Prison restaurant costs taxpayers £150-a-head

Cardiff prison

In principle it sounds like a great idea: turn a former visiting centre in Cardiff prison into a restaurant called The Clink; train prison inmates in preparing and serving fine food so they can pursue a more positive career on their release; and charge reasonable sums for diners supporting the project.

However, in reality this endeavour is costing taxpayers a small fortune.

A good deal?

Clearly it's a good deal for inmates, who get to learn about fine dining from award-winning chef Alberto Crisci. The charity running the restaurant also runs a sister establishment in High Down prison. It says that at High Down in 2012 it trained 88 prisoners, and released 20 graduates into the hospitality industry. Of those 20, one has re-offended - which it says is a far lower rate than generally experienced by the prison.

The Prison Service is impressed enough to agree to the opening of two more prison restaurants this year - bringing the total to four.

The restaurant also offers reasonable value to diners. A three-course-meal costs just £18.75 - as among as you are prepared to eat in a restaurant where you will be searched before being allowed in, you'll have to surrender your mobile phone, and you will be advised not to have more than £50 in cash on you.

Huge cost

However, for taxpayers it's another matter entirely. The fact that the restaurant runs at a loss is paid for by the charity. However, the costs of setting it up it were paid by taxpayers. According to The Telegraph, it cost £362,485 to establish - plus £18,000 worth of furniture from another prison.

When you factor in the fact that since January the establishment has only served 2,500 people, the cost comes out at £150 per head. It doesn't help that the restaurant is closed in the evenings and at weekends. It's not hard to work out why this might be affecting the number of people frequenting the restaurant.

Worth it?

Cardiff Central Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Willott has the prison in her constituency. She defended the expense to The Telegraph, saying: "It doesn't take long to recover the costs of creating The Clink if it means that prisoners are helped out of the re-offending cycle."

Clearly £150 per head is an astonishing figure. However, there is an argument that it will repay itself in time as more people dine at the restaurant, and more prisoners are prevented from re-offending. It seems that when it comes to lavish over-spending of taxpayers money, The Clink is just a beginner.

Not the worst

Councils are consummate professionals in the art of waste. We reported this month about the £600 spent by Crawley council on translating a 12-page brochure after one resident complained that they couldn't read English. This, however, is small potatoes. It was reported at the end of last year that London councils had squandered £23 million on publicity.

Even more impressively,it emerged two years ago that over £2 million had been spent on travel by councils in the three years previously - plus another £2 million on hotel bills. The Daily Telegraph also unearthed £2.6 million in hospitality on council credit cards, and £500,000 on gifts. Trips included all-expensive trips to Goa, Thailand and Alton Towers.

The NHS is not immune either. It emerged last year that its ability to source food for special diets at anything less than ruinous prices was a disaster. Newsnight found that providing a couple of gluten-free pizza bases on prescription cost a total of £34, while one Kent NHS Trust admitted that providing gluten-free pasta on prescription in the past has cost it an incredible £50 per bag.

It starts to make the restaurant seem good value by comparison. But what do you think. Should prisons be spending our money in this way? let us know in the comments.

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Prison restaurant costs taxpayers £150-a-head

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