Official Report (Hansard)
Date: 24 February 2009
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Jimmy Spratt (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Simon Hamilton
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr Danny Kennedy
Mr Alex Maskey
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Alan McFarland
Mr John O’Dowd
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr
Ms Anne McCleary ) Northern Ireland Prison Service
Mr Mark McGuckin )
Mr Robin Masefield )
Mr Max Murray )
Also in Attendance:
Mr Victor Hewitt ) Specialist adviser
The Chairperson (Mr Spratt):
I welcome representatives of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. I welcome Robin Masefield, the director general, Mark McGuckin, the director of finance and personnel, Max Murray, the director of operations, and Anne McCleary, the director of services. We anticipate having up to an hour for the meeting, during which time the witnesses will give a brief opening statement, leaving time for Committee members to ask questions.
First, I invite Committee members to declare any interests. I declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
I am also a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
I am a member of Belfast District Policing Partnership.
Alex Maskey, who is absent, is also a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
You are very welcome. This is a crucial issue for us at the moment. We are dealing particularly with the financial aspects of the devolution of policing and justice, and I am sure that members will have quite a few questions.
Mr Robin Masefield ( Northern Ireland Prison Service):
Thank you. We very much appreciate being given the opportunity to appear before the Committee, and we thank you for allowing us the time to do so. I will keep my remarks very brief. I am grateful to my colleagues, who have been introduced already.
Mr Gary Boyd, who is our chief accountant and head of financial services, is here along with my head of press office. However, the four of us at this table will aim to deal with all your questions.
On 6 February 2009, I responded in writing to the Committee Clerk’s questions. I am conscious that that was a slightly shorter and crisper response than some other organisations might have provided, but I do not wish to eat into the Committee’s time for questioning.
Four key issues face the Northern Ireland Prison Service. I am also conscious of yesterday’s debate in the Assembly. The first issue to face the Prison Service is the Criminal Justice Order ( Northern Ireland) 2008. The previous time that some of my colleagues and I appeared in the Senate Chamber, we were questioned on our views on and preparedness for implementing the draft Order.
Secondly, the Northern Ireland Prison Service estate has had a fair amount of investment over the years, but it is still deficient in a number of key areas. I imagine that you may wish to pose questions on that. That has implications for capital expenditure and for resource-revenue costs thereafter.
Thirdly, the service devotes a lot of attention to organisational development issues such as staff development and human resources.
Finally, we are conscious of the pressures that the wider economic and financial climate in which we operate place on the Prison Service, the wider Northern Ireland Office and Government more generally.
I know that several projects are ongoing at present, particularly where modernisation is concerned. What is the current expenditure position with those projects, and, as a result, what might be the possible pressures on funding in the years that lie ahead?
There are perhaps three areas that I could discuss on that point. I shall talk about the Order, and my colleague will speak about the human resource dimension, about which we have particularly impressive stories to tell about the changes that we are introducing with staffing. Thirdly, we will talk about the development of the estate, which covers capital, as well as revenue, issues.
A range of pressures was identified across the Northern Ireland Office family, as I might call it, in the preparation of the draft Order a year ago. I remember being asked whether the Prison Service could afford to implement the Order. I answered then that we could, and I believe that that remains the position. A total of £4·7 million is set aside for the Prison Service to implement its share of the Order.
We are on target with the progress that is being made this year, and, in the final year of the comprehensive spending review (CSR) period, we will have £2·6 million in additional moneys. Many demands are being placed on us, including the recruitment of additional staff such as psychologists and the gearing up of the offender-management model, which we think is the right way forward. In the light of those demands, we believe that those additional moneys will provide us with the funding that we, along with the Probation Board and the Northern Ireland Office, require to play our part in implementing the draft Order. That is one strand of modernisation against which we can put a tick.
My colleague, as head of personnel and finance, will address the staffing issue.
Mr Mark McGuckin ( Northern Ireland Prison Service):
The Prison Service is a staffing-led organisation, and it delivers its function working with and through people. There is a significant resource requirement for staff. A couple of years ago, we looked at the overall staffing position and the reliance that is placed on highly paid and highly skilled prison officers to carry out a whole range of functions across the system.
We identified a range of opportunities for efficiencies. We put together and agreed a package with the staff associations that addressed the overall staffing complement — the overall numbers that are involved — and the type of staff. As a consequence, we had a 10% pure efficiency reduction in the overall number of staff that were required, and we brought in support grades to carry out functions that are not directly related to engagement with prisoners. For example, the contact that some staff had with prisoners was as court escorts. However, maintaining the security of the environment is the key consideration.
In addition, and with the agreement of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), we introduced a support grade. Staff in that grade carry out peripheral functions in secured areas around the establishments in question, such as maintaining the fabric of the building and so forth. There is a range of posts in that grade and over the next two or three years, we will gradually bring more support grades on stream, thereby replacing prison officers that have left through natural wastage. Pure efficiencies and the use of different types of staff have created total efficiency savings of approximately £25 million or £26 million over the period. That helps us to address some of the other pressures that we face.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Thank you for coming today, ladies and gentlemen.
To cut to the chase, we are trying to secure the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland. To do that, we need to know how much the Prison Service costs now and how much it is likely to cost us until 2012 and beyond. We need that information in order to inform our negotiations with the Northern Ireland Office, which normally likes to negotiate with people who are in the dark about such matters. By having that information, we can agree a figure with the Northern Ireland Office through which the Prison Service can be sustained, not only at its current level, but efficiently and effectively in the future. Thus, the Prison Service will be able to grow and develop and do what is expected of it. It will be able to look after people properly and meet the expectations of the twenty-first century public in Northern Ireland.
Robin, I am asking you for a ballpark figure: in order to sustain the Prison Service and to develop it in the way that I suggested, how much money should we request from the Northern Ireland Office?
I could give you a number of answers to that.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
I just want the truthful and the real answer.
You will always get from me, sir, a truthful answer, and indeed a real answer, in the context of the role of the agency as a member of the Northern Ireland Office family. Very broadly, the result of the comprehensive spending review settlement was that we were provided with a flat real settlement of a 2·7% increase across the board for year-on-year inflation costs, and that has, undoubtedly, created some pressures for us.
The truth is that in the last year of the SR04 period, as our accounts show, our out-turn was several million pounds below the initial opening budget. We were able to return money to the central fund, which was excellent, because it contributed to the end-year flexibility.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Was that capital money that was returned?
No, it was revenue. We brought forward a small amount of capital because of our successful spending against it on new accommodation. This year, as the end of the financial year approaches, we will break even or perhaps, we hope, come in slightly under budget. We do not deny that we will struggle to continue to take the service forward in the next two years.
On 1 April 2009, we will enter the third year of the pay-and-efficiency agreement to which my colleague referred. Therefore, we can anticipate the budget levels and the salary costs in that agreement. We can also get a good handle on the staff who will replace those who left through the natural wastage — Mark referred to them already.
I single out the implications for the development of the estate as presenting perhaps the biggest single challenge to the service; you may wish to question us further about that. I am conscious that I did not come back to you on that, Chair; it was the third element of your opening question. The estate, undoubtedly, requires development in two strands. In addition to the capital cost, to which you referred, revenue costs will tail thereafter. Those comprise the capital charge, which is currently 3·5%, and depreciation.
For example, if, as we hope, Magilligan Prison were to be replaced with a new redeveloped facility, that new facility would cost more, because, over the 50-year period, we would be paying a capital charge and a higher level of depreciation for a new asset than for the current facility. Therefore, within our budget for the coming year, we will seek to contain the increasing costs incurred as a result of our progress in developing accommodation to meet the increasing prisoner population. We hope to offset those costs against any savings that we may be able to make.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
That is very interesting. However, can you answer my question: how much money do you actually need? How much should we be asking the Northern Ireland Office for, for a sustainable period, up to 2012 and beyond, to allow the Prison Service, not to struggle through — as you put it — but to sustain itself and grow?
The specific figure is £13 million, which is the cost that is associated with the estate development. That is the combined revenue cost for the year in which we are starting, 2009-2010, and then for 2010-11.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Is that £13 million on top of the £134·9 million that you will bid for under the resource budget?
With respect, clearly an element of those capital costs, and the associated revenue costs, is included in our budget. The centre — the Northern Ireland Office — will look to us to manage and produce a balanced budget, notwithstanding those pressures, which are largely, but not exclusively, the result of modernising the estate, trying to produce a prison service that is fit for the twenty-first century, and some inescapable consequences from the continually rising prisoner population.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
I will ask that again, because I need to get this in plain English — I am a wee bit stupid when it comes to these things: is that £13 million on top of the £134·9 million that you are budgeting for in the years 2008-09 and 2009-2010?
As you will appreciate, I am not going to give you a direct answer saying yes —
Mr Paisley Jnr:
That is an additional cost in the budget that we have — it is an additional pressure that we will need to meet within our budget.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
I understand the word “pressure”; however, in a year to 18 months, at the very outset, you guys will be totally answerable to the Assembly. Do you want to be here, in a year to 18 months, explaining that you should have told us how much was really needed? Now is the time to put that on the table, tell us what you need, and perhaps we can get a sustainable budget for the future. We are trying to help. At the minute, your political master is the Northern Ireland Office, but that will not be the case for very much longer. You have to make a judgement call today: will you give us the full picture or only part of the picture? I hope that your call is that you will give us the full picture.
My clear response is that to an extent, we are flagging up that £13 million pressure, and we flagged up earlier that we were struggling to contain that with the resources that we have. That is the business that the four of us appearing today seek to do, and there are a number of offsetting means by which to do that — it can be done while living within the pressures.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
In January 2001, the prison population was 800; in 10 years, it has practically doubled, which as an unfortunate reflection of today’s society. Nonetheless, you have to manage that population, and you do so under very difficult circumstances. We commend the very capable people who are working on the front line. From what you know, and indeed, from the changes in Government policy that are being announced and that seek to keep people in jail for longer, without releasing them — because that is what the public demands — do you envisage that population growing by another 100% over the next 10 years?
We do, frankly, yes. Two years or three years ago, as part of our strategic development programme, a lot of work was done on population projections, and those figures were independently quality assured by Queen’s University law department. The projection is for roughly a 5% growth in the initial years and a 4% growth thereafter. That did not take into account the changes in the Criminal Justice ( Northern Ireland) Order 2008, which had not come through at that time. As you are aware, the hope is that the Order will provide properly for diversions from custody those who do not need to go to prison, but who may now be sent there as a result of a lack of an available alternative.
Just yesterday, there was a very welcome development with the announcement of the women offenders’ strategy, which is putting in place, for example, a probation facility that did not exist previously. Good progress is being made in providing an alternative. This morning, Max Murray was present when the Minister announced the introduction of electronic monitoring — or tagging — which is another alternative. Until now, the courts would have been obliged to send people to custody, so that step is welcome. It is our hope that the prison population will roughly balance out over time.
My personal belief is that probably in the longer term, as you said, we will end up with more of those individuals — people serving long-term, indeterminate and extended custodial sentences — who will find it very difficult to satisfy the parole commissioners that they have reduced the risk of serious harm that they pose to the community.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Does that mean that by 2018 we could have a prison population in excess of 3,000 people?
We would not go that far; our calculations are that in 15 years, the adult male prison population will have risen to 2,200.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
What about the female population?
We have not completed the work that would take those calculations to the same level. In the next few weeks we hope to publish a strategic outline case for projections the female prisoner population, which has increased significantly. For example, when we transferred from Mourne House at Maghaberry in June 2004, there were just 17 female offenders in custody; there are now 55.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Therefore, that figure has more than doubled.
Thank you. Can you clarify some of the points that Ian made earlier? You said that there have been costs of £134·9 million and an additional £13 million associated with the estate. You talked about pressures and how you cope with and contain them. I like to approach these things very simply — you either add £13 million on to the £134·9 million, or you make savings within that £134·9 million for some or part of what you need. Which is it, and how would you do it?
I will give you as simple a response as I can as head of the organisation, bearing in mind my fellow directors. It is our job to manage the budget within the resources that we are given. We strive to do that, and we are about facing the period in the annual cycle where we are producing the business plan for the next year — 2009-2010 — when we will be working with our governors and colleagues on the basis of our improved financial strategy to address that very question and to begin to make some of the hard choices.
It may interest the Committee to know that in England and Wales, what they call a core day was introduced. That has made a fundamental change to the working week. That is because the English prison service did not have sufficient resources. It means that the regime now closes down on Friday lunchtime and prisoners no longer go to workshops or receive education classes on Friday afternoons, and evening association is also curtailed. That is the hard choice that was made in order that they could live within their budget. I am not suggesting anything as radical for the Northern Ireland Prison Service, but we will be taking a hard look at all aspects of cost.
If you were to ask me whether we could make more efficiencies, I would say that undoubtedly we could. Some of those are within our gift, and some are not necessarily so. Mark McGuckin described some of the detail of the longer-term process that we are engaged in, and we are making further progress in capping the ceiling for the pay progression of staff that are now joining as main-grade officers. There is a wide strategy in place to progress that and to reduce costs over time.
We have made real progress. A comparatively short number of years ago — five or eight years ago — we were three times as expensive as the English prison service on the costs for each prisoner in place. We believe that we are now less than twice as expensive. The English prison service no longer publishes its figures precisely, and the costs are not exactly comparable, but we are on a reducing glide-path on the annual costs for each prisoner place.
Regarding the £13 million of additional costs for the prison estate, can you clarify that those are non-cash costs representing additional capital charges and depreciation? What is the value of the estate that the charges apply to?
I can confirm the former. On the latter point, the current value of the estate is around £200 million —
It is around that, but the additional charges are based on the accommodation that we have been building in recent times, such as the new house block that opened at Magilligan recently, and the new house block that we are building at Maghaberry. It also includes additional accommodation at Magilligan. For clarification, the sum is a total of £13 million across the next two years, as opposed to £13 million in each of the next two years.
In the figures that are included in the members’ papers, you referred to administration and programme costs. I assume that administration relates entirely to the salaries — is that what that means?
It is principally a distinction, though it is a bit over-simplistic. “Administration” is largely the headquarters staff, whereas the “programme” is about front-line delivery, and it also covers services to the prisoners, such as food, utilities or running costs.
Thank you. I am keen to explore some of the challenges that you face. Your critics would say that the Prison Service has not made the same journey that the PSNI has made, in that the experience of most of its officers lies in the dark days of the Troubles. The prison officers were outstanding in the way that they dealt with the Troubles. As you know, when we discussed the draft Order, there was a suggestion that there are new prison techniques and new methods. The Prison Service’s critics say that its officers are fairly elderly — by and large, they are at the top end of the age scale — and that they are not necessarily at an age when they can be retrained for all those modern techniques. Presumably, you will be faced with that issue.
The service is attached to a powerful union, which is famed for its strength. Indeed, it is very protective of its members. From the point of view of unions, that is as it should be; however, it is expensive for the service.
Under the draft Criminal Justice Order ( Northern Ireland) 2008, the Probation Board was to take over much of the training period when prisoners are in jail. That service takes an interest from their first appearance in court, and it monitors them until they are released from prison. Those duties were carried out formerly by prison officers, but they are to be transferred to the probation service, as I understand it. That is another issue.
At our previous meeting, you talked about the fact that a substantial percentage of those who are in prison should not be there, because they are fine defaulters who ended up in prison when they should have been dealt with in the community.
How will all that work out? We are trying to think not just about the budget for this year and next, but to make sure that we have an accurate picture of what will happen in five years when the prison population has risen. Ian Paisley mentioned this, and my sense is that when we get control, politicians will be less tolerant of the current bail system. The Chief Constable appears repeatedly before various Committees saying that he is fed up with encountering prisoners who are due for their ninth appearance in court but who, each time they arrive in court, are given bail yet again instead of being locked up. That is yet another issue.
Please ask your question.
It is important that we get this right first time, because we will not get another go at it. It is important that the Prison Service has a projection of what it will cost in five years, or else we in the Assembly will be left looking silly because we did not ask the questions when we had the chance.
Can you tell us what the situation with all this will be? How large will the increase in the prisoner population be? Some will be released because they are fine defaulters. Technically, the service should change the style of its officers, and I presume that that will reduce the cost, making it more comparable with the service England. Will you give us a picture of where you see all that going?
I will respond first, and my director of operations will answer on changes affecting staff training.
Referring to your point about the draft Order, I want to give you an idea of the future scale of the service. By year 3 — 2010-11 — we will have about £2∙6 million. We will have roughly 200 staff, many of whom are already in the system, meaning that they will not all be new staff. They will operate what we call the offender-management model. There are two key elements to that: a case manager and a sentence manager. The case manager will be a probation officer and will have responsibility for the individual prisoner, from the pre-sentence report that goes to the court, through to discharge, making the process seamless — much as we discussed at our previous meeting. We see that as a positive improvement.
There will also be a sentence manager, who will be a prison officer — one of our own staff — whose job will be to ensure that the individual in question is working to his sentence plan for the time that he is with us. He will ensure that the prisoner’s needs are addressed, his offending behaviour corrected and that he is getting on the relevant programmes, such as enhanced thinking skills, cognitive self-change, or sex offender treatment programmes. That officer will ensure that progress is made and that the individual is prepared for potential release and for the judgement as to whether they can go back safely into the community. We have recruited 20 additional psychological assistants already to help us with that element of the programme.
Therefore, the picture has changed slightly since we spoke previously. The probation service is playing a slightly bigger role, but we will probably do more of the programme work ourselves, partly as a result of our subsequent decision to bring in psychological assistants. The probation service is providing some additional support, but our staff will largely be responsible for such matters. That will place additional requirements on the staff on the landings, who will liaise with the sentence managers about the progress of individual prisoners.
Mr Max Murray ( Northern Ireland Prison Service):
The big emphasis, particularly as regards public-protection sentences, is on satisfying parole commissioners as to somebody’s suitability for release. The only way to do that is to ensure that significant risk-assessment procedures are in place and that what will be called sentence planning is in place, whereby a sentence plan is drawn up. Interventions must be in place, and subsequent and further risk assessments must be completed by psychologists after a dossier, as we call it, is prepared. That dossier is then passed to the parole commissioners, after which an oral hearing is held at which the parole commissioners, in the presence of legal representatives, will explore suitability for release and then [inaudible] make an evaluation. That is a challenge for the service, and we will have to step up to the mark to meet it.
Inherent within that process is the need to ensure that our prison officers similarly understand the environment in which they operate today. You are right in what you say about our prison officers; the previous recruitment campaign for prison officers was held in the early 1990s. Many of our prison officers had worked in the Maze Prison or Belfast, and their experiences were largely of working with paramilitary prisoners where the emphasis was mainly on disengagement rather than engagement.
The expression “culture change” is not one that we use lightly; in fact, it is an expression that we do not particularly like, but it encapsulates everything that we are about at the moment. A major culture change programme is under way in the service. For example, we sent all our principal officers, senior officers, first-line managers and second-line managers for a full week’s training at the Prison Service College. Last year, we ran a two-day training programme for all prison officers, which 70% to 80% of prison officers attended.
The programme’s emphasis was largely on learning from the previous programme that we delivered to principal and senior officers, in which victims talked on DVD about their experience of crime and what they expect of the Prison Service when an offender goes into custody. It is not about locking up a prisoner; it is about working with the prisoner to avoid any instances of re-offending in future.
As I said, the programme was delivered over two days. It had a significant impact to the extent that, last year, when prison officers were being interviewed by line managers for their personal development plans, 600 of them identified the need for further interpersonal training skills and de-escalation skills. For the first time in many years, we noticed a move away from the old traditional requirement for control and restraint (C&R) skills, which are the basic use-of-force skills. Thus, the service is moving forward and changing, albeit gradually. Certainly, the demand is there, and there is a need to implement the new arrangements under the Criminal Justice Order ( Northern Ireland) 2008.
I remind members that we must try to stick to financial matters — that is really our task today.
Robin, I thank you and your team for coming along today.
In one sense, the policing and justice budget is very vulnerable. My view is that the Exchequer in London will try to claw back money from the North, given that, for all the obvious reasons, there has been such an extravagant policing and justice budget over the years of conflict. I do not think that London will appreciate the need to maintain policing and justice budget lines in order to help maintain stability in the North.
In the event of the devolution of policing and justice, the budget for it will be part of the devolved pot. In those circumstances, and given the higher cost base here — for example, the higher cost for each prisoner place — we can see the politics of this place beginning to probe how every pound is spent in the Prison Service and elsewhere in the criminal justice family, as you put it. Therefore, I believe that there is a little, for want of a better word, vulnerability around the budget lines for the Prison Service. That will not go away; it will be a political theme for the next five, six or seven years.
Given that the Prison Service is still part of the NIO, and in the light of what back-room people in London have been saying about achieving more efficiency savings, have you, or has the NIO, been given a heads-up to produce additional efficiency savings when powers are devolved? Even the Minister of Finance and Personnel accepts that such savings would, in fact, be straightforward top-line budget cuts. Have you had any indication that you are about to be hit in such a way?
To answer your question slightly differently, I can truthfully say that we have had no indication of how big our slice of that potential efficiency cake might be. Nevertheless, in the light of the overall economic climate, central Government is flagging up the need to make further savings. However, the Prison Service has yet to be informed of its allocation.
As you know, they are coming. Indeed, they may come tomorrow, when the various Finance Ministers and others will meet the Prime Minister in London.
I am impressed by the fact that you have put a budget line in place to deal with the consequences of the Criminal Justice Order ( Northern Ireland) 2008. Your office will be responsible for ensuring that much of the resultant work in prisons is carried out, but I am concerned about whether the culture in the Prison Service will allow for, or whether enough of your officers have the necessary experience to do, that sort of work.
When Peter Smith, the head of the Parole Commissioners, gave evidence to the Committee, he took great pains to talk about the enormous financial consequences of the 2008 Order, and Robin Masefield appears to acknowledge that. Given what you said about the increasing number of prisoners, and so forth, are you satisfied that even the budget lines that you have been able to put in place, which look impressive on paper, will be adequate? Given what Peter Smith and the Probation Board told us about those matters, I am concerned that even those impressive figures may underestimate what will be required.
I shall be broadly reassuring, in line with the response that I gave the last time. The financial provision that we have made should pretty well cover what will be required. Nevertheless, it is difficult to anticipate the future, and the measures introduced by Paul Goggins — whereby prisoners who need not be in custody can be diverted elsewhere, whereas others may be staying longer with us in future — have created tensions in rebalancing the criminal-justice system.
As I said on the previous occasion that I appeared before the Committee, there are two types of resources. One can have all the money in the world, but, in order to do the business, one must have the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time, and that is hugely difficult for the Prison Service, and, to a lesser extent, the Probation Board and others.
Obtaining a report from an accredited psychologist is a particular bottleneck through which every prisoner must pass. However, those professionals are in short supply, and, to some extent, the prison services in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and the South are all competing with one other for their services. In order to bring people on, there has been ongoing engagement with the universities. For example, the University of Ulster has been working with Skills for Justice, and Queen’s University Belfast has been considering opportunities for postgraduate courses. We have taken short-term remedial action by bringing in psychological assistants, but we are still finding it difficult to attract individuals with a full master’s degree in forensic psychology, which, perfectly understandably, is the level of accreditation and experience that is required to satisfy the Parole Commissioners.
First, are you saying that the criminal-justice regime is not in a position to provide the range of information and reports that is necessary in order to put people forward for parole hearings?
Secondly, can you confirm whether the unit cost for prisoners is £87,000 per annum per prisoner? Over and above what you said about changing your officers’ profile, how do you intend to reduce that figure to make it more consistent with prisoner costs in Britain?
I shall deal with your second question first. The current target is a spot over £80,000, and next year it is projected to be approximately £78,000.
Therefore, we are seeking to reduce that figure. More significantly, over a year ago, the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs produced a report, which said that cost per prisoner-place comparison was outdated and should be moved away from, because England no longer calculates on the same basis.
The unit cost per member of staff is, in some ways, a more accurate measure of efficiencies. It is decreasing much more significantly, and Mark referred to the £25 million reduction for the three-year period, and that is as a result of the efficiency savings.
What are your target costs?
At this point, we do not have a target cost as such, because there are so many variables, not least the number of cell spaces and the number of prisoners therein. The steps that we have taken over the past couple of years through the efficiency package will continue to deliver further cost reductions in the unit costs of staff. Staff profiles change over time, and some more highly paid prisoner officers will leave the system and will be replaced by people who are on a new capped salary from 2002. It will take time to feel the effects of that replacement, but it will reduce overall costs.
Is there not a target of, for example, £70,000, £65,000 or £55,000?
It would take a considerable amount of time to reach such targets, and, in the meantime, there are so many variables that would interfere that it is unrealistic to set targets now. The idea is to keep the downward pressure on the overall costs in line with the other factors that intervene at any particular time.
Much of our existing accommodation is inefficient. Although the houses in Maghaberry are of reasonably good quality, they are, in staff terms, inefficient. It will take time to replace those houses with more cost-effective and staff-efficient accommodation, and the associated costs — capital costs, depreciation in the value of the premises, and so on — will also increase. Therefore, we can reduce the unit cost of staff by improving the accommodation, but we also face other challenges.
It is a challenge that we must address. However, HM Prison Service and the Scottish Prison Service face similar challenges.
Mr A Maskey:
I want to approach the matter from another angle. I am slightly alarmed that you have no early projections on numbers of female prisoners, given the backdrop of some serious indictments, which I do not need to explain now, of female-prisoner management systems in the Prison Service. Those reports and the rectification of the problems must have capital-arm-revenue cost implications. Therefore, without projections of the numbers, how will we project figures and search for a proper budget? We are here to try to establish a necessary and appropriate budget.
If I were a Minister or a representative from the Treasury, I would be interested in your opening remarks to the effect that you were able to return revenue money — you did not give a figure, and I would be interested to hear it — in the first year of the comprehensive spending review. In the second year, you might break even and, in the third year, you might struggle. As a Minister or representative of the Treasury, I would say that, in the third year, I will squeeze you, and you will struggle, but you will come in on budget.
I want to get a handle on the level of revenue that was returned, because I can understand capital’s being returned if, for a variety of reasons, it was not utilised. However, revenue is entirely different, and, therefore, I am interested in the revenue figure that was returned, and in how was that figure calculated, because it is obviously erroneous. We try to base our calculations on realistic figures, should we decide to lobby later, and what I have heard so far does not encourage me much.
I will deal with your question about finance first. To the best of my recollection, the figure is somewhere between £3 million and £4 million. That is partly because the centre in the Northern Ireland Office has the level of allocation that it gets from the Treasury through the CSR. However, it is also in the business of trying to build backup, or contingency, capacity and subsequently fund developments such as the powers legislated for in the Criminal Justice Order ( Northern Ireland) 2008.
It is in all our interests to find out where we did not need to spend that money. Perhaps the prisoner population did not rise, for example, or we had been funded for things that we did not need. The money could have been put back into the centre and funding issued collectively, and the Probation Board may have benefited from that to an extent.
I will return to the second point about women prisoners. I am conscious that I did not quite give a full answer, and I want to give full and honest answers to all the Committee’s questions. I have a meeting with Minister Goggins at lunchtime today to discuss the issue of prison numbers. We anticipate that the number of women prisoners will increase, but there is a slight debate about the extent of that increase and the impact of some of the diversionary measures, such as the women’s strategy that was published just yesterday and the tagging system that was introduced today.
I am conscious that the female-prisoner population is significantly skewed, in that 20% of women in prison are there as the result of one arrest operation. In principle, we remain absolutely committed to providing a better long-term facility for women than Ash House at Hydebank Wood, which has serious limitations. In recent months, numbers in Ash House have been between 55 and 60, which is nearing even the increased capacity.
We are looking at developing a business case to progress the matter in both the short and longer term. I anticipate that a strategic outline case for the women’s facility will be produced within a month. That will be the same as what we did for Magilligan Prison a year ago and will provide clearer answers to your question.
I was involved in the decision to move women prisoners from Mourne House at Maghaberry Prison to Ash House after there were a couple of tragic deaths in custody at the former. At that time, I received projections, which I still have on file, that numbers were likely to increase from 17 to approximately 34, but to no more than 40, by 2009. That shows the reliability of projections — we need to be careful not to rely on them.
Many of the women in custody should not be there and should instead be dealt with through support systems, such as mental-health treatment on the Health Service. Indeed, much work is being done with the Health Service to look at personality disorder, for example. Many females have personality disorders, and we must manage those women correctly. The intention is to have dispersals and diversions rather than to rely on their being taken into custody all the time.
The female prison population is particularly difficult, because it contains some seriously damaged and abused prisoners. However, when the original decisions were made in 2004, no statistician in the world could have foreseen that there would have been an increase to 61 last year. That was simply not on the cards.
Mr A Maskey:
Can you give an indication of the degree to which you will struggle with shortfall in the third year of the CSR?
I would hate to leave you, Mr Paisley or anyone else with the impression that the shortfall is £13 million year on year. That figure is a composite of a little more than £5 million in the year that we about to go into and around £7·5 million the following year. Therefore, the shortfall in year three of the CSR will be in the region of £7 million or £8 million. That is predominantly, but not exclusively, as a result of the required estate development and the associated resource tail.
It is possible that there will be a change. This is speculative, but my finance colleagues think that the Treasury may revisit the capital charge that it levies, which used to be 6% and which was reduced to 3·5% a couple of years ago. It is sometimes difficult to project how UK-wide changes will affect us.
The devolution of policing and justice powers will bring a major benefit in that we will not have to pay VAT on the new facilities.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Yes, we pay VAT at present.
I will be leaving the Chair shortly, because I have to speak in a debate in the Assembly Chamber. The Deputy Chairperson, Raymond McCartney, will take over in the Chair.
We are almost encouraging you to come up with negatives, and I envisage that will be a characteristic of these evidence sessions. We are almost like Bruce Forsyth, in that we are encouraging you to go higher and higher. Thus far, you have given us a figure of £13 million.
With respect, the annual figure is £7·5 million — it is £13 million over the two years.
OK, so it is lower. [Laughter.]
I would be in even more trouble if the figure of £13 million were allowed to gain currency.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
It is now out there — this meeting is being broadcast live.
To be fair, Robin made it clear that the figure of £13 million is over two years. We are almost transfixed with the comprehensive spending review period, as is evidenced by many of our questions. To make predictions about 10 years into the future is almost like asking how long is a piece of string. If you are saying that the potential exists for the prison population to grow at a rapid rate — almost doubling over a 10-year period, which is not a long time — have you any projection of the possible cost of that worst-case growth?
I also wish to ask about the capital budget. I am aware that you spoke about the resource pressure on capital, because there is a tendency for people to say that capital is the cost of the bricks and mortar, while forgetting about the resource costs. The capital budget has increased impressively since 2005, and it will reach £26 million by the end of the CSR period. Is that sufficient to cover the cost of the planned capital expenditure, and does it take into account the need to cover the potential growth of the prison population over the next 10 years? Are those projects sufficient?
It is always nice when one can answer a question fairly simply. The answer is yes, it should be sufficient for the capital, partly because there is a limit to the rate at which one can spend it. There is an estate-development strategy that has been well worked out. Anne and her team in estate management are excellent in that area, and I want to pay tribute to them.
There are plans for some additional accommodation, to which Mark referred. There will be another 120 places opening in Mourne House at Maghaberry Prison later this year, and there are plans for further development on a similar scale elsewhere at Maghaberry in order to meet the needs of the prison population. What is important is that there will be an opportunity to decant to make much-needed, sequential improvements to the square houses at Maghaberry, which also need to be brought up to date, as the inspectorate regularly tells us. A range of other, slightly smaller-scale projects will also be advanced.
Specifically, the big two projects are Magilligan Prison and, as is briefly referred to in the draft strategy for the management of women offenders that was published yesterday, the plans for a female facility. There is scope in that figure of slightly over £70 million capital over the three years of the CSR to do the preparatory work, including its exemplar design and business case, and the programme management thereafter. Of course, the Treasury does not get into discussions about what the position will be at the end of the CSR period.
You are content that the capital budget is sufficient?
Until March 2011, yes.
Have any projections been carried on the cost associated with the rising prison population, and how far that is beyond any extrapolation of current budgets?
Yes and no. I briefly referred to taking on business-case advisers, for example. The project at Magilligan Prison will go out to tender shortly, and at that stage the detail can be considered. As my colleagues have already said, it is crucial to ensure that the future generation of establishments and replacement accommodation is designed efficiently and effectively, as we are doing already, so that it encourages interaction between staff and prisoners.
If, for example, any of you were to visit Magilligan Prison, Halward House will be formally opened in a couple of weeks’ time. That is a state-of-the-art facility. Representatives from the English Prison Service have visited and peer-reviewed the programme for opening that unit. Halward House is extremely effective. Prisoners are eating on the landings outside their cells and interacting with staff, which is exactly the model for developing the service at Magilligan and Maghaberry prisons as we want to.
Do you feel that any elements of your expenditure duplicates work that other agencies in the justice family carry out, or could be better carried out by other agencies?
Will the implementation of the 2008 Order have the potential to remove some of that duplication and, therefore, ease some of the pressures on your budget, or will it have the contrary effect?
At a legislative level, we hope that there will be some advantages coming from the 2008 Order; for example, the introduction of electronic tagging, which was announced today. It is a slightly longer piece of work, because it also involves the devolved side and the Court Service. Therefore, it is a three-way system.
Real opportunities exist for dealing with fine defaulters. A quarter of all receptions into prison are individuals who have failed to pay fines, and they are in custody for an average of four and a half days. One must query whether that is an efficient use of the taxpayer’s money. It is very important that the fines get paid, but there are possible alternatives, such as the attachment of earnings and other mechanisms.
A real tension is evident concerning wider efficiencies and back office. The Prison Service prides itself on how many units operate extremely effectively on their own, and procurement is an area in which one particular individual has assisted us and undoubtedly achieved significant savings.
For larger procurement operations, we work across the Northern Ireland Office family and with the Central Procurement Directorate in the Department of Finance and Personnel, and to do so is right and proper. However, there is some tension as one moves towards centralising back-office functions. It can mean that one loses that flexibility and ability to meet immediate needs proactively. Especially in the Prison Service, one needs to have operational flexibility in order to move fast and to meet changes, whether they be changes in the nature of the population, or even at a more immediate level, such as issues about food and other aspects of procurement.
On the first point about how much money the Prison Service needs, your response was that you were looking at a 4% year-on-year increase in the prison population. I have said to you before that if we achieve those figures, politics and society have failed. For example, if the entire Health Service budget were to be invested in acute services, it would be a waste of money, because one would be investing repeatedly. Therefore, when we are looking at the policing and justice issue and at the Prison Service, we will be asking the various sectors over the coming months about their budgets, and we will have to take a collective view on where is best to invest money.
Although I have no difficulty in ensuring that the Prison Service is properly equipped, funded and resourced, any section of the justice system that comes through these doors may tell us that it wants, for example, another £13 million, £20 million or £50 million. However, should we then not collectively say that that £20 million or £50 million should be invested in prevention measures or in mental-health services?
You said that some female prisoners come from a background of abuse. If that is the case, they should not be in prison but being cared for elsewhere. Therefore, we must ensure that we first create a society that does not automatically have a 4% increase year-on-year in its prison population. There will always be people who have to go to prison. I have no difficulty with that, but we must invest in our society and in our justice system.
Simon touched on the issue of using money wisely, but the Youth Justice Agency and the Probation Board offer services to offenders, as does the Prison Service. Therefore, if there any duplication, we can fine-tune that, or we can remove one of those agencies from certain services and better use the money.
I am glad that Max referred to mental health. He is absolutely right — we are at last making progress in achieving a closer working relationship between the criminal-justice sector and the health sector. That is hugely important, and it is something that I have made a priority. We transferred lead responsibility for prisoner healthcare on 1 April 2008, which is excellent, and we have a very good, close working partnership with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, and it is now bringing in additional staff.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has published its personality-disorder strategy. We had a workshop with the Department and with the Probation Board last Friday on working together, and we have another session this Friday. You are right to say that real opportunities exist. One of my opposite numbers in England and Wales said a few years ago that care in the community has become care in custody, and there is a real danger of that happening here, unless one focuses on that issue very much.
It may not necessarily be for me to comment on the latter point. There is a certain architecture in the Northern Ireland Office. It has an unusually wide range of satellite bodies — arm’s-length bodies — and a figure of over 40 is probably identifiable, which seems to be quite a lot. Intuitively, there is scope for some efficiencies to be made. Whether one would specifically want to make those savings in the areas that you mentioned —the Youth Justice Agency or the Probation Board — is questionable, because I think that my colleagues would agree that those are huge strengths. The Probation Board certainly has huge strength and credibility in all the areas with which it deals, because it has been independent of the Northern Ireland Office, and has its own management board and ethos.
The Youth Justice Agency has also done extremely well. Its models of restorative justice are a worldwide example of good practice. We are assessing those models to determine whether we can develop more of our own restorative practice in the Prison Service. In answer to your question, there is probably some scope for financial savings to be made. However, to an extent, that would mean that those organisations would lose some of the ethos that they had built up. That may be a judgement for others to make in years to come.
I welcome the representatives from the Prison Service. Thank you for your presentation and your answers. I have a question about the issue of what are called efficiency savings. With the potential of a rising prison population, do you have any concerns that the ratio of prisoners to prison officers will become distorted? How do we compare with other parts of the United Kingdom in that respect?
For a variety of reasons I am not concerned that the ratio would become distorted. First, if the prison population increases, more prison buildings will be needed. We will, therefore, build accommodation that is efficient from a staffing perspective. We can make better use of the resource that is available. In recent years, the ratio of staff to prisoners has decreased. The ratio is probably slightly above one member of front-line staff to each prisoner. In England and Wales, the ratio is lower than that.
It is not appropriate to make clear comparisons between here and there because of the nature of the establishments that operate in England and Wales. There are approximately 140 prison establishments there. They range from the very open, which will have very low staffing ratios, to the high-security establishments, which will have very different staffing ratios. Effectively, we have three prisons, and we take all comers. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to turn anybody away at the gate.
We must manage a very diverse population in those establishments. Some of the differences have been discussed today. Therefore, we will always have a slightly different, and slightly higher, ratio of staff to prisoners. With modern building techniques and modern accommodation, we can make further inroads. Over time, the ratio should decrease a little bit more.
The Deputy Chairperson:
I have a couple of questions before you finish. What percentage of the revenue budget is paid out in staffing costs?
In straight pay costs, it is 66%. If I understand it correctly, however, that excludes some of the staff-related costs, such as training, travel and subsistence, and other issues. If those costs were included, it would certainly be more than 70%, and perhaps nearer 80%.
The Deputy Chairperson:
You said earlier that a new wage cap had been in place since 2002. What was the average pay before 2002 and post-2002?
Before 2002, the average salary was about £35,000. The top of the scale is currently around £28,500, post-2002. Nobody is at that level yet. A few people are probably earning close to that amount, but that is the top of the scale. That demonstrates the difference, because, p re-2002, many staff were at, or near, the top of the old scale.
The Deputy Chairperson:
What was the pre-2002 make-up of 66% of the budget?
The 66% covers Prison Service grades, general service grades, administrative staff, and so on. I cannot give you a percentage breakdown. However, of the staff who are in that category pre- and post-2000, probably around 25% are on post-2002 scales. That does not include the support grades that we discussed earlier, which we are building up gradually. Currently, out of 1,800 Prison Service grades, there are around 500 support grades. That balance will continue to increase. The current projection is for the number of support grades to rise to around 700.
The average annual salary for those grades will be around £20,000, or less.
The Deputy Chairperson:
The point was made that accommodation can have an impact on staffing levels. At present, what major impediments are there to reducing staffing? Are they the building’s design or already-established custom and practice?
Both. The building’s design has a key impact, because of lines of sight, staff safety, and the number of staff that needs to manage small areas and landings. There is also the issue of moving away from the security culture of the past and from reliance on physical security and staff numbers. Therefore, an organisational-development issue must be addressed if we are to make more efficient use of our resources. Ratios must also be reduced in order to deal with the increasing population of the present.
If I may comment briefly, a third factor, which is not unimportant, is our relationship with the Prison Officers’ Association. Traditionally, during the past 10 years or so, we have negotiated to reduce significantly staffing levels. Certainly, the number of man-hours in Magilligan Prison, for example, where you were governor some years ago, Max, has reduced. A proportion of those staff savings has gone into the annual pay round or to make efficiencies.
The Deputy Chairperson:
As part of the NIO, the Prison Service currently pays VAT. What implications will there be for VAT at the point of transfer of policing and justice powers? Will the British Treasury make savings as a result?
As we understand it, on devolution, we would no longer be liable for VAT.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Before we finish, you have an opportunity to raise any points that you feel that you have not covered.
Thank you, but I do not think that we have any more points to raise.
Has VAT been taken into account in your future budget?
Mr Paisley Jnr:
For completeness, you gave us a projection for the male-prisoner population. You will soon have a projection for females. Have you got a projection for young offenders?
No. Young offenders is an interesting area, because it is different. During the past four or five years, its figure has largely flatlined and remained remarkably consistent. There can be fluctuations, particularly among juvenile offenders. Their figure tends to be between 10 and 20, or even 30. I believe that there were 14 when we last counted. Interestingly, the number of young offenders, who are aged between 18 and 21 —potentially up to 23 years of age at Hydebank Wood — has stayed broadly between 180 and 200 for the past four or five years, with the majority of them on remand.
The Deputy Chairperson:
Thank you, Robin, Mark, Max and Anne for your presentation. I am sure that we will see you again in future.