HMP Birmingham, which was run by G4S until the MoJ took back control of it in 2018 Credit: PA
The government has failed to deliver on recent pledges to upgrade prisons and provide new places for offenders – and massively underestimated how much dealing with vandalism and emergency repairs would cost when it contracted out facilities management, the National Audit Office has said.
In a stinging new report on efforts to improve the prisons estate, the public spending watchdog said HM Prison and Probation Service needed a realistic long-term strategy for the secure estate. It also noted that despite a 2016 commitment to build 10,000 new prison places, just 206 places had been built so far with a further 3,360 under construction.
The NAO said HMPPS had struggled with delays in agreeing and receiving funding to build new prisons because the necessary money was meant to have come from the sale of old prisons. But high demand for places because of a growing prison population, coupled with a reduced supply of cells from deteriorating conditions, meant old prisons had to be used rather than sold.
The NAO report said HMPPS’s 2014-15 decision to outsource facilities management for prisons had envisaged savings of around £80m by contracting out to the firms Amey and Carillion, but it has failed to achieve this and cost £143m more than over the past four years.
According to the report, HMPPS expected to pay its facilities management providers £17.7m for “variable costs” at business case stage but had paid £160.4m by 2018-19.
The report said HMPPS “had an inaccurate and incomplete understanding of prison conditions and the services needed” and “severely underestimated the need for reactive maintenance work due to vandalism and breakdown”.
According to the NAO, more than 40% of the nation’s prisons need major repair or replacement over the next three years and there is currently a backlog of major repairs that will cost £916m to fix.
NAO head Gareth Davies said HMPPS had been focused on sorting out the immediate needs of the prison estate, directing its resources to address prison population pressures and deteriorating conditions.
He said the service now needed a long-term strategy that set out exactly what conditions prisoners should be held in and minimum levels of investment needed to ensure a safe, decent environment.
“HMPPS has not been able to create enough prison places, in the right type of prisons and at the right time to meet demand,” Davies said.
“It has failed to deliver the savings it hoped for by contracting out prison maintenance services. Prisons remain in a poor condition, poor safety has reached record levels, and there are huge maintenance backlogs.
“The government has recently committed to creating 10,000 new prison places and needs to learn lessons from its recent experiences.
“Crucially, HMPPS must work with the Ministry of Justice and Treasury to develop a long-term, deliverable strategy that will provide prisons that are fit for purpose.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said prisons were being reorganised to create more resettlement places and HMPPS was developing a comprehensive estates strategy to make sure that all plans are implemented effectively and efficiently.
“We recognise the pressures facing prisons, which is why we are taking action to improve the estate and ensure sufficient resource is in place,” the spokesperson said.
“We will always have enough prison places to keep offenders behind bars and the government’s £2.5bn investment will create 10,000 modern places, on top of the two new jails already being built.”
They added that the next generation of facilities management contracts would take into account the experience of the previous contracts and information from ongoing asset surveys.