HMP Kilmarnock (Public Ownership)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 31 January 2024.

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Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

7. To ask the Scottish Government what evidence it used as the basis for its decision to bring HMP Kilmarnock into public ownership. (S6O-03036)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

For 17 years, it has been Scottish Government policy that prisons should be owned and managed by the public sector. We do not believe that public safety, rehabilitation and wellbeing should be driven by private profit.

With the 25-year contract coming to an end, there were really only two choices. One was to retender the contract; the other was to bring the prison into public ownership, in line with our long-running policy on private prisons. The decision was made not to put the contract out to tender.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

HMP Kilmarnock is one of the most cost-effective prisons in the United Kingdom. It is regularly recognised for the positive approach that it takes to community engagement and for its relationship with community organisations.

The current operator had reportedly offered to build a new wing at no cost to the taxpayer. Meanwhile, His Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons has described six Scottish Prison Service-run prisons as

“ill-suited to a modern prison system”, and the replacements for two of those prisons are delayed and over budget. Will the cabinet secretary accept—as she did during my members’ business debate—that the decision is not being based on results or evidence but is being driven by ideology, regardless of whether it will deliver the best outcomes for prisoners and staff at HMP Kilmarnock?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I say with the greatest respect to Mr Whittle that he is taking some liberty there. As he well knows, I have a high regard for the staff and the work that takes place at HMP Kilmarnock. I very much look forward to welcoming the staff and the establishment into public control, as they become part of the wider Prison Service family.

The decision was taken some time ago, and cost comparisons between the public sector and the private sector are not straightforward. In more recent times, under the pricing mechanism where costs increase at a rate that is greater than the retail prices index excluding mortgage interest payments, prices have escalated to a higher level in private prisons in comparison with public sector prisons. Of course, with the Conservatives, it is always about money and cost, as opposed to safety, security, care, rehabilitation and the terms and conditions of prison officers.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

When I visited the prison on Monday, the director assured me that the transition process is going well. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the engagement process that has taken place between staff and the SPS to ensure that the transition programme is delivering on its objectives for everybody who is concerned?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Staff engagement is of the utmost importance in the process that we are pursuing, and I very much welcome the enhanced engagement that the Scottish Prison Service has carried out with employees in group settings and on a one-to-one basis to support the transition and ensure a smooth move into public sector ownership. I assure Mr Coffey that the SPS continues to work closely with Kilmarnock Prison Services Ltd and Serco to deliver the smooth transition in a way that supports the crucial front-line staff and those who are in our care and custody.