Scottish Prison Service (Auditor General’s Report)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd December 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Alex Rowley for that important question. I join him in paying tribute to the staff at HMP Perth and across our prison estate for their hard work and dedication.

We recognise that hard work, which is why we brought forward and helped to fund an extremely ambitious pay award that recognises the difficult job that prison officers do. A 14 per cent pay rise over the next three years is a significant recognition of that hard work, particularly in comparison to England and Wales, where the pay rise is between only 2.2 per cent and 3 per cent, depending on the band.

That does not take away from the points that Alex Rowley made about the pressure points that exist in our prison service. Part of the pay award and, in particular, the agreement with the POAS, was about looking at how we can reduce staff sickness.

I mentioned some of the measures that the SPS has put in place to help to tackle mental health issues among prison officers. Interestingly, a number of staff days are also lost—I think it is around 15,000 per annum—due to physical pressures in the job and musculoskeletal problems. There are two things that I will say on that. One is that I am aghast at the fact that when the UK Government made its reforms to civil service pensions, it did not include prison officers. Due to that omission by the UK Government, prison officers now have to work until they are 68, which I think is a ridiculous notion.

The second point is that the SPS is investing in physiotherapy and a number of other initiatives that will help with some of those physical pressures in the job. Where those initiatives have been piloted, we are already seeing a positive impact on reducing staff sickness. I addressed the additional staff point in response to a previous question. I have spoken to the chief executive of SPS, as I frequently do, and, on the question of additional staff that are needed, I told him that I would expect proposals to come forward from the SPS. When they do, I will discuss them with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work.