Sir Duncan's letters in full

These are extracts from the letters Sir Duncan Nicol sent to the Home Office
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11 October, 1995

Richard Wilson,

Home Office

Dear Richard,

I am writing on behalf of the non-executive members of the Prison Board who have seen the final Learmont report. I am aware that the two longest serving non-executives have also written direct to the Secretary of State.

I am very concerned that my letter was mis-quoted selectively - without the critical introduction and conclusion and without the courtesy of my permission. My introductory comments pointed out that the suggestion of a serious gap in perceptions was a travesty of reality and my concluding sentence urged the need to support the top team.

I believe the report is a serious distortion. As my personal "balance sheet" noted, the changes needed are enormous, but beginning to come right. If Sir John's report caused any question to be raised about the future of the top management team, especially the Director General, non-executive members would take a very serious view.

Change would be severely damaging to the future of the service. If any such changes were contemplated, we would want to meet the Secretary of State before any decision was taken, in accordance with the right of access arrangements under which we were appointed.

I would be grateful if you would bring this letter to the attention of the Secretary of State if such an action is intended, or if you think it appropriate.

Yours sincerely,

Duncan

13 October

Richard Wilson,

Home Office

Dear Richard,

The purpose of this further note is not to debate the bias of the Learmont report which understates the achievements of the Prison Service under the leadership of the Director General. The key performance indicators measure considerable improvements across the board and they should not be disregarded or discredited as largely measuring the wrong things, although I do agree that the KPI recording the reduced number of escapes does not reflect the significance of Whitemoor and Parkhurst.

Enough has been said about the competence of the report. The underlying issue is whether, speaking for the non-executive members of the Prison Board, we have confidence in the Director General to carry through successfully and urgently the major change programme on which the Agency has embarked.

The primary challenge is managerial - how to close the gap between strategic intent and action on the ground. This requires further clarification at all levels of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. We crucially need a better way to assess the performance of individual prisons and individuals in key management positions.

We believe that this work is well in hand and is being purposefully directed. There was never a more important point in time to support the Director General and I shudder at the organisational consequences of further discontinuity at the top level.

Despite the disciplined nature of the service, this is not a simple "command and control" organisation and badly needs the general management skills appropriate to comparable public and private sector businesses. Derek Lewis has these skills and our confidence.

It is very regrettable that despite the extended timetable of the Learmont review it may not be possible for non-executives to make their representations direct to the Secretary of State.

Yours sincerely,

Duncan

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