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.
Following the scandalous report into the safety of HMP Liverpool the Justice Select Committee used its powers – powers we have not used in many years – to demand the appearance of contractors, ministers and the officials who run our prisons.
I focused much of my questioning on the outsourcing of maintenance to private firms. Amey – the company who undertook the contract to run maintenance at HMP Liverpool – has obviously failed to fulfil its contractual agreement with the Government. I wanted to know what penalties they faced and who is responsible when they fail.
What we learnt was that they had been penalised for their failings, but the Chief Executive of HM Prisons and Probation, Michael Spurr, was not satisfied with the effectiveness of contracts across the whole prisons estates. He went onto note the failings of Carillion and how contracts across the estate are not working.
2018 has shown us that many firms who take on these contracts neither have the expertise or the resources to fulfil them. We have seen this at Oakhill Young Offenders Institute – run by G4S – we have seen it with the collapse of Carillion and now we have seen it with the failings of Amey at HMP Liverpool. We now need a root and branch investigation into government contracts to make sure that the services being provided are in the public interest.