41.Our evidence session on 9 March 2021 highlighted significant failings by MTC management, but also failings in oversight of how Rainsbrook STC was being run. The Ministry of Justice, the Youth Custody Service and HMPPS are equally responsible for some failings at Rainsbrook because of significant and fundamental failings in the way they have overseen what was happening there and oversight and received assurance that performance was good or improving. The three inspectorates told us that this failure in oversight and assurance was one of the primary reasons for invocation of the Urgent Notification process, and it is a question that goes wider than the poor management of one custodial institution.
42.Managers both at Rainsbrook and within the YCS and Ministry of Justice manifestly failed to understand what the conditions were at Rainsbrook. This was demonstrated when inspectors made their unannounced visit in December, by which time those managers were well aware of initial concerns inspectors had raised after their October visit and at various resulting meetings throughout October and November. MTC bear direct responsibility for failings at the Centre, but the MOJ and YCS having substantial failings to address to. The inspectors told us that those with the power and responsibility to seek and affirm improvements did not take the action they should have. Angus Mulready-Jones said:
You cannot lay this solely at the door of the provider. The YCS when it contracts a service does not absolve itself of responsibility for making sure the service is delivered appropriately. We told the YCS and the YCS told us it was taking action and that action was not effective, despite the fact that the YCS has staff on site. The YCS is an agency of the MOJ. You cannot separate out the responsibility and just point to one of these agencies.
43.The inspectorates were given repeated assurances between October and December by MTC and the YCS. In spite of those assurances, the necessary and promised actions had not in fact been taken. We asked inspectors whether they felt they had been misled or lied to by the operators. Christine Williams told us:
When we met and had the information from the YCS they believed that things had happened and so the failing was that they did not know and should have known. When we met them, they gave us lots of information and explained that the reverse cohorting and all those issues had been addressed and that they were making sure children had activities. I can say only that they believed all the things they said to us were happening. Clearly, they were not and that is a massive failure. They should have known and they did not. Neither the director and senior managers at Rainsbrook nor YCS knew what was happening for those children in those units, because they would not have sent us the letter with the detail they did.
44.Nick Stacey told us: “When I sat in the room with the director and deputy director and said, “Children are still being locked up for 23.5 hours a day,” and they said, “We don’t think they are,” I do not think they were lying; I just do not think they knew the basic principle of going down once a day to talk to the children—there were only a small number, four or five—and the officers looking after them. They just were not doing it; they did not know. I do not think they were lying; I think it was utter incompetence.” Mr Stacey added that it would have taken a matter of minutes for managers to walk from their office to the Children’s unit to check what was going on.
45.On what the managers were actually doing, Angus Mulready-Jones told us:
I think it is clear that they were not doing what they ought to have been doing during this time. There is not a paucity of managers at these centres. There were 43 children on one visit, 45 at the next and 37 at the next. If you take first-line managers as well, managers probably outnumber children. It is clear that what managers are doing is spending a lot of time in their offices in meetings and on contract compliance, but some of these managers work for the YCS as well as the contractor.
46.It seems almost inconceivable that managers whose offices were a two-minute walk from children being held in their cells all day were unaware of the fact, and remarkable that none of them appears to have simply taken that walk to find out whether what they were being told about their action plans was true, even if covid was restricting face-to-face contact at the time. It is alarming that no flags were raised by managers or YCS monitors on site but none of them seems to have been aware that criticised practices were continuing after promises had been given to stop them.
47.We asked the Youth Custody Service what their monitoring team were doing at Rainsbrook. Helga Swidenbank, Executive Director, Youth Custody Service, told us: “I have a monitoring team of three. My monitoring team had a blended approach. Some of the work that we were doing was face to face. They were walking around the site of inspection. Some of it was via telephone and some of it was viewing CCTV evidence. They had a blended approach. They were also working alongside the director’s team and getting assurances from the director’s team that their staff team were delivering the action plan.” Whatever approach YCS staff were taking to monitor the contract provider performance, it failed to ensure that MTC were resolving fundamental problems. We are concerned that YCS staff relied on reassurances from MTC’s directors rather than finding out for themselves whether children were still being kept in their cells for 23.5 hours a day.
48.Jo Farrar, CEO, HMPPS, accepted a need to reinvigorate the leadership culture at Rainsbrook: “We were having very senior high-level conversations with MTC in relation to the director, who had at that point handed in his notice but was working through his notice period. We were concerned that there was not the energy that we were looking for in relation to the leadership at Rainsbrook and agreed that a member of staff would go on gardening leave and […] the current interim director, would come in. We had identified a lack of energy and impetus there and were keen to see a new leader at Rainsbrook who would bring that to the problems that we knew we all had.”
49.We asked the Youth Custody Service whether they felt they had been misled by management at Rainsbrook between October and December. Helga Swidenbank replied:
MTC were very assertive in the position they took in relation to what they believed was happening on the site. I had a conversation with the then MD, who was very reassuring to me that they had indeed followed up on the actions that the inspectors had recommended.
We were disappointed that the inspectors found what they found. As I said earlier, we also know that we have some learning to do in relation to the nature of our monitoring to make sure that we double-check or triple-check for ourselves that things are happening that we were being told are happening.
50.Ian Mulholland, Managing Director, MTC told us “The issue between the failure to respond fully between October and December is one that troubles me—and troubled me in the same way as it clearly troubles you [….] I was surprised at the lack of external assurance. I was surprised at the lack of operational leadership outside the centre to support the centre and have the resources available to them to take action and make investment where things were not good enough” Commenting on what MTC have done since Urgent Notification was invoked, Mr Mulholland said: “Probably the most important feature I wanted to stress is that I have put in place a new assurance process, both within the centre and, critically, externally within MTC. I have brought in the people who were responsible for designing and implementing the HMPPS assurance process because, as the panel has heard, it clearly is not acceptable for either the people running the centre or the people running MTC not to know what is going on there. You will not hear me trying to defend that.”
51.We welcome the implementation of a new assurance process. More is required than that, however, given what we have heard about action plans being written but not acted on. Those charged with overseeing previous assurances processes failed in the basic task of checking for themselves what was going on and we need greater confidence that a new process will improve upon the existing one. We recommend that MTC set out what their new assurance process is and how it differs from the one previously in existence. In particular, what practical steps will MTC take to ensure that its senior managers at the centre know, for themselves, whether improvements reported to them are real and long-lasting? We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Custody Service set out clearly what they will do to assess the provider’s new assurance processes to ensure that they are operating effectively, and to confirm, for themselves, that what they are being told is true.
52.The question of what independent oversight there was of the action being taken, or not taken, by Rainsbrook’s managers is a crucial one. Aside from annual or follow-up inspections by the three inspectorates (HMIP, Oftsed and the Care Quality Commission), witnesses told us that there is “a real issue about the independence and various people children have at their disposal to raise concerns.” Angus Mulready-Jones said: “There are on-site monitors from the YCS with whom the children should have been able to raise concerns and who should have spotted this and told the YCS. There is also a commissioned advocacy service, which should have raised concerns about this, as well as local partners and others who should have been aware. In reality, we found out about this only when we walked through the door and spoke to the children, so there were significant weaknesses in those systems designed to protect children.” What appears clear is that while the inspectors walked through the door and spoke with the children in Rainsbrook, the YCS staff whose roles involved in being on-site managing the centre and overseeing delivery of that contract did not.
53.Mr Mulready-Jones added that routine management is better placed than irregular inspectors to drive improvement:
[W]e made recommendations for the leadership and management of the centre and the YCS to oversee that improvement, but it has to be said that there are systems in place that are meant to safeguard these children and they did not alert anyone that this practice was continuing.
54.We asked Inspectors whether there should be independent oversight in STCs, such as, for example, Independent Monitoring Boards in Prisons and YOIs. Angus Mulready-Jones thought that there should be independent oversight of practice in STCs, whether an independent monitoring board, or monitoring service that works well. “[T]he issue,” he said, “is about independence and the people who undertake that role remaining independent from the provider. What we have seen here is that quite a lot of people are in theory independent from MTC—you have the YCS monitor and the Barnardo’s advocacy service—but no one raised the alarm bells to say that the practice we found in October and December was unacceptable. That could only have been because they either did not see or they thought it was reasonable. Both those things are fairly damning indictments of those services.”
55.Christine Williams, Deputy Director of Social Care and Regulatory Practice, Ofsted, added: “We are the inspectorate; we are not the regulator. That makes it difficult. We can go in and say what we have seen and escalate it, in the way we have done, but we cannot regulate in the way we do with our children’s homes where, if there is a breach of regulations, we can take enforcement action. That has to be for the YCS, whose contract it is; it has to take that responsibility and action to do that.”
56.We questioned whether the YCS and HMPPS more generally need to examine their internal monitoring processes. Jo Farrar, CEO, HMPPS, told us:
It is something that we are considering, and we are always trying to strengthen our monitoring. In the YCS monitoring, this was embedded in the organisation, in the actual institution. That is good and right to have that. We have also learned that that does not work on its own. We need more external monitoring, and that is why we have asked the wider team from HMPPS and why we had an independent review to look at exactly what had happened. We are learning lessons about the monitoring. We expect to strengthen that in future so that we have at least some independence from the actual bit of the service itself and so that we can have the assurances in place that we need.
57.Helga Swidenbank, Executive Director, YCS, added that she was actively considering how the YCS “might think of monitoring in the future—probably a mixture of embedded staff and some people who work across contracts and are able to bring a slightly detached world view. We are also thinking about skills mix and about remit. We are doing some good-quality work thinking about how monitored teams work and how they can have the impact we need them to have.”
58.The Ministry of Justice, Youth Custody Service, HMPPS and MTC failed in their management and oversight of Rainsbrook STC, and the evidence suggests that, in varying degrees, that failure was not limited to one body. We are deeply concerned that processes in place to oversee Rainsbrook failed to fully safeguard children in the care of the establishment. We welcome work being done to address failings, but the issues identified here in poor leadership and oversight are not new and a greater sense of urgency is required. We welcome the independent review being carried out to understand what went wrong, directed by HMPPS, and recommend that HMPPS share its findings with the Committee and set out clearly what changes will be made to national oversight to ensure that HMPPS, YCS and MoJ have sufficient grip and oversight on all institutions, both contracted and public.
59.We recommend that the Ministry of Justice review monitoring processes in place across the youth secure estate to ensure that robust central monitoring is in place. The Ministry should also set out how they intend to learn lessons from the failings at Rainsbrook, and ensure that the same mistakes are not made in the delivery of secure schools
60.Embedding YCS staff within the institutions whose performance they are monitoring is clearly good practice in principle but is not sufficient on its own. The Minister should consider having additional monitors travelling around sites, or a further form of independent monitoring. We recommend that the Ministry consider how it can manage the risk of its staff either failing to see what is happening or failing to challenge it. Whichever of those things happened at Rainsbrook, neither is acceptable.
61.The contract to manage Rainsbrook, valued at £50.4 million, was awarded to MTC Ltd from 5 May 2016 to 4 May 2021. MTC say that since the contract began in 2016 to the end of 2021, their projected total investment into the centre is £917k, with a projected loss of £1.4 million.
62.The original contract required MTC to “deliver a service that places Young People at its heart and considers their needs wants and wishes at all stages of their stay at the STC”. The provider is supposed to offer high standards of education and training, but inspectors found education was very poor and children were not getting the education they deserved. Ian Mulholland, Managing Director, MTC, since January this year, told us a new Head of Education was in place and that MTC are “doing things about leadership and education, which over an extended period of time has not been good enough.”
63.Chapter 14 of the original contract for Rainsbrook STC—Contract for the Delivery of Youth Detention Accommodation—sets out requirements for quality of leadership and management:
“Young People are recipients of a service that is led by a qualified, motivated and focused leadership, who lead by example and have the experience, understanding and ability to effectively and efficiently deliver the vision for the Custodial Service.
64.Since MTC took over the contract in 2016, there have been four different directors in charge of the centre, with some other interim directors in place in-between. Significant concerns have been raised about the quality of leadership and management at Rainsbrook, as is clear from the previous contents of this report. Mr Mulholland confirmed that MTC is required to meet a range of performance measures, but, perhaps surprisingly given his position, he was not aware of what the financial penalties were. He said the company had ‘broken even’ on the contract in the past two years but expected, as a result of substantial investment this year, to make a loss this year.
65.Jo Farrar, CEO, HMPPS, confirmed sanctions were in place for MTC: “There have been two improvement notices, which are our way of holding MTC to account. There have also been financial sanctions, one set to do with performance since May 2019 but also financial sanctions through the covid period. I should say that some of that is offset because there is also some covid relief for institutions. There was a sanction which meant that overall there was a deduction… The sanctions were £270,000 between May 2019 and April 2020; with the covid relief, now they are £76,000 [in total].”
66.Early in 2020, the MoJ granted the maximum possible two-year extension to the contract, taking the end date to May 2023. Given that concerns already existed by then about MTC’s performance and sanctions were already in place, this decision looks misjudged. Given what has happened since, it looks like a serious error of judgment. We asked the Secretary of State whether consideration had been given to taking Rainsbrook back in-house on the basis that the failures were so gross that MTC could not be trusted to safely carry out its contractual responsibilities. Robert Buckland QC MP, Lord Chancellor and secretary of State for Justice told us:
I will not make glib remarks about last chance saloons or people being on probation, but it is very clear to me that, as a result of the incidents that we are dealing with and your Committee is seized of, MTC have frankly a lot to demonstrate to make me satisfied that the future at Rainsbrook can be one that we can be confident about. But they have that contract. They need to get on with the job and demonstrate that they can deliver. As I have said, that particular consideration is very much in my mind in the months ahead.
67.We questioned whether there would be enhanced monitoring of the regime and provider and the Secretary of State confirmed that: “from my point of view as Secretary of State, I shall be speaking regularly with Ms Swidenbank and Dr Farrar about the issues.” Helga Swidenbank set out the measures that were being put in place to monitor MTC:
Since the UN we have reinforced our monitoring team with a senior operational manager grade. She is now on site full time, overseeing the action plan.
Coupled with that, we have regular weekly meetings with the operators—improvement meetings—and I chair a senior urgent notification board, which happens monthly and has the operator representatives, commercial representatives and operational delivery partners, including health, around the table.
In addition, we are using our commercial levers in relation to the contract. We have issued two improvement notices in relation to the UN and subsequent concerns we have had about delivery. We are very much working closely with the provider but holding them to very close account and meeting them almost daily in relation to their delivery at Rainsbrook.
68.We are concerned that Ministry of Justice awarded MTC the maximum possible contract extension. Based on the evidence heard on 9 March, coupled with the inspectorates’ findings, it is clear that MTC have failed to fulfil a number of contractual obligations. The company clearly did not fulfil the requirement to “deliver a service that places Young People at its heart and considers their needs, wants and wishes at all stages of their stay at the STC”. While the difficulties of re-letting a contract and potentially changing a Secure Training Centre provider during the covid-19 pandemic may be considerable, there can be little justification for retaining the services of a badly under-performing contractor, and even less for giving them two more years of that contract. Notwithstanding the complications of letting a contract during a pandemic period, no one’s needs, and in particular the needs of some of our society’s most vulnerable children, should be placed second to administrative considerations.
69.We seek a clear explanation of why the Ministry of Justice chose to extend MTC’s contract by two years when the contractor’s ability to deliver was already in question, and we ask what ministerial involvement there was in making that decision and, in particular, in signing it off.
70.Consistently sub-standard performance of a contract does not merit renewal in any circumstances. We recommend that the Secretary of State urgently reviews whether his Ministry plans to renew any other contract or any contractor whose performance is similarly consistently poor.
71.On the basis of the assurances given by MTC to the YCS and to the Ministry of Justice in October and November, the Secretary of State for Justice, rt hon. Robert Buckland QC MP, wrote to Ofsted on 18 November saying that improvements were in train. Mr Buckland told us:
I was given assurances as to future conduct and immediate future improvement that then did not happen. I have looked again carefully at my letter, and I am giving Ofsted a lot of assurances about what is about to happen. […] I can assure you I do not like being played for a fool. The message should be out there loud and clear that this will not happen again. Otherwise, the consequences will be extremely serious for those responsible.
72.We are glad to hear the Secretary of State, rt hon. Robert Buckland QC MP, say “I absolutely take and hold accountability overall, which I am prepared to accept, and I do so in front of the Committee”. No-one likes, in his own phrase, being “played for a fool” and we appreciate his commitment to ensure that there are serious consequences in store should any attempt be made to mislead him or his Ministry again about what is being done at Rainsbrook.
42 [Angus Mulready-Jones]]
43 [Christine Williams]
44 [Nick Stacey]
45 [Angus Mulready-Jones]
46 [Helga Swidenbank]
47 [Jo Farrar]
48 [Helga Swidenbank]
49 [Ian Mulholland]
50 [Ian Mulholland]
51 [Angus Mulready-Jones]
52 [Angus Mulready-Jones]
53 [Angus Mulready-Jones]
54 [Angus Mulready-Jones]
55 [Christine Williams]
56 [Jo Farrar]
57 [Helga Swidenbank]
58 MTC Letter
59 [Nick Stacey]; [Angus Mulready-Jones]; [Christine Williams]
60 [Ian Mulholland]
61 [Ian Mulholland]
62 [Dr Mullan and Ian Mulholland]
64 [Robert Buckland]
65 [Robert Buckland]
66 [Helga Swidenbank]
67 [Robert Buckland QC MP]
68 [Robert Buckland QC MP]