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New Public Management (NPM) in Secure Training Centres

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1. Introduction

The management and organization of the public services in the UK became an issue of intense debate and discussion in the early eighties, coming under intense pressure for large-scale change. This demand to bring about wide ranging transformation in the working of the public administration arose mainly because of the negative perceptions of the conservative government about public sector working, especially concerning issues like bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of commitment, misallocation of funds, and overstaffing. The surfacing of new organisational configurations, roles, and cultures led to extensive questioning of well recognized and firmly established public sector patterns and to the challenging of standardised and professionalized welfare state agencies. Subsequent privatization and restructuring in numerous different public organisations led to the development of New Public Management, a broad based concept that spread to other states like the USA, Australia, and especially New Zealand, where its implementation became extensive.

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Over the years, the implementation of New Public Management (NPM) has come under increasing criticism. Public and media disillusionment at its failure to solve many problematic issues related to older methods of public governance, have tended to go hand in hand with the realisation that old fashioned public organisations also had several positive factors, which were necessary to the approach and working of public services.. These included a measure of stability, lack of personnel turnover, an insistence on required process, fairness in treatment, integrity, and answerability. Qualities like these, which constituted the other side of public sector working and had come to be largely accepted, and possibly ignored, during the debate on the need for change , came to the fore, especially in the case of public institutions or departments that dealt in areas of social responsibility, like, for example, the health, justice, and child welfare systems.

One such area of increasing public anxiety and media debate concerns the working of Secure Training Centres (STCs) for young offenders under NPM methodology and practice. These institutes, which come under the purview and control of the Youth Justice Board, (YJB) are responsible for the secure custody, training, and rehabilitation of young offenders sentenced to custodial terms. STCs aim to ensure the smooth reintegration of their wards into society at the end of their custody periods, through required counselling, education and training. Their success is critical to (a) ensuring reduction of reoffending incidents, (b) rerouting the lives of disturbed young people, (c) motivating them to forsake criminal options, (d) building up their employment and earning skills, and (d) facilitating their reintegration with society. The area has come into sharp focus in recent months because of the introduction of rules empowering officials to use force under specific circumstances, and the suicide of a young inmate following an episode of forceful restraint.

This essay aims to study and analyse the use of NPM practices in the working of Secure Training Centres in the UK. The study of New Public Management, until now, has remained restricted to the domain of researchers and scholars of public administration, with business school professors preferring to focus on the working of private companies. While this is surprising considering the contribution of not-for-profit institutions and voluntary associations in the development of organization theory, a number of scholarly studies and research assignments on public sector organisations do exist. Some of these, along with information available on the internet and from media reports have served as information sources for this assignment.

2. Commentary

a. Origins of New Public Management

The public and private sectors constitute the two broad divisions of society, with their institutional separation evident on a global basis. The public sector comprises of organisations that belong to the entity known as the ‘state’ or the ‘government’. However, its scope is much wider than that associated with either of these two well-known concepts and contains, in its ambit, numerous kinds of governmental actions at diverse levels, varieties of public finance, as well as general public governance and regulation. Historically the role of the public sector in national life has moved through various stages, from being minimal in the nineteenth century, through a period characterised by social reformism and greater involvement of the government in public affairs, in the first half of the twentieth century, to that of the welfare state of the post war years. The welfare state functioned in the UK from the end of the Second World War, until well into the 1980s. It came into being on the assumption that private organisations, meaning charitable bodies, did not have either the resources or the competence to look after weaker sections and that the state needed to take care of its citizens from birth to death. These welfare services thereafter became the functions of professional public sector employees, specifically chosen and trained to handle their responsibilities.

The concept of the welfare state came under severe criticism and pressure for change from the conservatives because of its many perceived deficiencies, chief among which were the rationing attitude of public servants, who (because of their war years mentality), were unable to respond to the needs of a changed citizenry, the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of public sector officials, and the greed of public sector trade unions, who put their own needs before those of their communities. Widespread changes in the role of public administration led to privatisation of numerous public sector organisations and their eclipse from the economic sector. In social and community sectors the conservatives pushed the concept of the enabling state, where planning and funding would remain within the responsibility of the state, while service provision would devolve upon private players. Privatisatisation, experts felt, would help not only in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of provisioning of services, but also in its responsiveness to individual requirement. (Ferlie, Mclaughlin and Osborne, 2002) This approach in public sector approach, which came to be known as NPM, owes its origins first, to a distrust of bureaucracy and public administration to provide public services with economy, efficiency, and effectiveness, and second, to an apprehension concerning the incorrect use of professional powers by bureaucrats, leading to the possible disempowerment of general community members. Although considerable debate and contention still exists over the exact implications of NPM, there is broad consensus over its seven important components.

(a) a focus on hands-on and entrepreneurial management, as opposed to the traditional bureaucratic focus of the public administrator (b) explicit standards and measures of performance,(c) an emphasis on output controls, (d) the importance of the disaggregation and decentralization of public services, (e) a stress on private sector styles of management and their superiority, (f) a shift to the promotion of competition in the provision of public services, and (g) the promotion of discipline and parsimony in resource allocation (Ferlie, Mclaughlin and Osborne, 2002)

One important spin off that arose from these tenets was the development of an enlarged emphasis upon outsourcing services by public sector organisations from private service providers in many sectors, including in those responsible for health, childcare, and prison management.

b. Young Offenders and Secure Training Centres

Statistics and information available from official websites and other information sources on crime and offending by young people in the UK reveal the issue to be one of great worry and concern. Young offenders come under the purview of the Youth Justice Board, (YJB) an established non-governmental public body, charged with preventing offending by young people and children through the formulation and use of measures for prevention of crime, identification and dealing with young offenders, and reduction of reoffending. YJB figures indicate that approximately 150,000 people enter the justice system each year, nearly half of whom are of school age. The percentages of young people coming into the purview of the YJB from black or mixed race backgrounds are significantly higher than their actual demographic distribution, especially in the under 16 groups. While nearly 75 % of the young offenders are let off with reprimands, curfews and fines, 17 percent are sentenced to community work while 4 %, i.e., around 600 young people receive custodial sentences.

Custodial sentences vary from 4 months to two years and normally need serving in conjunction with a certain amount of community work. Custodial arrangements are of three types, Secure Children’s Homes, (SCHs) Secure Training Centres (SCTs) and Young Offender Institutions (YOIs). SCHs and SCTs house children aged between 12 and 17, whereas YOIs house young offenders aged 15 to 21, with people aged 15 to 17 and 18 to 21 held in separate enclosures. YJB officials decide upon the place of custody after considering relevant factors that include assessments of vulnerability, needs of other young people in custody, and availability of custodial accommodation.

An overwhelming proportion of the young people who enter the youth justice system come from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds and many have histories of substance misuse, mental health problems and economically weak, disturbed or disrupted family backgrounds. Their educational backgrounds, in comparison with the general population, are also extremely deficient. Surveys reveal that 81 % of the sentenced boys were not going to school, at the time of sentencing, and 41 % had not gone to school at all after 14. In fact, a startling 75 % of the offenders appearing before the youth justice courts have histories of temporary or permanent school exclusion. Many of them have special counselling and mental health needs that require urgent attention. (Background paper, 2000)

While the young people who come into the custodial system share backgrounds of severe disadvantage, deprivation and exclusion from school, the people who exit from YOIs, SCHs and SCTs have a marked predilection to return to offending actions. The number of reoffenders is extremely high with approximately four out of five (78 %) young persons sentenced to custody reoffending within one year. Statistics reveal that the proclivity to offend in these people continues in later years and 40 % of ex prisoners have a history of being young offenders. (Background paper, 2000)

Prima facie, it does appear that the custodial system currently in practice, (the result of policy changes, public private participation, NPM, and outsourcing of governmental activities to private players) has not only been unable to meet its objectives but is possibly worsening with time. Considering that it costs twice as much to educate a young person in custody than outside, the whole situation is nothing les than a scathing indictment of the NPM system in childcare, children’s education, and youth justice in the UK. Exclusion from school becomes a major causal factor in offending and the occurrence of crime, which in turn leads the state to arrange for dispensation of justice, housing of children in custody, and providing for their training and education. While considerable public effort and expense goes into this process, the continuance of reoffending indicates the occurrence and continuance of large-scale systemic failure, notwithstanding the laudatory comments of the YJB on the effectiveness of the youth justice system.

The present custodial system, of which STCs are an integral part, is representative of NPM and public private participation, in which governmental departments, local authorities and private players play similar and overlapping roles. Vulnerable young people, aged between 12 and 17 stay in these institutions while serving custodial sentences. Apart from housing them in restricted secure surroundings these institutions are under governmental mandate to provide counselling, education and training in order to (a) facilitate their reintegration into the broader community, (a) increase their earning ability, (c) help them to disengage from criminal actions and (d) eliminate their proclivity to reoffend. While Secure Training Centres, Secure Children’s Homes and Young Offenders Institutions all come under the purview of the YJB and form part of the custodial system, their control falls under different institutions. While all of the seventeen YOIs are run by the prison service, all but one of the fifteen SCHs are run by local authorities, and the four SCHs are run by private service providers.

c. Management and Administration of SCTs

Secure Training Centres are establishments specially built for housing young offenders up to the age of 17 and are representative of NPM concepts, which while keeping planning and funding of public service with the state, call for service provisioning by the private sector. Private agencies, appointed after appraisal and selection, run these institutions under contracts that contain detailed terms and operational requirements. At present, there are four STCs in England, at Oakhill in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, at Hassockfield in Consett, County Durham, at Rainsbrook in Rugby, Northamptonshire, and at Medway in Rochester, Kent. These establishments have accommodation for 58 to 87 persons with not more than eight places in each house. The total population of STCs is currently about 270.

The formation of STCs represents a major governmental initiative in bringing about much needed reform in the youth justice system. Conceived in the initial years of the 2000s, STCs aim to play a major role in rehabilitating young offenders and ensuring their integration in normal community life. While the original plan envisaged the progressive establishment of 31 STCs, only four are in operation, with the functioning of some of them coming in for trenchant criticism. STCs are responsible for housing vulnerable young people sentenced to custody or remanded to secure accommodation and have a wide ranging and demanding set of responsibilities, which include (a) provisioning of secure housing, (b) taking care of the individual and collective needs of the trainees, including nutrition, hygiene, cleanliness, physical activity, medical aid, and absence of substance misuse, (c) providing focussed and tailored programmes for education and vocational development (d) ensuring appropriate counselling and treatment for disturbed children and (e) fostering links with their home communities. Their responsibilities are not just onerous but critical because of their enormous potential to influence the lives of young people, who, because of socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, commit offences that involve custodial sentencing. Many of the trainees are vulnerable, have lived traumatised lives in environments of economic deprivation, substance misuse, and domestic violence, and need help from expert and trained professionals. “The report accepts that many of the 10 to 17-year-olds held in young offender institutions, secure training centres and local authority secure children’s homes have had chaotic and abusive childhoods and lack clear boundaries to their behaviour.” (Child jail restraint criticised, 2006) The effectiveness of these institutions is causal in the trainees choosing to enter normal society or returning to their familiar environs of social exclusion, repeated offending, and criminality.

STCs are contractually bound to provide these services effectively and all employees require undergoing specific training programmes. Counselling, social and medical services are available from the local social and medical infrastructure. All secure training centres are also required to undergo periodic checks from external governmental agencies as well as watchdogs like Ofsted for assessment of actual service levels. While STCs are undoubtedly fulfilling a vital need in custodial requirements, their major failure relates to their inability to reduce reoffending, which at 79 %, points to a gross failure in their major objective of rehabilitation. Inspection reports also point to disparities in the efficiency and effectiveness of different STCs, the absence of improvement between periodic inspections and non-implementation of recommendations. This is also supported by intermittent incidents involving the use of forceful restraint, which in the recent past was possibly causal in the suicide of an inmate, (with a history of mental disturbance), and attracted significant media attention and debate.

The running of STCs is especially difficult because it involves functions that on occasion contradict each other and exert immense pressure on the people running these institutions. Secure custody, on one hand, involves dealing with young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, have committed serious offences, and possess attitudes that are possibly brutalised and dangerous, necessitating the use of restrictive custodial measures and force, if the situation so demands. On the other hand, trainees need to care, empathy, and deep understanding of the reasons that have led them to their current states. These functions, of prison keepers and social workers, are mutually contradictory and create significant tensions when required of the same group of people. Private organizations, when faced with these demands, respond with systems designed to meet these differing requirements but remain inherently flawed because of their inherent contradictions. These organisations are also not funded by open-ended or liberal funding schemes and have both cost constraints and profit motives that are bound to influence their working. Employees who work in such organisations generally to the profiles of members of marketised institutions, give their careers and individual progress preference, and lack both the commitment or ideology of charitable workers, and the job security of public sector employees. Expecting these private sector managers and employees to adapt to such challenging needs creates enormous tensions. A number of inspection reports have pointed to the high incidence of turnover, a phenomenon that automatically leads to breaks and discontinuities in relationships between the workers and trainees and results in the emergence of destabilizing conditions, especially where mentally disturbed children are involved.

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Services at Oakhill Secure Training Centre are inconsistent, with evidence that poor practice is being institutionalised, inspectors concluded yesterday. A Commission for Social Care Inspection probeof the centre for 80 young offenders in Milton Keynes last June found its progress had slowed since a previous inspection in May 2005. While safeguarding had improved since the previous inspection, where this area was criticised, progress was reliant on one particular manager. The inspection also found services at the facility, run by Group 4 Securicor, were ran in isolation with considerable scope for integrating health, education, substance misuse and other services (Samuel, 2007)

Investigations into the suicide of thirteen-year-old Alisha Ishmail, the child prostitute who died of a drug overdose in a Camden Town after escaping from a secure home, link her mental state to the number of homes she had to move to during her period in care, and to the consequent breakdown of helpful relationships. Philip Haynes, in his treatise on “Managing Complexity in the Public Services” refers to the contradictions and tensions that arise when general management ideas used in profit oriented private businesses are imported and applied to the running of public service organisations. While their use is possibly effective in the running of utilities, enormous contradictions and tensions arise on the application of these tenets in public service institutions like the one under study. Policy makers need to realize that the business policies used by Unilever executives are not usable in looking after their disturbed teenagers, and that furthermore these very executives, however effective they may be in their functions, will never apply the strategies used with business suppliers to solve issues in home environments. Public officials who insist upon the need for using force for dealing with these children need to realise that these children do not fill the profiles of errant suppliers who need taming and that the suicides of 15 year old Gareth Myatt and 14 year old Adam Rickwood could have been avoided if STC officials gave adequate attention to their mental health needs, instead of using heavily built workers to restrain them and twist their noses in order to cause painful and temporary incapacitation.

3. Conclusion

New Public Management, in its essence, involves the import of private sector management methods, perceived to be competitive, efficient, economic, objective and effective into public sector organisations. While these methods do have relevance in certain public undertakings, especially where they concern issues like utilities and transport, they prove to be of limited relevance in institutions that deal with servicing the community, childcare, health services, and the care and rehabilitation of young offenders, as well as mentally disturbed adult prisoners being prime examples of such areas. As Haynes points out the introduction of methods based upon economic and practical considerations in such people oriented sectors leads to the development of numerous contradictions and the generation of enormously complex situations that debilitate the working and structure of involved organizations. (Haynes, 2003)

Policy makers need to consider these issues seriously and realise the inadequacy of catchall solutions and detached systematic working in areas that need individual attention for effective results. In the case of STCs appropriate solutions would include the introduction of far more detailed mental health examinations of new entrants, especially in consultation with relatives, greater emphasis upon communication with trainees, increased interaction of trainees with social workers, separation of custodial and rehabilitation functions, measures to reduce staff turnover and increase monitoring of staff behaviour, and strict vigilance on use of forceful restraining measures. The private sector argument of most of these suggestions leading to cost ineffectiveness and inefficient working needs outright rejection considering the enormous financial and social costs of the current, ostensibly “efficient” system.


Background Paper, (2000) Education of young people supervised by the youth justice system, Retrieved August 3, 2007 from www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/BACKGROUND PAPER -finaldraft (1).doc –

Box, R. C., Marshall, G. S., Reed, B., & Reed, C. M. (2001) New Public Management and Substantive Democracy. Public Administration Review, 61(5), 608.

Child jail restraint criticised, (2006), BBC News, Retrieved August 3, 2007 from news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/uk/4722652.stm

Doherty, T. L., & Horne, T. (2002). Managing Public Services–Implementing Changes: A Thoughtful Approach to the Practice of Management. London: Routledge.

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Hood, C., & Peters, G. (2004). The Middle Aging of New Public Management: Into the Age of Paradox?. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 14(3), 267+.

Lane, J. (2000). New Public Management. London: Routledge.

Mclaughlin, K., Osborne, S. P., & Ferlie, E. (Eds.). (2002). New Public Management: Current Trends and Future Prospects. London: Routledge.

Haynes, P. (2003) Chapter 1, ‘Management, professions and the public service context’ in Managing Complexity in the Public Services Maidenhead: Open University Press,

Samuel, M, 2007, Services at Oakhill Secure Training Centre inconsistent, warn inspectors, Community Care, Retrieved August 3, 2007 from www.communitycare.co.uk

Thomas, C. J. (1999). Managers, Part of the Problem? Changing How the Public Sector Works. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

Van Slyke, D. M. (2002). The Public Management Challenges of Contracting with Nonprofits for Social Services. International Journal of Public Administration, 25(4), 489+.

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