In May we published the education and employment strategy, which will set each prisoner on a path to employment, with prison education and work geared towards employment on release from the outset. Since publication of the strategy, we are working with about 70 new organisations that have registered an interest in working with offenders.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s response. Given that we have a shortage of about 60,000 HGV drivers in this country—it is a good job, paying a decent wage—does my right hon. Friend think that there is an opportunity in his strategy to work with industry bodies and other Government Departments to deliver a pathway for ex-offenders to train, get their HGV licence and be able to walk into a job on day one when they walk through the prison gates?
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the point. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) has also raised that point on the Floor of the House, and we are working on proposals to do precisely that. Getting offenders into work makes them less likely to reoffend and enables them to contribute to society. It is something that we should absolutely aspire to.
Despite progress in some prisons, too many prisoners still leave custody without a bank account, which is liable to increase the incidence of reoffending. As part of the ongoing review of probation services, will the Secretary of State look at what more could be done in prisons to ensure that this most basic of facilities is held by all prisoners before they are released?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is worth pointing out that the offender banking programme ensures that prisons that release a significant number of prisoners have a relationship with a commercial bank to enable prisoners to open a basic bank account in the last six months of their sentence. A record number of accounts—6,500—were opened in 2017. He is right to highlight the matter.
The Right Course is a programme set up by celebrity maître d’ Fred Sirieix, which helps train prisoners to run prison restaurants and therefore qualify for jobs once they have left prison. Will the Minister meet me and Fred to discuss how similar programmes can be expanded?
I will be very happy to do so. It is an important point. I am pleased to hear about the work that Fred Sirieix is undertaking, and I will be happy to meet with him.
The Secretary of State is correct to say that it is through employment that we often have the best chance to reduce and stop reoffending. What discussions has he had with his counterpart in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about mainstreaming incentives to employee ex-offenders in apprenticeship and internship strategies?
We work across government on this matter and are considering a number of proposals across government, including with BEIS, on how we can encourage employers in this area, including on apprenticeships. Let me make a point I have made before: employers are increasingly looking at employing ex-offenders. We should all welcome that, and I would be supportive of any constructive steps to progress this.
The biggest employer in Britain today is the Secretary of State and other Ministers, through themselves in their Departments and through the suppliers that they use. What steps has he taken to improve employment opportunities for offenders within his remit?
That is a good point. One thing we announced when I launched the education and employment strategy was the fact that the public sector—the civil service—was taking people on. We had a pilot in the north-west of England, which we are now extending to other parts of the United Kingdom. The Prison Service also takes on ex-offenders. The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this, and the public sector has a role to play in the area, too.
Five years ago, the Government sold off half the probation service, giving the justification that “through the gate” services would be improved. That aim has not been met by that project, and neither have any of the other aims described at the time. Is it not time to bring probation back together?
The reoffending rate has actually fallen since then, but we recognise that issues need to be addressed. That is why earlier this year I announced a series of reforms to the probation system, including spending an additional £22 million on “through the gate” services to address this specific point.
One problem with “through the gate” is not who delivers it, but the fact that too often the interventions start so late on in the prisoner’s career. If six months is appropriate in terms of opening bank accounts—sensibly, it is—is it not sensible that resettlement interviews and work should be started at least at that time, if not earlier, rather than at 12 weeks or so, as we currently have it?
My hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice, raises an interesting point. The point I make to him is that we need to make sure that this system is working. There is scope for improvement, and, as I say, we have announced additional expenditure in this area, but he is right to say that this is not about who does it, but how it is done. There are steps we can take to improve it.
Prison officers play a vital role in equipping offenders for their release, including by helping them prepare for work or education on the outside. In his speech to the Tory party conference, the Justice Secretary committed to recruiting more prison officers to fill the huge gap created by his Government’s austerity cuts. So can he guarantee that by the end of this Parliament there will be the same number of frontline officers in our prisons as there were in 2010?
What I can guarantee is that we are increasing the numbers—they have gone up by 3,500 in the past two years. That is enabling us to implement a key worker strategy, so that prison officers have the ability to spend more time with prisoners and can build that personal relationship, providing the support and advice necessary. That is an important step forward and I am pleased we are able to do it.