01 October 2020 - Spending Review, new YOT standards and shadowing scheme

With government departments submitting their Spending Review bids for the next three to four years to the Treasury, it seemed a good time for the Inspectorate to be offering its own take on probation funding and its impact. Here’s our representation to the Spending Review. We point to the impact of years of underfunding and note that estimated real-term spending per person under probation supervision fell almost 40 per cent from around £5,900 in 2003-2004 to around £3,550 in 2018-2019.

Add to that, serious flaws in the CRC contract mechanism under Transforming Rehabilitation and the funding gaps have been even bigger for low and medium risk offenders. The National Audit Office’s Transforming Rehabilitation progress review (March 2019) found that in August 2018, the Ministry of Justice was forecasting that CRC income over the seven-year lifetime of the contracts would be £822 million less than originally forecast.

Since then the picture has improved slightly, but many CRCs are still struggling. As I said in an interview with the Financial Times (paywall) last month, we have seen the emergence of a three-tier probation system, with the NPS and certain CRC providers delivering reasonable (if not yet ‘Outstanding’) services, but other providers continuing to see budgets cut and probation officer numbers falling. In the inspections we were able to conduct between September 2019 and the COVID-19 lockdown in March, we found that three CRCs had improved from ‘Requires improvement’ to ‘Good’ but six others were still a significant concern, with less than half of the cases we inspected being satisfactory in relation to the management of risk of harm. The proportion of staff saying their workloads were unmanageable has increased year on year.

Though we are still unable to do onsite inspections of either YOTs or probation services, September was nevertheless a busy month for HM Inspectorate of Probation. Our small YOT inspection programme continued, with inspections of Rotherham, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Stockton, Kingston and Richmond and Darlington YOTs. And we published our report on North Yorkshire YOT – a historic milestone for the Inspectorate as our first inspection conducted entirely by phone and video conference. I was also able to announce changes to our youth inspection standards (PDF, 288 kB) at the Association of YOT Managers’ annual conference. I confirmed that we will be introducing specific new standards for local YOT inspections for the quality of work they do when resettling children from custody and around the quality of their out of court disposal policies and practice.

On the probation side of the Inspectorate we’ve been completing reports on national inspections of the initial response of the service to the COVID-19 pandemic and of the service’s culture and practice in relation to recall since the McCann case in Spring 2019. The team has been preparing for a major national inspection of the progress that the probation service has been making in its recovery from the first wave of COVID-19. This will include reviewing a large sample of 240 cases across six local areas between now and the end of November, looking at both NPS and CRC cases.

We will also be starting an important national inspection of the quality of services that people from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background are receiving when under probation supervision – with fieldwork in a range of areas including London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bradford. And because we want to ensure that our own team of inspectors is as diverse as the services we inspect, we will be launching a shadowing scheme to give black and Asian probation officers and managers a chance to find out more about what we do, as we look forward to recruiting a new tranche of HM Inspectors and Assistant Inspectors in 2021. Look out for more details on our website later in October.