Canterbury prison was sold earlier this year. We have also exchanged contracts on Shrewsbury prison, and we are finalising commercial negotiations on Bullwood Hall, Shepton Mallet, Dorchester, Kingston and Gloucester prisons. When we dispose of surplus property assets, we will always seek best value for the taxpayer.
It is good to see that progress is inching forward as the former HM prison Gloucester is key to the regeneration of the city centre. Will my hon. Friend confirm, first, that the agreement will include provisions making the buyer subject to the broader aspirations of our master plan for Blackfriars, which will be published in January; and, secondly, that there is clear intent on both sides to finalise everything before the end of the financial year?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of Gloucester. Such a clause would be problematic to a bidder, given that master plans can change, but a purchaser seeking to develop the site inappropriately would not obtain planning consent from the local planning authority. We hope to give my hon. Friend and Gloucester an early Christmas present by exchanging contracts before Christmas if possible, with completion proposed for April 2015.
We have disposed of 14 prisons, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that when we disposed of Ashwell, Latchmere House and Canterbury prisons recently, we raised nearly £31 million. In general, we have a “new for old” policy. We are closing down old and inefficient prisons that are expensive to run, and creating new prisons that are better for prisoners and prison officers.
Since May 2010, 18 prisons have closed—some of which, as the Minister accepts, remain unsold, at substantial cost to the taxpayer—and one third of prison officers’ jobs have been cut. That has led to what the chief inspector of prisons has described as a “political and policy failure” resulting in increased overcrowding, violence and suicides. The highly regarded chief inspector was doing his job of telling the truth about the Government’s prison crisis, but he was effectively sacked by the Justice Secretary.
If we are to rehabilitate offenders effectively, we need prisons that work and chief inspectors who are able to do their jobs properly, without fear or favour. What does the Minister think the chief inspector meant by “political and policy failure”, and will he confirm that non-sycophants can apply for the vacancy created by his departure?
I have a very good relationship with the chief inspector, whom I meet regularly.
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what a real prison crisis looks like. A real prison crisis happens when 80,000 prisoners are let out early—many of whom, including terrorists, go on to commit further offences—and when it is necessary to spend £75 million on locking up prisoners in police cells.