Driving social value through the New Prisons Programme

The Ministry of Justice’s Sue McElroy and Melissa Dudley sat down with Proxima recently to discuss the department’s prison build programme and how it is driving social value
The MoJ team



Can you tell us a little bit about the programme to create 20,000 new prison places?
Forecasts demonstrate a significant rise in prison population during the 2020s, putting sustained pressure on the prison estate over the next decade and beyond, with projected demand going up.

The Ministry of Justice’s New Prison Capacity Portfolio was established to deliver 20,000 additional prison places across England and Wales, with a £3.8 billion commitment in the 2021 Spending Review over the next three years. This is the biggest prison building programme in more than a century.

When this programme began, we wanted to deliver prisons that were modern and fit for the future, but we also asked ourselves how we could maximise social value through these projects. 

From the outset of the Four New Prisons Programme, we knew we wanted to build on best practice we had already developed during the HMP Five Wells and HMP Fosse Way projects. We appointed an alliance of four tier-1 contractors to build the new prisons, which gave us the opportunity, through collaboration and early engagement, to stretch those targets even further and implement lessons learned. In addition, we engaged with colleagues across government at the earliest opportunity to get further feedback on opportunities and challenges. 

How did this project push boundaries? What made it different? 
There were a number of areas where we wanted to stretch targets and challenge our delivery partners. Social value was at the heart of our approach, worth 12% of the overall tender evaluation scores for the four new prisons.

We’ve built on these targets through each scheme, incentivising over-performance against our KPIs as a tool to manage the delivery of those tender commitments. 

With rehabilitation at the heart of the new prison design, one of our strategic objectives was to further expand training and employment for prison leavers and for those released on temporary licence (ROTL), increasing opportunities for involvement in the building of the new prison estate.

There are naturally some unique security considerations in such a scheme, but we worked with colleagues across the Department and the wider government to develop and refine the necessary policies to enable us to deliver on these commitments. This has been a great success, with 61 ex-offenders/prisoners on ROTL employed on-site at HMP Fosse Way, some of whom have gone on to secure permanent employment. 

We also set stretching KPIs from the start of the programme to prioritise local spend, local employment and community engagement. We wanted people in the local community to feel the genuine benefits from such a large infrastructure project in their area.

Both schemes have consistently exceeded social value targets, delivering over 500 new jobs in construction, over 1500 training days, more than 30% local employment within a 25m radius, more than 70 apprenticeship opportunities and supporting the levelling up agenda through the supply chain. 

The design was critical, both in enabling us to achieve the accelerated timescales for delivery, but also in driving the rehabilitative outcomes and sustainability goals.

Prison design has changed a lot over the years and the new prisons are designed with both prisoners and prison staff in mind, with cohorts of 60 (20 per spur) on each floor of each houseblock creating more of a community feel. 

We also wanted the new prisons to make big advances in sustainability. This meant a design that was all-electric and, when the grid decarbonises, net-zero carbon. 

As you can tell, we had big goals and I’m pleased to say we are making great progress. HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough was officially opened on 3 March 2022 and HMP Fosse Way in Leicester will open next year. 

What were the ingredients for success in this programme?
There were three key elements. Firstly, continuous improvement was crucial. We made use of what we already had, including the existing design, benchmark data and lessons learned. In addition, we engaged extensively with experts across government and beyond. All of this mitigated programme ensured we weren’t trying to re-invent the wheel mid-project and could be delivery-focused.

Secondly, our contracting model created an alliance between the client and four major contractors to leverage buying power and secure capacity across the supply chain and identify opportunities to improve the design. This collaborative model also allowed us to improve upon previous delivery, bringing the contractors on the journey from the outset and sharing our strategic objectives so there was a good understanding of how fundamental sustainability and social value were to the MoJ from the outset.  

It’s one thing to write KPIs into a contract or evaluate your tenders based on social value criteria, but you need to get genuine buy-in to deliver the best practice you are aiming for. The first thing we did with the alliance was to invite them to a launch event in Leeds to talk them through in detail what we wanted to achieve and start those conversations about how we could work in partnership to achieve more. 

Are you proud to have worked on an award-winning piece of work like this? 
This has been an incredibly rewarding programme to work on and I know for everyone in our team seeing this programme come to fruition has been incredibly fulfilling. Of course, awards are nice but what we’re looking forward to most is working with colleagues across government to share best practice from this programme as well as what didn’t work – so that we can continue to raise the bar in delivering major projects that make a difference. 


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