An analysis of the theoretical underpinnings of the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda
There have been many objections to TR from a practice perspective such as the putative judicial review by NAPO, and much discussion about how it is impacting on the Probation Service. Rather than re-treading that existing discussion, this article will examine the theoretical premises of TR from the perspective of business and marketing discourse. The methodological rationale for such an approach is that the main driver behind TR is the desire of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to make probation more cost efficient through using private sector/business “expertise”. As the theories that underpin the TR agenda also originate in the business discourse, it makes sense to interrogate them from that perspective. The article will analyse the production-led theory that underpins the TR agenda, ask what it origins are, as well as it relevance to Probation. It will then contrast this approach to modern business theory which posits the relationship with the consumer at the heart of business strategy and ask whether such an approach could be transferred into the Probation Service.
To briefly contextualise this article it is worth asking the question as to why theories from the private sector and business are currently operating in the public arena. It is widely accepted that until the Thatcher Government there was a separation between business theory and public administration theory. Thatcherism broke down this wall with the introduction of business management techniques, a movement subsequently called New Public Management (NPM).
This came about because it was perceived in Government that the public sector was inefficient and wasteful. It was thought that by importing private sector management theory across that this would improve the performance of public services.
This led most famously to the privatisation of public utilities. Another offshoot of this introduction has been very target orientated approach to managing people and services in the public sector, called managerialism. Broadly this has been the theoretical driver behind SMART goals and the cost control approach that now predominates and on which this article will focus.
Taylorism and managerialism
If we look at the purpose of TR we find this on the first page of the website which describes in terse language what the reforms “will” achieve;
“Our reforms will:
· Open up the market to a diverse range of rehabilitation providers from the private, voluntary and social sectors (including potential mutuals);
· Incentivise innovation, paying providers by results for delivering reductions in reoffending;
The language is pure NPM and managerialism – so far no surprise.
However, in seeking to improve the performance of the Probation Service through using a managerialist methodology I would argue, the MOJ is using a model that is outdated, that has little supporting evidence (Greenwood 2014), has no relevance to a service centred around people, and will in the long term, as a consequence, be more inefficient. An explanation can be found in the fact that this model has its roots in business theory, Scientific Management Theory, (SMT) that is production-led – focuses on production costs and efficiency - and originates back to FW Taylor and his study of the Iron and Steel industry in the1900s USA (Taylorism). SMT was formulated by Taylor to make the production of iron and steel more efficient, so its relevance to Probation is questionable, just as its attitude to the workforce who needed to be de-skilled to conform to its methods (Taylor 1911). However the outcome of such an approach can be seen in the split of Probation into Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS).
The premise of the split is production based, to force efficiency into the probation process by improving the production techniques – ie the more efficient processing of “offenders” (as opposed to pig iron in Taylor’s day). The problem with this model, as (former) businesses – such as much of former British manufacturing companies BL, Dunlop etc - would testify, is that it can be highly inefficient and wasteful.
Under such circumstances resources tend to be squandered because they are not allocated in partnership with an end user, but instead are allocated by someone further up the hierarchy who has their own internally driven production targets, with only a theoretical acknowledgement of the end consumer.
What is required at ground level may be markedly different to what senior managers may wish it to be. In addition, by its nature, this approach deskills the workforce as they are forced to adopt rigid work guidelines in the name of efficiency. The drawbacks of this approach were powerfully critiqued by Womack et al (1990) in The Machine That Changed the World. They contrasted the production led approach to the lean approach where production processes are focussed on the customer, in order to eliminate waste.
The next blogs will have a look on “Command and Control”, “Modern Business Theory” and “Value Co- Creation” and will come thus to a possible conclusion on this matter.