There are certainly problems in the prison system, a lack of space for a start, which prison officers have good reason to be displeased about. However, the prison officers' illegal wildcat strike, in response to them getting a pay rise near the top of the 'limit' set by Gordon Brown, raises the spectre of a return to 70s militant unionism.
The Times reports today that Gordon Brown is set to clash with unions at the TUC conference. Nurses are also considering strike action. Unions managed to force the government to back down over vital reforms to public sector pensions with the Warwick Agreement. They're confident that they can do it again.
Having personal services provided by the public sector strengthens unions in two ways. First, the unions know that government are spending other people's money so are less careful about efficiency. Second, there isn't the threat of putting the company out of business or hurting its ability to create new jobs to force the unions to show restraint. That is one more reason why privatised services can do more to align rewards with performance, keep pay under control and generally deliver better value for money.