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With the cost of living soaring, defunct prisons have drained the public coffers to the tune of more than £1million in utility bills since 2017, new data has revealed. The revelation has prompted an angry response from campaign organisation the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which questioned whether civil servants had “switched off”.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), responding to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, said it has spent £1,168,572.25 for heating, water, electricity and sewage for empty prisons since 2017.
The MoJ insisted it has “vastly reduced” the cost to taxpayers although Labour accused the Government of continuing to “squander thousands of taxpayers’ pounds on empty buildings”.
The department spent £1.9 million on bills in 2015/16 for defunct prisons but by 2017/18 this figure had dropped to £278,159.55.
In 2018/19 the amount was £231,913.92, in 2019/20 it was £306,616.57, in 2020/21 it was £248,107.64 and in 2021/22 it was £103,774.57.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance told Express.co.uk: “Taxpayers will ask whether civil servants have switched off when dealing with empty prisons.
“In too many cases working households are still paying to keep the lights on when no one’s home.
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“With utility bills spiralling, any remaining defunct properties need to be quickly shifted.”
The fall in utility costs is down to HM Prison and Probation Service offloading surplus properties, and the utilities at sites which are closed for development, such as Glen Parva and Wellingborough, becoming the responsibility of developers during the works.
An MoJ spokesperson said: “We have successfully sold a number of closed sites and vastly reduced the cost to the taxpayer.”
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However, while acknowledging the reduction in costs, shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said: “At a time when many are struggling to heat their homes, it beggars belief that Tory ministers continue to squander thousands of taxpayers’ pounds on empty buildings.
“Victims and taxpayers alike are paying through the nose for a decade of Conservative neglect of our criminal justice system.
“Labour will put an end to the Tories’ culture of waste with an Office for Value for Money to ensure public money is spent with care.”
In the last 10 years, the MoJ has raised £128 million through the sale of former prison sites, with a spokesman saying all cash spent on maintenance and utilities is intended to ensure taxpayers get the best possible return when they are eventually sold.
Figures published by Parliament in 2017 showed the MoJ spent more than £11.2 million in almost five years between 2012/13 and 2016/17 on utility costs for prisons which were officially closed.
The department at the time said the level of services were “reduced to that necessary to maintain the fabric of the buildings and ensure the sites remain safe and secure until final disposal”.
The Government published its Prisons Strategy White Paper last year,
In his foreword, then-Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We’re carrying out the biggest prison building programme in more than 100 years to meet demand as we bring in tougher sentencing rules and the courts clear the backlogs brought about by COVID-19.
“Prisons keep people safe by taking dangerous criminals off our streets, but they can only bring down crime and keep the public safer in the longer-term if they properly reform and rehabilitate offenders.”
He added: “In this White Paper we’ve set out our new strategy to support prisons to do both more effectively.
“We will provide 20,000 new prison places to protect the public through punishment and incapacitation of offenders.
“The new estate will be more modern and secure, to keep our staff safe and provide the most productive environment to reform offenders.”
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