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The cost of the new Highland prison rockets again to £110 million while the Scottish Government stops short of guaranteeing its completion date

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Edward Mountain at the still empty site of proposed new HMP Highland in Inverness.
MSP Edward Mountain at the still empty site of proposed new HMP Highland in Inverness.

The cost of the new and much-delayed HMP Highland has again spiralled, this time by as much as £58 million, while the Scottish Government now targets a 2024 opening date.

The latest estimate in the government's £33 billion infrastructure investment programme puts the cost at £98–£110 million – up from an original 2011 estimate of £52 million.

Work is scheduled to begin in August this year with the prison is expected to be operational by February 2024.

That means delivery is four years late and £58 million more expensive than planned.

In the meantime doubt has been cast on scheduled delivery after a deadline for groundworks has already been missed in December.

It also emerged that the Scottish Prisons Service would get just £72.8 million for capital projects this year.

MSP Edward Mountain – who has been pressing the government over the prison for years – said that lack of investment shows the SNP is unwilling to fund infrastructure projects in the Highlands.

He accused the party of being “very good at making promises and not delivering them” while forcing prisoners and staff to spend time in gruelling conditions of the old Victorian prison.

Earlier today in the Scottish Parliament he again asked Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf about the escalating cost and when the prison would start work.

The Mr Yousaf responded: “I know Edward Mountain has done his best to cast doubt on the building of a new prison for Inverness, despite his deliberate mischief, the naysayer has been proven wrong.

"Once again I’m delighted that the Scottish Government has confirmed its intention to fund and build HMP Highland. It’s inclusion in the Scottish Government infrastructure investment plan is testament to our commitment.”

Mr Mountain said: “In 2011, the prison was due to cost £52 million; 2016, it had gone to £66 million and in 2021, it’s risen to £110 million.

"You promised the delivery of the prison before the last election and you promised it again in 2018, sounds like you are promising it now.

“Let’s not forget that this SNP Government promised the Highlands a new prison over ten years ago and we are still waiting for it.

“As always, the devil is in the detail. According to the SNP’s own estimates, a new prison could cost up to £110 million however the SNP’s draft budget has only made £72.8 million available to the Scottish Prisons Service for capital projects this year.

“Yet again this highlights how the SNP government are not prepared to fund key infrastructure projects in the Highlands.

"This also raises doubts as to whether construction work will begin in August 2021, as the SNP Government has suggested."

When asked, the Scottish Government stopped short of guaranteeing the prison would be built within the next five years despite stating in its own announcement about the infrastructure plan that it would “conclude the HMP Highland establishment, replace HMP Inverness.”

A spokesman said: “The Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service are committed to modernising and improving the prison estate and have been clear that the development of the new female estate and replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Highland are priorities.

“A site has been purchased on the east side of Inverness and early procurement activity as well as development of a suitable design is progressing.

“Consistent with other ongoing prison infrastructure projects, some of the work has been impacted by the pandemic, however it is being progressed as quickly as is practicably possible.”

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