Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. It is admirable that you take this opportunity because in the nature of the questions we ask, you might not have a subsequent opportunity to do so.
  (Mr Spratt) In question 6, Mr Halward refers to the total cost of the staff reduction programme as around £150 million, when totted up over the whole range of years £153 million is our latest estimate, of which we had to find £24.5 million. I would like to point out that when we started on the staff reduction programme there was £135 million set aside from the Treasury, the additional £24.5 was found through efficiency savings. I want to flag up at this point in time, it was actually through the efforts and the co-operation of this Association that those efficiencies were saved. We saved somewhere in the region of £3.83 million. We had 160 officers who over-subscribed, they approached the Association at that time and we realised that staff wanted to leave the Service, and we wanted to try and accommodate everybody, and we agreed to downgrade those jobs to that of auxiliaries. While 160 staff, over and above, left the Service, we, in fact, only recruited 84, and that meant there was a vast saving, which translated into £3.83 million.

  61. That is £3.83 million.
  (Mr Spratt) £3.83 million. The people that I represent made a contribution to that £24.5 million of £3.83 million. I am just flagging that up because very shortly I have to negotiate a pay rise for prison officers in Northern Ireland. I think that the Select Committee should be aware that we have contributed to that through efficiency savings, and that will be reflected back to prison officers.

  62. It does not seem to me Mr Spratt—I think that is a very helpful footnote and gloss on what Mr Halward said—contradicted his figures where he said that the total cost was around £150 million. You said that £125 million came from the Treasury and £24.5 million came from within the Service. Those two figures would add up.
  (Mr Spratt) I am not contradicting the figures. I just wanted to point out the efficiencies.

  63. Your footage is valid.
  (Mr Spratt) In question seven Mr Halward refers to his "only staff whose application to join the programme have been rejected". The people who applied within the various phases where the scheme is still in existence were 14 prison auxiliaries. The reason they were refused, that is there was a general principle that when you are making people redundant or retiring them early you cannot replace like for like. From our Association's perspective these 14 auxiliaries were our members. The Northern Ireland Office encouraged them to apply for the redundancy package. When they saw they were getting enough people they then rejected them and they said, "No, you cannot go". You say that you cannot replace like for like but in actual fact they did replace like for like, because they let prison officer hospital officers go and recruited nursing officers at the same salary. That in actual fact contradicts that. I was very disappointed that the management of the Prison Service should encourage 14 auxiliaries to apply to leave the Service—in fact some of them had lined themselves up with jobs outside—only to be told they could not go, and to use the excuse they could not let auxiliaries go and then recruit auxiliaries when in actual fact they did it, which was very actively misleading. I want to flag that up. We have auxiliaries in the Northern Ireland Prison Service who effectively do not want to be there.

  64. That, again, is a helpful footnote on which we might follow up ourselves.
  (Mr Spratt) Question 10.

  65. How many more do have you Mr Spratt?
  (Mr Spratt) Just a couple. Paragraph 11, Mr Halward flags up, "There is a programme which started in England, Prison ME No Way, where staff go into schools." The object is to try and convey the message that prisons really are not a very pleasant place. I wanted to flag this up in case anybody misunderstands it. Prison ME No Way was actually brought into the Northern Ireland Prison Service by the Maze Committee, who are now defunct and no longer in existence. In particular one officer, Officer McAlistair of that committee, was the person who pushed this idea. In fact we had great difficulty encouraging the management of the Prison Service how useful it would be for us to get involved in the programme. I want to flag up where that came from, it was through the efforts of the officers on the ground. That is all I really wish to say at this stage on the points that Mr Halward made.

  66. That is very helpful. You will have seen from the transcript, I will not go into it word for word, what I said at the beginning of the examination last time, but I did make the point that our Committee was singularly impressed by the progress which had been made since 1998 and that we went out of our way to give praise to your own Association, to the Prison Service itself, the mantra of the Prison Service, for what had been achieved. We were singularly impressed in the circumstances, not the easiest background for either side to be conducting, with what was achieved. We very much wish those congratulations to be on the table. The spirit of them was genuine and candid, and it is again today. That does not mean we will not have some questions to ask you. We start from a position of considerable enthusiasm for what has been achieved in the last two years.
  (Mr Spratt) Thank you very much for those remarks. We are very proud about what we have achieved in Northern Ireland, particularly the men and women that I represent in the Northern Ireland Prison Service. They are a credit to the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and for how they have faced up to this major task of down sizing the Prison Service of something like 1,200. I think they deserve nothing but praise. I am very proud of the fact that I am the person that has the privilege of representing those men and women, and I hope for a long time to come.

  67. My first question is going to go to the issue we have just been discussing. You were adding a footnote as to how the £153 million had been made up, including the £3.8 million of your efforts contributed to the package. At the end of the day, were you satisfied with both the level of financial compensation offered and the support offered to the departing officers?
  (Mr Spratt) No, I certainly was not satisfied with the financial offer that was made to prison officers in Northern Ireland. It is my view, and still is, that prison officers were paid with their own money. Anything they got out of their pension scheme was in fact their money—not their money, because we do not contribute to our pension scheme, because we are civil servants, but it was actually their pension money. The two years' salary in relation to 24 months' service, which you took at 40 per cent tax—that is why I referred to a figure of £250,000—I did not believe it was enough money for the contribution that prison officers had made. Having said that, as Chairman of the Association I have to accept that people were voting with their feet to get out of the Prison Service, and that says a lot to me. It was not right for me to stand in their way if they wanted to go. I had to accept that and then I had to sit down and start co-operating with the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that everybody who wanted to leave the Service could leave as they wished. In relation to what was on offer and in relation to training I think it was very skimpy. I think they have done the minimum. I am well aware that 1,200 prison officers left a very secure job, it may have been dangerous, but it was a secure job. I am conscious of the fact that somewhere down the road there are going to be problems in relation to those officers. I think the Northern Ireland Office did not take a long-term strategy view because you could have actually attended at a scheme that would have paid up to £1,000. You now yourself today get training for £1,000, it is not a big amount of money. I was very conscious of that fact. That being the case I thought that we would need to do something for prison officers in Northern Ireland. At this point in time we really have nothing. Over the last 30 years prison officers got no support, other than we have a central Benevolent Committee which do an excellent job, and they are funded by prison officers. We would contribute anything up to £10 or £11 a month out of our salary, and that was designed to look after officers who were sick, widows of murdered colleagues and widows of people who died in service. Knowing and being aware of that and the problems that I reckon are going to raise their head in a year or two years, when the money is gone for officers in Northern Ireland, the chances of getting employment is going to be slim, especially the fact they are ex prison officers. I said that I believe we should set up a Prison Service Trust. The function of the Trust would be to set up a programme that officers in a year's time, or the widows we have neglected for 30 years, could come to this Trust and seek assistance on retraining. I was very conscious of the fact that the Police Federation in Northern Ireland has a Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust and it was very well supported from the European International Fund. I thought it was time that prison officers had some sort of scheme to support them. With that in mind I approached the Minister, Mr Ingram, at Stormont to give us some funding to allow us to do research. We have no records of officers who came through the Service, quite a number have come through down through the years. We had to do research to see what was needed. I have to say that Mr Ingram was very supportive. In fact he was the first minister in Northern Ireland that recognised that prison officers, their widows and their dependents were neglected and did need help. He very graciously gave us a grant from the Victim Support money that is available in Northern Ireland. We are now in the process of carrying out the research. We have sent the questionnaires out to retired members and ex members. It would be our ambition that from that we will then draw up a Business Plan and hopefully we will look for funding and set up this Trust so that those officers who went out under the staff reduction programme will be able to return in the future when they need advice, guidance or whatever the case may be. From that perspective we thought the staff reduction programme did not go far enough. We are trying to set up something ourselves and that is where we are at this point in time.

  68. Is that project of yours in reasonably good shape?
  (Mr Spratt) Yes. We have appointed consultants. The questionnaires are all gone out and we are getting them back. Hopefully by January we should be able to put together a Business Plan to the Minister and hopefully we will set up something, not necessarily the same, but something along the lines of the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust.

  69. Allowing for the fact that you thought that not enough money had been offered—I say this in a totally matter of fact voice—but there was considerable enthusiasm for accepting the terms, as you were saying a moment ago, to what do you attribute the success of the total programme, the adjustments which had to take place, on which we were ourselves as a Committee congratulating you?
  (Mr Spratt) I have to be positive and not always be negative. In fact the programme went very well. I have to be up-front and acknowledge that the management of the Northern Ireland Prison Service certainly rose to the occasion. We had to recognise that we as a trade union had a responsibility as well. I feel that everybody played their part. No matter what type of scheme you have you will always have people who are disgruntled, but by and large it went very well, but it was only through the efforts of everybody co-operating. I think at the end of the day whether or not we have done it too fast or whether we should have had a longer time will remain to be seen.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

Mr Robinson

  70. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Could I just perhaps get some clarification on the figures that we have been talking about? The cost of the staff reduction programme was to be borne by the Treasury, subject only to whatever reduction could be made in that overall cost by efficiencies. You have indicated that the total amount of £24.5 million included a contribution, if you like, of £3.83 million, which was offered up by yourselves. Have you actually seen the rest of the so-called efficiencies, where the other £20 million comes from?
  (Mr Spratt) No. At this point in time, Mr Robinson, I can only identify £3.83 million from the actual staff, that we know that went and what we recruited. There are many more efficiency contributions we made in the overall package, we reduced the number of supervisory ranks we have, so there is a wide range. I have been asking persistently because management assured us that through our co-operation any efficiency savings that flowed from this would in actual fact be banked for a pay rise next year. I have been repeatedly asking for these figures and I am being told, "We did not really save any money or we did not really make any efficiencies", that is why I am interested to see those figures. Nobody has identified them to me. I have asked repeatedly for that to happen.

  71. Presumably they have not just grasped it from the air, they must have some figures we can get hold of. In your own view, without knowing the detail, is it feasible to have efficiency savings of that order?
  (Mr Spratt) Yes. Through the staff reduction programme, it is only right to flag it up, we did not have a staff or a redundancy programme in Northern Ireland. The management of the Northern Ireland Service—and I was very conscious of it, and also had to be aware of the fact that prison officers were looking to go out of the Service—used the opportunity to restructure the Service. That is why the comment about you cannot make people redundant and recruit like for like is not true. We did not have a redundancy programme. In a redundancy programme what you do is you target the surplus staff. We did not do that. If you take the Maze, it had something like 1,100 staff. We should have said, "We have so many trades officer, so many hospital officers, so many cooks and so many discipline staff, that is all you can let go." The Northern Ireland Prison Service did not do that, they just threw it open to everybody, even the auxiliaries and then they turned them down. By the way they did it, by restructuring the Service, they would be able to make savings of that magnitude.

  72. The Prison Service witness indicated to us that the efficiency savings provided an opportunity to devolve more authority, both to and within the establishments. With the consequent increase in the number of managers at senior officer level, is that welcomed by the Association?
  (Mr Spratt) Certainly the Staff Reduction Programme threw up a total of 178 promotions for the lower ranks in the Prison Service. If I can give you a figure off the top of my head, through that 15 principal officers were promoted to governors, 35 senior officers were promoted to principal officer and the difference between the 35 and the 15, roughly 128 basic grade officers, were promoted to senior officers. I have to be fair and flag up to say that had we not down graded a lot of posts we would not have created those. The problem I have now, Mr Robinson, is, yes, we did create promotion but we now have a stagnant Service. Promotion in the Northern Ireland Prison Service is dead for the next 10 or 15 years. If you look at the wastage in the Northern Ireland Prison Service for the next three years it is actually 21. The chances of promotion in the Prison Service have diminished.

  73. In your letter to Dr Power, I do not know whether you have that to hand, a letter dated 15th March, in the paragraph with a reference 3.1 beside it you say, "When the Prison Service became an agency", the latter part of that paragraph, at the introductory part you say, "I have to say in my opinion it has been a complete disaster up until recently. It is only now that management is beginning to get to grips with what it should have been doing for the past five years". You and he are probably aware of what criticisms there are. Could you tell us what had been the complete disaster, and in what way was it a disaster, first of all?
  (Mr Spratt) I appeared here in front of the Select Committee two years ago and I expressed my views then. At that stage Mr Robinson's people were running the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and they did not know anything about a Prison Service. Our last Chief Executive and the people heading up the Prison Service in Northern Ireland for a number of years have been basically career civil servants, who did not know the first thing about managing a prison, who were there for a few years and then went away. At that time too there was more emphasis based on discussions with paramilitary prisoners and how to appease them. No thought was given to the morale of prison officers and how those managers demeaned prison officers and how they destroyed the morale of prison officers. When they came into the blocks they ignored the prison officers, went down the landings and talked to the prisoners. There was more thought given to paramilitary prisoners and how to placate them, and prison officers were forgotten about. I think to be fair to the new Director General, he is certainly a man with a wide range of experience, he has certainly brought a breath of fresh air to the Northern Ireland Prison Service from the perspective that he is a good manager. He knows how to treat people, he knows how to bring people along with him. It is only now they are starting to get to grips with what an agency really means.

  74. You are attributing it largely to the change in personnel?
  (Mr Spratt) Yes.

  Mr Robinson: Thank you very much.

Mr Hunter

  75. Do we take it, therefore, that you are now more sympathetic in principle to the agency status or are you fundamentally opposed to it?
  (Mr Spratt) I believe that agency status is a good thing. We were led to believe at that time that all of these things would happen, that are actually happening now. A lot of the things would be pushed down to the people on the ground who would make the decisions. At that time the Prison Service was top heavy with management. The new DG has started to tackle that and has started to push things down. The only other problem I have with the agency is civil servants feel they do not belong to the agency, they can come in to the agency and come and go as they please. We as prison officers are the core of the agency. I believe if we are going to be an agency then we should be a stand-alone agency. Everybody should sign up to that principle. In other words, you cannot come in and then seek the column for promotion somewhere else in the Civil Service and leave and go. We have to stay there.

  76. I just have a couple of questions on training. We understand that there is marked improvement in the level of participation in training. I wonder what you attribute this to, whether it is a case of training now seen as more relevant by the staff or whether it is just a reflection of reduced pressures on the staff?
  (Mr Spratt) I think in fact it is now becoming more perceived that training is an important issue. Up until recently training was the last thing, it was always shelved for somebody else. We now have the Court Escorting Group, which in actual fact is a stand-alone group, therefore the drain on staff in the establishments is not as great, that releases more staff. The new management of the Prison Service has laid great emphasis on the training. I do notice they flag up that the quantity of training has increased. Certainly it has increased over the staff reduction programme, because there is quite a lot of training done for staff leaving the Service, that normally would not be done, through the consultancy firm. I would like to look at the training in a year's time; I think those figures are slightly misleading.

  77. A changed emphasis on the part of management would be the key factor.
  (Mr Spratt) Certainly.

  78. In your evidence in 1998 you were critical of the low level of staff training in control and restraint. Can you tell us what progress has been made in remedying this and whether you are satisfied that progress has been made?
  (Mr Spratt) That is one area in the Prison Service that is lacking. I do not know whether you are aware or not that it is important. It is essential that prison officers are trained in proper control and restraint techniques so that when they go to restrain a violent prisoner they are using the proper method and they are not abusing the prisoner. We are concerned because a person has to be refreshed every year in the C&R techniques. I will give you an example, Mr Hunter. Last week in Magilligan Prison a prison officer was assaulted by a prisoner. The prisoner in the process got marks to his eyes and bruising because the fact was that the prison officer's training for C&R techniques was out of date and he could not use them. There is a requirement in law that we must have this C&R training and we must be refreshed every year. We are finding that more and more in the courts now if people are not properly trained in C&R then prison officers are being held responsible. The management have an obligation to ensure that we are properly trained. C&R is still lacking.

  79. Is there a legal requirement for C&R training?
  (Mr Spratt) We believe that the courts indicated in recent cases there is a requirement for us to be trained in proper techniques.

  Mr Hunter: A requirement, yes. Thank you.

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