The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a new report on Friday. The report stated very clearly that the Government needs to provide a lot more support for the relatively small number of children in our Nation that break rules significantly enough that they are placed in custody. At the beginning of the report the summary begins with the words “Youth custody provision is failing children.” This report was made more public thanks to an article in the Children and Young People Now Magazine which was written by Fiona Simpson. Her article was entitled ‘GET A GRIP’ ON DELAYED PLANS FOR SECURE SCHOOL, MPS TELL GOVERNMENT and it can be obtained from here. The very significant piece begins with these words
MPs have urged the government to “get a grip” on plans for the UK’s first secure school amid almost four years of delays in opening the setting. In a new report, the public accounts committee (PAC) questions the “commitment” of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) in delivering the school which was first due to open in autumn 2020. Despite assurances that it will open in November 2023, the PAC has said it expects the setting to be ready closer to February 2024. MP Meg Hillier, PAC chair, said: “It’s time for the department to get a grip on the programme it announced its support for seven years ago.”
That section includes the link to the “Secure training centres and secure schools” report and after the first few words mentioned above it then goes on to say
Our inquiry has shown that The Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) and Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) have not fixed poor provision at secure training centres (STC), where vulnerable children have been persistently held in unsafe conditions. The closure of all but one STC has led
to children being sent to alternative places that are less suitable for their needs. While
the number of children is custody is relatively low—560 on average in 2020–21—the
Committee is concerned that these children are receiving substandard care. Their needs
are diverse, and many are highly vulnerable, particularly girls. Suitable provision is
needed to help them to get their lives back on track.
Following a long-term decline in the number of children in custody, the Ministry and
HMPPS now expect this number to more than double by 2024. Meanwhile, HMPPS
faces significant delays and cost increases in progressing the first of a new type of
custody, a secure school. It now intends the first secure school to be a ‘pathfinder’, and
it does not plan to launch the second secure school until it has evaluated the first. We
are unconvinced of the Ministry’s and HMPPS’s commitment to delivering the secure
school vision of small, local, educationally focused establishments. The first secure
school may not open until February 2024—more than seven years after the Ministry
accepted the Taylor review’s vision for secure schools—and plans for the second have
not been made.
Along with the very clear challenges that have been published in these two settings we are currently waiting for the new Prime Minister to be selected which will not happen until about the 5th of September and then that will lead to changes in the Ministry in Parliament. Clearly the Committee members will remain aware of these issues, but even the nine Conservative MPs who are on that Committee may take some time before they can add their voices to this call from Meg Hillier and the other four Labour MPs and the single Liberal Democrat and SNP MP who are part of the Committee. One of the Conservative MPs is in Surrey and two are in Kent, but sadly there are none here in Sussex.