Hindsight is a most wonderful tool and often claimed to be in short supply when most needed, but the same cannot be claimed for its cousin, anticipating what might happen under easy to predict circumstances. Where hindsight causes particular problems is when the final outcome would have been hard to predict at the outset. Paul McDowell is currently the Inspector of Probation. His job is under scrutiny and my prediction is that he is likely to have resigned within a week or two. More information about Mr McDowell can be found in this Guardian story.
When he was appointed as IOP by Chris Grayling, both men and the Justice Select Committee in the House of Commons knew that he was at that time the Chief Executive of NACRO, the reoffending charity. This information was relevant because NACRO was one of the bidders for a number of the new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) that have just been established to carry out much of the work of the probation service. This meant that there was a predictable outcome of Mr McDowell being asked to inspect organisations that he was previously in charge of if NACRO won any of the 21 contracts. However for other reasons he has a solution which apparently is acceptable to Mr McDowell and Mr Grayling, and may have been acceptable to the JSC which is that he won’t personally inspect these contracts. As we now know, NACRO are involved in 6 schemes which means the new Inspector of Probation will exclude himself from personally inspecting 29% of the contracts for which he is responsible. In effect he can only carry out 71% of the job that he has been appointed to. Of course neither men knew how many contracts NACRO would be successful in back in November. NACRO may have bid for all 21 contracts. If they had won them this would have been very difficult for Mr McDowell, and very bad for us as his boss, but good for NACRO. On the other hand had NACRO been party to none of the contracts, everyone apart from NACRO would have been OK. However there may have been a suspicion that they would have won some, had it not been for their ex-boss getting a new job and scuppering their chances. On the upside, in time the work of NACRO will no longer have Mr McDowells finger prints all over it and had everything else been equal he might after a reasonable period of time have been asked to inspect all CRCs. However that will not be possible for another reason.
At the point at which Mr McDowell was being considered for his new job by the JSC and Mr Grayling, one of the issues that may have been shared with Mr Grayling but was certainly not known by the JSC was the existence of Mrs McDowell and her work. Janine McDowell works for a private sector company, used to winning Government contracts called Sodexo, she is the deputy Managing Director of Sodexo Justice Services and that company partnered with NACRO in its bids and so for as long as Mrs McDowell remains in her post, we cannot reasonably ask Mr McDowell to inspect these 6 CRCs. That much is clear, because he has explained how he excluded himself from negotiations between Sodexo and NACRO because he knew there was a conflict of interest.
However Mr McDowells judgement may be affected on other matters. On Thursday Simon Hughes MP, Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties was interviewed on the Radio 4 Today programme. He was challenged that the transition of Probation handing over 70% of its work to 21 CRCs was in chaos. I recall Hughes defending the situation and pointing out “The independent inspector of probation has alerted us to no concerns that the system isn’t moving across.” The integrity of Mr McDowell is something none of us can judge, however I am Trustee of a charity that is a minnow compared to NACRO and we were not formally part of any bids, although listed as a delivery partner on some of those in one region that unfortunately did not succeed. I have friends who work for another Charity who are perhaps more like NACRO in scope and part of several CRCs across the country. My knowledge of this process is superficial, but I am interested in how it has been progressing. If I was put on the spot like Hughes was last week, I hope I would have been honest enough to admit with integrity that indeed there are many challenges in what has been a poorly thought through, and at times appallingly executed process. However caring for ex-offenders is too important to be allowed to fail. Mr Hughes did not say that and with the benefit of hindsight knowing that he IOP was unlikely to throw 71% of the bathwater out with 29% of the baby makes his comments at best needing to be tested a bit further.