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Prison Service (Staffing Levels)

Volume 577: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2014

As my hon. Friend knows, we have closed some prison accommodation for a variety of good reasons, and there have been staffing reductions as a result, all achieved without the use of compulsory redundancy. Staffing levels in prisons are currently subject to a detailed benchmarking assessment that takes account of the role and responsibility of each prison.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, particularly in regard to the closure of Northallerton prison. Can he say how many may have been affected by the use of the voluntary early departure scheme and where those currently working at Northallerton prison will be placed for future duties?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, there will be a variety of different futures for those leaving Northallerton. She knows already that the decision to close that establishment is no reflection whatever on the efforts of the staff who were based there. I can tell her that 34 staff have taken up the option of voluntary early departure.

Prison numbers have been going up and prison staff going down. The Department’s own figures show that the national tactical response squad, the prison riot squad, was called out 72% more times last year than in 2010, more prisoners and prison staff are being assaulted and deaths in custody were the highest for a decade. To state the obvious, none of that is conducive to rehabilitation. Is any of this the responsibility of this Government, and what does the Minister intend to do about it?

Of course management of the prison estate is the responsibility of this Government, as indeed when the last Government were in power it was theirs. There is a variety of reasons why the tornado teams attend, and the serious incidents that they attend are at roughly half the level they were under the last Government, so the right hon. Gentleman needs to be clear about the statistics he uses. Frankly, if he spent a bit more time doing the job he has and a bit less time chasing the Mayor of London’s job, he might get those things right. But let us get something else very clear. It is important that we maintain a safe, secure and decent estate, and that is exactly what we will do. Where there are increased levels of assault, which I agree are a matter of concern, we need to address that in a number of ways, and that is exactly what we are doing.