Chris Grayling makes pledge over probation conflict of interest fears
The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has said overzealous enforcement of conflict of interest rules could risk driving “extremely able” couples from public life.
In his first public comment on the potential conflict of interest facing the chief inspector of probation, whose wife’s company has won the largest single number of probation contracts, the justice secretary admitted to MPs that the issue needed to be addressed. However, he tried to dismiss concerns by defending the role of married couples in public life and saying the conflict of interest facing Paul McDowell, the chief inspector of probation, and his wife, Janine, deputy managing director of Sodexo Justice Services, could be compared to the possible roles of Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls in a future Labour government.
“Clearly, the issue is under discussion and it will need to be addressed,” said Grayling, promising to update MPs in due course. He went on: “We should also remember that people in public life are sometimes married to other people in public life. “We should be extremely careful before we start to damn them because of that situation or we may risk losing some extremely able people from our public life.”
Grayling, who employs his wife, Sue, as his executive secretary paid for out of his parliamentary allowance, added: “Simply put, I hope that the Ministry of Justice, were it to fall under the leadership of a Labour government, would not be disadvantaged by the fact that the putative home secretary [Cooper] is married to the putative chancellor of the Exchequer [Balls]. We have to consider these things very carefully and deal with them in a mature and sensible way, and we will seek to do that.”
McDowell and the justice ministry have told the Guardian they will examine whether it is possible for the conflict of interest to be managed in an appropriate way by the chief inspector withdrawing from inspecting the work of his wife’s company.
The shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, challenged Grayling this week over McDowell’s role and the chief inspector’s “silence” over the “huge turmoil and massive problems” in the probation service.
Grayling confirmed that despite an open invitation to raise any concerns about public safety arising out of the probation reforms directly with him, McDowell had not done so. But he said a detailed report on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme will be published shortly. “[McDowell] has highlighted a number of areas we are addressing. The report will set out in detail some issues, many of which preceded the current reforms and go back many years, on how to improve performance on probation.”
Khan said Grayling’s attempts to dismiss concerns about the chief inspector’s private company links by drawing a parallel with two married MPs was “frankly ludicrous”. “This must not deflect from very serious questions about what the justice secretary knew at the time of the appointment of Mr McDowell, what he did or didn’t tell the justice select committee ahead of their pre-appointment scrutiny hearing, and how it will be possible for the chief inspector to fulfil his role given his links to Sodexo and Nacro. “What we need at this time of turmoil is a strong, fearless and independent chief inspector of probation.”Just as the victims of historic child abuse felt they could have no confidence in Fiona Woolf being appointed chair of the enquiry due to her established connections, it's hard to see how probation or Parliament can have confidence in the current HMI. He has clearly misled Alan Beith by not divulging details of his wife's employment and, but there might be other reasons why he can't perform even 70% of his job, as highlighted by these recent contributions:-
From talking to colleagues in CRC it is clear there will be no honour among thieves and certainly no sharing of good practice! The issue of business confidentiality will be central to how they work. This raises another question about the role of HMIP & its Chief Inspector.
I believe the main issue is not around the 30% of CRCs run by his wife (which could easily be inspected without the involvement of the CI) but the other 70%! HMIP will have access to business sensitive information about these companies who, in the new TR world, will be in competition with Mrs McDowell's company!
Now if I was one of those CRCs not managed by Sodexo I wouldn't be happy to let HMIP & its CI have knowledge of my business sensitive information. In my view it is this area of conflict that the select committee should focus on, rather than let McDowell & Grayling come up with some 'ethical wall' between the CI & his wife's business interests.
Had not heard that and as you say can't see providers would be happy. There will also be business interests that are not intellectual property, such as progress against reoffending rates or general structuring of the business which they would not want competitors to know about but HMIP may well come across in the course of inspection!
We could end up with CRCs refusing to provide or allow access to certain aspects of their business, or may challenge inspection findings (if they weren't happy with them) on the grounds of the conflict of interest! I had initially thought McDowell would survive, but the more I think about it the less likely that seems! I'm sure he won't lose either way as if Grayling gets shot of him he will get a £300k payoff. Money, money money!!!
Paul McDowell is a gift to anti TR. Until you can establish if or if not a conflict of interest exists, then you can't establish the competence of assessment on TR that the HMPI has provided. He may have not highlighted serious concerns because he was aware that his wife stood to make considerable profit from his silence. Until such a time as an enquiry determines those facts, TR needs to be put on hold.