Committee of Public Accounts


Publication of the Committee's 51st Report, Session 2008-09

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The National Offender Management Service has its work cut out in maintaining the 129 public sector prisons in England and Wales. Nearly half of them were built before 1900, the prison population is rising and prisoner turnover is high at many establishments. So we are pleased that it has kept maintenance costs under control while achieving good value for money. Prisons have been kept sufficiently well to maintain physical security, prisoner and staff safety and prisoner capacity.

"This improved performance has, however, been achieved in the face of poor performance management systems. NOMS lacks the basic performance and cost data it needs to measure its maintenance performance and to manage its assets better. The existing performance targets for the maintenance staff are useless: uncompleted maintenance tasks are not included so everyone gets top marks. And NOMS does not systematically analyse whole life costs when deciding whether to patch, refurbish or replace prison wings, plants and facilities.

"There is also a general lack of good information on the main reasons why maintenance work needs to be done. So, for instance, maintenance staff told the NAO that over half of their everyday work was generated by prisoner vandalism. This is completely at variance with official data which puts the figure at less than five per cent. NOMS must work hard to tighten up its systems for collecting and analysing data."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 51st Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the National Offender Management Service, examined its management processes, its understanding of whole life costs, and the way it works with external contractors.

The National Offender Management Service Executive Agency of the Ministry of Justice, formed in April 2008, is responsible for maintaining the 129 public sector prisons in England and Wales.

Maintaining the prison estate in England and Wales presents considerable challenges and, with continuing population pressures, it is difficult to move prisoners around to allow maintenance work to be carried out. Furthermore, the estate varies considerably in size, age and purpose. Nearly 50% of the 129 prisons in use were built before 1900.

In 2007-08, the National Offender Management Service spent around £320 million maintaining the prison estate, down from £330 million in 2005-06. We are pleased to note that it has obtained good value for money from this expenditure, with prisons kept sufficiently well to maintain physical security, ensure prisoner and staff safety, and maintain prison capacity, despite a rising prisoner population.

However, there is plenty of scope for the National Offender Management Service to improve its performance and its longer term management of the estate. The National Offender Management Service does not have a clear idea how much it is spending in total on maintenance, or how it is performing as an organisation. Basic information on how well prisons are carrying out maintenance tasks is not being produced locally, or collected and analysed centrally. Nor is it being used to drive up performance. The National Offender Management Service promised us improvements in its performance and cost data, which should help it identify efficiency savings.

The National Offender Management Service needs to improve the way it manages its assets and gain a better understanding of whole life costs and, therefore, when it is most cost effective to switch from maintaining an asset to replacing it. There are also gaps in the way the National Offender Management Service manages its external contractors and its knowledge of how contractors are performing. The Service does not enforce standardisation of parts where it could, and handovers from external contractors to local maintenance teams were not working as effectively as they should have been and were characterised by poor information on ongoing maintenance requirements. Lastly, the Service should consider developing cell availability as an overall measure of its success in maintaining the estate.