Date: Wed 9 Sept 2009
Scotland’s Information Commissioner has ordered the release of key financial data from a controversial £50m Private Finance Initiative prison contract.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and Kilmarnock Prison Services Ltd (owned by Serco) had strongly resisted providing the contract’s financial model to UNISON Scotland, arguing it would substantially prejudice the contractor’s commercial interests.
UNISON’s Scottish Organiser Dave Watson today welcomed the decision by the Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, describing it as “a major victory for the public’s right to know”.
Mr Dunion ruled that, at the time of UNISON’s initial request in 2006, the significance of the information would have diminished substantially since the 25 year contract was signed in November 1997.
Dave said: “UNISON has long argued that there is excessive secrecy around PFI and Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts. Too often the public is denied information about the costs of hospital, school and prison contracts on the grounds of commercial prejudice or commercial confidentiality.
“This decision is extremely important and should help pave the way for greater access to information about all PFI/PPP contracts.”
UNISON had also requested the Full Business Case (FBC) for the Kilmarnock Prison, but Mr Dunion accepted this was not held. Scottish Ministers informed him that in the early days of PFI/PPP projects, FBCs were not always prepared.
Dave added: “The fact that there is no Full Business Case for the prison speaks volumes about the way public funding has been wasted on PFI/PPP. The public was always told these projects would deliver value for money but has seen these claims unravel spectacularly over the years. The figures have frequently been manipulated, or withheld, or in this case, were not even calculated beforehand in any meaningful way.
“Mr Dunion’s decision will help shine a light on this contract and, hopefully, on others so the real costs to taxpayers can be assessed.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. Full details of ‘Decision 104/2009 UNISON Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service’ are on the website of the Scottish Information Commissioner at: www.itspublicknowledge.info/applicationsanddecisions/Decisions/2009/200701446.asp (This details that a range of other information on this and the Addiewell prison contract was also withheld initially but later published voluntarily by the SPS during the investigation by the Scottish Information Commissioner.)
2. The Kilmarnock Prison Contract, with redactions, is on the SPS website at: www.sps.gov.uk/MultimediaGallery/c141a308-7050-4e3e-a061-295c1a5c8942.pdf
3. Mr Dunion has called for the extension of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to cover private companies carrying out public contracts (and other relevant bodies) and the Scottish Government is currently considering this.
4. The UNISON Scotland At What Cost report on the aggregate costs of PFI/PPP projects in Scotland is at: www.unison-scotland.org.uk/comms/atwhatcostoct07.pdf