POA Circulars

150 | 16.11.2012

Report back on meeting with NOMS

On the 14th November 2012, members of the NOMS Board addressed the Executive to set out the future of the Prison Service following the announcement by the Secretary of State for Justice on prison competition and wholesale privatisation of public sector prisons during this Parliament.

The NEC welcomed the report with caution and questioned the CEO of NOMS Michael Spurr and other Board Members on these issues and it was agreed to provide the membership with a brief synopsis as a means of an update prior to a dedicated meeting to progress issues.

Members of the NOMS Board accepted that it was vital for Management to engage with the Union at local and national level, if they were to introduce new policies and deliver the efficiency savings demanded of them by Government as part of the Agreement to stop the wholesale competition of prisons during this Parliament. The Executive welcomed this commitment but advised NOMS that they had to send out a strong message to local Management that this was their policy and it was a mandatory requirement of Governors to engage with local committees and not simply pay lip service.

As a result of the Government’s reform to facility time and early meetings with NOMS the Executive advised NOMS that the introduction of wholesale change at local and national level required appropriate facility time to ensure good industrial relations and true partnership working existed. NOMS set out the Government guidelines and advised the Executive that they would not go outside of the framework from Cabinet Office. This area of work will be vital to the success of the Service if it is to achieve the expectations of Government and allow national and local officials to work with Management and bring about change safely. Further reports on the progress of this work will be promulgated in due course.


Following the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Justice, there is an opportunity to remove the need for the wholesale competition/privatisation of prisons providing NOMS can deliver reforms and savings. This is an opportunity but it is not without risks. The Executive will examine the implications of the new announcement in detail to determine if it is a better way forward.

The Executive are fully aware of the problems which are occurring at local level with the implementation of F&S. This issue was raised with NOMS who reaffirmed the position that the principles of F&S must be adhered too. The Executive were given an assurance that Governors have been advised of the Boards directive and further meetings have been arranged to resolve issues. The Executive will remind branch officials that if they do not agree with any Management proposals for change and they believe they are outside the principles of F&S a local dispute must be raised. Further reports on the progress of this work will be promulgated in due course.

This issue was the subject of a full and frank debate with a number of questions being posed to NOMS. The situation is not completely clear on how this work will be progressed, but the partnership with MITIE is no longer in place and that has to be seen as a part victory for OSG’s and other grades, if nothing else. Again more detail is required in this area and further reports will be provided.

It was clear that the Government were intent on outsourcing as many public sector prisons during this Parliament if NOMS had not persuaded them to change track. As you know it was the intention of Government to announce that another 25 prisons would be competed as part of the next phase of the competition policy. How successful the public sector would have been in bidding for those prisons or whether the Service would have even been allowed to bid following the recent announcements is unknown, but we can be pretty certain more prisons would have been contracted out with long contracts.
So it is clear the Union has to consider the way forward carefully but we have made it perfectly clear to NOMS that your Health and Safety is not for sale and safe, secure and decent prisons are non-negotiable.

The Executive have raised the prospect of having a Partnership Agreement with NOMS similar to that in place in Scotland. NOMS has committed to working with the POA to consider the feasibility of introducing such a policy as part of the way forward and new way of working. This is a huge piece of work and further reports will be provided in the future.

As part of the Competition Benchmark and Efficiencies Project outsourcing of work to the private sector appears inevitable but the Union will be able to influence this policy and minimise the effect on prisons. In an ideal world no one would accept or welcome outsourcing of any post in prisons but NOMS believe this is inevitable. It is vital that this policy is monitored and managed from the centre and the Executive will ensure they have total engagement with NOMS on this issue.

Whilst the Executive are aware of the required savings of NOMS, how the Competition Benchmark and Efficiencies Project will assist in realising the savings is not known. The Executive have written to NOMS seeking clarification on this and other issues.

The Executive has been made aware of terms of reference which have been provided to prisons who are looking at implementing change under the Competition Benchmark and Efficiencies Project, but they are not aware whether these will form part of national terms of reference. The National Chairman has had discussions with representatives of NOMS following this meeting to clarify this issue. He was assured that at present no national terms of reference have been agreed but NOMS are keen to agree principles with the POA.
At present the Executive have requested urgent meetings with NOMS to progress these issues and they would urge members to engage at local level to obtain the initial views of management but make it clear that they are awaiting direction from the NEC.

The shift in policy from NOMS and Government must be welcomed with caution and carefully considered by the Union. We should rule nothing in or out.

The Executive must be allowed to progress issues and gather information to ensure the membership set policy and give clear direction.

The Executive recognise that information is paramount as we look to develop working arrangements with NOMS and ensure all prisons are safe, secure and decent.

I would ask that the contents of this circular are drawn to the attention of your members and they are advised that further information will be promulgated in due course.
Thanking you in anticipation of your support and co-operation.


Yours sincerely


Steve Gillan
General Secretary