It's utterly typical isn't it? Having explained the blog was having a snooze, Grayling shows his true colours and gets caught out trying to fix a more favourably-inclined replacement for Nick Hardwick, the prison inspector he sacked. Too good not to highlight. This from Ian Dunt on the Politics.co.uk website on Tuesday:-
The last prison inspector felt he was pressured out of the job because he was too critical of government. Now it seems plans are afoot to prevent his replacement being of a similar disposition. Details have been released of the selection panel for the new inspector and one name stands out: Lord Oliver Henley, former Tory minister at the Home Office and Defra under the coalition, as well as serving in numerous government roles under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The idea that Lord Oliver would make an impartial assessor of candidates is not credible.
He is one of two 'independent' panel members, alongside Amanda Sater, a member of the youth justice board. The rest of the panel is filled out by Antonia Romeo, former director of criminal justice at the Ministry of Justice, who oversaw justice secretary Chris Grayling's chaotic privatisation of the probation service, and Dame Anne Pringle, a public appointment assessor nominated by the commissioner for public appointments. With one former Tory minister teamed up with a Grayling loyalist, the odds are stacked against anyone with critical faculties securing the position.
This is not a coincidence. Former inspector Nick Hardwick's reports into the decline of the prison estate were one of the only ways to get information about what was going on in the nation's prisons, given the draconian restrictions on journalists or campaigners speaking to inmates. Hardwick was incensed by the 69% rise of suicides in prison – a rise which coincided with the twin disaster of slashed prison budgets and ever-more inmates being crammed into the system.
His last annual report, released in October, described a "significant decline in safety", a steep rise in assaults and the "loss of more experienced staff" due to cuts. The report also went about as far as Hardwick could safely go in blaming Grayling directly. He wrote:
"Increases in self-inflicted deaths, self-harm and violence cannot be attributed to a single cause. They reflect some deep-seated trends and affect prisons in both the public and private sectors. Nevertheless, in my view, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the conjunction of resource, population and policy pressures, particularly in the second half of 2013-14 and particularly in adult male prisons, was a very significant factor for the rapid deterioration in safety and other outcomes we found as the year progressed." [italics added]
In response, Grayling announced publicly that he would not renew Hardwick's contract, which runs out in July, and instead demanded that he re-apply for the job. This was not unexpected. Prison inspectors often have a difficult relationship with the government, although not all ministers are so disreputable in how they deal with them. Dame Anne Owers still had her contract extended and served two five-year terms, despite being very critical of the government. Lord Ramsbotham did not – a fact which probably owed something to his strained relationship with a succession of home secretaries (this is in the days before the creation of the Ministry of Justice). Hardwick opted not to reapply for the job, saying:
"Told MoJ ministers & officials I won't be reapplying for my post. Can't be independent of people you are asking for a job." Grayling insisted the re-advertising process was par for the course, but no-one doubts he wanted Hardwick gone. This selection panel is likely to deliver someone more to his liking.
But now we have this, as reported in the Guardian:-
The appointment of a new chief inspector of prisons by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has been halted until after the general election after it emerged that two “independent” members of the four-strong selection panel are Tory party activists. The Ministry of Justice has announced that Nick Hardwick, the current chief inspector whose term was not renewed by Grayling, has now been asked to stay on until November while a fresh hunt for a successor takes place.
Sir Alan Beith, the chairman of the Commons justice select committee, criticised Grayling’s failure to disclose that both independent members of the appointment panel were active Tory party members. They are Lord Henley, a former Conservative Home Office minister, and Amanda Sater, a member of the youth justice board who was named last year as women’s adviser to Grant Shapps, the Tory party chairman.
Beith said the justice secretary had given the MPs “no convincing reason” why he had not put forward for pre-appointment scrutiny the single “excellent” candidate that the panel had recommended. The appointment panel was chaired by Dame Anne Pringle, the commissioner for public appointments, and the fourth member was a senior justice ministry official.
Even though half of the appointment panel were active Conservatives, Grayling appears to have rejected the single preferred candidate they recommended, despite the candidate being rated by them as “excellent”. It is understood that Grayling believed the panel should have given him a choice of at least two or three names, despite a civil service ruling that there is no need for an appointment panel to put forward more than one name.
Instead, the justice secretary has now ordered the selection process to be re-run, putting the decision beyond the general election. Grayling has told the members of the justice select committee, who were poised to hold a confirmation hearing before the election, that “he will not be proposing a preferred candidate to them as there was not a wide enough pool of candidates from which to select”.
The justice select committee had been due to hold a pre-appointment hearing with the preferred candidate later this month, with Hardwick’s fixed term originally due to end in July 2015. The decision means that the new independent chief inspector of prisons will be appointed by the justice secretary in the new government.
A report on the affair rushed out by the Commons justice committee concludes: “The fact that two members of the panel were members of the same party as the appointing minister is a cause for particular concern for a post in which it is vital the incumbent commands public confidence in his or her ability to resist political pressure.”
The shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, said: “Not content with effectively sacking the chief inspector of prisons for daring to criticise his government’s prisons policy, Chris Grayling has stuffed the appointment panel for the new inspector full of known Tories. It just shows to what lengths this government will go to avoid having their failing policies properly scrutinised. This fails the smell test, and it calls into question how any chief inspector of prisons appointed by this process could ever claim to be independent.”
Hardwick has proved a rigorous critic of Grayling’s prison policies warning of a “political and policy failure” last year and voicing concern that staff shortages were causing “huge tensions” across the prison estate in England and Wales.
The job description for the new appointment said that a “strong understanding of current and recent” government reforms in relation to prisons and probation was an important part of the recruitment process. Paul McDowell, the chief inspector of probation appointed by Grayling, stood down earlier this year after the Guardian disclosed that his wife was running the private justice company that had been awarded the largest number of probation contracts.
Finally this from Ian Dunt last night:-
Failure of scrutiny: How Grayling got his way with new prison inspector
Chris Grayling's behind-the-scenes attempts to appoint a more pliable prisons inspector could trigger a change in the code of practise for ministerial appointments, after a damning report called for urgent action to prevent it happening again.
The Commons justice committee raised the alarm when it discovered that both supposedly independent members of the appointment panel for the new chief inspector - Lord Oliver Henley and Amanda Sater - were actually active members of the Tory party. This information was kept from the justice committee. A third member, Antonia Romeo, was former director of criminal justice at the MoJ and the figure responsible for Grayling's probation privatisation programme. So out of four panel members, three had a reason to pick someone favourable to the justice secretary.
As if that weren't enough, Grayling then vetoed their suggestion and refused to put forward a candidate who was considered "excellent" by the panel.
The weirdness doesn't stop there, however. I'm told the MoJ's announcement into the extension of the current prison inspector's term was announced today specifically to sabotage the Commons committee report, which was originally timetabled for tomorrow. Instead of waiting for it to come out, Grayling pre-empted it in a bid to minimise the damage. After that, the committee was forced to make its report public immediately.