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Prisons Minister fails to answer questions on retirement age and job cuts

TORY Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins failed to give a commitment today to reverse the government’s “cruel, unworkable and impractical” policy of forcing prison officers to retire at state pension age.

Ms Atkins merely promised delegates at the Prison Officers’ Association’s annual conference in Eastbourne that she would consult her Treasury counterparts on the issue.

She was questioned by Mark Fairhurst, national chairman of the union, which has proposed a retirement age of 65 for its prison officers – three years earlier than when most people born after 1960 will be able to stop working.

He said: “You can’t expect us to work in what I class as the most hostile workplace in the world until 67 or 68. We’ve had some horrific assaults and we need to put this issue to bed.”

Addressing the minister, Mr Fairhurst suggested: “You and I should go into a meeting with the Treasury, because I know they’re the decision-makers.

“I’ll set out my arguments for my members, you back me up and we’ll see what we can broker,” he said to laughter and applause from the hall.

Ms Atkins responded: “That is an invitation that I’m tempted to find irresistible.

“Whilst I can’t bind a Treasury minister’s diary, let’s see what we can do to have that discussion.”

Mr Fairhurst stressed that “nothing would boost morale more” than a positive resolution to the problem.

Ms Atkins also failed to guarantee that prison and probation staff would not be included in Boris Johnson’s proposed cull of 91,000 Civil Service jobs.

Last week, the Prime Minister said that 20 per cent of the workforce, which has been significantly expanded to deal with Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, had to go to free up funds to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

When asked whether any prison officers or administration staff in the sector were at risk, Ms Atkins said: “I’m not involved in those Cabinet Office discussions at the moment.

“But, as a matter of common sense, we are absolutely committed to sustainable levels of staffing in our existing prison infrastructure.

“I’m very hopeful indeed that that message has been heard and understood. Please bear with me.”

Mr Fairhurst noted that no member of the Labour shadow cabinet had accepted the union’s offer to address the conference.


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