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Conflict of interests leads to prison ‘lock-out’

A prison governor has ‘locked out’ probation staff after it emerged that the local probation trust had formed an alliance with private security company G4s to take over management of three prisons in South Yorkshire.

Bob Mullen, in charge of Lindholme, Moorlands and Hatfield prisons, told the probation trust last Friday that he was excluding all staff to protect the commercial confidentiality of the rival public sector bid to run the group of jails.

HM Prison Service is bidding to run the prisons in partnership with Mitie Group against theSouth Yorkshireprobation trust with company G4S. Since the exclusion of staff, all probation work has been suspended. Urgent talks have been arranged to resolve the crisis.

Harry Fletcher ofNapo, the probation union, said: “This is an unprecedented and unparalleled decision. There is a clear conflict of interest for the probation trust. We are appalled that the publicly run trust is entering into an agreement with a privately run company to make profits from publicly owned jails. The decision should be reversed without delay.”

Jan Hannant of the South Yorkshire probation trust told staff in an internal bulletin that the decision to exclude probation staff was a “complete surprise”, continuing: “It is not known at this stage how the prisons intend to deliver the services currently performed by our staff and we are trying to maintain a professional working relationship with our key contacts in each of the three locations while a resolution is being sought.”

However, a Ministry of Justice statement said: “Arrangements are in place to ensure that probation staff are able to undertake their duties and we are confident that the situation will be resolved swiftly. There is no risk to the public.”

Justice secretary Ken Clarke has ordered the management of nine prisons to be put out to competition for 15-year contracts, in the ‘first wave’ of jails out for tender. 

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