Examination of Witnesses (Questions 104
WEDNESDAY 8 NOVEMBER 2000
104. Mr McAleer and Mr Newman, you are extremely
welcome. We are particularly appreciative of your coming, because
we do know that there have been changes in the structure of your
organisation. We realise that those who have given evidence to
us before are not in front of us today. We shall entirely understand
that, and you should not hesitate to kick to touch if there comes
a moment if you feel that would be the safest thing to do. The
basis on which we normally do this is questions will come from
individuals around the horseshoe, but we will try and make the
order of questions logical. We may dart around in terms of who
is going to ask questions, but it will not necessarily go round
in the whole ring of the horseshoe. We will be entirely happy
if at any stage, either while we are actually here today or later,
in writing, you wanted to gloss any answer you have given us because
you felt that perhaps you misunderstood it or there was something
you wanted to add. We will, for our part, feel free to ask you
supplementary questions in writing if, when we get the transcript,
we can see there are things we ought to have asked which we failed
to asked. Are you content with those ground rules?
(Mr McAleer) Yes, I am happy with that.
105. Is there anything you would like to say
to us before we start beyond what you kindly put in your letter,
which we have all seen?
(Mr McAleer) Not really. I suppose we can say, by
way of introduction, that the Governors' Association is much less
than it was the last time you interviewed our predecessors. There
are now 40 governors in the Northern Ireland Prison Service and
the last time you interviewed our predecessors there were considerably
more than that, possibly about 68. Other than that, nothing to
106. You have, with remarkable skill, read my
mind, because the first question that I was going to ask you was;
how many governors are there left now that the staff reduction
programme has been taken through? I was going to ask, again, what
was the number of governor grade staff in the Northern Ireland
Prison Service before and after the staff reduction programme
respectively? I think you said you thought there were now 40 and
you thought that there were 68 before, is that right?
(Mr McAleer) Approximately.
107. What is the current level of membership
of your Association in the governor grades in the province?
(Mr McAleer) If we take purely the governor grades
and discount the Director General, who is also a member of the
Governors' Association and the Director of Operations, who is
a member of the Governors' Association, taking those two out of
it there will be 25. If you want to count them, it will be 27.
108. When we took evidence before, back in 1998,
I think there were 62 relevant officers, of whom about 48 were
in the Association, which is about three quarters, which is not
a markedly different figure from today. Let us go beyond the actual
numbers. What has been the impact on the Service of the loss of
a significant number of experienced governors, which you have
already implied in the exchanges we have had?
(Mr McAleer) In our view, at this moment in time we
have only recently lost the governors, in a matter of months.
It is probably too early to say the exact impact, but obviously
no organisation can lose a considerable number of experienced
people without having a knock-on effect. There are no specific
instances that I can say to you, because of the short-term where
I can say this is a loss and because of the loss we have suffered
this particular problem. What I will say is that a lot of the
governors who have gone, although they were experienced, they
were experienced in a different Service. The skills they required
in those days and possibly the skills that are coming up now,
some people might say in one way it is a big loss , but in another
way, for the challenges of the future it might not be as big a
loss. Time will tell.
109. Let me put the question another way. Would
you say that there were, after the reduction, enough governors
who were either experienced or relevant to the task that you now
face. I put in both experienced and relevant because you have
indicated that some of the experience may not have been relevant.
(Mr McAleer) Yes. Could you say that again?
110. Do you believe after the quite substantial
reduction that has occurred, that as the cohort of governors is
now constituted so you have enough relevantI am trying
to avoid the word "experience" because of your observation
that the past experience in the Northern Ireland Prison Service
may not be relevant todayenough relevant officers to do
the task that faces you?
(Mr McAleer) Yes, I feel the governors that we have
left now are up to the task for the future.
111. And in sufficient numbers?
(Mr McAleer) And in sufficient numbers, yes.
112. Good afternoon, gentlemen. The staff reduction
programme has proceeded remarkably smoothly. To what do you attribute
this? Was your Association satisfied with the level of both financial
compensation and other support offered to departing governors?
(Mr McAleer) That is a couple of questions. I will
deal with to what we attribute the fact that it went well. Well,
I think we would attribute that to a lot of things, and mainly
down to the people who were involved and the process, both from
trade union sides and the management side. I think they handled
it very well, and for once in the history of the Service everybody
seemed to co-operate and communication was quite good. In our
view as an Association it was handled as well as it could have
been. The other one was about the amount of money. As an Association
I can say that we will always be happy with getting more money,
I am sure you understand that, but overall we had no complaints
from any of our membership about the level of compensation. As
I said, as an Association, had the Government been disposed to
paying us more money, we would have liked that as well.
113. Thank you. The cost of the staff reduction
programme is to be met by Treasury funding and efficiency savings.
Prison Service witnesses have told us that of the total cost of
£153 million, £24.5 million was to come from efficiency
savings. Is it, in your view, feasible for efficiency savings
on this scale to be made and how do you think they will impact
on the operation of the Service?
(Mr McAleer) First of all, as an Association, we see
our job to help the management to achieve targets which are set
by the politicians, if you like, and we have no comment to make
on that. If you are asking me what the cost would be of it, well,
like everything else, if you want to make savings of costs, we
would see our job as pointing out what the costs are and the management
then determine whether that cost is worth paying. If you want
to know whether the figure of £24.5 million is a realistic
figure without dramatically effecting the running of the Service,
which I think is what you are asking me, our view of that is that
costs are there to be made and we think it is a realistic figure
without greatly impacting on delivery. I will say, as an Association,
we have given up a considerable amount of our membership along
the way. I know the last time the Governors' Association appeared
before you the membership was 68. Prior to that it was something
like 100 governors in 1996. So over the past four years we have
certainly contributed a big percentage of the costs and will continue
to do so.
114. Have you actually calculated how much of
the efficiency saving will come from the reduction in the number
of prison governors?
(Mr McAleer) Well, as you are aware from the submission
we gave you, we are a new committee, we have only been formed
in the last two months. There is a lot of work that we have not
done with sub-committees. I could not tell you, off the top of
my head, what that would be, but it will be something we are looking
at and we are co-operating with the Director General. We are doing
a review of the Service at the minute. It is not finished yet,
so there are other jobs that are in there to be talked about.
We have not, as yet, spoken to the Director General about it,
but it will be on the agenda.
(Mr Newman) As an Association we do appreciate the
biggest cost in the Service is that of staffing, as it is in any
business, and we would be keen to support, indeed promote, efficiencies
and savings where we can. We do understand that it is necessary
to look in to it now ourselves and sharpen up the organisation
as a whole.
115. If you do get around to establishing and
fortifying the level of reduction arising from the reductions
in the number of governors, as the Chairman said, you can drop
us a note to bring us up to date. Finally, referring to the Prison
Service witnesses who told us that efficiency savings provided
an opportunity to devolve more authority both to, and within,
establishments, with a consequent increase in the number of managers
at senior officer level. Is this change welcomed by your Association?
(Mr McAleer) We have not, as an Association, thought
specifically about the number of senior officers. I could say
that some time ago, many years ago, there was a reportI
think it was the May Reportsome of the older politicians
may remember it, identified a need for more Principal Officers.
I am not sure, actually, if we have really professionally looked
at our management levels in that respect to see whether we should
put the balance at SOR or POR, and I am not sure that as an Association
we have an opinion on that. I will say we have no great objection
to it, but we were not really involved in the decision.
Mr Beggs: Thank you, Chairman. Thank you.
116. In 1998 your Association gave evidence
to us and then expressed concern about various aspects of agency
status. What now is your assessment of the success or otherwise
of agency status?
(Mr McAleer) As an Association we are happy with the
situation of the agency status. We have no real complaints. Obviously
there are other things that we would like to see, and I made reference
to them in the letter that we sent, talking about the level of
responsibilities and central control and things like that, which
probably we would like to see more devolving. One of the big problems
that has been in the Prison Service for a long time, and that
was the dichotomy between the Department and the Prison Service,
and we thought that when the agency status came along this was
an opportunity which would eventually resolve that. We are still
hopeful that will be the case. We have a long way to go yet. We
still have two Services within one Service.
117. Would it be going to far to say that agency
had been a success?
(Mr McAleer) It has been a success in a whole lot
of ways. We are just finding out that there are other things still
to be done.
118. And, therefore, wish for its continuation?
(Mr McAleer) Yes.
119. Morale is hard to quantify and evaluate,
but how would you say that morale in members of your Association
had changed, if it has changed, in the two years since you were
last giving evidence to us?
(Mr McAleer) Like all organisations who undergo tremendous
changeand our organisation has undergone tremendous change
on a number of fronts; government initiatives, redundancies, and
political situationsmorale went down in the period, but
that is to be expected and any organisation which goes through
that will have a dip, but I would say that if were to look at
it on a graph I think you will find after a morale dip when organisations
are building it starts to go back up again. I would say that our
assessment would be that we are at that point now, that we are
starting to go on the up. I think we have bottomed out and we
are starting to rise now. So morale is on the up part of the graph.