Earlier this year the privately run HMP Birmingham collapsed to such an extent that the UK Government had to nationalise it. Standards had slipped to completely unacceptable levels with prison officers and offenders safety being put at risk.
It is a prison that has experienced riots in the past and it was an utter failure of G4S to ensure they fulfilled their contractual agreements.
During the Justice Select Committee I was able to press the representative from G4S on what actions he had taken in the run up to the collapse of the prison and why he didn’t act sooner.
Committees give MPs a chance to scrutinise, in-depth, the UK Government’s policies away from the more political arena of the House of Commons chamber. This week’s Justice Committee was a perfect example of this.
We had officials from HM Prisons and Probation and the Ministry of Justice in front of us which gave us the opportunity to delve deep into the policies they were enacting on behalf of the UK Government. I wanted to know what action was being done to measure prison standards. It was disappointing to hear that currently officials do not believe that the estate is good.
Hidden away in the Budget’s Red Book were figures showing that the Ministry of Justice will see further cuts of £300m next year. I wanted the minister to tell us how he intends to safeguard the safety of our prisons with such huge cuts.
The minister wanted to change the debate onto last year’s budget, but this is not what I asked. That’s why I pressed from the backbenches for him to answer my question. You will notice that he still had no answer. I am deeply concerned that these cuts – to one of the most cut departments in government since 2010 – will lead to a further deterioration in the quality of our prisons and legal system.
This week’s Justice Committee had the chance to question high ranking civil servants about the UK Government’s policy on prisons.
After the calamity that was both HMP Liverpool and HMP Birmingham over private contracts – indeed Birmingham was in that bad a state that G4S lost their role in running the prison and the Government had to nationalise it – I wanted to know what checks and balances were in place to ensure the suitability of contract bidders.
In both cases the private firms under-bid to secure the contracts only to find they couldn’t sustain them without running services into the ground on the cheap. The civil servants, obviously, must remain neutral – which is quite right – but they were struggling to provide the evidence to show the UK Government was doing its job in protecting our money.