Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Goodnight Probation or Au Revoir?

 Despite the predictions of many (myself included) that the ill thought out and high risk reforms to the probation service would collapse under the weight of their internal contradictions, so far they have not. This week they moved to a new stage with the splitting of the service into two. The majority of staff find themselves working for Community Rehabilitation Companies which are in the process of being sold off. Is the headlong rush to privatised rehabilitation services now a done deal?

Not necessarily. Labour have hinted that that they will undo the changes if they can afford to. But Chris Grayling will be as keen to get the new contracts with private providers signed as soon as he can as was Michael Howard with the controversial Secure Training Centres in the run up to 1997. There are rules about entering commitments too close to an election but if the Coalition stays the course, Grayling probably has nothing to fear.

Except perhaps from his own civil servants. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) managed to get the Permanent Secretary at the MoJ to commit “to only proceed at each stage of the {TR} programme if it is satisfied it is safe to do so and that value for money will not be jeopardized.” The PAC need to hold the mandarins feet to the fire on this.

They can start on Thursday when they see the Head of the Major Projects Authority. This is the body that oversees high risk governemnt initiatives and periodically publishes a "Delivery Confidence Assessment" (DCA). In its latest report published last month, 19 Ministry of Justice projects are described. Four are rated amber/red which means that “successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible”.

Given what the PAC and Justice Committee have said about the risks in the Probation reforms, one might have expected Transforming Rehabilitation to be one of these. It is not. TR is exempt from a DCA because of possible prejudice to commercial interests. The test for this is the Freedom of Information Act which allows exemptions  if disclosure   would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding the information). Guidance from the Major Projects Authority says that exemption can include time sensitive instances where disclosure would undermine the confidence that investors or suppliers may have in the project or threaten the ability of the government to attract market finance. But exemptions should be made sparingly and reviewed periodically.

It looks very convenient to prevent us knowing what a body designed to reduce financial risk to the taxpayer makes of Grayling’s reforms. After all some basic questions have been raised about their affordability. And if I were a director under an obligation to promote the success of my company, wouldn’t I want to know about the risks too?

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant write up of related information only a very experienced policy watcher like Rob Allen would identify and most importantly to the benefit of us all.