Our members need to pick up the slack of a failing private contractor, it’s not acceptable and things must improve.

Around 2000 when the decision was taken to outsource the prisoner escorts in Scotland, I’m sure the contract was secured on broken promises, unachievable service levels being pledged and that it would reduce the cost to the public purse. The reality is – and it can be said with confidence – that from the first day a private firm took on this role it has been, at best, a second-rate service. For as long as a anyone can remember, and whoever the contract provider is, be it Reliance, G4S or current contract holders GEOAmey, the level of service is not as it should be, but good old Scottish Prison Service (SPS) will pick up the pieces.

Before I go further, I want to be abundantly clear, this article is in no way reflective of the hard-working staff involved with the contract providers. Many of them we have as members, and I can confidently say that they too share the frustrations of being part of a company that consistently fails to uphold agreed service levels.

At the time of writing this article, the SPS is trying to manage its way through this issue, something I know it doesn’t welcome either; however they need to help find a solution to this problem. At the meetings attended in relation to this, the message is clear: neither we nor employer want SPS staff to be carrying out a function that has been outsourced as the knock-on effect at establishments.

How can it be acceptable that a company that is paid to deliver a service can continually fail to do so and its punishment is so low that taking that punishment far outweighs the option of covering an escort? It’s shameful. We will all know of instances where the control centres for these companies have been contacted to inform them of the need to cover an escort and, many hours later, SPS staff are still carrying out the task. The knock-on effect is felt at establishment level and it’s not acceptable. We will continue to push for a resolution to this ongoing issue.

To make matters worse, the SPS is now finding itself having to make ex-gratia payments in places to cover escorts that have already been paid for under a contract; is that not a waste of the public purse?

At this stage, I will stop short of demanding the escorts are given back to the SPS, for one simple reason: currently there are not enough staff within establishments to cover these tasks. However, this must be the medium to long-term aim.

For staff left behind when colleagues are covering for escorts that establishments do not have the complement to do so, you must adhere to the staff-shortage protocol. If there isn’t one, there should be one, and you must restrict the regime for the sake of you and your colleagues’ health and safety. As has been mentioned, while we cannot stop the employer deploying their staff as they see fit within the allotted shift period, we can control the consequence of such deployments and we ask that you follow the advice above.

The same old response we continue to hear from the likes of GEOAmey, is that they are trying to recruit more staff, but it’s proving difficult. That cry is wearing thin, very thin, and that’s why a long-term sustainable escort model must be found and with it brought back into the public sector.. l


Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.