National Chair

August 2013 | 17.08.2013

Private Sector Contract Investigation

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The announcement by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, that the taxpayer has been overcharged for electronic tagging has led the Government to review the contracts it has with G4S and Serco.

The Serious Fraud Office has been instructed to investigate G4S,and Serco has agreed to auditors appointed by the Government having access to its files. It would appear that the taxpayer has been charged for criminals who had been returned to prison, were no longer in the country or in some cases were deceased.

The Justice Secretary stated in the House of Commons: “I am angry at what has happened and am determined to put it right…this is a wholly indefensible and unacceptable state of affairs.” Sadiq Khan, the Shadow justice Secretary, described the overcharging as “potential fraud”.

At best this is incompetence and has to raise yet more questions over the privatisation and outsourcing of public sector services. The discrepancies may date back to 1998 and the POA will need to be convinced and reassured that prison contracts have been appropriately awarded in accordance with the principles of the procurement process. The report of the review of the contracts and the management of them is due to be published in the autumn.

Motivated by principle not profit

The values, integrity and risk management of public sector provision have been established over many years. It is time for Government to finally accept that the public sector does provide value in terms of quality and cost. The public sector has always been motivated by principle not profit.

Meanwhile, Serco remains the leading bidder for the contract at HMP Hatfield, HMP Lindholme and HMP Moorland. A further delay in awarding the contract and the circumstances for that delay had done nothing to ease the uncertainty and understandable frustrations of the staff in these prisons. As you would expect, the POA have raised our concerns with politicians, the employer and the media and will continue to do so.

TRANSFORMING REHABILITATION

The MOJ have set out their plans for the management of offenders in order to reduce the rates of reoffending.

Alongside statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community and the divisive creation of a new public sector probation service, the MOJ will put in place a ‘through the gate’ resettlement service. The MOJ claim that this is unprecedented and that they will now ensure that most offenders are held in a prison close to their home area for at least three months before release.

Ministers and NOMS maintain that the announcement that 70 prisons will now become resettlement prisons will have no effect on POA members. A pilot study in the north west is to take place and the POA have formally requested sight of the process. The Government would be well advised to engage fully with the POA to explore how these reforms and proposals can work in practice.

The Criminal Justice System will be opened up further to an increasingly diverse range of providers in terms of rehabilitation, introducing flexibility and with payment for real reductions in reoffending. Well, we would all agree that the rehabilitation of criminals is essential, but this must all be provided within a safe, decent and secure prison estate. The POA calls upon the MOJ to recognise the considerable achievement of prison workers in the management of an overcrowded, and at times, increasingly volatile prison estate. A prison population of circa 85,000 in effect represents a throughput of over 200,000 prisoners in any given year. It is a daily miracle that family ties, the health and well–being, employment and housing needs of prisoners are progressed to the standard that they are given the reduction in budgets. We cannot ignore the offender but prison workers need support, resources and yes, recognition in order to provide a setting for rehabilitation.

YET ANOTHER THINK–TANK REPORT

In the midst of another private sector debacle, Policy Exchange, a ‘think–tank’, decided to publish recommendations that older public sector prisons should be replaced by that tired old idea of a “super prison”.

Among the recommendations were that all the prisons in London and most in the south west should be closed and replaced by prisons holding up to three thousand prisoners. As readers of Gatelodge will be aware, the mythical benefits of the “super prison” concept have been discredited by such luminaries as the Prison Inspector, the Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League and other commentators on penal affairs.

As the Conservative MP, for South Dorset, Richard Drax commented in the press, “big doesn’t always mean good. Just because jails are old doesn’t mean they are not fit for purpose. The two prisons in South Dorset, on Portland are more than capable.”

It is important to acknowledge that there are voices across the political divide who recognise and support the work of prison staff.

PJ McParlin
National Chairman