Offender management savings jeopardised by skills gap

5 March 2013

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5 March 2013 | Anna Reynolds

A lack of contracting skills puts future cost savings at the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) at risk, according to MPs.

A report by the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) praised the agency, which is responsible for providing and managing offender services in England and Wales, for meeting its savings target of £230 million in 2011-12.

But the committee of MPs warned it would be hard for it to achieve future savings. It said the agency’s targets of £246 million in 2012-13, £262 million in 2013-14 and £145 million in 2014-15 would prove challenging, following plans to increase the role of private firms and the third sector in probation.

Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the PAC and Labour MP, said in a statement: “The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is now consulting on plans to put the majority of services currently provided by probation trusts out to competition. But probation trusts don’t have the skills they need to get the best deal out of contracting services. For example, we received evidence suggesting that the UK is paying 60 per cent more for electronic monitoring than the US. The MoJ needs to work with probation trusts to ensure that the taxpayer isn’t paying over the odds to the private sector.”

The report identified other problems with the savings plan in that it relies on the prison population remaining stable and not increasing. Further, significant numbers of staff need to be made redundant to bring down prison staffing costs, but the agency has not yet secured the up-front funding required for redundancy payments.

Hodge added: “There is also a risk reduced numbers will result in staff being taken off offender management programmes to cover duty on prison wings. This means that training and rehabilitation activities could suffer, even though we know these reduce reoffending after release. The agency needs to seriously consider the long-term consequences of short term cuts.”

The PAC recommended that NOMS address overcrowding and ensure staff continue to carry out offender management work to reduce the risk of prisoners reoffending. NOMS directly manages 117 public prisons and manages the contracts of 14 privately-run prisons.

A spokesman for NOMS told SM it would not be issuing a response to the report.

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