National Chair

October 2013 | 16.10.2013

Prison Closures

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The announcement that a further four prisons will close by December 2013 has been received with understandable anger by POA members.


The POA acknowledges that the Coalition Government has an established new for old policy with regard to the public sector prison estate. Nevertheless, the fallacy and inherent dangers of this policy should be evident to all.

In addition to significant and on-going reductions in budget expenditure and given the ever-present danger of concerted indiscipline within an overcrowded and increasingly volatile prison estate, the announcement of further closures is reckless and dangerous.

In my experience of more than thirty years, attempts by politicians and NOMS officials to predict the size of the prison population has proved to be an inexact science. In the past, Operational capacity has been influenced by factors outside of the control of the Ministry of Justice.

Justice Minister, Kenneth Clarke, promised a rehabilitation revolution alongside a reduction in the prison population. He failed to recognise that our prisons are populated by the dangerous, the addicted, the mentally ill and the persistent offender. The judiciary, public opinion, sections of the media and indeed many members of his own party were not prepared to accept a reduction in the prison population through community orders and changes to sentencing guidelines. On that occasion, cost did not outweigh public safety and the inevitable result was his removal from office.

The POA does not so much ‘expect’ as demand a strategic approach to population pressures within the prison estate. Wouldn’t it make more sense to delay closure announcements until the new house blocks and the prison in North Wales are operational? The answer is yes, until you factor in the austerity agenda and the need to pay for banking bonuses and foreign wars.

There have been 16 prison closures since 2010. The POA expects the employer to have a comprehensive and effective protocol in place to assist staff through the redeployment process. POA members have a legitimate expectation that NOMS will have learnt the lessons from previous closures and support their staff in making an informed choice from the options available to them.

The POA, with the Justice Union Parliamentary Group, has organised a drop-in session within Parliament with regard to prison closures. This will provide an opportunity for branch officials at HMP Blundeston, Dorchester, Northallerton and Reading to raise their concerns and issues with MPs on the new for old policy. Alongside an Early Day Motion and an organised protest opposite the House of Commons the POA will continue to campaign to raise awareness of the effects of prison closures.

Memorandum of understanding

In a workplace ballot, the membership voted to accept the Memorandum of Understanding. The executive recognises that the memorandum has been a contentious issue engendering much discussion and debate. The workplace ballot was not about the Benchmarking process. Nevertheless, it did prove to be an exercise in collective bargaining, difficult and protracted negotiations between the employer and the representative body within the workplace. The memorandum provides clarification in respect of the chairing of ACCT reviews. This work will now sit with Band 4s and 5s or above. Alongside this clarification the memorandum provides significant protections for the membership.

Benchmarking

This issue is covered in more depth elsewhere in this edition of Gatelodge in an article by Vice Chairman, Ralph Valerio. Benchmarking or unit cost reduction, which I always think has a distinctly Stalinist ring to it, is entering a critical stage in terms of the roll out for stage one prisons.

This has been an unrelenting and unforgiving process and as National Chairman I recognise the work undertaken by branch committees to evaluate and challenge where necessary the benchmark reports. The POA agreed to engage in benchmarking as an alternative to wholesale privatisation of the public sector prison estate.

At the roundtable seminar in July, organised by Reform on ‘Through the gate: Transforming resettlement, reintegration and rehabilitation’ the Prison Minister, Jeremy Wright stated:

‘The sensible way to proceed is to say to the public sector prisons service we want you to run the core custodial services in prisons. We want you to take some cost out when you do that. And we will expect you to carry out across the estate the savings that you anticipate you could make in your bids to run the eight or nine prisons that you’ve bid for. In addition to that, we think that it is right to explore contracting out for ancillary services.’

I reiterate that the POA will have to be convinced that a benchmark that introduces new staff profiles, alongside a revised coreday and a regime refresh across a volatile and often violent prison estate is safe, secure and decent.

HMP Northumberland

The new employer for HMP Northumberland has been announced as Sedexo. The branch committee at Northumberland supported by NEC member, Terry Fullerton, are currently working to protect terms and conditions on transfer to the new employer. As the committee at HMP Birmingham will testify; this can result in protracted negotiations with the new employer. The NEC will ensure that legal and professional advice is available to assist the local branch as the process unfolds.

TUC Conference

At the TUC Annual Congress 2013 in Bournemouth the General Secretary, within Composite 14, moved POA Motion 55 to condemn the Coalition Government with regard to restrictions in access to Employment Tribunals.

Within Composite 11, the POA further moved Motion 40, to instruct the TUC to campaign against the privatisation of all public services and to support the call for an independent public enquiry into the cost of privatisation.

For further details please see POA Circular 142 and the comprehensive report in this issue of Gatelodge provided by the POA delegation who attended the TUC Annual Congress .

Party political conferences and fringe meetings

For the third year running, the POA will be holding fringe meetings at the Liberal, Labour and Conservative annual conferences. The fringe meetings ‘ What next for the Criminal Justice System ‘ will once again be facilitated by the New Statesman.

Among the topics to be addressed by the panellists will be the effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System, the impact of austerity, measures to prevent reoffending, proposed changes to legal aid, prison closures and privatisation. Payment by results will be topical now that bidding has begun for probation service contracts with an estimated value of £450million across England and Wales. The contracts for payment by results will be divided up between private companies and charitable organisations in twenty English regions and one Welsh region to supervise 225,000 low and medium-risk offenders each year.

The POA has invited NAPO and G4S representatives onto the panel and the politicians have been confirmed as Lord McNally, Shadow Justice Minister, Sadiq Khan and Crispin Blunt. As ever, and given the renewed interest in criminal justice, we can expect a lively and informative debate. A full report will be provided in a future edition of Gatelodge.

Pay

On 11 September, the Prison Minister wrote to me to confirm that he has activated the Review Body process for the 2014/15 pay round. Recommendations from the Pay Review Body are to be forwarded to the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor by 17 February 2014.

I do not need to remind you that prison staff in the closed grades received a nonconsolidated £250 for 2013/14. You do not have to be a mathematician to work out that the award is below the recommendation by Government of one percent. Again, PO2s, night patrols, storemen and storewomen, prison auxiliaries and principal officers received no annual cost of living pay rise. This is contemptuous disregard for the work of prison staff within a dangerous and volatile operational environment.

The Pay Review Body within their statement of purpose purport to provide professional, independent, evidence – based reports. We shall see.

PJ McParlin
National Chairman