We have given governors greater freedom over their prison’s daily routine and timetable, staffing and family services. We intend to give governors control of areas such as education and training provision. As other current contracts expire, I will look for opportunities to devolve further powers.
There were 21 recommendations in the Farmer review and Ministers have made the welcome commitment to implement them all. What further support and incentives are being given to prison governors, as they have increased autonomy within their prisons, to ensure that that implementation happens on the ground?
The budgets have already been devolved to governors, enabling them to commission family services that are tailored to the specific needs of their prisoners. I have seen examples of that when visiting HMP Parc and HMP Bronzefield. Governors will be supported in future by new family services guidance, which will incorporate elements of Lord Farmer’s report, in the hope that they will all develop best practice.
A recent independent monitoring board report confirmed that the riot at Bedford Prison last year was caused by “chronic understaffing” and “poor systems”. Improvements have been made while the prison has operated at half capacity, but will the Minister assure me today that the same problems will not happen again once the prison is operating at full capacity?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that we are about halfway towards recruiting the additional 2,500 prison officers that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), announced about a year ago. If he has particular concerns about a specific prison, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister will be happy to discuss them with him.
I warmly welcome the commitment of the Secretary of State and the Prisons Minister to implementing the Farmer review in full. They have acknowledged the important link between family ties and rehabilitation. Now that prison governors are being further empowered, what more can be done to ensure that that is rolled out across the whole prison estate?
One thing that has struck me since being appointed to this role in the Government is that we need to get better at ensuring that the best, most successful practices in prisons are disseminated rapidly and widely. One means of doing that is to ensure that there is additional support for individual prison governors at regional level, so that they have experienced mentors available to them—particularly for new governors. I hope that that shift will help deliver the change that my hon. Friend seeks.
Governors cite the outsourcing of facilities management, maintenance and repairs as something that undermines their ability to manage important elements within their prisons. Labour has announced a review, working with prison governors, to identify private service contracts that can be brought back in-house to save the taxpayer money and, at the same time, improve prison conditions. Will the Government also commit to review those contracts?
As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), as existing contracts expire, we shall seek new opportunities to devolve powers to governors and to clusters of prisons. Along with Prison Service headquarters, they will then have to strike the appropriate balance between the local provisioning of services and the need to secure the best value for taxpayers’ money.