A COMPANY has been selected to help form plans to bring two North East prisons under private-sector control. British firm MITIE Group plc is putting together a bid for the private management of HMP Durham and HMP Northumberland.
If successful, the Bristol-based company would take control of nine prisons across the country as part of a Government privatisation scheme announced by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke last July.
It would mean the Prison Service would no longer be the main organisation responsible for running the jails.
Instead, the service would work in partnership with MITIE Group to head up a 15-year contract said to be worth some £800m.
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 private companies go head to head with the public sector in a bidding process to end later this year.
But the new partnership means that any successful public-sector bid to retain control of the jails would now include private-sector input from MITIE Group.
MITIE Group is described on the company’s website as a strategic outsourcing and energy services company. Employing 61,000 staff, it provides facilities, property and asset management for “some of the biggest public and private-sector businesses”.
Prison governors and union chiefs insist they are confident jails will continue to be run predominantly by the public sector.
However, prison workers have expressed fears that the new partnership deal suggests the Government is intent on pressing through with an element of privatisation, whatever the case.
One prison officer at HMP Durham, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s basically privatisation through the back door.
“There was a big announcement from the bosses saying this partnership had been agreed, but we’re worried about where all this is going.
“Private jails run on smaller budgets have fewer staff, but they have more assaults and more problems.”
However, Matt Spencer, governor of HMP Northumberland, said the move would be a way to achieve the best of both worlds.
He said: “I think it’s a really good move. It’s going to allow us to combine the best of the private sector with the best of the public sector.
“We have got a lot of experience actually running the prisons, while MITIE know all about the business and economic side of things.”
Steve Wagstaffe, the Ministry of Justice’s director of public-sector prisons, said: “The partnership with MITIE will allow us to combine our respective strengths, skills and experience to help produce compelling bids for each of the establishments we are bidding for.
“Public servants will be responsible for the core operational work involved in running prisons, but a number of services will be delivered by MITIE under contract.”
Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE, chief executive of MITIE Group said: “MITIE has invested significantly in the justice sector and this new agreement is really important for us.”