Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence




  60. Does that include an area manager?
  (Mr Narey) Yes. I have to say I would be extremely cautious of appointing somebody directly from outside to be either a governor or an area manager because institutional experience is very, very important. But yes, I have entire freedom in terms of appointments. As Chief Executive of an Agency I have almost complete freedom.

  61. The Home Office do not tell you what to do the whole time. You are pretty much a free agent.
  (Mr Narey) I have to abide by normal rules of Civil Service competition. I have to have open and fair competition.

  62. Taking your governors as a whole and senior managers, using the phrase survivors and leaders, how high a proportion of them all would you say are really potential leaders? A high enough proportion?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, I believe so. We have been through a painful couple of years where a not insignificant number of individuals have been moved on from particular jobs. We inherited a situation where we had some people who had been promoted into jobs which did not suit them. They were the wrong sort of person for the job and we had to move some people on. We moved some people to other jobs in the Service, some people we have moved out of the Service and they have left us. In two years more than half our area managers have changed and I would say there has been some criticism of the very fast turnover of governors. That is part explained by the fact that we have been trying, particularly in the most difficult places, to get the very best people in there. The stock of governors we are left with and area managers is very high quality.

Mr Winnick

  63. You made some pretty praiseworthy reference in your speech last week to the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Have you had a good relationship with him?
  (Mr Narey) Yes. Sir David and I frequently disagree. We argue over the detail of almost every report, but in terms of having the same view about how prisoners should be treated, we are very much at one.

  64. You said that he had a devastating critique at the time of Scrubs prison in which he captured—and I am using your words—the atmosphere of neglect and intimidation so starkly.
  (Mr Narey) That is correct.

  65. There is a feeling—I do not know how far you wish to comment—that Sir David is being told in effect that he is not going to be able to have his contract renewed because he has been such a nuisance, be it to the previous Government or the present Government.
  (Mr Narey) That is not something on which I can possibly comment. All I can say is that both with Judge Tumin and Sir David and whoever his successor is I acknowledge entirely the need for a very critical and effective inspectorate. Without that then some of the levers I have to effect change would not be there.

  66. Would it not be right—and in no way reflecting on your speech last week or why you did not make such comments earlier, nothing of the kind—to say that it is precisely the sort of reports and public comments which Sir David has made since his appointment as Chief Inspector which have spotlighted what you yourself described last week as disgraceful or hell-hole prisons?
  (Mr Narey) He has made an immense contribution in doing that and I regret the situation which Mr Wheatley and I inherited, that sometimes, because of ineffectiveness of some area managers and some governors, the first that Richard Tilt, for example, sometimes knew about a place being pretty awful is when he heard it from the Chief Inspector. One of the things which has happened more recently, not least because Sir David and I do have a very close working relationship, is that I know in advance which places are awful. There is going to be an awful report on Birmingham, but Mr Wheatley and I knew about that. We have been doing things about that and I share with Sir David my concerns about some establishments. He inspected Brinsford last year and issued a very critical report and he inspected it because I told him I was very concerned about it; indeed his report has been very useful for the new governor whom Mr Wheatley appointed to Brinsford in terms of improving it.

  67. Would you say that Sir David, and his predecessor incidentally who also had a very distinguished record, tended to be seen in Whitehall as irritants?
  (Mr Narey) I can only speak for how it is seen in the Prison Service. Yes, sure, sometimes they are seen as irritants. Sometimes Sir David frustrates me, sometimes I think his criticisms are unfair. We sometimes have very extensive discussions about the nature of them. I would obviously argue that it is much easier to prescribe what needs to be done in prisons than to do it. I have no doubt about Sir David's commitment and I know that the sort of Prison Service he and I want is the same Prison Service.

  68. Obviously it is not up to you, but would you like to see Sir David continue in his present position?
  (Mr Narey) It is positively not up to me to comment on that.

  69. Of course it is not up to you and I already prefaced my question by saying it is not up to you, but would you like to see him continue in his present position?
  (Mr Narey) I have no role whatsoever in the identity of the Chief Inspector. I look forward to the continuation of the Chief Inspector, whoever he or she is, being entirely independent of me and properly critical when necessary.

  70. Would you agree that if there is to be a successor to Sir David and it appears that is to be the position, that person so appointed would not be doing his job if he or she showed less courage and independence of mind than the present occupant of that position?
  (Mr Narey) I would agree with that.

Mr Linton

  71. You make the point very forcefully in your speech, that the increased funding for the Prison Service, although it is still far from enough, has in a sense removed the alibi of the Prison Service for lack of resources as the catchall explanation for problems in the Prison Service. It has exposed, as you very clearly put, the need really to look at what makes prisons succeed or fail. I just wondered whether you could elaborate on this question of failing prisons. What do you think is the main reason? Is the main reason the governorship? Obviously there have been quite a few changes of governorship here. Is it inadequacies of middle management which is a problem area? Is it more deeply in the kind of recruitment you have to the Prison Service? Do you think it is basically an attitudinal thing?
  (Mr Narey) It can be many of those things, but the one I would pick out as being the key element in reforming and improving a prison is the identity of the governing governor. Governing governors not only have to be very sophisticated managers, they also have to be leaders. They have to set a moral tone for an establishment. They have to be extremely resilient. They have to cope with a sometimes very difficult trade union. The key to improving and sustaining change in an establishment is getting the right people in the right place. For example, in Birmingham which I describe as a place which worries me greatly, we have given very considerable thought to the person we put in charge. In fact for the first time in two years I have had to order the governor to take the posting at Birmingham. I had a number of volunteers, but I did not think any of them were suitable for the mammoth task which we faced. That individual now, supported by a very good deputy governor and other staff is beginning to make significant inroads into the prison and will effect great improvements.

  72. You mentioned Birmingham but has there not been a series of governors even at Birmingham who have come in with a promise of improving it and not been able to do it? There must be occasions when you feel a job is probably almost too big for a governor to accomplish?
  (Mr Narey) I believed on Birmingham that the job was so difficult that I could not leave it to the vagaries of simply a competition with people applying to go to work at a particular prison. Mr Wheatley and I discussed this at some length and identified someone we knew had done a very similar capable job at another very large local prison, who we knew was extremely resilient, who would not be deflected by pressures from staff or from unions and would start to reform Birmingham. Birmingham will get some extra resources next year but one of its main problems at the moment is that the current resources are not spent as effectively as they might be. The shift systems suit the staff rather more than the needs of the regime. It takes a very, very capable and resilient manager to put that right when they have been like that for very many years.

  73. When you refer to the inadequacies of middle management, are you thinking there of area managers or are you thinking within the individual prisons?
  (Mr Narey) It is below governing governor level where we sometimes do not have sufficient talent to spread around.
  (Mr Wheatley) It is principal officer and senior officer level where in establishments which are not working well those working at that level can begin to identify with the people they should be managing and want to do things which keep the place running sweetly as far as staff are concerned rather than think about what they are trying to achieve. To change that needs determined senior management, governor, deputy governor in the prison to drive that process and actually to enliven people who are probably quite good. There is nothing wrong with the people: they have been put in a position where they have not learned to manage well and under pressure they have decided the easy way is to avoid confrontation. We need to change things and that means a degree of confrontation.

  74. Do you think there is also a problem at the recruitment level, including people who are in themselves able but maybe do not have the kind of motivation you want? McKays rather than Barracloughs.
  (Mr Wheatley) In recruitment terms we are currently recruiting good prison officers, our basic entry point for those who are working closely with prisoners. We do not recruit especially good ones for especially good places and especially bad ones for places which are not working well. We make them out of the places. The power of the culture in the prisons, the way things are always done, is what very much gets hold of people and changes them. It probably happens to MPs: as you arrive in the Commons you will learn from other people, you will adjust to the culture. Prisons have very powerful cultures, so we take good people in and if we have a prison which is not working well we will damage them, which is one of the other reasons why it is very important we sort out the basic culture, the leadership of the place, quickly in order to make sure we are not damaging good staff who can give a good contribution if properly led, working in a way where they are supported in working well.

  75. You talk about the value of institutional experience, but you have also talked about the problems of bonus payments. Is there not an argument that institutional experience can be a limiting factor in somebody's horizons and they can see the job too narrowly? Do you see these bonus payments as a way of attracting people from outside, from other walks of life, into the Prison Service?
  (Mr Narey) No. I mentioned last week that I intended to pay some bonus payments to governors simply to reward people for what I believe has been quite exceptional effort. Governors would argue that with the complexity of their jobs, running institutions with budgets of £25 million not untypically, with the challenges they have, the hours they work, they are not particularly well rewarded. For those who made real achievements, it is simply a recognition of that. I would be very willing to look more at bringing in outside people if I thought that the quality of people I was getting into the Service now at the bottom was not good enough, but it is very good. The Prison Service is quite a difficult organisation to market. Nobody grows up wanting to work in a Prison Service, they would be very odd if they did. You have to be pretty imaginative in attracting people. For example, some of the material we send out to universities is very, very imaginative indeed, very eye-catching and it does take the interest. Prisons themselves are captivating places. Generally speaking if you get people once involved, once going to visit a prison, they very frequently will find it hugely challenging, hugely stimulating. We are getting very, very good people.


  76. I am sorry, we cannot lock out The Sun. They will be getting quotes of the week about prisons being captivating places. You were on about what you call the identity of the governor. There is bound to be some tension, is there not? You, and the public for that matter, putting increasing amounts of resources into prisons want to know what they are getting for it. There is all this pressure on performance measurement. The other side of that is that anybody doing a big management job like the governing governor of a big prison, needs some elbow room. He or she wants to feel that within those parameters they have the scope to manage in their way. How do you try to resolve that tension? It touches back on the point Mr Linton was just making. If you get an area manager who wants to run things more by the book than somebody coming in new to this job and having ideas and just needing elbow room, how do you resolve that one?
  (Mr Narey) What we try to do, what I have said in a previous speech to prison governors, because I have heard governors say to me for example that they have lost a bit of elbow room, they have lost the opportunity to be imaginative, is that is not the case. What we are trying to say to governors is that there are some minimum things they must do, things are not optional. Governors traditionally, certainly when I joined the service, possibly even more so when Mr Wheatley did, were barons in their own territory, they did very much what they wanted. We are saying to governors that there are things they must do: the push on basic education, on mandatory drug testing, on drug treatment. These are not options, they must be done. There is loads of evidence from around the estate of those things being done and individual governors doing far more as well. The governor of Huntercombe has put so much of himself into that establishment, far more than we ever required of him. The governor of Brockhill, a female prison, similarly. I can think of countless numbers of institutions where governors have done much more. For the first time, and this has proved difficult for some governors, Mr Wheatley is making area managers work effectively and make sure that governors are doing what the Government have asked us to do. Sometimes that has been difficult. The response overwhelmingly has been terrific.

Mr Fabricant

  77. I wanted to follow on a couple of questions Mr Singh was asking on suicide. I was very interested in that whole line of questioning. I think you said there were 81 suicides last year in prisons and eight have been committed so far this year. Can you give any numbers for attempted suicides?
  (Mr Narey) I cannot give figures for attempted suicides because it is very difficult to discriminate between various levels of self harm. I can give figures for levels of self harm which run into the thousands, something like 7,000 or more instances of serious self harm, but I will check on the figure and let you have it.[4]

  78. I just wanted an order of magnitude. Has any research been done into why people do that? Is it simply the deprivation? Is it the question of the deprivation of liberty or are there other reasons? I am wondering whether there is a bullying culture in prisons?
  (Mr Narey) It is impossible to give one answer. We know that most suicides happen in local prisons or remand centres and happen within a week or so of reception, but crucially not first reception on a sentence and not first reception into prison. Our growth in suicides is not in young people experiencing custody for the first time and not coping. The big expansion is in those aged 30 to 39. If I were to offer a view, I think some of that is people coming back to custody for the fourth, fifth time and thinking this is it, this is me again and despairing of that. I do not think there are any really easy answers to explain why this is happening. Bullying could on occasion contribute to that, I acknowledge, but through a system we have of having prisoners trained by the Samaritans—we call them Listeners—there is much more support from other prisoners than there is in terms of behaviour which might encourage someone—

Mr Stinchcombe

  79. Are we still holding prisoners on remand in primitive conditions?

  (Mr Narey) Yes, we are on some occasions.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed Mr Narey and Mr Wheatley for making the time to come. We were very taken with how forthright you were in that speech in Nottingham and we wish you well in what you are trying to do with the resources you now have in the Prison Service. As you observed and certainly from this side of the table as well, there are no votes in this but that does not mean to say it is not important. We have to be able to run a regime, in Mr Wheatley's words, which is founded on decency. Nobody can tolerate anything which gets in the way of that. Thank you very much indeed.

4   See Annex. Back

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