Strangeways jail set for privatisation

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The Independent Online
STRANGEWAYS, the prison torn apart by riots two years ago, could become privately run under government plans to subject it to 'market-testing'.

The Home Office confirmed yesterday that the prison service would be expected to tender for the management of the jail in the autumn, ready for its re-opening next year after a pounds 70m refurbishment. Peter Lloyd, the minister responsible for prisons, said news of the proposals had leaked out sooner than expected. But speaking on BBC Radio's World at One, he praised the prison service's 'huge reserves of skill, expertise and dedication'. Those reserves had not been effectively used, he said. 'But if it gets its act together now, it could certainly make a winning bid and I would be delighted if that happened.'

However, he added: 'My duty is to get the management able to provide the most constructive and positive regime for prisoners and to secure the best value for money. If that can be done by private firms, coming from outside, that is what I must go for.'

Last night, Home Office officials were trying to stave off criticism from the Labour Party and the Prison Officers' Association (POA). One senior spokesman said: 'The impression has been given that it is a foregone conclusion that Strangeways will be run by a private company. That is not the position at all.'

So far, only the Wolds prison on Humberside, which houses remand prisoners, is privately run. Another, Blakenhurst in Hereford and Worcester, for remand and convicted prisoners, is due to open next year.

Brian Caton, vice-chairman of the POA, said: 'Having got a big prison like Strangeways they will want to move on to a female prison and then a young offenders' institution. If there is wholesale privatisation with the intention of removing our place of work and destroying this union, our membership will have to make a judgement on that. We will not stand by and watch an immoral practice continue without some kind of action.'

Ivor Serle, chairman of the POA at Strangeways, said private control would lead to lax security. 'Private firms cannot provide the security prison officers can and there will be many escapes of dangerous people,' he said. 'The population of Manchester and Salford must find it difficult to sleep in their beds.'

Joan Ruddock, a Labour spokeswoman on home affairs, said: 'We have deep reservations about the ability of the private sector to run prisons when tendering will be on the basis of price.'

A Home Office spokeswoman said: 'The choice will not just be made on cost. Quality and value for money will be major considerations.'