Winsor appointment a mistake
This week I carried out a consultation for my Monday politics piece: I tweeted that I intended to write about why a non-police officer candidate for the role of Chief Inspector of Constabulary could be a good thing and asked for comments. I was pretty impressed with the willingness of people to enter into the debate in an open-minded way and the process changed my original position. I had been minded to defend the appointment of ‘outsider’ and reviewer of police pay and conditions Tom Winsor to the role. My conclusion now is that this is a bad decision made for tactical political reasons which damages the good strategic case for bringing external scrutiny into policing.
As one response put it, ‘the issue of outsider or not is NOT the same issue as Winsor or not’. This is right, so let’s divide them. The weakest comments, in my view, were those that tried to argue that only someone with experience as a police officer could inspect the police. However, HMIC itself describes its role thus: ‘we ask the questions which citizens would ask, and publish the answers in accessible form, using our expertise to interpret the evidence’. This job is about accountability and inspection – it doesn’t need the chief inspector to have operational experience of policing. In this, it differs from the role of chief officer which I believe should be carried out by someone who knows what it’s like, as one comment put it, ‘to arrest a violent person or deliver a death message’. This is why I resisted direct entry to higher ranks while I was home secretary – one of the reforms proposed by Winsor incidentally. Furthermore, despite tradition, the job of chief inspector does not need to be offering expert advice to the Home Office. I never found there to be a shortage of senior police officers willing to offer their views and advice!
While there will be some additional direct accountability from elected police and crime commissioners my criticism of this policy has always been that electing one person is too little direct accountability, not too much. So there are strong arguments for bringing in ‘fresh eyes’ and an alternative perspective from a non-police officer chief inspector. It’s why I considered it as home secretary – perhaps I was wrong to park the idea.
External chief inspectors have been the norm in other areas. One well-informed tweeter pointed out that ‘Ramsbotham, Owers and Hardwick were never prison officers, but all scrupulous, fair and independent.’ But it is in this description that we find the problem with the appointment of Winsor. I don’t doubt his personal integrity or skills, but his experience of policing comes from carrying out what many see as a political job for the home secretary and this government: cutting pay and conditions for police officers. In the eyes of too many, this will hardly put him in the ‘scrupulous, fair and independent’ category outlined above, not least as negotiations about the implementation of his proposals are still ongoing.
The ‘independent’ tag is further tested by the point made by Bridget Phillipson MP who said ‘the question I have is whether others in non-police senior roles or with relevant experience were also invited to apply’. Nick Hardwick’s experience at the IPCC or Louise Casey’s on ASB and as victims’ commissioner would have made them ideal candidates. Were they asked?
The home affairs select committee is due to carry out a confirmation hearing for this role in the near future. I suspect it’ll be pretty lively. It may also raise the issue of the extent to which the home secretary feels bound to listen to parliament. But that’s a topic for another day. Who knows, perhaps I’ll ask for views on that too!
Jacqui Smith, Louise Casey, police, Theresa May