According to the Commons Justice Committee the Ministry of Justice must streamline offender management to achieve "better for less".
In the five years since the Ministry of Justice was created, it has made improvements to its structure and performance and is now a more integrated Department, according to a new Report by the Justice Select Committee. However, the Ministry is still too much in thrall to the prison service: better integrated offender management would enable the Ministry to make the financial savings demanded of it but also provide a more effective service to clients, users and the wider public, and in particular to achieve its key objective to reduce re-offending.
The Ministry has been subject to past criticism for poor financial management - missing the Treasury's deadline for the laying of accounts three years running, woeful inefficiency in the administration of legal aid and too much focus on policy at the expense of delivery. Following an in-depth investigation into all aspects of the Department's work, the Committee concluded that the Ministry has got a grip of the situation and is justifying the rationale for its creation.
Sir Alan Beith MP, Chairman of the Justice Committee, said:
"The formation of the Ministry of Justice in 2007 was a major Machinery of Government change which was poorly handled at the time, but we are satisfied that the philosophical divide between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice strikes the right balance between law enforcement and liberty. Over the past five years a lot of effort has been expended in integrating the new Department, for which much credit must go to the recently departed Permanent Secretary, Sir Suma Chakrabarti. Despite early problems which led to substandard performance in some areas, this effort is now having rewards which we were able to see for ourselves when we visited the Ministry's headquarters on an open access basis, and spoke to staff at all levels."
The Department has taken steps to ensure there is more ministerial influence on its many sponsored bodies, and has also sought to reduce their costs by sharing corporate and back office functions, and by reducing duplication. A new operating model has been implemented which allows the Executive Agencies to focus on delivery, which has been complemented by an emphasis of the importance of programme management skills among staff. There have also been changes to the management structure, with unnecessary layers removed, which has freed up resources so that frontline jobs are safeguarded.
However, the MPs believe the Department could undergo further restructuring to create a single delivery body. Additionally, the current structure of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which continues to be driven by prison priorities, produces difficulties in reducing re-offending. Sir Alan Beith MP, said:
"We have long argued that NOMS should be organised into a more ambitious integrated system of offender management involving the commissioning of both prison and probation services in defined geographical areas. Its intrinsic rigidities militate against doing what works to prevent re-offending. Furthermore, probation does not enjoy the same status as prisons in NOMS, which reflects the fact that non-custodial sentences do not have the same status as custodial sentences throughout the justice system. As the Department proceeds with its aim of transforming the justice system, it is essential that it works more effectively across Government so that other departments consider the factors that lead to offending and re-offending when formulating their own policies."
The MPs made a number of further recommendations to improve how the Department functioned:
- Further improvements should be made to the Department's analytical function and its evidence base so that evidence of effectiveness can lead policy.
- On several occasions contracts that the Department have let have been poorly designed. The Department should draw on the knowledge and expertise of its provider firms at the outset of devising a new contract. The stages of the bidding process must be more robust and transparent, and meaningful feedback should be given to bidders.
- The Legal Services Commission did not stipulate in its contracts with solicitors that they should only make submissions through an online system. In future contracts, the Ministry of Justice should require that providers interact with it in a way that achieves the greatest efficiency.
- Aged debt pilots related to the collection of fines have had some early success. Where possible these should be taken forward so there is improved confidence in this method of punishment.
- Further thought should be given to how the Department interacts with small and medium sized enterprises and the voluntary sector so that they can continue to contribute to the justice system.
- There is significant scope to rationalise and improve the prison estate which should be pursued while taking account of the evidence of the available evidence of the impact of prison location on the effectiveness of rehabilitation.
- Further action is required to reduce expenditure on agency staff which amounted to £75 million in 2011–12.
- To reduce duplication there should be a single team of both Home Office and Ministry of Justice with responsibility for European and international justice and home affairs issues.