Prisons to face cutbacks in staff

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

The Prison Service is so desperate for ways to meet its pounds 200m budget cuts, it is proposing cutting fuel bills in prison kitchens, timing meetings to take advantage of cheap fares, offering prizes for the best cost- cutting ideas from staff, and issuing regular "efficiency newsletters".

Prison reform groups suggest the "penny-pinching" schemes show the difficulties the service faces in trying to implement huge cuts at the same time as handling record numbers of inmates - expected to top 54,000 by April this year.

Details are outlined in confidential guidance to prison governors, seen by the Independent. The documents clearly show that the money which would be saved by plans to axe nearly 2,800 prison jobs - revealed last week - will fall far short of the spending targets demanded by the Treasury.

The guidance, from Richard Tilt, acting director-general at the Prison Service, warns governors they will have to make "difficult and painful decisions". It suggests making greater use of untrained, part-time and contract staff - and is likely to meet with fierce opposition from the Prison Officers' Association.

It also proposes contracting out prison health care, and suggests further cuts in education and activities for prisoners - a move which both staff and reform groups believe could lead to unrest as inmates are confined in their cells for longer periods. However, the guidance warns that essential health care requirements must be met, and says: "Our first priority must be to maintain control in an increasingly difficult environment. It may well be right, therefore, to maintain activities ... to keep prisoners occupied."

A Prison Service spokeswoman said that the documents contained suggestions only and were not binding. But Harry Fletcher, of penal reform group Prisons are not for Profit, said: "The Prison Service is clearly in an impossible position ... the cuts must be reconsidered without delay."