The cost of a new prison in Glasgow that is being worked on by Kier is set to be larger than the Scottish Prison Service’s combined capital budget for the next three years, it has emerged.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee on Wednesday, justice secretary Angela Constance said she expected the price of HMP Glasgow to be more than £400m, despite earlier estimates of about £170m.
The true cost will only become clear after designs are completed in April, she added.
Conservative MSP Russell Findlay highlighted that the annual capital budget for the Scottish Prison Service is £97m in 2023-24, £192m in 2024-25 and £80m in 2025-26, giving a total of £369m.
He said that this is less than the expected total cost of HMP Glasgow, and asked officials from the service: “How on earth can you expect to pay for it, given these sums?”
Constance replied: “The new HMP Glasgow is […] a high priority; there will of course have to be decisions made about the phasing of resources.
“This isn’t a one-year-only investment or project, but I don’t think anybody is under any misapprehension that we’re going to have to replace the somewhat Victorian HMP Barlinnie.”
As the only jail in Glasgow, the 19th century HMP Barlinnie is no longer fit for purpose. Its governor, Michael Stoney, told the BBC in August that it was running at 140 per cent of capacity and was at risk of “catastrophic failure”.
Kier was appointed to carry out preconstruction services for the new facility in July 2022 and submitted a masterplan in December 2022.
Labour MSP Pauline McNeill criticised the pace at which the project was moving and was “deeply concerned with what seems to be taking an eternity to build a prison”.
Constance said: “We won’t know [the] timescale until we know the costs, and we won’t know the costs until we get the final designs – that’s the bottom line.”
McNeill said: “It’s not fair for the committee to be left with the perception by the government or [prison service] that it’s just a moving thing all the time. I know it’s complicated, but I feel at this moment that it’s a bit smoke-and-mirrors to not pin anything down at all for a project that’s meant to be a priority.”
Constance said: “Not being a builder, I would share some of that frustration but I know the Scottish Prison Service and particularly the governor at Barlinnie are very focused on this.”
She went on to say that the pandemic and material price inflation had hit the project’s budget.
The SNP minister declined another MSP’s suggestion that she commit to put an overall ceiling on the cost above which the project could not rise, stating that she knew of other schemes having been disrupted by factors such as Brexit and construction labour shortages.
“Given the lead-in time, it is difficult to rule out the prospect of any event interrupting plans […] There are all sorts of things that can happen,” she said.