Tag Archives: inspection

Tories are working hard to make prisons ripe for privatisation – the rats are already there

What’s the line by the great Noam Chomsky about privatisation? “Defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

HM Prison Bedford seems a textbook example of this behaviour.

According to reports in many newspapers (this one‘s from The Guardian), one inmate caught and killed multiple rats in his cell during an inspection, while another – who had disabilities – was in a cell with no adaptations and had been provided with a wheelchair that could not be self-propelled and was therefore almost utterly useless.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke reported that two years of efforts to improve standards had failed, and they were continuing to decline.

In addition to the references to the disabled prisoner and the rat-catcher, he also referred to cells as “filthy and decrepit” and warned that the toilets did not flush properly.

Self-harm had increased substantially and there had been five self-inflicted deaths since the previous inspection in 2016.

Almost half of prisoners surveyed said it was easy to get illicit drugs, and a fifth said that they had developed a drug problem while in the jail. The smell of cannabis and other burning substances pervaded some wings, with one officer saying: “If it’s just cannabis, it’s a good day.”

And there was a serious lack of control on the wings as prison officers were inexperienced and struggled to exert authority over prisoners who did not obey basic rules or conform to expected behaviour.

What happened to all the experienced staff, I wonder?

They were probably retired by the Ministry of Justice in a cost-cutting exercise.

Of course Tory cuts have caused the harm that we see. Bedford was reportedly an exemplary prison in 2008 – under a Labour government – but then the Tories turned up, cut funding to the bone, and chaos ensued. Bedford was the location of a riot involving 200 inmates in November 2016.

So we see a prison service drained of funds, that is no longer fit for purpose. It certainly doesn’t even try to rehabilitate inmates any more, meaning when sentences are served, hardened criminals are released onto our streets, who know that the punishment for getting caught is no longer any punishment at all.

It’s all part of the Tory crimewave.

So much for the party of law and order.

The Tories are also the party of privatisation, and some prisons – notably HMP Northumberland – have been handed over to private operators – Sodexo, in that instance.

The result? Disaster.

Prison officer numbers had been cut, meaning the authorities had lost control. An undercover reporter for Panorama revealed that prisoners had been sneaking out – unobserved – to collect drugs. They were treating prison like a holiday camp.

But that’s what happens when you hand over corrective services to organisations for which the only concern is profit.

Private companies don’t care about the conditions in which prisoners live. They don’t care if there aren’t enough prison officers to keep control – they’ll cut employee numbers in order to make their profit. They don’t care if prisoners get out and bring illegal substances back – it probably makes them easier to handle. They certainly don’t care if prisoners learn nothing from the experience and go back to crime on their release – it means they will stay in business when those people are caught.

But at what cost to communities?

Worst of all, your Conservative government doesn’t care either.

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Cutting red tape has cost the taxpayer billions

A waste of taxpayers' money: This is Tory business minister and twit Michael Fallon. The amount of money his 'red tape' cuts have cost this country mean he should be behind bars, not in front of them.

A waste of taxpayers’ money: This is Tory business minister and twit Michael Fallon. The amount of money his ‘red tape’ cuts have cost this country mean he should be behind bars, not in front of them.

Conservative business minister Michael Fallon has announced that the Coalition government’s cuts in ‘red tape’ are saving businesses £1.5 billion every year. How wonderful for him.

What he has neglected to mention is the fact that the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab – possibly at much greater cost.

Fallon reckons the government is “stripping back unnecessary rules that restrict enterprise and act as a brake on jobs and growth”.

For example, the Coalition has:

  • Removed thousands of “low risk” businesses from “unnecessary” health and safety inspections;
  • Stopped “responsible” employers from being held liable for workplace accidents and injuries that are “totally outside of their control”; and
  • Simplified mandatory reporting of workplace injuries.

The words in quotation marks are questionable. Who decides which businesses are “low risk”? Why would health and safety inspections by “unnecessary” in their cases? How do we know an employer is “responsible”, and why – after being labelled as such – should we believe they would not lie about whether an incident was “totally outside of their control”?

The possibilities for corruption are huge, now that the “brake” has come off.

Fortunately, it is possible to measure – very roughly – the effect of these measures; you simply look at the number of people applying for incapacity benefits.

These are people who are unable to work because of illness or injury. Counting them is not a perfect way of measuring the government’s success in cutting red tape while safeguarding employees’ health, because factors other than the workplace may be relevant in a number of cases. However, these should be seen as a minority only.

We know that, in May 2010, before the Coalition government came into office and started stripping away this “unnecessary” red tape, 28,300 ESA claims were awaiting assessment.

From the same source, we know that the number currently awaiting assessment is “just over” 700,000.

700,000!

Mr Fallon wants you to believe that none of these claims relate to his red tape cuts but the increase is simply too large to be discounted.

The lowest possible assessment rate of ESA (the amount they receive before their claim has been assessed) is £51.85 per week. Even if all claimants were receiving this, that’s a cost of £36,295,000 to the government, per week. The taxpayer pays that bill.

Over a year, it adds up to £13,247,675,000.

That’s at the assessment rate. Now, some of these may be knocked off-benefit after assessment – but this process, itself, costs money. It costs £311 per claim, according to the most recent official source available to this blog at the time of writing. Clearing the backlog would therefore cost £217,700,000.

This means the cost of assessing the 700,000 claims that have mounted up during the years of Conservative-led, red-tape-cutting Coalition government totals a vertiginous £13,465,375,000.

That’s almost nine times as much as Fallon thinks is being saved – spent on ESA assessments alone!

What a waste of taxpayers’ money.

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Never mind literacy and numeracy, Mr Gove – let’s have a bit less duplicity

Speaking with a forked tongue: The Education Secretary appears to have been exposed pushing double-standards into the school system. [Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire]

Speaking with a forked tongue: The Education Secretary appears to have been exposed pushing double-standards into the school system. [Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire]

The Department for Education has been parading the success of “more demanding” rules for teacher trainees – less than 10 days after swearing blind that people did not need to have any qualifications at all.

According to Michael Gove’s Department for Education, “new figures show that changes to toughen up the skills tests taken by prospective teachers have raised the quality of those entering the teaching profession”.

The rules, introduced in September 2012, mean “only high-quality candidates with good levels of literacy and numeracy go on to train to be teachers. This will raise standards in schools,” a DfE spokesperson said.

The press release states that 98 per cent of candidates in the 2011-12 academic year passed skills tests in both literacy and numeracy, meaning they could progress to qualified teacher status – but after the new rules came in, the proportion of passes dropped to 88 per cent – and this after three attempts.

The remaining 12 per cent did not pass both skills tests, including almost three per cent who failed three times and may not progress to teacher training for at least two years.

This is, in fact very good news for school pupils. Yr Obdt Srvt is the son of a teacher and has been well aware of a drop in standards over the last 20 or 30 years – probably since Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary.

There was a big effort to get unemployed people to train as teachers and it was around that time that literacy went out the classroom window, with teachers being permitted to ignore spelling mistakes in pupils’ work (or at least, that’s how it seemed). Numeracy nosedived with an over-reliance on pocket calculators or other such mechanical devices, rather than exercising youngsters’ brains.

That’s not to say that all teachers gave up on their subjects, of course. Teaching is not just a job; for most of the profession it is a vocation – what they were born to do – and many of them carry out their duties with exceptional ability, passion and, let’s not beat around the bush, flair.

But we have also seen the results of lacklustre teaching. Running a blog, one tends to read an appalling amount of bad English in the comments that are submitted. They can’t all be ascribed to difficulties that are particular to the person writing the comment – some are certainly the result of indifferent schooling.

And we see it in the real world as well. People who are perfectly capable of expressing themselves verbally in clear, cogent ways collapse completely when asked to put it in writing.

So the announcement is to be welcomed.

The problem is that it comes hot on the heels of a huge controversy over the quality of teaching in Michael Gove’s pet project, the ‘Free Schools’ system.

Vox Political reported on October 20 that the Al-Madinah Free School, serving 400 Muslim pupils in Derby, received the lowest marks possible from inspectors – in every category. Inspectors railed against the fact that teachers were not trained. Two unqualified head teachers also quit jobs at other free schools after criticism.

Nick Clegg, climbing on the bandwagon as is his way, made a speech in which he said unqualified people should not be allowed to teach in state-funded schools: “Frankly it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers…  I believe that we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”

But the Department for Education hit back by claiming that head teachers of academies or Free Schools should have the freedom to employ untrained teachers, in the same way that private schools hire “the great linguists, scientists, engineers and other specialists they know can best teach and inspire their pupils”.

In the light of this statement, what are we to make of the latest announcement?

It seems that Mr Gove is trying to face in two directions at the same time. Doesn’t this make him two-faced? With Free Schools he seems determined to defend the employment of unqualified teachers, no matter how badly they wreck pupils’ education and future chances in life, but with the remaining state schools he seems equally determined to ensure that pupils have a higher standard of teacher, who has the qualification to prove it.

Or is it just that he wants to ensure that fewer people qualify to be teachers, leading to a shortage that would logically culminate in the employment of more unqualified people in the state sector?

Duplicity: The quality or state of being twofold or double.

Not a good standard for our education system.