The National Offender Management Service Executive Agency (NOMS) has obtained good value for money from its expenditure on prison maintenance, the National Audit Office has today reported. In spite of an increasing prisoner population – over 73,000 people held in custody in public sector prisons in England & Wales in 2007-08 – spending has been kept at around £320 million in recent years. Nevertheless, the Agency Service could improve its plans for maintaining assets over their economic life and how it manages risks to the effective utilisation of its assets.
The eight prisons visited by the NAO were sufficiently well maintained to preserve physical security, prisoner capacity, and prisoner and staff safety. The increasing prisoner population, frequent overcrowding and a high turnover of prisoners create substantial pressures on the estate. In its maintenance of the estate, the Agency has introduced procedures aimed at improving the handover of major maintenance projects from external contractors and to assess the future maintenance costs of refurbished or replacement assets.
The Agency has scope to improve the way it plans major prison maintenance. Currently, the Agency defers approved maintenance works if funds are no longer available. Pressures on prisoner population can also delay maintenance work because of the lack of alternative cell spaces.
NOMS needs to analyse the type, number and location of maintenance works it carries out to help control spending on maintenance and plan future works. The Agency should develop long-term plans for maintaining equipment and other assets over their economic life. It could also use more common and standardised parts, materials, fixtures and fittings, to bring cost savings to maintenance works.