HMP Kilmarnock (Transfer to Public Ownership)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 19 March 2024.

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Photo of Sharon Dowey Sharon Dowey Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the cost and impact of the transfer of HMP Kilmarnock into public ownership. (S6T-01878)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

HMP Kilmarnock successfully transferred to Scottish Prison Service ownership and management on Sunday 17 March. The SPS and the private operator delivered a smooth transition, supporting staff and those in custody while maintaining the high standards already set within the prison. The SPS will continue delivering quality services at the prison, while benefiting from the skills and experience of the existing staff.

It has been Scottish Government policy since 2007 that prisons should be owned and managed by the public sector and that public safety and prisoner rehabilitation and wellbeing should not be driven by private profit.

The final overall cost of operations at HMP Kilmarnock will depend on a variety of factors but is currently estimated at £11.6 million for 2024-25.

Photo of Sharon Dowey Sharon Dowey Conservative

His Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons recently raised serious concerns about some prisons already in the estate. She said that HMP Greenock needs bulldozed and that HMP Barlinnie is close to catastrophic failure. Meanwhile, the replacement for HMP Barlinnie is already overdue and over budget, as is the HMP Highland project.

It is evident that the service is already struggling with significant financial constraints, although HMP Kilmarnock was praised for its successful performance under private control.

A recently released report also raised a number of concerns about the HMP Kilmarnock transition. Can the cabinet secretary assure us that plans have been put in place to ensure that that prison will not fall into disrepute as others have done?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am the last person to demur from the challenges that currently exist across the prison estate, which are not helped by having a very high prison population.

Of course, I do not necessarily accept the member’s characterisation of the current estate. There are well established plans in place to replace HMP Barlinnie with HMP Glasgow and there are similar plans for HMP Highland. I have answered a number of oral and written questions about Greenock, Highland and Glasgow prisons and recently made a statement about the pressures on the entire prison estate.

The member should be aware of the good performance of public sector prisons in Scotland, in comparison with those in the private sector, particularly regarding violence and drug use—I have referred to that in the chamber as well. She will also be aware that there are two stages. The first is the successful transition that we have seen and the second is the actions that will take place in the coming year.

Photo of Sharon Dowey Sharon Dowey Conservative

I point out that that was not my characterisation of the prison service, it was that of His Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons.

The chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service has said that the service is committed to ensuring the transition of HMP Kilmarnock into public ownership while maintaining the high standards that the prison displays. However, during that transfer, staff have lost the security of 56 body-worn cameras. The prison now needs to recruit a further 70 staff and there is also the question of whether four drug-detection dogs, which have proved to be an important asset in preventing drugs worth around £1.2 million from entering HMP Kilmarnock, will be retained.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the existing level of safety and security will be maintained at HMP Kilmarnock despite the loss of those cameras? Can she provide us with an update on the drug-detection dogs? Can she also confirm that there will be no further overcrowding until all the staff are recruited?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

It is important to acknowledge that, even with the transition arrangements and the transitional operating model, the number of staff in HMP Kilmarnock will increase so that staff who are working long shifts or back shifts on a weekend can have a break. That is a good example of why we have prisons operating for the public interest, as opposed to the private profiteering that exists across these islands in relation to private prisons.

It is important for Parliament to be aware that the current body-worn cameras in HMP Kilmarnock were not part of the contract and there is no agreement for those pieces of equipment to transfer. However, it is also worth recognising that a pilot operation will commence in April in three prisons in the estate and that, thereafter, body-worn cameras will be rolled out across the prison estate.

I have already corresponded with members on the drug-detection dogs and handlers. The two detection dogs and handlers have now transferred into the SPS following the transition, and they do indeed play a critical role in tackling the drug crisis.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

The proposal to bring Kilmarnock prison into the public sector has been there for 17 years, so I wonder where the Tories have been hiding on the issue until now. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Government has a great record on and commitment to delivering more and better public services, unlike the Tories, who would sell off anything and everything to bail themselves out of the financial mess that they have created?

The Presiding Officer:

Please answer in relation to the substantive question, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The member is right to point to the historical position of this Government. Indeed, our 2007 manifesto said:

“We are committed to a publicly owned and run ... service.”

That was because our assessment is that public services, be they hospitals or prisons, should be run for public good and not private profit. Private prisons are a legacy of previous Administrations, whether that is the Liberal-Labour coalition or the Conservative Government pre-devolution.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

Can the

cabinet secretary explain why the trade union Community has been de-recognised at Kilmarnock prison? Is she concerned that Community advises that the Scottish Prison Service is refusing to meet it and, as a result, the union is now issuing an indicative ballot for industrial action? Will the cabinet secretary intervene to ensure that that dispute is resolved?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am about to reply to correspondence that I have received from Ms Clark and Ms McNeill on those issues. In relation to union recognition, the Scottish Prison Service indicated throughout the consultation process, which was intensive, its intention to maintain its existing trade union arrangements for all public sector prisons in Scotland, and the transferring staff group will be covered by those existing arrangements.

It is important to point out to Parliament that the arrangement that exists between Serco and the Community union was a voluntary agreement and not a legally binding one. It is my view that it does not place an obligation on the SPS, which has worked hard to maintain its current relationships with trade unions—mainly, but not exclusively, the Prison Officers Association.