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turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the... Council... We felt it only right and proper to write and say thank you for your work and your decisions this time.
We all know resources are significantly constrained under CSR07 settlement... That is why it was crucial to ensure that how the resources allocated to local government were suitably sub-allocated to individual authorities was done fairly. I believe you have got that allocation in the form of the provisional settlement broadly right,
which is why the letter was written to express thanks to the Department. The first came from the Labour leader of Lancashire council and the second from the Tory leader of Kent council. I say to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that it could not be clearer that that gives the lie to any accusations that this settlement is somehow riddled with geographical or political bias.
I also have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it does local government a disservice when he dismisses it, saying that people are getting less from more funding for local government. The latest Audit Commission figures show that four out of five councilsup from two thirds a year agoare rated either good or excellent. They show that nine out of 10 councils provide good value for money and that where more than half of people are satisfied with their council, they rightly expect it to save money. In doing so, councils must show that they have maintained or improved local services in order to count any of their savings as efficiencies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan chairs the all-party SIGOMAspecial interest group of municipal authoritiesand I welcome his welcome for the settlement. I thought that, by and large, he made a balanced speech. He was right that the settlement means that those with the greatest needs will get the resources. He also reminded us of the experience of local government under the previous Conservative Governmentfour years of real cuts under the Tories running up to 1997 have been followed by 10 years of above-inflation rises.
This settlement and those increases, combined with tough capping action, have helped bring down council tax increases, and, following its introduction in 1993, three of the four lowest rises in council tax have occurred in the past four years.
We will not hesitate to use our capping powers to protect taxpayers from excessive increases, but this is a settlement for three years. It provides greater flexibility and more resources, and is backed by more than a third of a billion pounds to help councils improve, innovate and cut inefficiency. Responsibility for delivering the settlement now rests with councils. I commend the settlement and the report to the House.
That the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2008-09 (House of Commons Paper No. 262), which was laid before this House on 24th January, be approved.
That the draft Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 4th December, be approved. [Mr. Roy.]
That Mr Adrian Sanders be discharged from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons and John Hemming be added. [Mr. Nicholas Brown.]
That Mr Humfrey Malins be discharged from the Justice Committee and Mr Andrew Turner be added.
That Mr David Hamilton be discharged from the Scottish Affairs Committee and Mr Jim McGovern be added.
That Frank Dobson be discharged from the Administration Committee and Mr Tom Clarke be added. [Rosemary McKenna, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the report by Her Majestys inspector of prisons on Chelmsford prison on the Adjournment, given that it came out only last week. I hope that the Minister agrees that the report raised some important issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. That is why I sought this debate.
Chelmsford prison is a Category B male local prison with a certified accommodation level of 570 prisoners, but it suffers from overcrowding, with an actual number held of around 680 to 690 prisoners. Prison officers do an excellent job in very difficult circumstances, given the strains and tensions placed on the prison by the number of prisoners held there.
Over the past 10 years the prison has been inspected several times by Her Majestys inspector of prisons, in both announced and unannounced inspections that have highlighted several problems. As a result, I am pleased to say, measures were taken to seek to rectify those problems. That is why it is so worrying that the latest report, following an announced inspection on 9 to 13 July last year, has highlighted so many serious problems. To add to the confusion, the annual report by the independent monitoring board at HMP Chelmsford for 2007, which in part covers the period of the HMI report, paints a far more positive picture of what is going on in the prison. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on why there are some fundamental differences between the two reports, and say which report portrays a more accurate assessment of the situation.
The most worrying problem that has emerged is the number of suicides in the prison. Until the end of 2006 there was one suicide a year. That is one suicide too many, but one can be heartened that the rate was below the national average for suicides in prisons. However, since May last year there have been four suicides in the prison. That is a deeply disturbing increase. I appreciate that it is difficult for the Minister or others to comment on the cases because inquests have not yet been held on all the suicides, but does the Minister have any idea why there has been such a dramatic and tragic increase in the number of suicides in the prison over the last 10 months, compared with the prisons previous record?
The HMI report was damning on the subject of bullying, self-harm and suicide. Section 3 of the report states that everyone inside a prison should feel safe from bullying and victimisation. However, section 3.1 states that:
A significant number of prisoners felt unsafe at Chelmsford. Bullying was a serious problem among the young adult population.
Ann Owers stated that some 40 per cent. of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, which is a staggeringly high proportion. Although an anti-bullying co-ordinator had been appointed, and the procedure for identifying bullying had been improved, she goes on to say that
there was still some under-reporting of incidents. Improvement targets for bullies were weak...and arrangements for victims were poor.
Prisons work to reduce the risks of self-harm and suicide...Prisoners at risk...are identified and a care and support plan is drawn up, implemented and monitored.
Despite previous recommendations, Listeners and Insiders were not available in reception...Overall access to Listeners was generally poor. Initial self-harm monitoring assessor reports lacked detail, and there were insufficient monitoring entries that demonstrated positive engagement by staff.
Will the Minister also explain why, following the suicide in October 2006 of a prisoner who had been placed directly on C wing because of overcrowding, and when the ombudsman had recommended after his investigation that listeners and insiders should be available in reception, the proposal was once again rejected by the establishment? Given what has happened since, it is important that we are told exactly why that recommendation was rejected at the time. Can the Minister confirm that implementation of the recommendation, which took place during the most recent inspection, is continuing?
Will the Minister outline what is being done to implement the reports recommendations for minimising opportunities to self-harm and commit suicide? The recommendations were, first, to improve the quality of initial assessment, care in custody and teamworkACCTreports; secondly, that staff monitoring entries in ACCT documents should demonstrate a high level of engagement with the prisoner; thirdly, that prisoners were to have 24-hour access to listeners, and, fourthly, that CCTV should not be used as an alternative to observation of and engagement with prisoners at risk of self-harm.
I am slightly confused, however, because section 9 of the independent monitoring report, which deals with the issue of safer custody, portrays a slightly different assessment of the situation from that given in the HMI report. I accept that the HMI report went into much greater detail about self-harm and suicide, but the independent monitoring report is far more positive, and less critical, than the HMI report about what was going on during the same period. The independent monitoring report covers the whole of 2007 whereas the HMI report is a snapshot of a four-day period in July 2007, but would the Minister care to give an opinion as to why the two reports seem on the face of it to be sending out different messages about a critical point, given what has happened in the prison over the past year?
I am sure the Minister agrees that everything possible must be done to minimise the opportunities for self-harm and suicide among prisoners. Will she assure me that everything will be done to implement recommendations in the report that have not already been acted on, to ensure that Chelmsford prison is safer and enjoys the most sophisticated best practice so that we can put an end to the ever-increasing number of suicides?
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