"I have today resigned from my position as HM Chief Inspector of Probation for England and Wales. It is imperative that any inspectorate is independent and seen to be so. Although we have measures in place to manage any conflicts of interest, and I would always carry out my duties without fear or favour, it is clear that a perception of conflict around my post remains. It is therefore right that I resign. It has been a privilege to lead the skilled and professional team at the inspectorate and I am proud of the significant progress we have made in developing our new inspection method. Its specific focus on testing the impact of probation services and promoting effective practice is critical to public protection at a time of great change in the criminal justice system."
Ever since it was revealed that Mr McDowell's wife was a senior employee with Sodexo's justice services arm, it's beggared belief that both he and Chris Grayling didn't feel there was just a tad chance of a possible conflict of interest here:-
Written Statement made by: The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling)
"I wish to inform the House that Mr Paul McDowell has tendered his resignation from his post as Chief Inspector of Probation.
As I discussed with the Justice Select Committee on 2nd December and covered in subsequent correspondence with the Committee Chair, an issue arose about a potential perceived conflict of interest for Mr McDowell given his wife’s employment with Sodexo, and their role as a provider of probation services. I have considered carefully all of the potential mechanisms and systems that could be introduced and used to manage any actual or perceived conflict of interest. However Mr McDowell has decided that, in the circumstances, he will resign.
Throughout this process Mr McDowell has acted with utter transparency and professionalism. Indeed I must acknowledge Mr McDowell’s assured leadership and the grounded independence of his findings in relation to the Inspectorate and the work he has done since his appointment.
I regret that circumstances have changed and are now such that we have reached this position. At time of his appointment Mr McDowell’s position was fully reasonable and the appropriate preappointment processes in place at that time were properly followed. The Justice Select Committee will be involved in the appointment of a permanent successor in the usual way."
It's not just that we were expected to believe that a married couple didn't talk about work at home, or that it mattered that the HMI would be drawing 100% of his salary for only doing 70% of his job, it was also the fact that he'd previously headed-up Nacro and they ended up in bed with Sodexo. Bloody hell, what's going on in the world if this is all felt to be kosher? This comment sums it up nicely I think:-
"At what point was it ever okay or appropriate when Mrs McD was employed by Sodexo in a senior management position throughout? How can it possibly be that moving from ops manager & deputy top dog to top dog suddenly changes the goal posts? It stinks to high heaven - Justice Committee should be taken to task about not seeing through Grayling's smokescreen; Mr McD should be penalised for leading everyone a merry dance; Mrs McD's company's bid should be revisited for signs of insider trading. Its an immorality tale writ large. SHAME ON ALL OF THEM."To add insult to injury, the announcement was made two days after the privateers took over because, according to twitter gossip, 'I understand financial terms negotiations delayed announcing resignation of inspector of probation.' By the way, I think massive hat tips are due to the contributors who scooped the story on this blog Saturday morning:-
There has been a rumour doing the rounds in my CRC that Paul McDowell CI of probation has been sacked by Grayling ahead of the sale! But no public announcement.
Yes. He was due to come to our office on Thursday but no one turned up & managers were saying they thought he had gone.
Remember when Home Secretary John Reid famously described his department as 'not fit for purpose'? Well that's how we got saddled with the Ministry of Justice when it was spun out of the old Home Department. What with those confidential discs still missing, the dodgy so-called 'easy read' leaflet now withdrawn, the delayed weekly prison numbers showing a whole prison-worth increase of 218, the Inspector of Probation gone, and the Inspector of Prisons working his notice, some would say it's now the MoJ that's not fit for purpose.
The following piece on the politics.co.uk website about the first full day of probation privatisation was published just hours before news broke of McDowells resignation:-
Not even the MoJ understands what it is doing today
"If only his solution was as valid as his assessment of the problem. Grayling's plans have two significant flaws which are likely to make them useless. The first is the failure of planning. No-one understands exactly what the MoJ is attempting to do, except in the broadest manner possible. Even a crown court judge who was asked about the plans recently said he had no idea they existed.
The second problem is the involvement of the private sector. The MoJ insists that introducing a profit motive to reoffending management will push providers towards tackling hard cases. The opposite is the case. Profit-seeking tends to encourage the cherry-picking of easy cases. The tougher, hard-to-reach cases, such as those with mental health problems and very low literacy and numeracy skills, are often left behind.
When Chris Huhne left prison he was not going to need lots of supervision to get him back on track. He didn't have a drink or drug problems and he wasn't going to struggle getting into work. A private firm will focus on Huhne, because he is an almost guaranteed source of profit.
The National Probation Service would do the opposite. Because it has no profit motive, it would divert resources away from Huhne towards the cases which need the most attention. That's the difference between public accountability and profit as motivating factors in public service provision.
The most recent official figures for reoffending rates showed the national service was continuing to succeed. Reoffending was down 0.4% from 2012 to 2013. Yes, it's small, but this is a tough area of policy. Reoffending has been falling slowly but steadily for over a decade. The drop since 2002 is 2.8%.
That progress risks being lost now since Grayling split the probation service in half last year. The national body will now only be supervising high risk cases. Low-and-medium risk cases have been split between several private firms.
There have been worrying reports of a total breakdown of communication between the national service and the individual bodies. Paul McDowell, the chief inspector of probation, warned there were "process, communication and information-sharing challenges that did not previously exist". The point where probation meets the courts is in a state of disarray. The IT infrastructure is in trouble. Probation workers have warned that dangerous cases are slipping through the cracks. But the MoJ refused to publish its safety evaluations and pressed ahead anyway. Few expect it to be a success.
These same staff, split between private and public bodies, are now being asked to deliver a supervision programme which has barely even been explained to them.
In both the splitting of the probation service and the introduction of today's scheme, we see the same two qualities. Firstly, a lack of concrete information about what is being done and secondly an overriding faith in the superiority of the private sector. It hasn't worked so far and the widespread confusion suggests it won't work this time."
Along with the alarming Saudi deal and conflicts of interest, these recent comments to the blog raise yet more issues, first the news that prisoners will be making sand bags for the army, somewhat reminiscent of the sewing mail bags of old, and an interesting observation on the Deputy Chief Inspector of Probation:-
So when, I wonder, is Grayling going to face prosecution for his role as a modern day slaver? People forced to work for a pittance with no ability to refuse to work and kept in inhumane conditions is the very definition of slavery. It would be one thing if these were decent jobs paying a decent wage that actually gave prisoners a chance to develop decent skills they could then use to secure employment on release but the UK hardly has a burgeoning industry in sandbag making or fence post creation which will provide anyone coming out of Coldingly with full time well paid job with career prospects.
Interestingly, Neal Hazel the Deputy Chief Inspector of Probation (on secondment from University of Salford) has links to NACRO through the lottery funded 'Beyond Youth Custody' project, which both Hazel (as head of The Centre for Social Research at the University of Salford) and NACRO are partners.It seems the omnishambles gets bigger every day under Chris Grayling and neither he nor his department would appear to be fit for purpose.
According to her latest blog, Frances Crook of the Howard League thinks the MoJ are having difficulty counting:-
The Ministry of Justice has got its numbers wrong. Its press release states that “45,000 people sentenced to short sentences will now receive at least 12 months supervision in the community”. But last year over 58,000 people were handed short sentences by the courts. What is happening to the other 13,000? Has the whole system been organised on the basis of the wrong number of people?