Scotland

General News, Articles and Information from The POA North of the Border:

12.04.2011

SPS Announces Closure of HMP Noranside

In the December edition of Gatelodge I wrote about the impending cuts, and how they are about to impact upon us within the service. It didn’t take long to discover what the first of those impacts was to be!

The SPS has announced its intention to close HMP Noranside on the basis that we have an over capacity of places within the Open Estate for the numbers of prisoners coming through, following the tightening of the criteria for qualification.

It also makes reference to the fact that it will contribute to the savings required to accommodate the Government spending cuts imposed upon us. (Somewhere in the region of £2.5m). If realised, it would put the fi rst dent in the approximately £11m we will be asked to find in this financial year. The key of course, is whether it really does generate those kinds of savings at all, certainly within the first year.

Given that around 70 percent of costs are staff costs, and there are is nobody facing redundancy from this closure, it is not at all clear just how much savings this move will actually generate. It is even less clear what contribution or impact it will have on the immediate financial difficulties faced by the SPS.

At the time of writing we have sought from the SPS some detailed workings of the alternative options that were considered for the site prior to the decision to close was taken. We know that consideration was given to several possibilities, such as women off enders, Young Off enders, older off enders etc, and what we need to be assured of is that those options and any others, were given serious consideration before being ruled out.

By the time you read this we will have had a Special Delegates conference in Scotland to debate a motion committing the union to support the retention of Noranside, and it will either be what we are heavily involved in right now, or we will be preparing to assist in securing the staff involved in a closure site are having their terms and conditions secured as they prepare to move prisons. That will be a decision you have taken as the membership at the Special Delegates conference through your elected local branch reps.

It has to be said, that an alternative use for Noranside is not and should not be the only basis on which the argument can be won. We should not lose sight of the fact that Noranside is an important and integral part of the prison estate now, making its contribution to the justice system and a safer Scotland in its current role.

There is no doubt that the tighter criteria for the Open Estate has had an impact on the numbers coming through, and that both sites, Noranside and Castle Huntly are running with at times, significant capacity unused. However, this is not just a numbers issue. Both sites also make significant contributions in terms of what they provide and deliver, and it is not as simple to assume that the closure of one site means that all that is lost is easily transferable to the other site.

Following the closure announcement, John Swinney the Minister for Finance, along with two of his parliamentary colleagues pledged support for HMP Noranside, as the parliamentarians for the area in which the prison is housed. I contacted the Minister that day, to establish on what basis he was supporting it, (given that as finance minister his budget cuts were in part being cited as a reason for its impending closure!)

Not surprisingly, he made it clear to me he was speaking as the Constituency MSP for the area and not as the Minister for Finance, which pretty much took care of my second question of, “Can we have some more?”

In discussion he did make it clear that he and his colleagues were genuine in their support for the retention of HMP Noranside, and that they were greatly impressed with the staff within it, and the contribution they make in the preparation of prisoners for release back into our communities. He has agreed to regular dialogue and is happy to work alongside the POAS in any joint campaign we would want to pursue, and agreed with our position that it should not be at the expense of any alternative closure site within the SPS.

Once those other options are available, it may well be that to implement any or all of them; further investment is required to make it happen. It will be our intention at that point to test the strength of both the Finance Minister and others, as to their commitment to Noranside.

We have met with the local branch reps at Noranside who are putting together some background information that will support the case for the sites retention, and provided we have the mandate from the Special Delegates Conference, we will look forward to working alongside them, developing the case, and putting the argument to the SPS Board.

Phil Fairlie

Vice Chair, Scotland