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MILLIONS of pounds are being squandered by the government on hotel stays for prison officers who are being shunted around the country to plug staffing shortfalls at other jails.
Almost £3 million has been splurged in the last year on hotel costs and rail fares to send overworked prison guards to under-staffed prisons across Britain, official Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show.
Prison Officers Association (POA) general secretary Steve Gillan told the Star that the government would rather spend taxpayers’ money on hotels and travel than recruit more much-needed staff.
The colossal waste in the government’s so-called “detached duty” scheme was unearthed by a written parliamentary question by shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon.
Since December 2016 more than £2.4m was spent by prison officers on hotels and nearly £250,000 on rail fares up and down the country.
The most expensive month was October last year, when more than £320,000 was spent on hotels and over £26,000 on rail fares.
Mr Gillan said: “These figures highlight the systematic failings in our prison services and the woeful way in which they are run.
“I’m astounded that prison staff across the country are being forced to plug gaps at other prisons at the expense of leaving their own prisons under-resourced.
“It simply robs staff from one establishment to prop up recruitment failures at another.
“Money that is supposed to be going to prison officers in improving pay and increasing staff is instead going on hotel bills. This is no way to deal with the crisis in our prisons.”
The revelation comes after a damning report into HMP Liverpool found a lack of staff contributed to the “worst living conditions” for prisoners that inspectors have ever seen.
Mr Gillan pointed out that the government has been running detached duty for four years and that “we can only guess” the full cost of the wasteful scheme.
The POA has argued that health and safety problems are also created by detached duty staff not knowing the prison or prisoners as well as regular officers.
No evidence has ever been given by the government to support the scheme’s continued operation in terms of its effectiveness and value for money, the union said.
Over the first 13 months of the national scheme, the National Offender Management Service (now the Prison and Probation Service) estimated it had cost in the region of £63.5m, amounting to £2,500 per officer every month.
The prison management service informed the justice select committee that the costs had been absorbed into the MoJ’s staffing budget.
Mr Burgon said: “Spending millions on forcing prison officers to move around the country to plug staffing gaps underlines the chaos at the heart of this government’s prisons strategy.
“This is an expensive short-term sticking plaster that doesn’t resolve the disastrous Tory decision to axe thousands of prison officers, which has left our prisons less safe than ever, for both staff and prisoners.
“The real solution is for the government to ensure that our prisons are properly staffed and to tackle the exodus of experienced prison staff who are leaving at three times the rate as when the Tories came to office.
“But the Conservatives’ plan for another real-terms pay cut for prison officers will only make it more difficult to recruit and retain prison officers.”
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Prison officers do a challenging and vital job to help protect the public and we are committed to making sure we have enough staff to deliver safe regimes in our prisons.
“Detached duty is one of the sensible and proportionate measures we take to cover resourcing pressures and ensure we run safe and decent regimes in prisons as well as being able to respond appropriately to any operational issues that arise.
“When there is a need to accommodate staff in hotels, we work hard to ensure the best possible value for money for the taxpayer and have restriction in place to help keep costs to a minimum.”
The government claims it is on track to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers by the end of 2018.
However the POA point out that this is a drop in the ocean for a service that has already lost 10,000 staff.
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