HMP Birmingham is first public sector prison to be privatised

HMP Birmingham
HMP Birmingham

G4S Care and Justice Services has won the first contract in the UK to run a prison that was previously in the public sector. The news came as the Ministry of Justice announced the fate of four other prisons.

HMP Birmingham which is built to hold 1400 inmates will be run by G4S starting in October. The prison has been identified as performing poorly by the National Offender Management Service.

Announcing the decision in Parliament, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the government is committed to “delivering reform in our public services”.

He said: “This process shows that competition can deliver innovation, efficiency and better value for money for the taxpayer – but also that it can do so without compromising standards.”

The union for the prison service, the Prison Officers Association (POA), has reacted with fury at the news, threatening some sort of industrial action although strikes by prison officers are illegal.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, said that the decision to privatise HMP Birmingham was “disgraceful”. He said: “Prisons should not be run for the benefit fo shareholders nor for profit. The State has a duty to those imprisoned by the Criminal Justice System and this Coalition Government have betrayed loyal public sector workers for their friends in the private sector.”

The POA has asked for a judicial review regarding G4S’s employment of former prison director general Phil Wheatley as a consultant.

In addition to HMP Birmingham, G4S has also won the contract to manage Featherstone 2, due to open in April 2012. Both contracts are for 15 years each with a joint value of £50 million a year.

David Taylor-Smith, CEO G4S UK and Africa said:

“We are delighted to have been selected to operate HMP Birmingham and the new prison, Featherstone 2, in Wolverhampton.

“We have an excellent track record in running prisons on behalf of the government, dating back nearly 20 years to when we became the first private company to run a prison with HMP Wolds in 1992.

“With today’s announcement G4S will be managing six prisons in England and Wales and we look forward to working closely with our new employees and their representatives as we do across all our operations.”

The awarding of the contracts follows a decision in 2009 by the then Labour government to market test five prisons. Of the five prison contracts, four were awarded and one was withdrawn:

  • HMP Wellingborough: withdrawn from consideration because it couldn’t produce significant improvements without considerable financial investment.
  • HMP Birmingham: previously publicly run, awarded to G4S starting October 2011
  • HMP Buckley Hall: previously publicly run will continue to be operated by HM Prison Service
  • HMP Doncaster: will continue to be run by Serco but with the addition of a new “payment by results” scheme
  • Featherstone 2: A new prison near Wolverhampton to be run by G4S, due to open in April 2012.

The Ministry claims that new prison contracts will save £21 million for the three existing prisons. They also claim to be saving £31 million on the procurement of Featherstone 2 compared to the costs approved by the previous government.

About G4S Care & Justice Services

G4S Care & Justice Services currently run four prisons in England and Wales: HMP Wolds in East Yorkshire; HMP & YOI Parc in South Wales; HMP Rye Hill near Rugby; and HMP Altcourse in Merseyside.

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