PRISONERS are being used as “cheap labour” to safety-check DIY and construction tools.
Inmates at high-security Glenochil Prison in Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, are responsible for testing equipment for the country’s largest tool-hire chain.
The work is done on behalf of Speedy, which rents out drills, chainsaws, welding machines and other items to the public.
Construction industry representatives and opposition politicians have questioned the prison works initiative, saying it raised safety fears and was ethically dubious.
Speedy has recently cut 300 jobs and closed 37 depots during the economic downturn, and has shifted operations to four prisons across the UK – which also includes Garth, Pentonville and Erlestoke jails south of the border.
The minimum wage for workers is 5.93 per hour, but prisoners in Scotland do not earn more than 56p an hour.
John Lamont, Tory justice spokesman, said: “I’m all for prisoners being rehabilitated through work but not at the expense of law-abiding staff.
“If this company has been shifting manpower resources to prisons because the labour is cheaper it raises questions about ethics.
“There is also a genuine public safety issue.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Building Federation said: “Our main concern would be to seek reassurance that all relevant health and safety requirements are being carefully adhered to and that the relevant staff have been properly trained.
“A lot of construction workers have lost their jobs and it would be a worry if companies were laying people off and using prisoners instead.”
Last year Speedy was blasted by a consumer watchdog after it found fault with three of the tools it borrowed from its depots – but there is no evidence to suggest these items were safety checked by prisoners.
Barry Collins, a spokesman for the firm, said it was important to take part in schemes such as long-term prisoner rehabilitation.
He said: “Our training scheme has been in place since 2008 at four prisons and its purpose is to supply specific skills training to NVQ level two in electrical testing and repair.
“We believe this is important in rehabilitation of prisoners as it provides them with a nationally recognised qualification, helping them find employment on release.
“Electrical testing is completed by 20 prisoners who have all passed Speedy’s internal training course.
“Testing is overseen by a Speedy-employed workshop manager.
“We observe rigorous health and safety standards and test procedures, as in any other Speedy workshop.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said: “In this training facility prisoners become qualified to service and supply a range of tools for the construction industry.
“Good training, skills and experience gained in prison helps with employment opportunities outside prison.
“This has been shown to be the biggest contributor to avoid re-offending.”
At least seven other private firms and charities are operating in Scottish jails, with inmates producing everything from bird boxes and clothes pegs to electrical equipment.