The new Minister of State for Prisons was before the Justice Select Committee this week and I wanted to grill him on wasted taxpayer money through the privatisation of probation services.
The National Audit Office undertook a review into this failed experiment – started by the current Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP – and concluded that the Ministry of Justice has had to pump £467 million into the failed project to try and stabilise them.
You can see from my questioning that the Minister and his civil servants were very uncomfortable with these questions. There is obviously still more to learn on this. The Minister tried to hide behind his belief that the taxpayer has saved money because the services are being renationalised again. But this is a completely false way of looking at things. To make a comparison, if you moved out of your house you would stop paying the rent – meaning you make a saving – but you will still need to find somewhere else to live which will cost you rent. The same can be said for rehabilitation. We may no longer be paying the private companies to undertake the work, but we will still have to undertake it ourselves. But we lose the money we spent on private firms prior to renationalisation.
This has been a failed experiment that I voted against when it was first proposed in the 2010-15 Parliament. Our money has been wasted for dogma of private good, public bad. The UK Government should be ashamed.
The Ministry of Justice has faced some of the biggest cuts to its budget under the current UK Government and previous Coalition Government. To meet these cuts, amongst other things, they decided to close a large number of local courts.
I have always campaigned against court closures because justice must be handed out in our communities. We should not be expected to travel huge distances to ensure that those who have done wrong face the law.
At the Justice Committee meeting this week we had a number of witnesses before us from organisations like the Magistrates Association, the Criminal Bar Association and the Criminal Law Committee of Birmingham Law Society. These are people with great experience of what court closures mean.
During my questioning I wanted to know if they have been consulted by the UK Government following the closures. As you can see the response is damning. Ignoring experts ensures that policy is bungled and mistakes are made. The Ministry of Justice must sit up and listen to the Select Committee evidence and take action to ensure access to courts and law is not further undermined.
The Solicitor General was before the Justice Committee this week and I wanted his assurances that we would remain part of the European Arrest Warrant and EUROJUST.
The Solicitor General went as far as to admit that no deal would undermine our safety and security and how the deal before Parliament is simply an aspiration and not legally binding.
On EUROJUST the minister made it abundantly clear that we are huge beneficiaries of it. He pointed out that in 2017 the UK was involved in 82 coordination meetings, coming only second to Germany for involvement and we were involved in at least a quarter of joint investigating teams. This is a vital service that we are set to lose under current proposals.
The Committee had a chance to question the Secretary of State for Justice about his duties. Many of you will have heard that the privately run prison HMP Birmingham finally collapsed and the UK Government had to step in to ensure that it continued to operate.
The UK Government have not been forthcoming with the exact figures for how this has cost the taxpayer and today I was able to get the Secretary of State to admit that this has cost us £9.9million.
This is money that could have been spent on recruiting more prison officers, police officers and improving our prison estate. Once again a private contractor has let us down.