now run by the private sector and for their employment or for the myriad other contracts-electronic monitoring and contract escorts, for example, just being the two big ones-and a range of contracting arrangements that we have with the voluntary sector.
The agencies are trying to do a number of different things. Because the Prison Service in terms of direct employees is the largest body, people can always say that that is the one that dominates. With regard to time-my time and attention and the Board’s time-it is not the case that the public sector Prison Service is the one that dominates everything we do; far from that. As to what more we can do, I recognise the issue about how probation feels. I have worked very hard to work with the Probation Chiefs Association, the Probation Association -the employer body-and with the trade unions in probation to make sure that their voice is heard very clearly.
I have also been promoting the Probation Chiefs Association and the Probation Association themselves to speak their voice because that is the employer organisation and the professional body. That is quite important.
The final thing I would say is that it is often said it is Prison Service-dominated. I have given reasons why that can be the perception. The fact is also that NOMS provides a headquarters function for the public sector Prison Service. The headquarters functions for probation are provided primarily in the individual trusts. Again, that is an important distinction. We have over 100 people in the agency who have a probation background. There are 40 or so on secondment from the Probation Service. There are 70-odd directly employed.
Q400 Chris Evans: How many of them are senior managers?
Michael Spurr: Most of them are senior managers. I have four former chief executives from probation area trusts. I am looking to implement the Probation Review. I am looking now at whether or not I can attract a non-executive with probation experience on to my Board. I am looking to take, I hope, a chief executive from one of the probation trusts to lead the work in implementing what becomes the outcome from the consultation on Probation Review.
Q401 Chris Evans: Is there anybody on the Board with probation experience at the moment?
Michael Spurr: If what you are saying is, "Is there anyone who has worked in the Probation Service?", the answer is no.
Q402 Chris Evans: Why has it taken so long for you to recruit someone to go on to the Board who has worked in the Probation Service?
Michael Spurr: Because we have just gone through a major restructure where I reduced my directors from 15 to seven. There was a person who was a director with direct probation experience that was in that number. That individual chose not to apply for the Probation Director’s post but chose to exit. Following civil service rules, I cannot simply say, "I will exit and make more people redundant", when they are capable of doing the job. Colin Allars is the Probation and Contract Services Manager at the moment. He was a Director of Offender Management and responsible for probation in the community, and he is more than able to understand and lead that work. He has working to him, as I say, former chief officers of probation and assistant chief officers of probation, so there is significant expertise. Quite simply, I was not prepared to make somebody redundant and go out and say, "We will recruit somebody else." I am looking for opportunities to make sure I have the right calibre of people. If the individual was not of that right calibre, I would not have him doing the job.
Q403 Chris Evans: I am not asking you to justify appointments. What I am asking, quite simply, is why working in the Probation Service seems to be a barrier to being on the Board. It goes back to the main question that I tried to raise. The Prison Service seems to be the senior partner and seems to dominate NOMS.
Michael Spurr: I have tried to answer that. The final point on that is that the Board is part of the civil service. Probation staff are not employed as direct civil servants. To employ a member of the Probation Service into NOMS there has to be an external advert and therefore it has to be agreed by civil service commissioners. We have done that to fill specific posts where we felt able to go with probation experience. We did have a Director of Probation. I have explained that. It was that individual’s personal choice not to apply for this role. He would have been very good in this role, I have to say.
You talk about probation experience. I have worked with probation myself all of my career. I had a short period actually attached to the Probation Service when I was a junior assistant governor. It is not that I am unaware of this. Many of the issues that occur in probation in terms of offenders are similar. Equally, I have said I have been looking to promote the Probation Association and Probation Chiefs Association as the professional voice and include them to ensure that we have a proper understanding of how the Probation Service operates. I am equally keen, as we tried to demonstrate through the Probation Review and the Government’s consultation on that, that we have a long-term vision for probation. The long-term vision set out in that consultation document takes probation forward with a move towards giving much more autonomy to probation trusts to commission services directly. I think that is the right move for the future.
Q404 Chris Evans: This is my last point. My concern is that one of the outcomes is that you have prisoners in overcrowded prisons moved far away from home and it is impossible to make any links between local organisations or local employers because there seems to be some sort of breakdown in communication between the Prison Service and the Probation Service in NOMS. How do you reform the organisation to make sure that does not occur any more?
Michael Spurr: The main problem for that is not-forgive me-the issue about communication in NOMS between the Prison and Probation Service. It has been the requirement to use every prison place that has been available because of the pressure on the prison population. That is primarily what has led to people being moved further away from home than we would like.
We are doing a range of things to try to improve that. For example, we did close Latchmere House Prison, which was a very good resettlement prison, but it happened to be in Richmond Park and in terms of savings it was not sensible to retain a prison in Richmond Park when we could dispose of that land and make a sensible capital gain.
What we are trying to do is re-role Brixton Prison to take offenders from the three London boroughs around Brixton, either short-termers or people coming back, so that the London probation service in those boroughs can work with them. That is the best current example of the things that we are trying to do to address some of the difficulties that this system has had because it has had to cope with a significant rise in the prison population over a number of years.
Q405 Elizabeth Truss: I want to follow on from that point. Surely it is the case that a number of London prisons, as well as the one you mentioned in Richmond Park, are sitting on high-value land. Is there not an opportunity to sell off those prisons and build some new fit-for-purpose prisons just outside London so that we are not shipping vast amounts of prisoners up to, for example, East Anglia? I visited a Norfolk prison on Friday and two thirds of the prisoners were from the London area. Isn’t there an opportunity to take some more radical decisions about the prison estate in the south-east of England?
Michael Spurr: In the long term we should be looking at where we can develop sensible investment and strategic estate planning in exactly that way. That is something that, with analytical colleagues in the MoJ, we are looking at in terms of whether we can develop for the future new-for-old policies that would enable us to do exactly that sort of thing. The difficulty is that the land value for many of those sites is not as great as everybody assumes it is going to be, but that should not stop us trying to do exactly the sort of thing that you have just described.
You have talked about the strategy of the MoJ. What is the strategy of the MoJ? Trying to look at a long-term estate plan makes sense. That is easy to do if you have some space to do it. Part of the problem over the last 10 or 15 years has been that we have had to build prisons wherever we have had ability to build quickly because, generally, we have been trying to chase having enough places to avoid people being in police cells all of the time. That makes it more difficult to make more sensible strategic decisions, but I absolutely agree with you that that is what we should be looking to do.
Q406 Elizabeth Truss: Isn’t part of the problem, which my colleague referred to just now, that the structure within NOMS is not creating that coherent drive? If, for example, there were single PbR contracts across each region for both prison and probation, you would get the economic drivers in the system to create the prison places in the locations they are needed, whereas at the moment it seems to be more a game of trying to get the prisoners to where the prisons are rather than creating the capacity in the areas they are needed. That is what is preventing the better interworking of prisons and probation.
At the moment you are saying that the Prison Service is centrally managed and the probation trusts are locally managed. Until that is sorted out, are we going to see the most efficient use of resources?
Michael Spurr: Again, I can see a rationale to that argument. The difficulty, though-
Q407 Elizabeth Truss: Some of NOMS staff said that to me when we were walking round the NOMS building.
Michael Spurr: I can see the rationale to that argument. The difficulty has been, I would argue, not the structure. Again, it constantly comes back to the fact that what you are trying to do is keep the number of places available. You need some space to be able to develop those structures at a local level. That has been the conundrum that we have found difficult to overcome.
I am an advocate, interestingly, of what has happened with the youth budget, for example, of putting the remand budget for under-18s to local authorities. That is a very good attempt to look at what would happen when you put what is, effectively, a custody budget across to a local authority to see what impact that would have. I am not in any sense against having a greater local engagement. It is how we get there, given the fact that we have been operating-I hope we can stop that-under significant pressure and providing the space to be able to make those decisions. London has 8,000-plus prisoners and 4,000 places. That is a heck of a lot of places to create to be able to resolve that issue. A lot of them, you are quite right, are in East Anglia or on the Isle of Wight. We should be trying to resolve that, but it is a long-term strategic issue.
Q408 Elizabeth Truss: You say it is a long-term strategic issue but this problem has been going on for a number of years. My question is, yes, you have sold the prison in Richmond Park, but why isn’t NOMS getting on with sorting out the London prisons where there is high-value real estate to be realised and getting on with building new ones? What is holding it up? This follows on to my other question, which is, do you think there is an issue within the Ministry of Justice and within NOMS between the balance of focus on policy and implementation? What I notice going round is that a lot of people work in policy compared to the people who seem to be making things happen. Would you say that is a just criticism?
Michael Spurr: Most people in my bit of the organisation are about trying to make things happen. Getting that balance right is important. The central policy part within the MoJ has been reduced quite significantly as part of the savings requirement. Why aren’t we getting on and doing it? It is because, if we wanted to do a new-for-old build and do that in London, we need capital. Even if it is a PFI build that is going to go on to balance sheet, we have to get agreement through Treasury that that is something that makes sense.
The attempt under the last Government, for example, to build larger prisons included a significantly large prison that was being proposed for London. It was going to be a 1,500-bed prison at Thamesmead. That did not proceed. The idea that we have just been sitting there not thinking about how we might be able to do that is not right. The idea of building a 1,500-bed prison in Thamesmead was to reduce prisons outside London and bring more people back to London. That did not proceed prior to the last election. We are looking again now and are in discussion about what can be the future estates strategy. The strategy we would like to have is exactly in the direction you have just said; we would bring people closer to home and close particularly inefficient smaller sites. That is absolutely part of the strategy that we want. We are trying to develop that and trying to get agreement to be able to take that strategy forward.
Q409 Elizabeth Truss: On the subject of estates management, what is your feeling across the MoJ-not just in NOMS-about the speed of selling off buildings that are no longer being used? I am not sure that that is happening quickly enough in terms of realising that capital that could be used. I am not just talking about prisons. I am talking about redundant courts and other assets. What is your view of how efficient the MoJ is being in selling off the assets?
Michael Spurr: I have to be careful here. I do not know enough about what we have done or the time scales. I have not prepared that; it is not my area of work. My focus has been on being able effectively in the prison world to close five prisons. That is more than we have done in the last 25 years. Managing that has been my priority. We have managed to do that without creating compulsory redundancies. We have done voluntary exits. We have managed to do that without difficulty in terms of working with the trade unions, placing staff and successfully closing the places. I then hand over to my MoJ colleagues in terms of the disposal. I will be quite frank that because that is not within my budget I have not followed that through, so I am unable to give you any detail on that. I know it is difficult to be able to dispose of buildings. I do not have any detailed information about what we have done to deal with that.
Q410 Elizabeth Truss: Clearly there are a lot of buildings up for sale. If those buildings are successfully sold, then that will release capital that could be used for investment.
Michael Spurr: We are keen to do that. The one thing I do know about is that the MoJ were very good in terms of disposing of the two previous buildings that NOMS were in-Cleland House and Abell House-which were disposed of very quickly with capital receipts of about £60 million. We downsized and moved into the office that you visited. That was very effective. There is no question but that that was a big positive at a time when you have significant financial pressure to make that type of estates saving.
Q411 Elizabeth Truss: I want to ask you about the provision of accounts by NOMS and whether the accounts are going to be on time.
Michael Spurr: We are on schedule. From the NAO point of view, they are very happy with where we are at the moment. You will be aware, because you have taken evidence already, of the two significant issues within that, which are sorting out the non-current assets and probation trusts. Of course 35 separate trust group accounts have to be consolidated into our accounts and then consolidated into the MoJ. I am pleased to say that we have all of the probation trust accounts in, which is earlier than we have ever been able to manage that before. We have worked very closely with them to be able to achieve that. They have done a terrifically good job in getting that in. We will be able to provide our full set of accounts to the NAO on time scale by the end of this month. Of course that will depend on what the NAO find when they are there. I am confident that what we have are a good set of accounts and, therefore, I think we will be in a better position this year than we have been previously. I hope that will mean that the MoJ are then able to consolidate the accounts and present before recess.
Q412 Chair: I want to take you back to recent history and the transfer of HM Prison Birmingham to be managed by G4S. According to the Independent Monitoring Board, the process took nearly three years. The announcement was poorly handled and there were delays and uncertainties, which had an adverse effect on the morale of staff and prisoners. In oral evidence, G4S informed the Committee that the delays were within the MoJ. Can you throw any light on that?
Michael Spurr: That is the end-to-end process. The reality for that competition is that it took some time, having been announced by the previous Secretary of State, to get up and running. The announcement was made and then there were six to nine months of working through what the tender for procurement would look like. It was not just Birmingham; there were a number of prisons. Wellingborough was another one at that time. There was Buckley Hall and others. There is no question that that nine-month period was far too long to determine how the competition was going to operate and what the principles of competition were going to be. That accounts for a good deal of the delay at the start.
The actual process was delayed for a number of reasons, one of which was a significant change in the middle of the process to the arrangements for pensions to switch from RPI to CPI. That did have an impact and we had to have all of the issues for TUPE and pensions relooked at. In the middle of all of that, quite understandably, Government actuaries were unable to take on that work given the other work they were doing on pensions at the time. There were issues within the process.
I do not agree with the IMB about the final handover. It is impossible to transfer a prison in much less than six months once you have made a decision that a provider has to change over. There are 700-plus staff. You have to work through what the actual TUPE arrangements are in reality and all of the arrangements to change from one provider to another. Of course it would have been ideal if you could make the announcement and then switch over, but, in reality, for a big organisation like that, a six-month handover is probably reasonable.
The fact is that other competitions will not be of anything like that length. We announced the current Phase 2 Competitions in September of last year. We went to tender. We announced them just before that in the summer and went to formal tender in September. I anticipate the outcome will be by this autumn. The outcome will be known by the autumn and the handover will probably be a six-month handover as well. For the handover, if there is a handover-because I do not know if there will be-six months is necessary.
In terms of staff working through that, of course that is difficult for people in the middle of an organisation. You could argue, equally, that Doncaster had been going through the same process as a private sector prison, knowing that it was going to be re-contracted with the staff at Doncaster in exactly the same position. They ended up with Serco winning that prison back, but they went through a similar degree of uncertainty. The reality with competition-I am trying to get this across to the majority of staff in prisons, and it is equally true on the probation side with community paybacks being competed in London at the moment- is that there is an issue about how people handle a competition process and the fact that that does mean anxiety and waiting to see who you are going to work for.
Q413 Jeremy Corbyn: What monitoring do you take of the staff conditions on the privatised prisons compared to the directly employed staff?
Michael Spurr: Do you mean in terms of staff conditions?
Q414 Jeremy Corbyn: Pay and conditions of service.
Michael Spurr: We are aware from the individual providers what their basic terms and conditions are and what their basic pay is. Indeed, the Pay Review Body looks as a comparator at what the basic pay of private sectors providers is compared to public sector providers. Obviously the responsibility for the pay and terms and conditions for a private sector company is the responsibility of the private company; it is not my responsibility. It is relatively open in terms of knowledge of what the pay and basic conditions are. As I say, because the Pay Review Body is a public body looking at pay for public sector workers and it does comparators with the private sector, it is open.
Q415 Chair: Just going back to what we were looking at earlier, in the first part of this morning’s session we were listening to representatives of voluntary organisations and the difficulties that they face, particularly smaller niche organisations within a locality, in remaining involved and using their expertise through a contracting process in which, if they do not form part of a consortium, they have to consider which private sector bidder is likely to get the contract and therefore to which one they should cosy up to try and get a relationship with them. There is also the reverse problem of situations where it is implied perhaps to you as an organisation that the private sector contractor will make use of established local organisations, but, as it turns out, there is no guarantee that they will. What thought have you given to this problem?
Michael Spurr: Quite a lot of thought because it is important for us to try and have a diverse number of providers. We do think that that helps to maintain momentum and innovation. Often, smaller local providers are best placed, particularly linking into local communities, to support offenders and to help them stop reoffending. So it is important.
On the contracting side, we have made clear that our expectation is that prime providers will look to work with others, particularly local smaller voluntary sector organisations, in order to deliver the services. When we did the current Prisons Competition Phase 2 for the nine prisons being competed for, we had the initial tender arrangement and we said to providers, "Encourage voluntary sector bodies who you wish to work with to come", and 15 of them came along with the prime providers. That is something in the contracting terms that we are encouraging.
I would make a big point on the probation consultation. One of the issues is particularly to do with who is working with offenders in local communities. We have to get better going forward at "through-the-gate" type competitions. It is a point that your colleague was making earlier about how you get a much greater local investment in things.
The consultation on probation suggests we have commissioning trusts. The rationale and part of the reason I am keen on commissioning to be pushed down to that level is because the likelihood is that you will get more opportunities for local providers. NOMS can help support that by creating framework competitions, for example, where we get smaller voluntary sector and third sector providers on to a framework from which you can call off those services rather than them having to go through significant major competitions. We would want to look to develop models like that that would encourage people to use a range of the smaller providers.
Q416 Mr Llwyd: You may have seen an article in The Times in January about the competition to run the nine prisons. There was a remark within that article attributed to a senior official who said, "All the private sector does is steal my best governors." What incentives are there for the best prison governors to remain in the public sector prisons? In your view, is innovation only feasible in the private sector or can it be extended to the public sector?
Michael Spurr: As the market becomes more developed and as there is a wider range of providers, inevitably the opportunities for people who are governing prisons broaden. The reality is that it is quite a niche market. The expertise for governing prisons is generally gained in the prison world, in the private sector or the public sector. The public sector has encouraged a range of different people to come into prison management, through both the classic graduate schemes but also at senior management level trying to attract people with management experience in other spheres to come in and work in the public sector. We have been successful at doing that, which is quite important, because that has brought in a whole stream of potentially new governors with different backgrounds who are gaining operational experience at the moment.
The thing the public sector offers that at the moment the private sector does not offer is a potential for career development that is wider than just prisons. That is into the wider civil service. Increasingly, we will develop people whose career path will not just be in the Prison Service. They may well operate in a number of different fields, potentially working in the private or voluntary sector and in the wider civil service fields. The public sector offers that opportunity. We can still attract people from different backgrounds into the public sector, for all the difficulty that there is at the moment. Whilst it is true that some good people have left the public sector to go and work for the private sector, it is equally true that some people have come from the private sector to work in the public sector. My current Director of Commissioning and Commercial Activities left the private sector and came and joined the public sector because he was attracted by the challenge and the-well, it is the challenge and the work that we are doing.
Q417 Mr Llwyd: Were you going to say the salary?
Michael Spurr: He took a significant cut in his salary.
Mr Llwyd: I beg your pardon, sorry.
Michael Spurr: He took a significant cut in his salary to come and work in the public sector-I want to be very clear about that-as a lot of people actually do.
Q418 Mr Llwyd: You referred to the training and expertise of the governors and so on. We understand that the initial training for prison warders-the standard gentlemen and women who work in prisons-has been cut from eight to seven weeks. During a visit to Norway a few weeks ago we discovered that each prison officer over there undertakes a two-year training programme. If they are going to be a member of the staff academy, they need entrance qualifications for higher education. In your opinion, therefore, are prison officers sufficiently trained to take part in the so-called rehabilitation revolution?
Michael Spurr: The first thing I should say is that the training for prison officers is no longer just a number of weeks at the training college. That does still take place. There are seven weeks at this training college where they basically get some interpersonal skills development and some very basic training in control and restraint. The two are important; they balance each other, but that is not the whole training. Prison officers now undertake an NVQ. That has been really important because it is proper professional training, which lasts not just for those weeks but they are required to go through the whole NVQ process to Level 3 over a 12-month period. If they do not do that, then they are not accredited as prison officers. It is not fair simply to say they are only doing the seven weeks.
Would I like to do much more, as Norway do with a two-year course? Yes, it would be great. Can we afford it? No. That is the problem we have. Of course I would like to train people to a greater and a higher standard. I think we do train prison officers very well. You did a very important report, I thought, on the prison officer. I read that. You took a lot of evidence about that and I do not want to rehearse that. We have some very good people operating in prisons who are well able to support the rehabilitation revolution. Most of it is how you relate to individuals, how you relate to people, and how you interact and provide a role model. You can help people to develop that through training. Some of it is about recruiting the right sort of people, supporting them in that role and giving them the right leadership to be able to operate in that way.
I heard Clive Martin as I came in talking about desistance, which is the current chronological view about what makes the biggest impact on people. It is about how you support an individual to change. That involves proper support, which is not just all soft; it is about giving appropriate boundaries and appropriate challenges. It is about people who have committed offences but, equally, providing a model to help them to change through the process.
Q419 Mr Llwyd: I did not know in fact about the NVQ. A typical prison officer therefore would be doing an NVQ for the first 12 months; is that right?
Michael Spurr: Yes.
Q420 Mr Llwyd: Where would that training and education take place?
Michael Spurr: It takes place in the establishment with external assessors coming in to support that. Most NVQs take place on the job.
Q421 Mr Llwyd: In the workplace.
Michael Spurr: You produce your portfolio and we have external assessors come in. That has been an important development, which is why I say-and forgive me for my frustration-that it is not the case that we have just neglected what prison officers are doing. That has been well received and we will continue to develop that.
Q422 Mr Llwyd: How prepared was NOMS for the prison officer strike? How does this action reflect overall on morale?
Michael Spurr: I did not anticipate that prison officers were going to go on strike on the day of protest the other day in May. I did not anticipate that because I had met with the Secretary and Chair of the Prison Officers Association on the Tuesday and we talked, as they had done previously, about them having lunch-time meetings but recognising it was unlawful. The NEC took a decision late on the Wednesday that they would encourage members to come out in protest. They did that. We had contingency arrangements in place. We learned about it early in the morning. We put those arrangements in place and they worked pretty effectively through the day. We did not have any serious incidents or indeed require police support to manage that day. Prison officers went back at 1.30 in establishments where they had not been working properly.
We were prepared enough in the sense that we had contingency plans and we deployed the contingency plans. Prisons were safe that morning, but it was unlawful action. One of the difficulties from our perspective is that you get no notice of unlawful action.
Q423 Mr Llwyd: I want to ask you one other question. Why is it virtually impossible to get an accurate figure of the number of officers assaulted each week?
Michael Spurr: Each week? I am sorry; we do record the number of assault incidents. I have not personally been asked for the number of actual officers, and I am surprised that we would not be able to take that out from the figure. I am not aware of the difficulty. I suspect it would require a simple interrogation of the individual incident reports that are put in through the computer system, which will record an incident. It may say one or two officers were involved in that incident and the detail of the assault. We would probably have to pull the data out from those individual incident reports, but we would know the number of officers.
Q424 Mr Llwyd: It has been put to me by the Prison Officers Association that it is very difficult to get an accurate figure and, secondly, that there is active discouragement of any prosecutions.
Michael Spurr: There is certainly not active discouragement; it is the complete opposite of that. I am really surprised that the POA have raised that with you. I have signed and agreed a zero tolerance policy with the union. They know that and we work collaboratively on that. We have pursued with the CPS and others prosecutions where assaults have taken place. The POA know that and we have general discussions about the importance of doing that. I would always want to see appropriate prosecution in the public interest where officers are assaulted.
In terms of the issue that you have just raised, I am surprised they have not raised that with me. That has never been raised with me by the POA, otherwise I would have looked at the issue.
Q425 Ben Gummer: On that issue of prosecutions, what action are you taking, disciplinary or otherwise, against those who went out on strike illegally?
Michael Spurr: All those who went out on strike illegally will lose pay.
Q426 Ben Gummer: Are there any further measures that you think might be necessary in order to discourage them from going out on strike illegally again?
Michael Spurr: To make it clear, we would go for an injunction in terms of that and we would put that matter to the court. I should say that it is not the case that all members of staff went on strike. There is a law in place. We will take pay for the unlawful strike action.
It is equally the case that staff did act unlawfully. I have been very clear that that was unacceptable and I have been very clear with all our governors. They did maintain safety in establishments so they did have a skeleton staff, which was different from the last time that they took unlawful action. I would not want to discourage that either. I do not want unlawful action. We will go to the courts. We will use the courts to address that and it seems to me that that is the way to deal with it. If it is unlawful, we will use the legal process to challenge the illegality of it.
Q427 Ben Gummer: Some of my constituents rang in on their day off in order to offer their services and help when the strike was called illegally by other members of staff. It is not fair on them, is it?
Michael Spurr: There were a lot of staff, as I said, who did work. I wrote out to all of those in terms of doing that. I do not think it is sensible for prison staff to take strike action. It puts people at risk in doing that. It puts prisoners, staff and the public at risk, and they should not do it. There is no question about that.
Q428 Ben Gummer: On the issue about the knowledge base within NOMS, you have been very open about how bad that has been in the past. In fact the Cabinet Minister was here the other day saying that this is a problem across Government with which all the partners have to contend at the moment. It was noticeable on our visit to NOMS how you are affixing statistical analyst teams, and that was very good. In terms of your direction of travel, cost and outcome of those two measures, on a scale of one to 10 how far do you think you are in the collection of rigorous data?
Michael Spurr: I would say six or seven probably. We have done a huge amount of critical work over the last two or three years to set what we are calling "should cost prices". They are specifications for work with a "should cost price". That is what we think is the benchmarked cost for each bit of the work that goes on across the business-probation and prisons. We have systems that we are developing that will give us actual cost data. We have actual cost data for prisons, probation trusts and for big bits of business. We have always had that. It is not fair to say that that was not the case. What we do not have is the granularity of going down to understand, "This particular bit in this particular prison or probation trust is actually costing this." The difficulty with that is simply about ensuring that there is a consistency of how that is reported, because you get a complete mix-up if that is not the case. That has been the challenge. Frankly, it has been a challenge over 20-odd years. I remember attempts to try to do this in the ’80s that failed. We are much closer now than we have ever been and we are using that data to help us deliver the services at reduced costs.
We saved £143 million in 2010-11. This year we will have met and exceeded our savings targets of £223 million. I have mentioned that in terms of overall performance that has been maintained and, in some areas, improved. That is because we have been very careful in saying, "As you make the savings, don’t just slash things, but look at what the benchmarked costs are and apply that." In both prisons and probation in terms of management structures, which is an obvious one, one of the key areas that we have looked at is overall overheads of management structures and the level of that. We have taken individual service delivery. In prisons, it is what level of induction we would expect and we would expect everybody to be doing it for around this amount of cost. You have to have some flexibility at prison level.
In regard to court reports, we look at the difference between various trusts delivering them at quite widely different levels and cost. There, we have managed to switch round to many more single-day reporting for probation trusts. It is almost the reverse. It used to be 30% single-day reporting and 70% longer-term reporting, but it has reversed to 70% and 30%. From working with sentencers and probation trusts themselves we have found we have equal satisfaction from magistrates and others. I work closely with the Magistrates’ Association because we do not want to not deliver what the courts want from us, but if you can do it in a single day it speeds up justice and reduces costs. That is to everybody’s benefit. Those are examples of things that we have been trying to do.
Q429 Ben Gummer: The specification regime that you are bringing in is clearly having an impact on costs.
Michael Spurr: Yes.
Q430 Ben Gummer: I do not want to be unfair, but on the outcomes side it seems that you would be rather lower down the scale. Anecdotally, I visited a prison serving London that is doing some innovative work with young offenders. The prison officers, who were very dedicated to what they were doing there, had no idea what was happening to those offenders when they were leaving, whether they were reoffending or whether what they were doing was making any impact whatsoever. They were desperate for that information because it could calibrate how they ran their course.
Michael Spurr: In a big system, where you are managing 240,000 a year, it is difficult to track individuals throughout the whole system in that way. We do have the collective data. We now have reoffending rates by establishment. If members of staff go on to the website, they could check what the actual reoffending rate is for their establishment.
The problem with some of that, though, is that it does need to be controlled. So many of the factors that play in to an individual prison may be nothing to do with what the prison is doing. How long have you had the individual? What was the individual’s background before coming into custody? You have to be able to demonstrate what the additional "value added" is by the individual establishment. We have more work to do to get data that really does matter to show that you have made a big impact in this way.
As colleagues were saying from social finance earlier, it is complicated to be able to say whether it is this piece of work or that piece of work that makes the big difference on whether somebody offends or not.
Q431 Chair: Judges don’t have the information either.
Michael Spurr: No. It is complicated and difficult. It is a fair point, but for the first time we do have local reoffending data for probation trusts and, by establishment, reoffending data now, which we did not have two years ago.
Q432 Ben Gummer: If I could just push back on you, I cannot see why it is difficult to find that data for individuals. It is perfectly possible quite cheaply to track individuals across the world in purchasing decisions. There is no reason at all why you cannot do it in what is actually a very small population. I know you talk about a quarter of a million, but that is a very small population compared with the number of people who shop at major supermarkets, whose individual purchasing decisions are known intimately to the supermarket.
Michael Spurr: It is true that an individual offender manager would know what is happening with their individual offenders. Of course it is much easier to do that if everybody is being managed at a local level where they are going into a local prison, going back to an offender manager outside and there can be communication about what has happened about the individual. For the most prolific cases, that is exactly what happens with integrated offender management, for example. The parties-the police, drug workers, accommodation support workers, probation staff and prisons where appropriate-know exactly what is going on for the individual offenders that they have been working with. At the prolific end that is happening. Where you have establishments that are holding people-and I suspect it was the young offender establishment in York that your constituents were thinking about-they often hold people from a wider distance and it is about getting that contact. If you are holding somebody in East Anglia or London, as again your colleague mentioned earlier, it is harder to keep that-
Q433 Chair: It is not rocket science.
Ben Gummer: You can pull off a report, surely.
Michael Spurr: You can pull off a report. When we get the joined-up case management system we can say where an individual is, but there is not a link-up. Again, this is what we are trying to do in improving the wider criminal justice system. There is not an automatic link back to the Police National Computer system. The data systems do not all talk to each other in a way that enables that to happen.
Q434 Ben Gummer: On costs I am ready to believe that you are a six or seven on the scale because huge work has been done on specification, but on outcomes are you a three or a two?
Michael Spurr: If that is what you say.
Q435 Ben Gummer: No; I am asking you.
Michael Spurr: On outcomes across the piece I think it is much higher than that. On individual outcomes then I would agree with you. I cannot say to an individual officer, "Johnny Brown has done this." He would not know the outcome; that is right.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Spurr. We are grateful to you for your time with us this morning. You will no doubt be interested in what we eventually have to say on this matter.
Michael Spurr: I will be very interested. Thank you very much indeed.
Chairman: Thank you.