Scotland’s lucrative prisoner escort contract has been handed to an English company that has allowed suspects to escape from custody.

GEOAmey was the only bidder in the running for the eight-year contract worth £238m after current provider G4S and public services company Serco pulled out.

Trade unions and politicians have questioned whether taxpayers will get value for money because the new contract, which begins in January 2019, is worth £84m more than the G4S deal.

The Sunday Herald understands both G4S and Serco withdrew from tendering process believing it would not be profitable enough.

GEOAmey currently collects and delivers prisoners across England and Wales. GEOAmey states: “We escort adults, children and young people safely, securely and efficiently between police custody, courts, prisons, and secure training centres and secure children’s homes”.

However, in January violent offender Oliver Milsom escaped from court in Somerset after vaulting from the dock as GeoAmey guards looked on. A massive manhunt was launched involving a police helicopter before he was returned to court where he pleaded guilty to two assault charges.

In November 2017 a 16-year-old prisoner slipped away from GEOAmey escort officers as he was taken to a secure vehicle outside a court in London. At the time, GEOAmey confirmed a “male young person in custody” had “ran off from the officers”.

And in 2012 John Anslow, a prisoner charged with murder, escaped from one of GEOAmey’s vans after it was ambushed by three men wielding sledgehammers. Anslow, a convicted drug dealer who was already serving a 22-year sentence, was later found not guilty of organising the killing of Richard Deakin – but he was handed seven years for escaping from custody before the murder trial.

The security of GEOAmey’s vehicles was also called into question in 2015 when a prisoner van was filmed driving between jails with the back door open and swinging back and forth. GEOAmey later said that the van was not carrying anyone at the time.

A year earlier, a GeoAmey prisoner van burst into flames in Yorkshire. The van was not carrying any prisoners at the time and the driver managed to escape.

Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the Prison Officers Association, said: “I can’t understand why the new GEOAmey contract is costing Scottish taxpayers so much. Governments should invest in the public sector and keep such services in house.”

Gary Smith, of the GMB, a trade union which represents prisoner escort staff , said: “There must be serious questions asked about whether the Scottish Government got value for money.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP also raised concerns about the process. He said: “Where the Scottish Government is outsourcing to companies it is essential that it is securing value for taxpayers' money. If there are concerns about GEOAmey’s track record, then ministers should also be clear about what they expect from this bumper contract.”

When a G4S spokesman was asked why the company pulled out of the tendering process, he said: “All I know is that the risks contained in the new contract were significantly greater than the current one."

A source close to the contract negotiations said: “That’s corporate speak which means they didn’t think they’d make enough money.”

A spokesman for Serco said it was “a commercial decision” to pull out.

A Scottish Government spokesman said the awarding of the contract is a matter for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

An SPS spokesman said the G4S and GeoAmey contracts are not “like for like” because the new contract is for eight years and is “index linked” to inflation.

He added: “SPS conducted extensive evaluation and are satisfied that this contract will provide value for money.”

David Jones, Managing Director of GEOAmey, said the company “has a well-established track record as a leading provider of court custody and prisoner escort services”.