It seems hard to criticise the Government for investing over £3m into schemes to assist vulnerable women offenders across the UK, a decision which was announced on Friday. Although the individual sums involved have not been disclosed, there is a total of 12 successful bidders for the funding and so each one is likely to have received between £100k – £500k. Of the 12 three are statutory agencies, a local authority and 2 Police and Crime Commissioners. Although the sums involved will be a great help in every area, the impact on a local authority or a PCC will be far more modest than the impact on a voluntary sector body. The press release announcing the decision was entitled “Funding boost for vulnerable female offenders in the community – Twelve organisations across the country who are doing excellent work to help divert women away from crime and reduce reoffending, have been awarded a share of £3.3 million by the Ministry of Justice”
There are two reasons why these decisions have major concerns. The first of these is that funding PCCs puts them into a beneficiary position, even though the funds are to be spent on services for vulnerable people. This is a problem because PCCs are supposed to hold Government agencies such as the MOJ and the Prison Service to account for local people. If an agency chooses to fund a PCC how can they then hold them to account? The second reason is that one of the funding decisions was directed towards Brighton and Hove. As a resident of Brighton and Hove I am delighted that funding has been made available for our city, but the decision to fund a charity called Equinox Care seems a major error. The funding announcement is: “Equinox Care, Brighton & Hove – A Domestic Violence Trauma worker pilot and other services to address women’s needs will be launched within its Supported Accommodation Service.”
The reality is that there are several charities in Brighton and Hove that operate in the areas of caring for women, including those that provide services to assist women offenders. There is Rise, and Brighton Women’s Centre and Sussex Pathways, all of which work in this area. All of these charities are struggling to maintain their services due to the chaotic way in which Government funding is being organised to enable them to support vulnerable women who are involved in the criminal justice system. One of the factors in this chaos is the Community Rehabilitation Company that covers Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Seetec like the other CRCs was poorly formed by Chris Grayling when he set out to reform Probation and rather than improve it, created many more problems. A couple of months ago all CRCs had a report published by their Inspectorate that stated “Community Rehabilitation Companies are failing to tackle domestic abuse and keep victims safe -not doing enough to rehabilitate perpetrators of domestic abuse or keep victims safe”
In an ideal setting the local PCC and CRC would stand up and challenge the MOJ over its decision to direct funding at a charity that has no local experience of working with women involved in the criminal justice system and in failing to sustain the charities such as Rise, BWC and Sussex Pathways that are. However the Sussex PCC is not very good at challenging the Government run by the same political party that she belongs to and Seetec is under so much pressure as its own future is in question following recent Government announcements regarding CRCs. Let us hope that between Seetec and the Sussex PCC, funding is found to sustain these other three charities whilst Equinox Care sets out to learn lessons that the three charities could teach it, if they were not being forced to see this as a competition.