Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was spent for ‘nothing in return’ due to ‘loopholes’ in the contract to close a private youth prison over serious security concerns, MPs have heard.
Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins said a ‘huge amount of public money’ had been spent as the Department of Justice reached an ‘amicable solution’ with US contractor MTC over the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.
But she insisted work was underway to ensure future contracts did not contain the same sorts of ‘gaps or loopholes’ that could ‘come back to haunt’ ministers.
Alternative accommodation had to be found for 33 children after the government was told to take urgent action when it emerged they were locked up for more than 23 hours a day during the coronavirus pandemic at the site near Rugby in Warwickshire.
Appearing before the Commons Justice Committee on Wednesday, Ms Atkins was asked for an update on Rainsbrook’s future after fellow ministers previously hinted it could be brought back under public scrutiny.
She told MPs ministers and civil servants were ‘still looking at the landscape’ and that terminating the contract was a ‘big decision’, adding; “We have reached an amicable solution with MTC, the supplier, and Rainsbrook remains, for the time being, closed.”
Committee chairman Sir Bob Neill pointed out that the so-called amicable solution “involved paying £5.6 million in monthly payments while the contract termination was being settled with MTC”, adding: ‘That’s a lot of money’, to which Ms Atkins replied. “It’s a huge amount of public money.
“I’m afraid this is, again, a hangover from the contracts that were created some time ago. You will know that they also apply to other parts of the domain.
“And so, while I never like to see or want to see taxpayers’ money spent in this way when we’re not getting anything in return, what we’ve done as a result is to make sure that our future contracts contain the kind of loopholes and problems that, frankly, the historical contracts have caused us and will continue to cause us.
“I have ensured that not only do we have an internal review, but also an external review of these contracts going forward so that we are reassured that there is no, as I said, loopholes or loopholes that could come back to haunt the minister sitting in my role in, I don’t know, 10, 15 or 20 years.
Rainsbrook detained up to 87 children between the ages of 12 and 17, who were serving custodial sentences or remanded in custody by the courts.
A watchdog group previously alerted justice ministers to problems at the site and called for action against “the continued poor quality of care and leadership”, while vulnerable children were put on a “regime dark”.
The prison was later deemed “inadequate” by Ofsted, which described a “volatile culture” where children carried arms “just in case”.
The MTC had previously apologized for the shortcomings and said it was trying to remedy the situation, but MPs criticized the promises of improvement as ‘worth less than the paper they are written on’.