Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was spent for “nothing in return” because of “loopholes” in the contract for a privately run youth jail shut down over serious safety concerns, MPs have heard.
Prisons minister Victoria Atkins said an “enormous amount of public money” was spent while the Ministry of Justice reached an “amicable solution” with US-based contractor MTC over Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.
But she insisted work was being done to make sure future contracts do not contain the same sorts of “loopholes or gaps” that could “come back to haunt” ministers.
Alternative accommodation had to be found for 33 children after the Government was urged to take urgent action when it emerged they were being 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 the future of Rainsbrook after fellow ministers previously hinted it could be brought back under public control.
She told MPs that ministers and officials were “still reviewing the landscape” and coming out of the contract was a “big decision”, adding; “We’ve reached an amicable solution with MTC, the provider, and Rainsbrook remains, for the moment, closed.”
Committee chairman Sir Bob Neill highlighted that the so-called amicable solution “did involve paying £5.6 million in monthly payments whilst the contract termination was being sorted out with MTC”, adding: “That’s a chunk of money”, to which Ms Atkins replied: “It’s an enormous amount of public money.
“I’m afraid it is, again, a hangover of the contracts that were created some time ago. You’ll know that they apply in other parts of the estate as well.
“And so whilst I never, ever like to see or want to see taxpayers’ money being spent in that way when we’re getting nothing in return, what we have done as a consequence of that is ensure that our contracts going forward do not contain the sorts of loopholes and problems that, frankly, historic contracts have caused us and will continue to cause us.
“I’ve ensured that not only do we have internal scrutiny, we also have external scrutiny of such contracts going forwards so that we are reassured that there are not, as I say, loopholes or gaps in them that could come back to haunt the minister sitting in my role in, I don’t know, 10, 15 or 20 years’ time.”
Rainsbrook held up to 87 children aged 12 to 17 years, who were serving a custodial sentence or on remand from the courts.
A group of watchdogs previously alerted justice ministers to problems at the site and called for action over the “continued poor care and leadership”, amid concerns vulnerable children were subjected to a “bleak regime”.
The jail was later rated “inadequate” by Ofsted, which described a “volatile culture” where children carried weapons “just in case”.
MTC previously apologised for the failings and said it was trying to rectify the situation but MPs criticised the promises of improvement as “worth less than the paper they are written on”.