The government is welcoming new prison management bids – but they all have to be private

The latest announcement from the Prisons Minister shows the Tories persevering with their privatisation plans, despite successive management scandals in British prisons.

The Ministry of Justice has announced today that bidding for the new operator of prisons such as Wellingborough and Glen Parva has now started. 

But in spite of a year loaded with scandals in privately managed prisons, it seems the Conservative government is adamant on continuing with its privatisation project.

Back in June it was revealed that private prisons had become a multi-billion pound business, with service provider Serco amassing a whopping £3.6 billion in government contracts.

Yet today the MoJ announced in a statement:

“HMPPS (HM Prison and Probation Service) will not bid in the competition but will provide a ‘public sector benchmark’ against which operators’ bids will be rigorously assessed.”

The statement, signed by the Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, added, however, that “if bids do not meet our expectations in terms of quality and cost, HMPPS will act as the provider.”

In March, footage by an undercover BBC reporter revealed G4S staff assaulting young inmates at the Rochester security facilities.

In fact, the bad results of prisons’ privatisation were acknowledged by the government in 2017, when it admitted the projected £115 million saving would not materialise.

Stewart, however, insisted:

“This competition is not about the difference between the public and private sector. It is about driving quality and innovation across the system. I am clear that through this competition we expect bidders to provide high quality, value for money bids that deliver effective regimes to meet the specific needs of prisoners. Our aim being to help them turn their lives around to prevent reoffending.”

The news seemed to enrage members of the opposition, who have long been campaigning against the privatisation of the prison service.

Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon said:

“The Conservatives claim their obsession with handing over public assets to be run by private companies isn’t about ideology. Fixing the market to prevent the public sector from bidding to run prisons shows that to be untrue.

“Privatisation in our justice system has been a costly failure, from G4S’s shocking record at HMP Birmingham to Carillion’s botched handling of prison maintenance works. Instead of learning the lessons and changing direction, the Tories are doubling down on their commitment to privatisation. Labour in office will put an end to the scandal of our prisons being run for private profit.”

The Prison Operator Services framework competition will soon be announced through the usual channels. It is not known when the competition is set to end.

Joana Ramiro is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. You can follow her on Twitter for all sorts of rants here.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.