Officers back Strangeways plan

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The Independent Online
THE PRISON Officers' Association yesterday ended months of internal agonising and agreed to co-operate with the Government's law and order privatisation programme, writes Nick Cohen.

At a meeting at the TUC headquarters in London, the union's national executive committee decided to support an in-house bid by staff at Strangeways prison for a commercial contract to run the Manchester jail.

The backing of the POA means Strangeways' new governor will be able to compete against private security companies anxious to move into the lucrative prisons business. Ministers have said that after the 'market testing' of Strangeways next year, contracts to run up to 20 prisons will be put out for tender.

POA leaders admitted that the Government had put them in a cleft stick. If they refused to get involved in-house bids would fail because governors would not be able to promise staff would co-operate.

Private security companies would then be free to move in, sack officers and refuse to recognise the union. David Evans, the union's general secretary, said that the decision was based on a desire to keep prisons in the public sector. 'The only way we can do this is by co-operating . . . If we don't, the jail will go private,' he said.

However, the POA made its support conditional on its officers continuing to be protected by national agreements on pay and conditions. They added that the tendering conditions must be in line with the high standards demanded by Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry into the 1990 riots at Strangeways.