Sale seals Saughton jail social club fate

Members of the Prison Officers Social Club on Longstone Road

Members of the Prison Officers Social Club on Longstone Road

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PRISON bosses were under fire today over a new deal to sell off land next to Saughton jail, forcing the closure of the prison officers’ social club.

But the SPS refused to reveal the name of the buyer, the price of the deal or how much the buyer was paying.

The Edinburgh Prison Officers’ Social Club, which dates back to 1957, has been under threat since 2008, when proposals were unveiled to use the land for affordable housing. But those plans fell through and the club has survived on a series of short-term leases.

The club occupies one of six plots of land close to the prison which are being sold off as 
surplus to requirements.

Prison bosses said today that proposals to move women prisoners from Cornton Vale to Saughton would not alter that because extra accommodation could be found within the existing prison site.

The club has won cross-party backing from the city council and local MSPs to stay open. Now club organisers have been told their bid was unsuccessful, but they believe the gap between their offer and the winning one may be as little as £10,000.

The failure of the bid spells almost certain closure for the club, which employs two full-time and 15 part-time staff.

Lothians Tory MSP David McLetchie said: “I have always been dubious about the way the SPS has handled this matter. They have been determined from the start to get rid of the social club. They refused to sell the land to the club for an independently determined market price and now they won’t reveal any information about the bidder or the price.

“I intend to table some parliamentary questions to try to get to the bottom of this. I don’t think the successful price is likely to be significantly higher than what the club has offered.”

Club social secretary Linda Aitken said the social club was self-sufficient and paid the SPS £6000 a year in rent, adding that its offer included a clause saying that if the club sold the land in future, any profit would revert to the SPS.

She complained the SPS was treating all questions as freedom of information requests, saying: “Every time we ask another question they say they will get back to us in 20 days.”

City council leader Andrew Burns said: “It would be very disappointing if it has to close.”

An SPS spokesman confirmed a deal was near completion, but said details could not be released because of 
commercial confidentiality.

He added: “We understand the club’s disappointment that their bid has not been successful, but it is perfectly reasonable for us, if we are selling off land, to achieve the best possible return for the public purse.”