Lowestoft: Revealed - the £10m costs scandal of closing Blundeston Prison
12:19 18 March 2014
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The closure of a Suffolk prison where an estimated £10million had been spent on a refurbishment project has been branded a waste of taxpayers’ money.
In a blistering attack, politician Bob Blizzard claimed the closure of HMP Blundeston had been a “panic measure” to help the Government’s economic plans, and had done nothing to help the prisoners being rehabilitated or punished.
In a report, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) also questioned the Ministry of Justice decision to scrap the jail and said in addition to huge spending in the past three years, there were expensive “hidden costs” associated with the move.
Government said the closure of Blundeston, near Lowestoft, along with three other prisons, would save £30m a year as they were deemed either too expensive to run or needed substantial capital investment.
Mr Blizzard, Labour prospective Parliamentary candidate for Waveney, challenged this because of the refurbishment work already carried out, including:
• an estimated £10m on new heating and roofs in the past three years – £6m on roofing workshops and the central part of the prison, and £4m on heating for the main area;
• a large capital investment in a laundry facility to do all laundry for eastern region prisons;
• £80,000 on new welding equipment for a workshop which was never used;
• and a new computerised key system installed a month before closure.
The IMB also cited the “hidden costs” of staff who had agreed departure packages, payment of all travel costs for three years for staff redeployed elsewhere, equipment thrown away or mothballed, and security for the redundant building, including a new fence around the site.
It is understood the building will eventually be sold and the site redeveloped.
Mr Blizzard said: “The very things the Government was saying that money needed spending on at these prisons had mostly been done at Blundeston – at a cost of more than £10m.
“The IMB report shows this closure is a scandalous waste of public money which had already been spent.
“It is quite clear that the closure decision was nothing to do with sensible prison management or sound offender management, but a panic measure and the Ministry of Justice’s response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s demand for immediate budget cuts as part of his economic plan. It came out of the blue and has been such a shock for our community.”
Mr Blizzard said jobs had been lost in the area both directly at the prison and in the supply chain which worked with the jail.
At the time of the closure in December, Blundeston had capacity for 526 prisoners, including a 60-bed wing for life sentence prisoners, and employed more than 100 prison officers and a further 130 staff.
The IMB said the wisdom of the closure must be called into question. There had previously been a campaign to keep it open.
Press officer Michael Cadman said: “It has been widely stated that the real reason for closure was the long term maintenance costs.
“However, it should be pointed out that in excess of £10m had already been spent in the three years prior to closure on new heating and roofs and also there had been large capital investment in a new laundry in order to do all the laundry for a number of eastern region prisons.
“Although data for the future maintenance costs have been asked for, even at a parliamentary level, the figures have never been produced and until they are, unlikely of course now, doubts must remain over the integrity of the decision to close HMP Blundeston and it has been suggested that the Government were ill advised.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We need a modern, fit for purpose estate, which provides prison accommodation at a much lower cost to the taxpayer, and in the right places, to deliver our ambition of reducing reoffending.
“The decision to close HMP Blundeston was made following a thorough assessment by senior managers in the National Offender Management Service and was based on a range of factors, including the suitability of the accommodation. It was not a reflection on the hard work and commitment of staff working there.
“This report will now be considered fully by Ministers, who will respond in due course.”