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Reunification of probation services

MoJ's preparations for the reunification of services and their transition back into the department.

National Probation Service

The reunification of probation services successfully took place on 26 June 2021. The fact that a transition of such scale was delivered as planned with virtually no disruption is impressive, even without the added complications of a tight timetable and difficulties created by Covid-19. 

This report looks at the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) preparations for the reunification of services and their transition back into the department, highlighting successes, challenges, and areas of focus for the longer-term improvement of probation services.  

The report assesses the approach that government took to major decisions, and their impact on the programme finding: 

  • The programme team should be commended for delivering against a difficult timetable – even if this was self-imposed. However, on balance, a short extension of up to six months would have struck a better balance between MoJ’s competing priorities. 
  • The programme benefited from experienced senior leaders who avoided mistakes from previous reforms. In particular, they had a strong commitment to open dialogue and engagement, which played a critical role in ensuring the changes were as smooth as possible for staff and providers alike. 
  • Innovations by independent providers, such as case management, were lost in the transition due to the tight timetable and relatively limited autonomy in the civil service. 
  • MoJ’s approach to procurement was complex and made it difficult for smaller providers to qualify. More focus from the start on ensuring proportionality would have delivered a more diverse, engaged market of providers for Day 1 services. 
  • MoJ’s core message to staff that the change was a merger not a takeover. This was the right approach but led to some difficulties.

With the probation reform programme due to be formally wound by the end of 2022, the report calls on government to focus on operational performance, recruitment, and cultural integration. 


Institute for Government

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