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MSP cast doubts over government commitment to building new Inverness prison

By Louise Glen

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MSP Edward Mountain
MSP Edward Mountain

Edward Mountain MSP has today challenged the Scottish Government on the lack of investment and delays to the construction of HMP Highland, the replacement prison for HMP Inverness.

After the publication today of a draft infrastructure report, Mr Mountain, representing the Highlands and Islands, said the Highlands were being left behind with infrastructure projects.

The SNP Government today released its draft infrastructure plan for 2021/22 to 2025/26 which states: "Replace HMP Inverness and HMP Barlinnie – an investment of around £470 million. In that time the new Highland establishment should be concluded, and a majority of progress might have been made on the new HMP Glasgow."

In a previous infrastructure update from April 2020, the government confirmed that the cost for HMP Highland had risen to £92 million; however, the “funding position is still to be confirmed.” As a result, the completion date for the new prison was pushed back to November 2023.

Mr Mountain, who has long campaigned for a modern prison for the Highlands, challenged the government on HMP Highland during a ministerial statement.

Mr Mountain asked: “In the Highlands we are quite used to being left behind in infrastructure delivery. On page 42 of the plan, it mentions the Highland prison, which was actually promised to be built in 2016. It said in the plan that it ‘should be concluded’ by 2026 – why won’t it be completed by 2026, Cabinet Secretary?”

Michael Matheson, the cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, replied: “The member will be aware that we have made very significant investment in our criminal justice estate over an extended period of time and it’s interesting when the member talks about the lack of investment in the Highlands he chooses not to mention the new justice centre, which has been created in Inverness and which I had the privilege of breaking the ground of when I was Justice Secretary.”

“As we go forward with our capital investment programme we will be able to look at what further programmes can be introduced into that and other facilities that could be introduced as a result of that.”

He added: “What would aid us greatly in being able to achieve some of that is if we could have clear line of sight of the UK Government’s capital spending review, which I understand has been delayed yet again.”

Following the ministerial statement Mr Mountainsaid: “In the last infrastructure update, the SNP government confirmed that HMP Highland was due to be operational by November 2023, but this new plan casts some doubt as to whether it will be constructed by 2026. This is unacceptable for a project that is shovel ready.

“The SNP government only has itself to blame for not delivering vital infrastructure to the Highlands. This SNP Government has a central belt bias when it comes to spending and that is why they have yet to make HMP Highland a funding priority.”

Read related news: Go-ahead given for new Inverness prison as costs soar to £92 million and 'dithering' Scottish Government blasted by Highland MSP

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