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SNC sets out concerns in respect of budget cuts

The POA in Scotland was asked for a submission regarding the Scottish Government’s drafts Budget announcements. here we reproduce the letter from Andy Hogg, to Ms Anne Peat of the Justice Committee.

Ms Anne Peat
Senior Assistant Clerk
Justice Committee
Scottish Parliament
EH99 1SP 26 November 2010

Dear Anne

Thank you for your communication regarding the above, we appreciate the Committee taking time to seek our views on the draft budget and its impact on the SPS and our members.

General points

May I in the first instance communicate the anger and frustration of our members that they, like many others, are facing the burdens of an economic crisis for which they bear no responsibility whilst those who do, appear to carry on regardless.

Whereas the decision to publish a budget for the duration of a single year is not unusual in itself, the lack of an accompanying comprehensive spending plan over a longer period means that little certainty can be afforded to our members in respect of the long term future plans for the Scottish Prison Service. For example what monies will be made available and what improvements to staff terms and conditions that can be anticipated along with improvements to their, in many instances poor working conditions?

With a view to being succinct I have aimed to address the questions in the order they were put. However many of the answers will be interrelated.

What are the operational implications of the outcome of the spending review for the SPS for 2011-12?

The Cabinet Secretary’s announcement of a Pay freeze as part of the Scottish Government’s pay policy will have a profound and disproportionate impact on our members who, given that inflation is currently running at over four percent will suffer a real terms wage cut. Whilst we acknowledge that pay progression arrangements are not constrained by the Government’s pay policy the significant majority of Prison Officers are on the maximum of their pay band and will have no reward or recognition of their contribution to protecting the public and keeping Scotland safe. This will not only impact on their immediate income but upon the long term effect on pension. Given that our members also fear the worst in respect of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission review headed by Lord Hutton of Furness. Morale is likely to fall and discontent rise as a result. This could damage the otherwise very good staff-prisoner relationship that in general exists across the establishments.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to maintain a stance of no compulsory redundancies is very welcome however it is somewhat assuaged by the requirement to reach agreement on flexible working arrangements that reduce costs but maintain headcount and services. This is unfortunately nothing new to our members who have been faced with identifying `efficiencies’ for the last decade whilst operating with an increasing prisoner population year on year and projected to increase further. Doing more for less, is a mantra depressingly familiar to us. Nonetheless, whilst we will endeavour to reach such agreements we will not countenance arrangements that will jeopardise the safety or welfare of our members.

What impact, if any, will outcome of the spending review have on the provision of prisoner programmes, on plans to improve accommodation, on progress with the new Low Moss prison due to open in 2012?

It would be fair to point out that in recent times the loyalty and dedication shown by our members has been acknowledged by the commitment of the Scottish Government to honour their pledge to rebuild and operate HMP Low Moss in the Public Sector and to complete the rebuild of HMP Shotts. Nonetheless given that the budget covers only 2011/12 concerns will continue to circulate in respect of the long term plans for the future of the prison estate, including HMP Grampian, Inverclyde and Highland. Indeed the devastating reduction in capital spending resources afforded to the Scottish Government by the UK coalition has a profound effect on the ability of the Scottish Prison

Service to continue to modernise and improve the estate to the extent that most commentators would recognise as deeply necessary and overdue. The consequences, should such a position continue beyond 2011/12 would leave a legacy of a two tier prison estate one that is fit for the 21st century and the other fit for nothing. Such a position would be detrimental to our members working conditions, to prisoners’ accommodation and would create greater exposure to legal challenge through ECHR.

Faced with such a funding position it is understandable that the Scottish Government should seek to prioritise major investment, but we should not lose sight that the remainder of the prison estate requires constant maintenance and the reduced funding to a `make do and mend’ scenario whilst accepted serves only to accelerate the two tier estate we wish to avoid.

In respect of the impact on the delivery of prisoner programmes it is more difficult to assess, in so far that it may depend largely on what programme is involved, where it is delivered, by whom it is delivered i.e., externally or internally by staff and to which prisoner group it is aimed at. In general terms for example, if there is a requirement to put a freeze on recruitment and further pressure is placed on staffing complements of establishments the priority focus will be placed upon delivering the basic needs to offenders such as work, exercise, welfare requests, etc and Prison Officers will be required to maintain their primary role of ensuring safe and secure custody. Whilst opportunities to deliver offender behaviour and life skill programmes such as, alcohol/ drug awareness sessions, anger management etc, may be limited.

Notwithstanding this however, there is a compelling logic that if you assert that an aim is to see “safe communities” and the priority is “to invest in the frontline services and the Justice system that will support this.”, then risking the delivery of programmes aimed at addressing offender behaviour is counterproductive and increases the likelihood that prisoners on release will be unable to resettle back into their communities, rehabilitated and with a sense of purpose. As a result they will be more likely to reoffend and become a bigger drain on scarce resources as well as a sad indictment of our failure as a society. Cutting resources here is not only a false economy but has dire social consequences.

What areas will be considered for efficiency savings?

It is not possible to answer this definitively as discussions between ourselves and the SPS are at a very early stage nevertheless we will in partnership, look to identify what more efficiencies can be delivered whilst seeking to maintain operational levels and front line services. Achieving this aim has become increasingly difficult over the years.

One such area we will pursue with Management is the inbuilt inflexibility that is a feature of operating a two tier Prison Officer grade. The Draft budget has as a central tenet, a requirement that “all services will need to consider their structures and means of delivery carefully...”

Since its inception in 2005 as part of the Staffing Structure Review, the separation of a single Prison Officer Grade capable of carrying out all functions from escorting to programme delivery, into two separate grades with different pay bands, Operations Officer (pay band `C’) and Residential Officer (pay band `D’) have often proven to be a source of discontent and dispute over the years. For example due to the introduction of demarcation lines an Operations Officer cannot deliver Prisoner Programmes. Whilst they may be requested to operate in Residential areas they may choose not do so and can’t be compelled even if there is surplus staff in their group.

SPS has recently requested that we look specifically at the resources afforded to our partnership agreement however this matter involves the other constituent trade unions and will be considered as a wider Trade Union Side. Notwithstanding this however, we consider that the Partnership Agreement has proven its worth and has provided a settled  employment relations environment in the SPS for the past seven years and is widely recognised as a model of best practice.

We will seek to have discussions with the SPS in regard to the continued operation of performance bonus payments with a view to having them removed in their entirety. We have  long held the view that performance related payments are divisive and are distributed inequitably across the service, a view that is supported by information from the SPS relating to distribution across the staff groups.

Equally we will seek discussions around the need for continuing with significant sums of money (£10k and £7k, pensionable) being afforded to senior managers in the organisation in respect of recruitment and retention allowances. The introduction of which has not only caused great anger amongst our members who are facing a freeze on their pay, but on the grounds that the justification for the payment is no longer tenable or affordable.

Given that the contract for the delivery of escorting services to the SPS is now out to tender we will be seeking assurances from the SPS that the tender specification provides adequate cover for emergency escorts and any other escort than requires Operational staff to be removed from post in order to cover an escort expected to be covered  by the contractor. Equally we will seek to ensure that the contract has sufficient penalties attached that act as a significant deterrent to prevent escorting services from deciding to `take the hit` rather than fulfil their obligations.

Regarding the role of the private sector in delivering services in both HMP Kilmarnock and HMP Addiewell we will seek to discuss with SPS what contribution these establishments can make towards reducing the burden on taxpayers rather than contributing to it. A question the Justice Committee may equally consider worth pursuing.

I hope the Justice Committee find the information useful and we are happy to discuss any points further should they wish.

Yours sincerely

Andy Hogg
Assistant Secretary