Anger at prison privatisation plan
The Government is facing the threat of industrial action by prison officers amid anger over plans to privatise jails.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said private sector contractors will run three prisons in England, with HMP Birmingham moving from the public sector to private contractor G4S from October.
Hundreds of prison officers left the Birmingham jail to hold an impromptu meeting expressing their anger at the move, with some said to be "physically sick".
The Prison Officers Association (POA) angrily condemned the Government for the "disgraceful" decision and refused to rule out industrial action, even though strikes were outlawed by the previous Labour government.
"This is the wrong decision and politicians should hang their heads in shame. They are saying it is OK for shareholders to make a profit out of incarcerating prisoners," said general secretary Steve Gillan.
Speaking outside the jail, POA branch chairman Brian Clarke said: "Our union has a policy of industrial action, up to and including strike action, should a public sector prison be handed to a private sector operator. The policy of the union will be followed by this branch."
In the Commons, Mr Clarke also announced that Doncaster prison will become the first to be run on a "payment by results" basis, with contractor Serco getting its full payment only if reoffending rates are reduced. The new Featherstone 2 prison will be run by G4S but Buckley Hall in Rochdale will remain under the control of the Prison Service.
Mr Clarke confirmed military personnel are on standby if prison officers decide to take strike action, saying: "We have contingency plans and the military are indeed involved. But I should make it clear that no one is talking about a military takeover of our prisons. The prison governors will still be in charge and so will the Prison Service but it is only prudent to make sure that we do have the military prepared should it be required."
He said the contest for the contracts would secure "significant" quality improvements and savings at all the establishments involved - over the spending review period, the new contracts will deliver savings of over £21 million for the three existing prisons and, in the same period, the new Featherstone 2 prison will be delivered at £31 million less than the costs originally approved by the previous government.
"Cumulative savings over the lifetime of the contracts in the three existing prisons are a very impressive £216 million," Mr Clarke added.