NOMS 'not proficient' at running national contracts

29 July 2011

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Angeline Albert | 29 July 2011

MPs have called for a “value for money” review of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), having published a critical review of the way it handles contracting.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) agency is responsible for commissioning all goods and services related to offender management, both in prisons and in the community. But the Justice Select Committee highlighted a number of failings in the way it manages contracts with suppliers.

In a report, The Role of the Probation Service, the Committee said: “The experience of national contracts currently in place has not inspired confidence that NOMS understands its business sufficiently well to draw up robust contracts that meet the needs of future stakeholders.”

It pointed out two national contracts, for electronic tagging and the Bail Accommodation Support Scheme, which have faced criticism regarding their cost and their management. “The poor value for money of these contracts has been recognised and NOMS is currently taking remedial action,” said the report. “We would not want similar experiences with other provision, for example, direct work with offenders where the public may be at risk from commissioning failures."

MPs also said “confidence in NOMS' ability to commission and manage large-scale contracts has not been strengthened” by the current competition in which organisations are bidding for contracts to run “community payback” (what used to be known as "community service”) schemes. There have been complaints regarding the way NOMS has communicated information to potential bidders, and the decision to tender for six, very large, cross-regional contracts.

“It is imperative that NOMS communicates its plans to trusts in a timely and genuinely consultative way. This seems not to have been the case,” said the study.

It concluded NOMS “has not proved itself proficient at running national contracts which deliver what probation trusts on the ground need in a cost-effective and efficient manner”.

The cross-party politicians now want an external review of operations to see if they deliver value for money, and if not, “take radical steps to redesign the structure and operation of NOMS”.

“The Probation Service plays a vital role in rehabilitation, but we must also look at the best options to cut re-offending, including using innovative methods such as payment by results,” said a statement from the MoJ. “When we set out our proposed probation reforms in the autumn, protecting frontline services and public safety will be our priorities.”

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