Independent candidate Alan Buchan has come under fire from the Scottish Prison Service and Peterhead Community Council after he printing a damning article on the new HMP Grampian, currently under construction in Peterhead.
In his ‘North East Weekly’ publication, Mr Buchan claimed that the SPS and the ‘Irish’ company building the jail gave the ‘breath-taking admission that there would be no jobs for local people in building the new prison’.
Mr Buchan’s article was published following a meeting of Peterhead Community Council at which a delegation from the SPS and the construction firm Skanska, were in attendance to give members details of the construction of the new jail and to answer any questions.
He also stated: “An array of SPS staff were present to sell the luxury prison to the community, but when community councillors asked if an assurance could be given that only prisoners from the local area would be accommodation because of the enormous pressure Central Belt prisoners would be putting on housing, schools, health and other services, as the prisoners’ families were likely to follow on, the SPS contingent would only say that they hoped that the majority of the 500-unit prison would be local.”
Mr Buchan also stated that the cost of building the new jail had originally been set at £28 million, with the latest cost now standing at £90 million.
And he added: “Much of what had been feared about the new prison was now coming true; no jobs for local people in its construction, a net loss of jobs when the expensive prison is built and most likely 250 Central Belt prisoners and their families to drain local resources.”
He also referred to the jail’s ‘four all-weather sports pitches, top-class gymns and huge plasma TVs.”
The article has sparked outrage from the SPS and the community council, with SPS head of corporate affairs, Tom Fox, who was present at last Wednesday’s meeting, calling it “outrageous”.
An irate Mr Fox told the Buchanie: “This is absolutely outrageous. The only thing that was accurate on the entire page is the date at the top!
“I met with councillors at the community council and told them that the cost of the jail was £90m. Where he got the figure of £28m from I have absolutely no idea.
“As it is the £90m cost represents great value for money and we were only able to do it due to the current state of the construction market,” he said.
“Most of the prisoners at the moment come from the Central Belt, but this will be a new community-facing prison and when it’s complete the vast majority of prisoners will come from North-east Scotland.
“We can never say there will never be any Central Belt prisoners, but the vast majority will be from the North-east.
“As for jobs, we will be recruiting additional staff in the future. The people who are living here and will be working in the new HMP Grampian are living in North-east Scotland and we are providing 200-plus jobs for the longer term.”
Mr Fox also corrected Mr Buchan’s claim that Skanska, the construction company building the jail, were Irish.
“They are, in fact, a Swedish company,” he said.
He added: “It’s not a ‘luxury’ prison, its a facility fit for purpose. Prisoners do get televisions in their cells, but they are small, 17-inch flat screen sets and they pay £1 a week for the privilege - and it is a privilege.
“I can’t believe that he has gone ahead and written this outrageous article.
“I was sitting next to him at the meeting and he never said a word.
“We have more respect for the people of Peterhead than to try and tell them things that are untrue.
“We got a very fair hearing from the community council and they asked some very probing questions, which we were happy to answer.
“We have also accepted invitations to attend the community councils at both Boddam and Cruden Bay.
“There is also a local project team who will be liaising and working with the local community throughout the construction process as we are well aware there will be issues that will arise, but we will remain involved with the local community throughout this process.
“We hope that the new HMP Grampian will be a prison people will be proud of in terms of the qualityof service it delivers and the difference it makes to help prevent re-offending,” he added.
Meanwhile, Peterhead Community Council secretary, Gordon Farman, also hit out at Mr Buchan’s article.
“Cllr Buchan did not ask any questions of the SPS delegation during the meeting and I’m not sure where he got his information,” he said.
“They gave us a run-down of the project and we asked questions regarding the level of impact of the prison on the community and we were reassured that any impact would be minimal.
“We were not given precise details on future employment levels, but we have invited a local delegation from the prison project management team and the construction team to attend future meetings throughout the construction phase and hopefully we will be in a better position to ask more detailed questions and receive more detailed information.”
Meanwhile, Mr Farman also commented on Mr Buchan’s reference to the number of SNP councillors in attendance at community council meetings.
He added: “The community council is delighted with the attendance of our local councillors and hope that after May 3 all locally elected members will attend every possible meeting they can.
“We want them to attend all our meetings and we are delighted that most of them do as they are there for us to ask them questions on arising issues.”