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Departmental Contracts

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 17 December 2013

2. What reports he has received on the progress of investigations of the alleged misuse of public money by private providers that hold contracts with his Department. (901649)

The Serious Fraud Office has launched a criminal investigation of issues that have been uncovered in relation to the electronic monitoring contracts that my Department holds with G4S and Serco. As that criminal investigation is taking place, I cannot comment further at this stage, but I will make a statement as soon as it is appropriate for me to do so.

Today we learnt that Professor Harrington had warned the Secretary of State against rolling out fitness-for-work tests as long ago as 2010. Also today, many experts, including the chief inspectors of prisons and probation, have advised against the privatisation of the probation service. Why is the Secretary of State a serial offender when it comes to ignoring expert advice?

Let us be clear about the matter that has been raised today. Civil service records show no such warning having been made, and no such warning was included in the reports that were produced at the time.

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that there will be a full review, across Government, of all contracts held by G4S and Serco, so that Ministers will be able to manage such contracts better in future?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are looking carefully at our own contract management approach and at the contracts that we hold. It is worth reminding the House, however, that the issues that are being referred to, and the contracts that we are looking at, date back to the time of the last Government.

We have several years of experience of multi-purpose companies that appear to bid for anything and everything, regardless of whether they have any particular expertise, and that is happening again with the roll-out of the personal independence payment. Promises that were made about the service that would be delivered are simply not being fulfilled. Is it not time for a complete review of contracting of this kind?

I am very much in favour of a broader supplier base and the arrival of new organisations to work with the Government. I think it important for us to work with third parties, as, indeed, the last Government did. I believe that when, in the near future, we publish the list of organisations that have passed the pre-qualification questionnaire stage in respect of the reforms of the probation service, every Member in the House will be encouraged by the mix of organisations that have put their names forward.

I have never before raised an individual case with the Secretary of State, but every now and again something happens that I think is worthy of being raised in the House.

The Secretary of State will be aware that last week, in court, it was reported that a woman had miscarried in her cell during her first night in a prison run by Sodexo, She informed health care workers, but was made to clean up on her own, and received no assistance for three days and no pain relief. Sodexo’s own inquiry into the matter is not sufficient. The Secretary of State should commit himself to some kind of inquiry, investigation or review to ensure that no other woman in a private or a public sector prison has to experience that level of neglect.

Let me make it absolutely clear that if what has been described is true, it is wholly unacceptable. My team will of course follow it up with Sodexo, and Sodexo itself will want to address it, because no one would seek to defend it. Things go wrong in public prisons and in private prisons, and whenever they do go wrong and what happens is unacceptable, it should be addressed.