Rory Stewart – 2019 Statement on HMP Birmingham

Rory Stewart

Below is the text of the statement made by Rory Stewart, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, in the House of Commons on 2 April 2019.

Today the Secretary of State and I can confirm the future plans for HMP Birmingham following the step in initiated by HMPPS and also the urgent notification received by the Secretary of State from HM chief inspector of prisons on 20th August 2018.

We have concluded with the full agreement of G4S that the best way forward now is for us to end the contract and bring back the prison under public sector management.

The situation at HMP Birmingham was totally unacceptable which is why we “stepped in” in August 2018 and why we continued to do so in February 2019. We were always clear that the prison would not be handed back until we were satisfied that sufficient progress had been made.

The prison has made some good progress—both we and G4S have however recognised that there is still much more to do to deliver further improvements. It has become increasingly clear that G4S alone is not able to make the improvements that were so badly needed, and that additional ongoing support from the public sector Prison Service is required to ensure that the prison gets the stability and continuity that will be necessary for sustained progress.

This means that on 1 July 2019, HMP Birmingham will return to public sector management. We have agreed a settlement with G4S of £9.9 million, which covers the additional cost to the MOJ of its “step in” action—meeting our previous public commitment and which also includes an amount to cover essential maintenance works.

Our responsibility is to make sure that prisons are properly run for prisoners and the public. At Birmingham, we must accelerate the good work that has already commenced to stabilise the prison for the longer term. The foundation for that is making sure that we have a clean, decent and safe prison. That is the foundation ​from which we can do all the other things we want to do—in particular, rehabilitate people, change lives and ultimately protect the public.

What we need to focus on now is building on the positive work achieved to date at HMP Birmingham. We are clear that we have made progress and got some of the necessary basics on the right track to drive improvement; specifically, with the deployment of experienced HMPPS staff, managers and specialists we have significantly increased staff confidence, gained greater order and control and improved day-to-day regime delivery. I am confident that we are beginning to get a grip on the issues driving violence and that we will see the results of this in the coming months.

Progress on decency has also been made; two of the three large Victorian wings which did not meet our expectations have been taken out of use. The third will also soon be fully out of use, as another newly refurbished wing builds to full occupancy. Cleanliness has improved across the site and the visitors centre is being refurbished. This work forms part of the family strategy supporting prisoners and their families to stay in touch, which is key to rehabilitation.

HMPPS staff are also tackling some of the key security risks. A dedicated search team has been introduced and improved, intelligence-led searching has been yielding good results. Specifically, a full lock down search was conducted recently in a major operation involving staff from across the wider service, which was successful in finding and confiscating contraband, and taking disciplinary action taken against the relevant prisoners as a result.

It is also important for staff and prisoners to know what the future of the prison looks like and to remove uncertainty. Paul Newton, the governor who has been running the prison during step in, will remain in post following the transfer back into the public. We will continue to work closely with G4S to support the prison and to make the transition as smooth as possible in the meantime for both staff and prisoners.

This is the right decision for HMP Birmingham but we continue to believe that prisoners and the public benefit from a mixed economy of provision. We are going to remain in a situation where the majority of our prisons will continue to be run by the public sector, but the private sector has a role to play. The private sector has delivered real value for money and some new approaches that have been really impressive.

We have now been running private prisons for 25 years. By and large, that experience has been positive. In fact, G4S’s itself, its performance at Oakwood, Parc and Altcourse has been impressive. They are good prisons. So are Bronzefield, Ashfield, Forest Bank and Thameside, run by other private sector providers.

It makes sense to us that for the next couple of new prisons we give the private sector a chance to bid, but we have set a public sector benchmark. We have explained what the costs would be of the public sector providing the quality of service we want at a prison, and if private sector bidders are not able to provide better value for money, we would look again at the public sector running those establishments.

We will of course be learning lessons from Birmingham which must support our approach to contracting for private prisons in the future.​
I strongly believe that this decision is the right one for HMP Birmingham at this time. I am pleased that G4S have also recognised this and are working with us to deliver better outcomes for prisoners and a better working environment for staff. I look forward to being able to report further good progress at HMP Birmingham in the coming months.