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Jails called to account for pounds 1.6m overspend

The Prison Service faced fresh embarrassment yesterday when independent auditors found it could not balance its books - allowing governors to overspend their budgets by more than pounds 1.6m, writes Heather Mills.

Richard Wilson, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Richard Tilt, the acting director-general of the Prison Service, and Brian Landers, the director of finance, will be called on to explain the overspend to the Public Accounts Committee in two weeks time.

Jails will now have to make up for the overspend out of budgets already being reduced by 5 per cent in the coming year.

Yesterday Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said there had been "a breakdown in the monitoring and control of expenditure by the Prison Service".

It appears that prison governors, anxious to spend up to the limit of last year's budget, went on a last-minute spending spree. Some paid for goods and services in advance in contravention of government rules.

They turned a projected pounds 20m underspend into the pounds 1.6m overspend in just one month. Jails paid out pounds 234m - over a tenth of their entire budgets - in March in order to beat the 1 April deadline.