FIVE private firms are bidding to take over the running of North East prisons in deals that could be worth more than £800m.
It has emerged that businesses hoping to take control of the region’s jails include an American company as well as British firms with no experience of running prisons.
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed the process that could see prisons privatised has started – but governors and union chiefs insist they are confident they can keep the jails in public hands.
HMP Durham and HMP Northumberland – formed this month after the merger of HMP Acklington and HMP Castington – are among those that could be contracted out when the bidding process ends later this year.
Last night Matt Spencer, the governor of HMP Northumberland, said the prison chiefs were working hard to keep their institutions in public hands. “I’m taking the lead in the public sector bid and we have a team here at the institution that’s already putting out bid together,” he said.
“It’s got to be ready by the beginning of April and we’re in competition with four other private companies. We’re confident we can present the best bid at the best price.
“I’ve worked in the public sector for most of my working life and I think the public sector delivers good quality prisons that are safe, secure and decent.
“One of the benefits of the competition process for the general public and the taxpayer is that prisons do become a lot cheaper.
“We’re trying to do things as cheaply as possible without jeopardising the safety and security or decency for either our prisoners, our staff, visitors and the people that live around us. We’re putting a very strong bid together.”
The deal to run HMP Northumberland could be worth up to £500m. American firm MTC is thought to have submitted a joint bid with British support services company Amey. Other private bidders are expected to include G4S, Serco and Sodexo.
G4S currently runs HMP Birmingham and HMP Wolds, in East Yorkshire.
The most lucrative contact is expected to go to the successful bidder for HMP Durham, where the deal to run the 1,017-capacity prison could be worth up to £340m. MTC and Amey are also thought to be in the running for HMP Durham. They are set to be joined by Serco, Sodexo and Interserve, which has no relevant experience and runs the cleaning contract at Buckingham Palace.
There will also be a public sector bid for HMP Durham.
Glyn Travis, spokesman for the Prison Officers Association, said the union was working hard at local and national level to ensure prisons remained in the public sector.
“We believe it’s a false economy to have prisons competing and to award prisons to the private sector because of the hidden costs of privatisation. While we realise that the Government has a clear competitions policy we believe the public sector can deliver the best and most cost effective bids.”
Mr Travis said there had been a realisation across the service that prisons could be managed more efficiently.
“It’s been recognised that there’s a top heavy management structure that’s been the underlying problem,” he said.
“That’s being addressed and unfortunately while there may be some job losses, frontline staff will be protected.”
Decisions on the contracts are expected to be made in October.