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Remand System

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 11 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is yet in a position to announce the Government's decisions on private sector involvement in the remand system.

In his statement to the House on 1 March 1989, at columns 277–78, my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary indicated that, in the light of the comments received on the Green Paper "Private Sector Involvement in the Remand System"—July 1988, Cm. 434—and of the report to the Home Office on the practicality of such involvement from the management consultants Deloitte, Haskins and Sells, the Government wished to take further their consideration of the possibility of contracting out to the private sector the design, construction and operation of new remand centres, the escorting of prisoners to and from court and their guarding whilst at court. Final decisions depended, however, on the outcome of further research into the likely cost-effectiveness of contracting out in these areas.In the light of the results of this further research, I have decided to go ahead with preparations to reorganise arrangements for court escorts, custody and security services and to invite competitive tenders for the provision of these services. I am confident that the resulting rationalisation of the existing complex and overlapping arrangements will lead to a substantial improvement in the cost-effectiveness with which these services are provided. An important objective of the new arrangements will be to enable the police and prison services to concentrate their efforts on work which makes more effective use of the skills and training of their officers.I am today issuing to interested parties a discussion document setting out the Government's proposals in greater detail, and describing the legislative framework which the Government propose should support the reorganisation of these services. A copy has been placed in the Library. Further copies can be obtained from Room 1103, Home Office, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London, SW1H 9AT. Any comments should be submitted to the same address by 7 September 1990.The further evidence which has been obtained on the cost-effectiveness of privately operated remand centres indicates that the private sector could, if invited to operate remand centres, reasonably be expected to provide a good standard of service and value for money for the taxpayer. But the opportunities for involving the private sector in the running of remand centres will be considerably more limited than appeared likely at the time of the publication of the Green Paper and my right hon. Friend's statement on 1 March 1989.In the context of a general reduction in the prison population recently, the remand population in custody, including those held in police cells, has fallen from an average of 11,400 in 1988 to an average of 10,500 in 1989, and at the end of May this year stood at about 9,800. The proposals set out in the White Paper "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public"—February 1990, Cm. 965—should lead to a further significant reduction in the numbers in custody. Taken with the success of the prison building programme, the result of these developments is that the likely need for additional remand places provided by the private sector is now very limited.The opportunity to mount a trial of competitive tendering for the operation of a remand centre still arises, however, in respect of the new remand centre currently under development at Everthorpe, Humberside. This establishment is due to be completed in 1992. Subject to the passage of the necessary enabling legislation, I have decided that a trial should be mounted in which competitive tenders would be invited from the private sector for the operation of this remand centre. If one or more satisfactory tenders were received from the private sector which offered better value for money than the prison service could offer, a contract would be awarded for private sector management of the establishment. The arrangements for letting and supervising any such contract would in the main follow the recommendations of the report from Deloitte, Haskins and Sells. The staff would be prisoner custody officers, with duties and protections similar to those which it is proposed staff engaged in court escorts and custody should have, and which are described in the discussion document.I believe that the introduction of this element of competition into the management of the prison system will make a valuable contribution to the prison service's continuing and successful efforts to raise standards and improve efficiency.