Together with celebrity maitre d’ Fred Sirieix, I met with the Justice Secretary David Gauke on Monday 19th November to discuss what steps the Government can take to improve the employment prospects of those currently incarcerated in UK prisons.
During a session of Oral Questions to the Justice Secretary last month I had highlighted the work of the Right Course, a programme which trains prisoners to run restaurants in order to improve their employment prospects, and requested a meeting with the Justice Secretary to discuss how similar initiatives could be expanded.
The Right Course programme was set up by Fred Sirieix in December 2015 and transforms staff restaurants in prisons to high street-like operations using existing facilities at no cost to the taxpayer. Fred Sirieix describes the scheme as having been designed to “reduce re-offending by teaching the skills and values of hospitality so that our proteges can build their careers as a chef, waiter, or manager and live a law-abiding life upon release”. The pilot of the programme is currently underway at HMP Isis and companies such as the Hilton Group and Land Securities, as well as charities including Novus and Redemption Roasters, are now partners. Prisoners being trained by the programme have the opportunity to gain nationally recognised qualifications and work experience that could potentially help them to gain employment in the hospitality sector on release.
This was an encouraging meeting and not only was the Justice Secretary supportive of the work Fred is doing with the Right Course, but he was very receptive to our calls for similar initiatives to be rolled out across the prison estate. Ministry of Justice figures show that employment reduces the likelihood of reoffending by up to 60% but recently released prisoners often face significant challenges finding work. Programmes like the Right Course help to ensure that while incarcerated, prisoners can gain the skills they need to be an attractive candidates for employers in the hospitality sector on release. Expanding these programmes would also benefit the hospitality sector in the long-term as it is currently facing significant skills and labour shortages, with around 700,000 vacancies forecast by 2020. The Justice Secretary gave Fred and I some useful suggestions for our next steps and I look forward to continuing to work with them both to expand the Right Course and similar initiatives.