G4S loses Wolds prison contract after Olympic fiasco

G4S the private company at the centre of the Olympic security debacle, has lost its contract to run Britain’s first private prison and failed to win any new contracts in the biggest round of prison privatisation in England and Wales so far, reports The Guardian.

The Ministry of Justice said the management of the Wolds prison in east Yorkshire would go back to the public sector next July. The decision follows a critical report in August by the chief inspector of prisons which highlighted high levels of illegal drug use and significant prisoner idleness.

The new justice secretary, Chris Grayling, however, has decided that five of the nine jails in the latest round of prison contracts will be privatised.

In a surprise move, ministers have also announced that they intend to find £450m worth of savings by putting out to tender resettlement, maintenance and other ancillary services at all 120 public-sector prisons in England and Wales. The public sector is to be left only with “core custodial functions” in the overwhelming majority of jails.

The five prisons that ministers have decided to hand over to the private sector include two – HMP Castington and Acklington – that are being combined into the new HMP Northumberland. The other three jails – Moorland, Hatfield and Lindholme – are being combined into a South Yorkshire prison cluster.

There are three remaining bidders for these two contracts: Serco, Sodexho and MTC/Amey.

The Ministry of Justice said the bids to run Coldingley, Durham and Onley prisons did not produce a sufficient package of cost reductions, regime improvements and enough work for prisoners. They are to remain within the public sector.

An innovative public/private approach by the prison service to run the nine jails in association with the private company Mitie and the Working Links charity failed to secure any of the contracts.

But justice ministers said they were so impressed by the model of the public sector running core “custodial functions” and the private and voluntary sector providing maintenance and resettlement services that they were going to adopt it across England and Wales. Known as the “French model”, they claimed it could save £450m over the next six years. Grayling said this approach did not rule out further prison-by-prison competitions in future.

The decision is a further blow to G4S, which expressed its disappointment. It said: “Our performance across all six prisons we run has been to a high standard, with every aspect of performance either meeting or exceeding the key performance indicators applied by the MoJ.

“We look forward to discussing the contract award decision with the MoJ within the next few days to determine why we were unsuccessful.”

An MoJ spokeswoman said the decision for G4S to lose the Wolds had not been influenced by the Olympics contract fiasco.

Grayling said: “For the Wolds – currently managed by G4S – the benefits of the competition when compared to the option of clustering the Wolds with the nearby prison Everthorpe, did not represent best value to the public. I have therefore decided not to progress with the competition. This means that when the current contract expires in July 2013, the prison will move to public sector management.”

Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The government will seek to deflect criticism of its prison privatisation programme by excluding G4S from the next stage of the bidding process, but the principle of awarding lucrative contracts to private companies running prisons on the cheap remains unchallenged. This is still a mistake of Olympic proportions.

“Something as important as taking away someone’s freedom should only be done by the state, answerable to taxpayers, rather than by international private security firms, answerable only to their shareholders,” she said.