Justice secretary details National Offender Management Service changes

NOMS chief executive Michael Spurr to lead new HM Prison and Probation Service, which goes live from April 1

By Jim Dunton

09 Feb 2017

Justice secretary Liz Truss has announced the scrapping of the National Offender Management Service and its replacement with a new executive agency tasked with offender rehabilitation and public protection.

Truss said the new agency would have full responsibility for all operations across prisons and probation, while the Ministry of Justice would take charge of commissioning services, policy development and setting standards.  

The ministry will also be responsible for scrutinising prison and probation performance.

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Current NOMS chief executive Michael Spurr will take the helm of the new agency.

Truss’ announcement follows concerns about morale and staffing across prisons, which reached a recent peak with December’s riot at HMP Birmingham. 

It also trails in the wake of multiple concerns from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office over contracted-out prison and rehabilitation services.

A statement from the Prison Governors Association said the demise of NOMS came as “no surprise, given the relentless pressure many prisons have endured over the past five years”.

Truss said HM Prison and Probation Service would “build a world-leading, specialist agency, dedicated to professionalising the prison and probation workforce” and be backed by an additional £100m in annual funding and 2,500 additional prison officers.

“This forms part of our far-reaching organisational reforms to the system, which will make services more accountable to ministers for delivery and performance,” she said.

“This will be further supported by measures within the Prison and Courts Bill, which will create a new framework and clear system of accountability for prisons. 

“Probation services will also offer improved training and learning opportunities for offenders to ensure they do not return to a life of crime, working hand in glove with prisons to ensure a more integrated approach. We will set out more details later this spring.”

Truss said the reformed service would be a place where staff were “proud to work”, and which would attract “the brightest and best talent” to deliver modernised offender reform, strengthened security, counter-terrorism and intelligence capability.

She added that to meet the needs of women offenders the new service would have a dedicated board director responsible for women “across custody and community”.

Sonia Crozier, NOMS’ current director of probation, will take on that responsibility from April.

The Prison Governors Association said governors had been forced to endure a “staggering” volume of changes at a time when NOMS had seen its budget reduced by nearly £1bn.

It said staffing had been "stripped out" of prisons at the same time that the prison population had remained high, and security pressures had mounted through the increased trafficking of mobile phones, use of drones, and a rise in the availability of psychoactive substances.

“The expectation and hope is that the reinstatement of ‘Her Majesty’s Prison Service’ in the organisation’s title will signify a reduction in bureaucratic and public sector managerialism processes that restricted governors’ ability to run their prisons efficiently,” it said.

However the organisation's statement added that there were fears prison governors would be “scapegoated” by a lack of detail surrounding new service-level agreements that form part of a new commissioning process between the MoJ and individual prisons.

“The changes, by and large, are welcomed but feel rushed given that governors are being asked to sign up to agreements in a very short period of time without meaningful consultation on how measures are agreed or how targets and budgets are being set,” it said.

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