HL Deb 20 June 1996 vol 573 cc41-3WA
Lord Avebury

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What comments they have made on the report by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, A Soft Target for Cuts, on the average cut of 14.5 per cent. in educational provision in the prisons of England and Wales since 1st April 1996; the loss of 300 prison education staff, and the reduction of the core curriculum; and whether, following the devolution of budgetary responsibility to the level of individual prisons, the central management still have information about the overall expenditure within functional categories including education, welfare, grants to voluntary organisations providing services to the prisons, and religious services.

Baroness Blatch

Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Lord Avebury from the Director of Personnel of the Prison Service, Mr. David Scott, dated 20th June 1996.

Lady Blatch has asked me, in the absence of the Director General, to reply to your recent Question about figures relating to education in prisons, published by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE); and about the information available to Prison Service central management on overall expenditure within functional categories in prisons.

Prison education services are contracted out. The contracts stipulate that the contractor must provide only one specific post at the prison—that of education co-ordinator. It is for the contractor to decide the level of staffing needed beyond that to meet the terms of the contract. To facilitate negotiation of the contracts, bidding contractors were given indicative numbers of teacher contact hours for each establishment, calculated on the basis of the then current complement of full-time and part-time teaching staff (the overwhelming majority of prison teaching staff have for many years been part-timers).

We believe that NATFHE has based its calculations on those indicative numbers rather than the numbers of staff actually needed or employed. Contracting out prison education means that governors can adjust the number of teacher contact hours on a monthly basis and establishments profile hours regularly to ensure that the final cost will he within budget. However, the actual number of hours bought cannot be definitively calculated until the end of the financial year. Figures for 1995/96 are being calculated at the moment; this year's figures will be calculated after 1st April 1997. It is misleading to suggest that there has been an average cut of 14.5 per cent. in educational provision in prisons since 1st April 1996.

There has been no reduction in the core curriculum. The core curriculum comprising basic education, information technology, and social and life skills—is only now being introduced throughout the Prison Service (although elements of it have always been taught). It is designed to provide the essentials to enable prisoners to lead law abiding and useful lives on release. It will provide a basis for ensuring that the quality of provision can be audited and it will enable governors to use their education programme to remedy individual educational deficits to offer worthwhile qualifications, and make clear contributions to prisoners' prospects on release.

Where resources permit, the core curriculum will be enhanced in other curriculum areas such as the arts, languages and leisure activities, according to particular prisoners' needs.

Efficiency savings being sought from the Prison Service mean that many governors will have less to spend on education than in the past. But the measures we are taking will mean a more cost effective and relevant contribution from prison education, which will enable us to provide, to the greatest number, those basic skills which are most widely needed among prisoners and which will have the greatest effect on reducing future offending.

The Central Accounting System currently in operation within the Prison Service is not designed to produce functional costing information. The system supports the production of the appropriation accounts and provides information in a form suitable for meeting the reporting requirements for public expenditure. It therefore separates pay, non-pay running costs, other current expenditure, capital and grants. Within those broad headings the elements of spend are broken down further into reasonably sized components but not to the level of detail that would be necessary for functional costing purposes.

The Prison Service is developing an information strategy looking at the way in which the service uses information to support its core activities, one of which is the provision of various activities and services within prisons. This initiative will help the service to plan the introduction of resource accounting and budgeting within the Prison Service. Underlying the production of these accounts will be the need to monitor and control the resources consumed to deliver the service's aims and objectives. It is likely that this will enable the production of functional costings.