‘Kick in the teeth’ for staff

HMP Northumberland at Acklington.
HMP Northumberland at Acklington.

A decision to privatise HMP Northumberland has been branded a ‘kick in the teeth’ by the local MP, while Prison Service staff have expressed outrage that their own bid has been rejected.

The backlash comes after an announcement last week that three private companies – Sodexo, Serco and MTC/Amey – will now compete for the contract to run the prison, which was formerly two separate units, HMP Acklington and Castington Young Offenders Institution.

The latest stage of the competition for eight prisons and a new approach to competing services across the public prison estate were announced by Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice last Thursday.

It said the competition process had produced ‘a compelling package of reforms for delivering cost reduction, improvements to regimes and a working prisons model in these prisons’.

But Sir Alan Beith MP said: “This decision is a kick in the teeth for the prison staff and management who have successfully merged two prisons into one, and earned a good report from HM Inspector of Prisons, which was published this week.

“It was a serious mistake to subject the prison to market testing while the merger was still taking place, and the public sector bid should have been allowed to go to the final round.

“Although there will be protections for the pay and pensions of existing prison staff if a private bid goes ahead, this is going to be a worrying time for people who do a vital and difficult job and deserve to be treated more fairly in the contract process.”

Unions are also up in arms at the announcement, with the Public and Commercial Services union demanding an independent review and a halt to further sell-offs.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The privatisation of our prison service ought to be a national scandal and that this has happened without any public debate is shameful.

“It is morally reprehensible that companies are profiting from locking people up and we urgently need an independent review to look at the impact on our communities, staff and prisoners.”