Headlines: April 9th, 2003

The Prison Service has followed the lead of local government and the health service by introducing comprehensive performance assessment. There will be four performance categories ranging from category 1- exceptionally high performance to category 4 – a failing prison. Performance will be assessed on a balanced scorecard including meeting targets for maintaining security and safety, delivering an effective regime and helping prisoners settle into the community after release. The assessment will also include the results of internal and external inspections.As with the local government and NHS models the high performing prisons will be rewarded for their achievements. They will be given increased certainty over future funding levels, operating freedoms and financial flexibilities such as the right to carry forward budget underspend.

A major difference compared to the other models is that the stick of privatisation will hang over the poorest performers who will undergo performance testing. They will have to submit a bid to the Commissioner for Correctional Services outlining to him how they plan to improve theirperformance. If the bid fails, the prison will be contracted out without an in-house bid, and management of the prison will pass to the private sector. Liverpool and Dartmoor prisons have already emerged as the poorest performers . They have been given six months to produce proposals for a much-improved level of service and provided with additional management support and resources to plan significant improvements.

The civil service is now the major area of the public sector without any systematic form of performance assessment. A recent report from the National Audit Office noted that a number of Executive Agencies had no programme of performance improvement – see Publicnet Briefing 31 March 2003.