Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)


  1.  The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the trade union representing civil and public servants in central government. We represent 320,000 members in over 200 departments and agencies and have over 5,000 members working in HM Prison Service (HMPS) in England and Wales. Our members undertake a wide variety of jobs both in prison establishments and in headquarters. These range from managerial, administrative, secretarial and typing jobs to support tasks such as cleaning and office management. We also represent Instructional Officer (IO) members who are responsible for helping prisoners address their offending behaviour through vocational training and also through work-based learning and development.

  2.  PCS believe the issue of prison education cannot be separated from the wider issue of reducing re-offending and its link to the current record high prison populations in England and Wales. Within this submission we highlight what we believe are the current failings in the delivery of prison education and our suggestions for a way forward.

  3.  As a point of principle PCS believes that any private profit derived from prisoner education (or industries) is morally wrong and indefensible. PCS believe that the purpose of prisoner education is to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders and to ensure they are properly equipped to contribute to society upon their release. We believe therefore that prisoner education is a public service benefiting both the individual and the public as a whole and all monies and resources must be directed to this purpose alone.

  4.  PCS welcome this further inquiry from the Committee and would be happy to supplement this evidence with further written or oral evidence.


  5.  The current prison population in England is currently in excess of 80,000 and rising, making it the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe. This directly impacts on the delivery and quality of prison education.

  6.  PCS believe that a prison building programme is an expensive and counter productive way of managing this crisis and tackling re-offending. We further believe measures including prison education and drug and alcohol treatments are the key to reducing the prison population.

  7.  PCS feel that the Offenders' and Learning Skills Service (OLASS) has failed to adequately address the issues identified by the Education and Skills Select Committee in March 2005. In many instances OLASS has been counter productive, making reductions in training time for prisoners and also progression opportunities for staff.

  8.  We believe that a more effective and productive way to deal with a rising prison population and the failings of current prison education is to invest in prison education and industries within the public sector HMPS. As such we believe a successful model for delivering in-house vocational training has been developed in the south west and we would recommend this approach is used in the future (with small changes) to deliver a more prisoner focused service to reduce re-offending. This is discussed under point 39 below.


  9.  The prison population in England and Wales currently stands at a record high of 80,060, with 79,908 inmates in jail and another 152 being held in police stations under emergency plans ordered by the Home Secretary. This is approximately 75% higher than 15 years ago when the population was 45,000. Home Office projections in 2006, forecasted a rise to over 100,000, meaning even in a best case scenario that a prison population of 87,600 by 2011 is being considered a real possibility.

  10.  England and Wales already has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe at 143 per 100,000 of the population, compared to France with a rate of 88 per 100,000 and Germany with a rate of 97 per 100,000.

  11.  Earlier this year, Lord Phillips, the most senior judge in the country, warned judges that they should not send people to prison unless they really must. He stressed that within the current prison population an estimated 5,000 prisoners have acute mental health disorders and up to two-thirds of the entire population have at least two mental health problems. He stated that prison for these prisoners is not the sensible place for rehabilitation.

  12.  PCS believe that the population crisis has adversely impacted on the delivery of prison education. The movement of prisoners, re-categorisation of prisoners and in some cases the closure of whole establishments for re-categorisation, have all undermined the stability required for effective delivery of prison education.


  13.  It has been estimated that the cost to the taxpayer of building a new prison currently stands at approximately £300 million per establishment. HMPS currently operates in a "contestable" market where they are both a purchaser and provider of "offender management" services and has to compete with the private sector. With a total of 10 private prisons, Britain already has the most privatised prison system in Europe and a major concern to PCS is that any prison building programme will now be another opportunity for the Government to deliver more prison work to the private sector.

  14.  PCS were angered by the announcement on 30 November 2006, that the Home Office are considering offering the public the chance to buy shares in new prisons under a "buy to let" scheme. We believe this idea has been suggested to overcome the difficulties in finding extra money for the 8,000 new prison places announced by the Home Secretary earlier this year.

  15.  Trade unions in the justice sector have continually argued that the interests of the private sector do not accord with the values that exist within the public sector, since the private sector's key priority is always their profits, rather than service to the public and benefit to the taxpayer.

  16.  In this regard, PCS agrees with the comments made by Phil Wheatley, Director General of the Prison Service, that private prisons have led to "very little innovation in custodial management. Most of the gains have come from using fewer staff, lower wages, less employment protection for staff".

  17.  PCS believe that a prison building programme would divert vital resources from schools, hospitals and other areas of the public sector, and would have little or no effect on the key to tackling the rising prison population.

  18.  PCS note that the Education and Skill's report in March 2005—The Link to Recidivism—demonstrates that 67% of those released from prison re-convict within as little as two years and that this figure is higher when applied to specific groups such as young males. Furthermore that prisoners who do not take part in education are three times more likely to be reconvicted than those that do.

  19.  Although the arguments in terms of efficiency and effectiveness support tackling re-offending as opposed to building more prisons, PCS believe that genuine political will is required to implement such a programme.


  20.  The implementation of OLASS did not start positively as it was not listed as a statement of priority by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). Arising from this, concerns were raised directly by the Education and Skills Select Committee that prison education was being viewed simply as a "bolt on" to the existing work of the LSC.

  21.  Whilst not wishing to be critical of the LSC PCS believe that prison education was imposed as an added task on the LSC who had to quickly cultivate arrangements with education providers. From experience of our members across the country, at best OLASS transfers have simply replicated previous in-house HMPS education courses (often with the same personnel) and at worst education courses have been withdrawn and/or diminished. When dealing with a number of new separate private education providers, it is hard to see where any "strategic thought" has taken place or evidence of a future strategy.

  22.  In this regard PCS believe that commitments given by the Government in June 2005 in respect of a clear purpose and an "overarching strategy" for prison education have not been delivered.

  23.  On 30 November 2006, the Independent carried a lead article by Lord Ramsbotham, the respected former Chief Inspector of Prisons. In this article, PCS believe Lord Ramsbotham correctly made the link between the prison population crisis, the delivery of prison education and the lack of co-ordination. Commentating on the current delivery of education he stated: "Education is being run by the Learning and Skills Council, without direction from the Home Office. It's a recipe for confusion."

  24.  It was promised that OLASS would provide better quality training, more delivery time and better career opportunities for staff. As the union representing those staff, PCS disagrees. The evidence collected since the first outsourcing of staff last November suggests that:

    —  In some cases prisoners are receiving less training than before the transfer.

    —  The cost of delivering vocational training per prisoner has virtually doubled.

    —  Additional funding is being channeled to external education providers rather than into providing more training opportunities for prisoners.

    —  The cost of the upkeep of the prison estate has risen as instructors who used to provide vital services to their establishments (for example, industrial cleaning) no longer do so, as it is not included in their contract.

    —  Experienced Instructors are leaving their job rather than be transferred to private contractors, resulting in many vocational training courses being cancelled as the new providers are not able to fill these vacancies.

  25.  In November 2006, PCS conducted a survey of our members who have been transferred to external education providers to determine the experience of transfer on their working lives and also the impact of transfer on the service they provide. Although not complete the survey has confirmed our worst fears that morale of our members is low and the cost of the service has increased.

  26.  The experience of HMP Edmunds Hill and HM Young Offenders Institute (HMPYOI) Glen Parva are two examples of the difficulties faced by our members who have been transferred under OLASS (in both cases September 2006). We have included these case studies within this submission to identify common themes across HMPS.


  27.   Closure of Workshop. From 2004-05 there were two vocational training (VT) courses offered at HMP Edmunds Hill, namely Construction Industry Training Board (CIT) paints and industrial cleaning. Post OLASS transfer this has reduced to just industrial cleaning as the IO left, resulting in the closure of a workshop that previously accommodated 12 prisoners for 22.5 hours a week and had provided nationally recognised qualifications for these prisoners.

  28.   Quality of Service. PCS understands that the external provider did not have an ordering system in place when they took over the contract. This led to late delivery of materials and the disruption of the training modules. The workshop budget had still not been set (three months after the contract was let) resulting in machines not being usable and repair contracts outstanding. A useful (but not untypical) anecdote is that the existing computer on site which contained vital course documentation was appropriated by the external education provider manager for their own use. PCS believe that the standard of training being provided has declined since the transfer.

  29.   Training and Career Progression. PCS members state they do not believe there are any prospects for progression. No training has been received and applications to training courses have been accepted in principle as relevant but refused due to budgetary constraints.

  30.   Costs. PCS reports that the costs of having an instructor in post delivering a course have dramatically increased, to £49,000 per instructor per annum. There is a widespread belief that funding for VT is being subsumed within other budgets and used by the external provider to fund other areas of the education department, not necessarily concerned with courses for prisoners.

  31.   Job satisfaction and morale. PCS notes the following quote from a member, which we believe summarises the experience of many members: "I love the job I do, the interaction, the teaching, helping prisoners achieve qualifications, the whole package, but my job has plummeted in the last 10 weeks to a point where I have updated my CV and I have forwarded it onto local employment agencies."


  32.   Closure of Workshops. From August 2006 there were nine VT/CIT courses offered at HMYOI Glen Parva, including building operatives, painting and decorating and bricklaying. Post OLASS transfer the IOs responsible for these three courses left HMPS rather than work for the external provider, and the IO previously responsible for delivering machine setting has moved to another job within HMPS to avoid the transfer. The effective loss of four of the most experienced IOs has had a significant impact on the service provided to pioneers. Currently there are four vacancies, (bricklaying, building operatives, painting and decorating, and training kitchen) meaning these four courses are not being delivered. The number of courses providing nationally recognised qualifications has therefore reduced from nine to six post OLASS.

  33.   Quality of Service. The external provider focuses on key performance targets for each course leading to a "culture of competition" between courses, replacing the co-operative approach that previously existed within HMPS. Needless to say members report this approach is counterproductive and dysfunctional and negatively impacts on the service they provide.

  34.   Training and Career Progression. PCS members state they do not believe there are any prospects for progression. One member reports they had an application to start a Certificate of Education course accepted, but as his attendance required the closure of his workshop and because the external provider was unable to provide cover, nothing has happened. Members report that promises made pre-transfer in respect of training and self-development have not been delivered.

  35.   Costs. Members are not aware of actual costs but anecdotal evidence suggests that some courses are being charged at £60 per hour. Members report there has been an increase in "managers" at the expense of IOs, who deliver the actual education/training and this has pushed up costs.

  36.   Job satisfaction and morale. PCS reports the following quote from a member, which we believe summarises the experience of many: "In my opinion staff morale is very low. The prison has lost all the small jobs that we previously did for free and now it costs them more. "


  37.  IOs have a long and proud tradition of delivering education and training to prisoners in the public sector HMPS. Our members have a public sector ethos and they share the values that their work should benefit both individual prisoners and society as a whole. Our members have unmatched practical experience and competence in working with prisoners and in developing and maintaining good relationships that allow for a "learning environment".

  38.  The public sector HMPS also has considerable flexibility in delivering prisoner education. Establishments are in a position to offer education suited to their particular type of establishment and to their prisoner population. Operational flexibility also exists between IOs and other Prison Service staff.

  39.  A successful partnership between HPMS vocational instructors and external providers in the south west of England has resulted in benefits for everyone; prisoners, HMPS and their partners. In the south west model HMPS has become a learning and skills provider and working with the learning and skills advisors Prison Governors have been able to bring innovation to learning and skills training in their prisons and flexibly deliver the training that they know inmates need. Instructors have remained in house (and in some cases transferred partner employees staff into HMPS).

  40.  The south west model has proved that public sector HMPS is an excellent LSC sub-contractor and if given the chance, by adopting this model across the rest of HMPS could provide an excellent in-house service across the whole estate.

  41.  In light of historical problems with the funding of prison education PCS believes that the south west model should be adopted across the whole of the prison estate with one fundamental change. Instead of current practice of only being reimbursed for the cost of staff salaries and employer National Insurance and pension contributions (currently around £29,000 per annum for those on the maximum of HMPS IO pay scale) all existing LSC funding should be transferred to HMPS to establish an in-house vocational training service.

  42.  Naturally such funding will need to be "ring-fenced" and the LSC will still need to retain the responsibility of monitoring contractual compliance. This should present no problems to HMPS as there is considerable expertise within the organisation of contract management both as a purchaser and provider.

  43.  Also as an operational service the risk element of creating an in-house service is considerably less than the current contracting-out arrangements. Risk management is a process undertaken in HPMS on a daily basis throughout the organisation and is fundamental to everything they do.

  44.  PCS welcome the creation of the head of learning and skills posts within prison establishments and the expertise they have brought to HMPS. We believe these professionals can play a significant role as the basis for developing an in-house service of excellence.

  45.  We believe the creation of an in-house service not only represents the best use of taxpayers' monies but will also provide more training opportunities for offenders if it is allowed to fully invest the profit element contained in the current contracts.

  46.  PCS also believes that under the south west model inmates will receive better training opportunities. PCS is keen to work with HMPS in two key areas:

    —  "Professionalising the Prison Service" project currently being undertaken by its Training and Development Group. This is aimed at assisting all staff to maximise their potential while developing appropriate skills to help them undertake their jobs.

    —  the Sector Skills Council (Skills for Justice) is working to "map" the sector and developing National Occupational Standards.

  47.  PCS believes HMPS staff will benefit from these initiatives. We also believe that HMPS will also benefit by having a highly professional workforce working to agreed standards of care and inmates will benefit by the expertise these staff will bring to their job.

  48.  We firmly believe that only the public sector can genuinely achieve these goals which are long-term in nature and involve a co-coordinated use of existing resources. Private providers, may have good intentions but cannot achieve this, as they are primarily interested in making profits or are small scale operations without the required resources or incentives to properly train, motivate and reward staff to the highest standard.

  49.  Delivering prison education through the public sector HMPS will be more efficient, flexible and will not require additional resources or funding (in fact we believe the costs could be lower). We think it will have an impact on reducing re-offending, all that is required is the political will to guide and direct the public sector HMPS in this direction.


  50.  Throughout the submission we have demonstrated where OLASS has not delivered what is required of it. We believe HMPS should use the south west model with a slight change to create an efficient in-house service with IOs who pride themselves on delivering a high quality service which in turn will reduce re-offending.

December 2006

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