Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500
THURSDAY 6 DECEMBER 2001
500. Without the private sector competition,
you do not think that would have happened.
(Sir David Ramsbotham) I do not think it would have
happened. I think that actually the private sector competition
was an enormous stimulus to see whether in fact the job could
be done differently and better and more effectively.
501. Did you come to a view as to whether the
problems which you encountered in the prison service were somehow
distinctive to the prison service for the reasons that we think
we know about?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Oh, yes.
502. Or that there are more general lessons
here for the public sector?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Oh, yes. I am quite certain
that, for example, the system in which the private prisons were
run was very much in their favour. For example, if we went round
on an inspection and found something that we thought could be
done better, we would mention it to them and by the next day it
was done. There was no question of it having to be referred into
committee and goodness knows where. It was very interesting to
observe the approach to prisonersand the word "humanity"
I have mentioned, which is in the prison service statement of
purpose. I shall never forget watching in Doncaster, the first
time I went, to a prisoner being taken in control and constraint
to the segregation unit. He was struggling and one of the custodial
officersI do not know whether he was an ex-miner or an
ex-soldiersaid to him, "Please stop struggling Mr
So-and-so, you will only hurt yourself" and the man went
limp with astonishment. The attitude, calling them Mr So-and-so
and treating them as such, was very much recognised by the prisoners,
who referred to the public sector prisons as POA prisons. It was
interesting to me that the directors who had put this way of dealing
with prisoners into practice were all people who had worked in
the public sector. When I said to them, "Why did you do this?"
they said, "Well, we had been longing to do this when we
were in the public sector but we just could not get it through
503. This reference to POA prisons, another
argument we have been exploring is one that has been given to
us from a number of quarters, that the public sector is intrinsically
self-regarding; that is, it works in its own interests not in
the interests of users. Is that what you are essentially saying
in referring to POA prisons?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) I think in some prisons, it
is not in all. There are two types of prisons. In the old Victorian
local, where it is in the stones, and somehow in the large young
offender establishments, and I do not know how it has crept in
there, the POA attitude to prisoners is in charge and has not
been stamped out by the prison service as effectively as I would
have thought. You compare that with the attitude in the private
sector prisons such as Altcourse in Liverpool, and compare Liverpool
Prison up the road. I mean they are on a different planet as far
as the way they do their work, because the private sector will
not stand for that sort of behaviour by its employees to prisoners.
504. Mr Hutton, taking my queue from the prison
guard, you are an apostle of the public realm. When you hear this
kind of indictment of what it is like in practice, how do you
react to that?
(Will Hutton) First of all, I think what happened
in the prison service in the post-War period wasI would
be interested to hear whether Sir David agreesa calamitous
organisational and leadership failure within the public sector.
That things could have got to such a pass and that at present
exercise, the rehabilitative period, in some of these public sector
prisons is 11 hours a week, compared with 30 hours in ones which
are privately run, is a real failure of public sector leadership
and public sector organisation. The big point is: Is the only
change agent that one can imagine, to introduce the private sector
in the way it has been introduced? Two things need to be said
to the Committee. There are, what, 80 prisons? How many prisons
(Sir David Ramsbotham) 139.
(Will Hutton) Sorry, there are 139 prisons, with five
or six . . . How many of them are privately run?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Nine.
(Will Hutton) Nine. You are talking about a very small
part of the prison service which is actually privately run. You
need to know that actually a couple of very difficult prisons
recently the private sector have not bid for.
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Yes.
(Will Hutton) You need to know also that there are
other ones where the change agency in the private sector has led
to a quite significant change in the leadership of these prisons
and they have begun to win back contracts. I think that actually
tells you quite a lot. I do not use it as a case for contract
culture and privatisation of the prison service, as it is sometimes
rawly expressed. What I think has been quite cleverly done is
actually using the private sector as a change agency for what
should be a publicly run, owned and organised service, but there
are major leadership problems. I would have made this point in
the introductory remarks, one of my strongly held views on this
now, particularly having been at the Industrial Society for just
under two years, is that I think there is a way in which one needs
to reconceptualise this argument, that it really is an argument,
not at heart but there is a dimension of it, about efficiency.
A lot of private sector organisations in Britain are very inefficient.
Our productivity is poor in the private sector and our productivity
is poor in the public sector. I would argue that as a culture
Britain does not take the organisational structure, management
and leadership issues as seriously as it should in either the
private or the public sector. It has become more acute in the
public sector over the last 30 to 40 years and, because occasionally
interventions of the type of the prison sector have produced the
very good results they have delivered, there is almost an ideological
response, which is to say, "Right, that means the wholesale
case for privatisation or this kind of contract," when actually,
as Sir David said, you could import this notion of contract specification
within the public sector. The Home Office could write these kind
of contracts as a public sector organisation, for publicly owned
and run prisons, and build in incentives for the resulting performance
and penalties for it not being met. The big question to ask is
why that has not taken place.
505. Maybe I know. We hear about the exploding
prison population. Maybe Sir David can clear this up. Is there
any cap on the number of prisoners that can be sent to a private
sector prison? If there is such a number and it is breached, presumably
the private company running the prison gets more money.
(Sir David Ramsbotham) They do. The private sector
prison gets paid so much per so many prisoners. But it is interesting
that, for example, Altcourse, which was designed for 600 had 900
in it almost immediately because they were asked to take another
50 per cent. They said, "Yes, we will take 50 per cent, but
it will cost £x, because, in addition to having a bunk or
bed to sleep in, we have got to provide the activities to occupy
them by day." So the private sector will, yes, take the extra
numbers and will charge for them.
506. If money is no object, yes. I mean, they
are out to make a profit. "600 prisoners specified, give
us 900, we will bring in people to ensure that prisoners have
`purposeful activity'," in your words. The private sector
is happy but it is the Treasury that is doling out the cash.
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Yes. That is part of the contract.
The Treasury has control over how much profit the private sector
company makes. That goes into the contracting procedure. I do
not know what the margins are but the private sector companies
tell me they are not very big. I think there is the scrutiny of
various committees who look at the contracts. The other day, when
the private sector lost the renewal of Blakenhurst, the prison
service won by saying that they could deliver 12 per cent better
treatment for prisoners at 13 per cent less cost over 10 years.
Those maths are a bit too precise for me and I am not quite certain
that one can measure that.
(Will Hutton) You have heard Sir David's reply to
this, but of course Group 4 run prisons and my understanding is
that their approach to this is significantly different from the
American corporation Wackenhurt that runs prisons. This is a point
you raised in some of the questions that you put to us to consider.
I do think it matters what the culture is of the organisation
that actually has the contract. Wackenhurt come from an American
culture where there have been 1,000 prisons built in the last
20 years in the States. They are there. The whole question of
them being privately run, they are nearly all of them privately
run and managed and actually the conditions in them are not like
those in Britain. Their amount of rehabilitation has collapsed,
some of the treatment of prisoners is unbelievably callous, they
are treated utterly as commodities, and actually there is a general
view in the States that the privatisation of prisons has led to
a callousness and a very high recidivism rate. They have an enormous
prison population, as you know. It has built up over the last
10 years. The supply of prisoners going on to the streets is now
half a million a year. The recidivism rates are calamitous and
there is a generalised view that actually we need to get the public
sector back into the US prison service. A firm like Wackenhurt
that comes from that cultureand here, once again I would
not wish to say this is . . . I am talking impressionistically
now, so be careful, because I do not want to libel Wackenhurt,
but there is a definite distinctiveness in the two companies'
approaches. In consequence, one of the points that you asked us
to consider is whether it matters whether a firm is committed
to the social order, to corporate social responsibility, or how
it takes public interest matters, whether the structure of the
private company within the public sector engages with matters
in the protection and delivery of public services, and I would
argue very passionately that it does.
Mr Anthony D Wright
507. On this particular point, surely it is
the case that in the private sector they view the prisoners as
commodities. You said back in June, Sir David, that: "Prisoners
are people not commodities and must be treated as such. Any firm
that uses these methods would go bust." Surely the opposite
is the true analogy; that if they did not use them as commodities,
then they would not. You mentioned that at Altcourse there was
room for 600 and they took 900. Surely that was a commodity process
aimed at making extra profit.
(Sir David Ramsbotham) I do not think I can agree
with that because what happened at Altcourse was when they built
the cells they actually built them to be big enough to be able
to take two if necessarybecause quite sensibly we are looking
at the overcrowding factors and overcrowding has been endemic
in the prison service for too long. They realised that this might
happen. The same happened at Park in Wales: the cells were big
enough to be able to take two. Because the condition of taking
two is not size so much as facilities: Are there two beds, two
chairs, two lockers? Is there a screened lavatory and a washbasin?
and so on. If they are big enough for that, then you can take
two. To say that they took more for more money, I do not think
is right. They were asked to take more by the prison service because
the prison service has the problem of where are they going to
put these people. If they put them in police cells, at the price
of £300 a night, and nothing is donewhich is what
was happening beforethen they are thrown right back into
the situation that existed in 1995.
508. Is the system using them as commodities,
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Yes.
509. Because, quite clearly, if a prison is
built for 600, they should turn round and say, "Sorry, we
can't take any more in."
(Sir David Ramsbotham) The system is treating prisoners
as commodities, yes, it is. This is one of my concerns. What is
the aim? This is where I go back to the aim of actually protecting
the public by preventing re-offending. That means full, purposeful
and active days for everyone. If somebody is locked up all day
doing nothing, then you are not achieving the aim. You are just
regarding it as a number you have to keep for a period of time
and then send back to the public, and you are not protecting them.
That is wrong. I would have expected the prison service to be
making a great noise about the fact that they are having all these
numbers of people pushed on them. When I left my job in July there
were 66,000 people in prison, there are now 68,500. It has gone
up by 2,500 in four months. That is the speed they are doing.
If they are really thinking about them as people, they should
be pushing and nudging and shoving to be given the resources with
which to look after them. They cannot. They cannot build the prisons
and so they are going out and in fact they are letting contracts
to the private sector to do the building for them because they
cannot compete. The public sector cannot compete in the time required.
510. Would the difference between the private
and public sector be, if they were approached to take more prisoners
the private sector would say they would want more resources in
terms of finances to provide more facilities for the prisoners,
whereas the public sector would say they would take the extra
prisoners and reduce the facilities. Is that what you are saying?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) That is what I am saying. You
will find that the private sector makes a point about having extra
workshops, extra education centres and so on, which the public
sector does not. Brixton is a classic case in point where last
year Mr Boateng, the Minister, said that Brixton was failing and
he was going to market test it. Brixton had no workshops, it had
no education centre, the gym was outside the wire so only people
who were qualified for open conditions could use it, it had had
four governors in four years and the strategic plan had been ditched.
So Brixton had been failed by management and failed by ministers
and was not able to do the job. Quite rightly, when it was let
out for private sector firms to tender for, they all said, "We
are not going to tender for this unless it is given the resources
with which we can do the job" and so that market test collapsed.
To my mind, it was a wrong use of the market test.
511. Sir David, have you any evidence of re-offending
rates. I know it is going to be rather limited evidence, given
the proportion of private prisons, but it is all very well having
the facilities and so many hours but is there actually a measurable
outcome, a way of measuring the rate of re-offending?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) No. This is the thing I find
quite extraordinary. The first question I asked on my first day
in office was: "What are the re-offending rates? Which prisons
are making the best fist of it?" No-one knows. Nobody measures
it. It seems to me to be absolutely extraordinary that it is the
one statistic that you really need to know in order to measure
success and all they can tell you is that in general terms 55
per cent of adults, 80 per cent of young offenders re-offend within
two years. The reason they know that is because when they are
rearrested they are asked whether they have been offenders before.
I think this is madness because that must be the key question
for any form of quality assurance, either private or public, and
both could be subjected to the same examination.
512. Is the answer here, whether it is private
or public sector, actually to have clear measurable targets and
perhaps objectives in the first place for the culture and so on,
the people working within it, and everybody, signing up to the
(Will Hutton) It does seem astonishing that a very
simple measurement of success like that has never been introduced
or established. The numbers are non-existent. I am as set back
as obviously the members of the Committee are by that. I think
that is a commentary really on the way much of the public sector
has been managed and run. Again, I have to be very careful, it
is like the curate's egg. Some impact of 20 years of reform has
begun to show through but there are still areas where basic management
information systems do not exist and basic knowledge about the
costs and outcomes do not exist by which you can make real sensible
decisions about resource allocation. I think there is also too
frequently an unwillingness to confront practices which in parts
of the private sector absolutely would not be tolerated. Speaking
as somebody who passionately believes in the public realm, you
have to say that actually internal organisation and leadership
of the public sector has let us badly down. I really think it
would be good to open up the issue of why it has been for so long
that actually internal public sector organisation and management
and leadership has been so indifferent. Full stop.
513. Sir David, can I take you back to ethos.
You were Adjutant General in the Army and you then went into the
prison service from 1995 until this year. The ethos of public
service within the military and the prison service, what do you
see as the great differences in ethos between the two organisations
in which you have been heavily involved?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) May I say I am writing about
that at the moment.
514. Could we have a transcript!
(Sir David Ramsbotham) I am very interested that the
word "accountability" appears so often in your questions
here. Because it seems to me that the thread that runs through
the military organisation are the two words "accountability"
and "responsibility": everyone is accountable to someone
for what they are responsible. That goes right down to the soldier
on the ground right up to the Minister at the top. Everyone knows
to whom they are accountable and they know for what they are responsible,
and they are held to account if that does not work. If you look
at the prison service, that simply does not happen. It is not
there. There is no clear line of accountability and responsibility
from top to bottom. Line management is fudged and it does not
work. I went to Parkhurst Prison last year and I asked the Governor
what was the aim of Parkhurst Prison and he said, "To save
£500,000 from my budget by the end of the year." I said,
"That is not my question. My question is: Why should a prisoner
be sent to Parkhurst and what are you meant to do with and for
him during his time here?" He said, "It's all very well
for you to speak like that but my line manager tells me that my
first priority is to save £500,000 from my budget."
When you look at the management of the prison service, it is not
about telling the prisoners exactly what they are to do. They
are not directed on functional lines, except for the high security
prisons (which are the ones which cause most embarrassment to
ministers if there is an escape: witness, Whitemore and Parkhurst).
All the others are run in a geographical way by area managers
who are responsible for all the prisons in a particular area.
They have the budget for those prisons and they adjudicate between
the various prisons, but there is no consistency about looking
at the treatment of women in Lancashire and women in Kent, or
young offenders in Staffordshire and young offenders in County
Durham. This is what I think is wrong, because I believe that
that management structure is not accountable and responsible.
The blame culture is in full swing: you make absolutely certain
that you are not accountable. I think what you have got to do,
in order to get the public sector workingand, like Will,
I am a passionate believer in the public sector running the prisonsand
they can have private sector ones on contract, but they are their
prisons, they are Her Majesty's prisons run by Group 4 as opposed
to the public sector, but until you get a clear line of accountability
and responsibility into the management structureand that
is all about the delivery of the aim and not about exact compliance
with every regulation, performance indicator, target, rule, operating
structure and so onuntil you get accountability and responsibility
straight, you will continue to have flawed management.
515. Is it not then, thinking along that line,
that you, as a commander, give your order and it goes down to
the bottom and you expect the bloke at the bottom to carry that
out as it has gone straight down the line?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) But I would also have a mechanism
in there to make certain that it happens.
516. That is what I was going to come on to.
(Sir David Ramsbotham) You must have supervisory,
to see that it happens. You cannot go on just issuing masses of
orders and instructions and rules and piles of bumph, assuming
it is going to happen.
517. So it is change that is the cause of the
problem without thinking through the logical conclusion to the
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Yes. And the system that they
have which floods the governors with bureaucracy. The Governor
of Holloway in July told me that 80 per cent of his time was taken
up with bureaucracy. What organisation can function if the leader
who has to be out there is so constrained by bureaucracy? This
is again a difference with a private sector prison because the
management of the private sector is not nearly so constrained
by the bureaucracy. Fortunately, a lot of the prison service bureaucracy
goes to the controller and not to the director, but if you do
not have a clear line of responsibility . . . I am responsible
to the Director General for what goes on in all women's prisons
and I must have a machinery for making certain that what has got
to happen, happens consistently everywhere. This does not happen
at the moment. I think this is one of the reasons why over and
over again I have found in prisons exactly the same faults that
I have found in other prisons somewhere else years before, because
the machinery was not there for ensuring that it was eliminated
518. I am not being flippant, but I love the
lucidity with which you have described this. I mean, we have spent
hours trying to work out what accountability is and then you come
along and in a very crisp and simple way tell us it is about being
accountable for things for which we are responsibleand
there you have it distilled. Why do we not hand the whole shooting
match over to soldiers?
(Sir David Ramsbotham) Well . . .
519. They would get it sorted for us, would
(Sir David Ramsbotham) I suppose soldiers are simple
people and you have to have a simple concept for them. I wish
to goodness one could just cut through a lot of the nonsense that
is going on because it wasting so much time and money.