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Prisons (Boards Of Visitors)

Volume 281: debated on Wednesday 17 July 1996

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has, over what time scale and at what cost, (i) to ensure that boards of visitors in the Prison Service are properly resourced and (ii) to provide the liaison section with its own premises. [37762]

As the hon. Member will be aware, recommendations about the resourcing of boards of visitors and moving the liaison section from the Prison Service to the Home Office were made by a review of the role of boards of visitors, whose report was published in May 1995. These recommendations were supported by the Learmont report, published in October 1995.In accordance with the recommendations, the liaison section, which provides the central administration for boards, was moved from Prison Service headquarters to new offices in a Home Office building, Horseferry house, on 1 January and it formally joined the Home Office on 1 April. On the appointment of a national director for boards, as recommended by the review, the liaison section became the secretariat to the director.The additional costs of providing the central administrative support necessary to implement the review were originally estimated in the review report as £270,000.In accordance with the review, a management consultancy review of staffing in the liaison section was carried out between May and October 1995 to determine more exactly the levels and grades of staff required. Its staffing recommendations were implemented by May 1996.The additional staffing costs required to implement the consultancy review with effect from the financial year 1996–97 in fact required an increase of £282,000 on the budgeted cost but an increase of only £126,000 on actual spend as compared with the outturn figures for financial year 1995–96, as some gradual increase in staffing support had already been endorsed by the Prison Service.Local administrative support for boards is provided by the establishment to which each board is appointed. The level of support provided is subject to agreement between the governor and the chairman of the board. A survey is currently being carried out to determine the level of support provided and ensure that it meets the standards set out in the review. Details of the costs of such administrative support are not available centrally.