Councillor hits back over ‘political stunt’ on prison

HMP Northumberland.
HMP Northumberland.

A Conservative councillor has hit out at calls for an inquiry into the privatisation of HMP Northumberland, claiming it destabilises the new regime.

As reported on the Gazette website last week, Labour’s Scott Dickinson has called for an investigation into the prison’s takeover by Sodexo Justice Services – see full story here.

Councillor and dog owner Gordon Castle is backing the Gazette's campaign about dog mess.

Councillor and dog owner Gordon Castle is backing the Gazette's campaign about dog mess.

But Alnwick ward member Gordon Castle has claimed it is a ‘political stunt intended to curry favour with the electorate’ and ‘a blatant misuse of the scrutiny committee’s remit’ as councillors do not determine Government policy.

“The incident that prompted this misconceived response was a minor disturbance quickly resolved and involving a very small number of prisoners,” he said.

“Such instances are common in prisons, especially when prison routine is changed by a new administration.

“The public were never at risk – my sources of information are reliable and I would never have taken such a public stance unless I was certain of it.

“Nobody knows why the Prison Service bid failed to win the contract or why Sodexo succeeded, but that is now history and there is no going back.

“Regardless of how upset prison officers are about the outcome, and whatever the consequences for individual officers required to accept a new working regime – there were no compulsory redundancies and the public interest now requires that the prison should be permitted a period of time to adapt to new ways of working.

“However much they may have regretted the result, it is the duty of politicians to assist this process, by calming any public fears raised by disgruntled prison officers and letting the new management get on with it.

“But that has not happened. Labour has put the boot in and whipped up public fears, quite cynically and without any shred of justification, just to bolster their election manifesto, which wants us to take back services like prisons and the railways into the public sector.

“Even if you don’t share my view that this will return us to the days of over-manning, inefficiency, waste and organisations run by unions more for the benefit of staff than customers, you must surely deplore the irresponsible failure of Labour and Lib Dem politicians to support management unequivocally at a difficult time of transition.

“This is also true of prison officers, some of whom have sent me a few nasty and vitriolic messages. I appreciate that things have changed, and they are entitled to be sore about it, and they may even be right that changes make life more difficult for them than before, but their clear duty, in my opinion, is to do their utmost to work with management in trying to assist the new regime bed in and do its job. Councillors should have told them this, as I have done. It is not a popular message, but it is the correct and responsible one.

“The prisons inspectorate has not been privatised and nor has the Ministry of Justice. They are the bodies that need to be satisfied by new arrangements and politicians ought to resist the temptation to circumvent them and stoke up public alarm without very strong evidence.”