Flawed economic case for super prison

Robert Jones says Wrexham council has failed to properly research the impact of the Titan jail being proposed for the town.

Robert Jones is a PhD student at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University. His research is on imprisonment and devolution in Wales.

In response to the first part of the Wrexham Prison Blues series published on ClickonWales at the start of November Cllr Hugh Jones, Lead Member for Partnerships at Wrexham Council, criticised the report for employing a methodology supposedly too reliant upon research which used “old data” collected from a jurisdiction “4,000 miles away” in the United States. Further to this, reference was made to a report carried out by Roger Tym & Partners (RTP) in 2009 to assess the economic impact of a 1,500 place prison to a local economy. It was in fact this report that helped to form the basis of Wrexham Council’s very own economic case to support a ‘super’ prison in the area.

However, a detailed examination of the economic case put together by Wrexham Council earlier this year raises many questions on how far the local economy will benefit.

WREXHAM PRISON BLUES II

 

This is the second of a new three-part series examining the impact of the Ministry of Justice’s decision to site a major new prison in north Wales.

  • Tomorrow Robert Jones considers the impact of the super prison on north-west England.

 

 

A report to the Council by its officers on 18 March 2013 cites a claim by the Ministry of Justice that construction of the prison will create “some 117” jobs. Against this, the RTP consultants downplay the impact that the prison’s construction will have on local employment. For example, according to the report because of the “specialist skills” required to build a prison “it is assumed however that a small fraction (10%) of these construction jobs would be filled by the local district’s residents”.

In addition to skills, the report also warns that the size and scale of the prison development may also impact upon the number of local jobs created. Going one step further, the report produced by RTP also claims that the development of a ‘new’ prison may also work to reduce the number of jobs that are made available to local people, local construction firms and local suppliers. In particular, RTP highlight the fact that new prisons often have national procurement contracts which thereby limit “local supplier engagement” within major spending areas.

The RTP consultants also raise concerns over the number of local people who will actually be employed directly at the prison once it is built. They estimate that of the 819 jobs created by a 1,500 place prison, just 440 “would be expected to be filled by the local districts residents”.

However, RTP importantly warn that this number may in fact be subject to further reductions with that claim that “the degree to which the prison would recruit from the local population would depend on its location within the district, local connections and transport links”. In Wrexham’s case, given that the prison is set to be built on an industrial estate situated just five miles from the English border and positioned “within close reach of the main transport links” including the nearby “motorway network”, the location of the ‘super’ prison might well lead to a reduction in the estimated number of local jobs outlined by RTP.

The issue of the prison’s location may also be used to question the extent to which the prison will be able to capture visitors economically, this following the reports claim that visitors to the prison are expected to produce £415,800 of “additional local spending” based upon an average prison visit local spend of no more than £7.  Interestingly, the location of the prison is something which has already raised concerns including those of Wrexham MP, Ian Lucas, who claimed in January that he did not believe that the Firestone site, where the prison is planned to be built, was “the most appropriate” location because it is “not very central” within the local area.

The extent of the prison’s impact on local employment will determine the wider economic benefits it is likely to generate. For example, of the £17.7 million of annual local revenue that the RTP consultants claim will be generated, £14,968,100 can be accounted for by an estimate of the money generated from ‘Direct staff salaries’ or ‘Induced staff spending’.

On the basis of the research’s claim that just 54 per cent of prison jobs or 58 per cent of all jobs will go to local residents, questions may well be raised over just how much of this revenue from staff spending will in fact be brought into the local economy.

Under the Council report’s subheading of ‘Business Impacts’, Wrexham Council make what is perhaps their most concerning claim in support of the ‘super’ prison development. In particular, its report seeks to highlight what it sees as the potential advantages to be brought to local businesses who “are able to benefit” from the provision of “skilled and semi-skilled resources” at a “much reduced or no labour cost”.

In short, as part of its efforts to develop an economic case for the prison, Wrexham Council sought to advertise the benefits that free or reduced prison labour would in fact have upon local businesses who may be encouraged to therefore undertake work which they may have previously decided against “for cost reasons”.

Importantly, the council’s case fails to consider the potential impact that a large, cheap and in some cases free labour force might actually have upon the employment opportunities of local people in Wrexham. These concerns are something which have been raised within the research of Gordon Lafer (2003) who has managed to reflect upon the threat that prison labour can often present to the employment chances of people living outside of the prison.

While concerns may quite rightly be raised over the ethics that surround the council’s efforts to promote the “benefits” of prison labour, its case importantly fails to provide any consideration of the adverse effects that this may have upon local employment.

The economic case put together by Wrexham Council in March this year manages to raise yet more concerns over the supposed ‘economic benefits’ that are likely to accompany the Wrexham ‘super’ prison.

While the Ministry of Justice has promoted its plans to build a prison in Wrexham with the promise of local economic benefits, the Council’s report does very little to support this promise. For example, if you were a resident in Wrexham would a 58 per cent chance of getting a job be enough to convince you of the benefits of holding the UK’s largest prison in your local area?

Remarkably, it is these very same figures that have been interpreted by Wrexham Council as a strong enough incentive to compete and campaign for what is set to become the UK’s largest prison.

However, while the figures used to support the council’s case may be far from convincing, attention must also be drawn to the fact that the council’s consideration of the economic case only manages to reflect upon the so called ‘benefits’. In doing so, Wrexham Council fail to outline what potential costs the prison may well present to existing services already operating within the Wrexham area. For example, how will the local authority cope with the housing demands of Welsh prisoners leaving the prison with a priority need for accommodation? What impact will a 2,000 capacity ‘super’ prison have upon the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board which will be responsible for providing prisoner healthcare? These issues subsist against the backdrop that prisoners’ disproportionality suffer from a range of mental and physical health issues as well as problems related to substance misuse, as shown in a report published earlier this year.

Not only is the economic evidence being used to support the Wrexham ‘super’ prison insufficient to satisfy local people of the ‘benefits’, there is also a failure to provide anywhere near the level of in-depth research and scrutiny required to make a full and proper assessment of the case for the Wrexham ‘super’ prison.

These conclusions, this time formulated using Wrexham Council’s very own case, raise fresh concerns over the promises being made by the MoJ in their attempts to re-introduce the widely opposed idea of ‘super’ prison building in England and Wales.

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