One year on – what’s happening with the DPS?

Home > One year on – what’s happening with the DPS?

Francesca Cooney | 13 December 2019

DPS funding

The DPS (Dynamic Purchasing System) launched over a year ago, an on-line procurement system enabling Governors to commission small education projects for the prisons. In November 2019, the Ministry of Justice issued a newsletter to support suppliers working with the DPS. This is to support suppliers with the process of using the DPS and update them on any developments. It also contains information on the £12.5 million funding that has been spent so far.

The policy aim behind the DPS was to widen education provision, and enable innovative projects to be funded. The money allocated to the DPS is supposed to supplement what is provided by the core education providers.

The policy aim behind the DPS was to widen education provision, and enable innovative projects to be funded

In her report Unlocking Potential, Sally Coates said there should be no restriction on the use of education funding to support the creative arts, Personal and Social Development opportunities, and family or relationship courses. So, what activities are being funded… and what aren’t?

IAG (Information Advice and Guidance)

The most striking aspect is the amount spent on Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG). Over half, 55%, of DPS funding has gone on IAG.  This is perhaps unsurprising, because following the NCS contract ending, prisons had a gap in the service that they were expected to fill.  In addition, there is a clear expectation from Ofsted that there should be some IAG provision, so prisons are keen to provide this. The only mechanism to buy IAG in prisons is through the DPS, even though it wasn’t designed for this kind of service.

It’s important that people have access to good quality advice – ideally, this would be the foundation of a personal learning plan, and link in with allocation to activities in prisons

It’s important that people have access to good quality advice – ideally, this would be the foundation of a personal learning plan, and link in with allocation to activities in prisons. The difficulty is that the DPS framework, in line with ‘governor autonomy’ means that individual establishments create their own outcome measures. Without a standard framework, and with different progression measures in each prison, it is going to be difficult to assess how effective IAG is overall.

The other big difficulty with these contracts is that they last up to one year. This just isn’t suitable for advice provision, which should be a core, and ongoing activity.

Construction

The next biggest area that has been commissioned is Construction Projects, with 14% of the spend so far.

Giving prisoners the opportunities to get these [CSC] cards mean they leave prison ‘work ready’, and hopefully secure employment more quickly.

Prison staff have told us how useful it has been that they can fund CSC cards (Construction Skills Certifications Cards) for their populations. These cards prove that people have the required training and skills for building sites and other construction sites. Giving prisoners the opportunities to get these cards mean they leave prison ‘work ready’, and hopefully secure employment more quickly.

Arts, media and publishing

It is disappointing that arts provision makes up only 3% of the spend so far. This is considerably less than expected as it was hoped that the DPS would be the way of funding creative activities. This low rate of spend on arts suggests that Governors and Head of Learning and Skills are not yet confident about commissioning arts projects.

Miscellaneous

11% of the spend has gone on miscellaneous or other education provision. This covers everything not in the other categories and includes, for instance, in cell television education, support for distance learning, and courses run by universities.

Sport

It’s surprising that under 1% of the total spend has gone to sports provision, despite the current proliferation of these projects in prisons.  It is disappointing that this proven way of engaging people – particularly people who are not interested in traditional education – is not receiving more DPS funding.

Next steps

We are very pleased that the MOJ will publish details of the expected activity for the next financial year. This will improve the transparency of the process and help suppliers to know what bids might be coming up. There are still some issues that we would like the MOJ to address:

  • Length of contracts – we would like this extended to three year maximum to provide continuity of service for prisoners and financial security for suppliers
  • More training and Support for prison staff putting out tenders and encouragement to use the DPS for a wider variety of provision

A table of the percentage of spend per area is below:

Total of DPS spend by % (figures rounded) Category
55% Information Advice and Guidance
14% Construction
11% Miscellaneous/other education
4% Retail
3% Engineering and manufacturing

Arts, media and publishing

Life skills

Services to support learning difficulties/disability

2% Catering and hospitality
1% Resettlement services

Business

Agriculture and horticulture

Under 1% Sports

ICT

Health, public services and care

Cleaning

 

 

 

Monitoring the DPS

Making the case for digital technology to the Minister for Prisons

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