Jo has sent a formal letter of complaint to the Justice Minister over the Scottish Prison Service’s refusal to communicate.
Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill has refused to get involved in the row over the naming of the new prison on the site of HMP Low Moss, saying it is not a political matter and should be dealt with by the SPS. The SPS is now refusing to respond to Jo, who has led the local campaign against the working title of the prison. Chief Executive Mike Ewart wrote in an email to Jo: “In the circumstances the matter is now clearly party political and it would be inappropriate for us to respond further to you.”
Under pressure from politicians of all parties in East Dunbartonshire to agree to meetings, the SPS have said they will not attend meetings organised by any elected representative, due to concerns that it would be perceived as party political. They have, however, met with two SNP Councillors about the issue.
The SPS have agreed to host a public meeting, but after Jo called for it to be held as soon as possible and publicly criticised the SPS for ignoring her phone messages, the SPS refused to communicate with her.
Commenting, Jo said:
“I find it unbelievable that a government agency would refuse to communicate with an MP. It seems Mr. MacAskill and the SPS would both rather toss the matter back and forth between them than actually deal with a problem which is of great concern to thousands of my constituents. It is beginning to feel like there is no one in charge at all. I have asked Mr. MacAskill to either get the SPS to respond or to step up to the plate and respond to me himself.”
Jo has gathered almost 3000 signatures from local people who oppose the naming of the prison as ‘HMP Bishopbriggs’.
The text of Jo’s letter to Kenny MacAskill MSP appears below:
Kenny MacAskill MSP
The Scottish Parliament
9th April 2009
SPS refusal to correspond with MP
I am astonished that the Scottish Prison Service has stated their refusal to respond to my enquiries about the naming of the new prison on the site of HMP Low Moss. Since you are ultimately responsible for the SPS, I would like to know whether you think it is acceptable for a government agency to refuse to communicate with an elected representative about a matter of concern to thousands of their constituents.
The SPS have been unresponsive, to put it mildly. It took more than ten unreturned phone calls and voicemail messages over a two week period before I was finally able to speak to someone at SPS about the prospect of a public meeting. I was told SPS would prefer to organise such a meeting themselves, and kept Bishopbriggs residents informed of my activity on the issue through my local newspaper.
As a result of this, I received the attached email from SPS Chief Executive Mike Ewart stating, “In the circumstances the matter is now clearly party political and it would be inappropriate for us to respond further to you.”
I find it amazing that a senior public official thinks it is acceptable to refuse to correspond with an elected Member of Parliament, doing their job.
I look forward to receiving your opinion on this. If you think it is in order for the SPS to behave in such a way, then I trust you will now feel able to respond directly to my correspondence with you on this subject, rather than passing the buck to the SPS. If you do not consider this to be acceptable practice then I would be grateful if you would follow up this matter with the SPS and inform me of the outcome.
For the sake of the health of our democracy and the ability of elected representatives to do their jobs, I do hope it is the latter. Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Jo Swinson MP
From: Robertson Margaret [mailto:Margaret.Robertson@sps.pnn.gov.uk]
Sent: 27 March 2009 11:44
To: SWINSON, Jo
Subject: Press Release
We have been approached by the Press following your issue of the Press Release and following your conversation with Mr Fox yesterday. In the circumstances the matter is now clearly party political and it would be inappropriate for us to respond further to you.
As we have always made clear, we are committed to full consultation with the local community about all aspects of the new prison, including its name, at the appropriate time.