In the Media

MPs likely to try to block Tom Winsor's appointment as police watchdog

PUBLISHED June 9, 2012

The cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee has already clashed with Tom Winsor over his report on proposed reforms for police pay and conditions, which led to him being branded a "reluctant witness" who made mistakes when gathering evidence.

And it is being inundated with comments from officers who say the former rail regulator has no understanding of how forces work, and that his proposed appointment as the £195,000 a year watchdog is an act of provocation by Theresa May who is determined to shake up their culture.

It is likely that when the powerful committee holds its pre-appointment hearing for Mr Winsor, its members will conclude that he does not have the required experience for the role and will write to Theresa May asking her to re-open the selection process.

Steve McCabe, a Labour member of the committee, said: "The committee has the power to say that in their judgment, he's not the ideal candidate.

"I think it's perfectly possible they may come to that conclusion because unless they're going to be presented with an entirely new job description, then he doesn't have the experience or the qualities or the characteristics to make him an ideal candidate. He's a departure from 156 years of history for this job.

"I'm not saying the Home Secretary shouldn't innovate, but I think she should explain what it is she's innovating on."

Another MP said: "I am beside myself with surprise as to why on earth they should appoint someone who has never been a police officer to this job, which requires day to day contact with police officers. What kind of message are they sending out?"

Lynne Featherstone, a junior Home Office minister, admitted on Radio 4's Today programme that there were "still hurdles for Tom Winsor to pass" because he must prove to the select committee "he has the understanding to do the job".

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said: "The Committee looks forward to hearing from the Home Secretary's candidate."

But he also wrote to Mrs May saying it was "worrying" that he only heard the announcement about Mr Winsor from a journalist.

If the committee does try to veto Mr Winsor's appointment, following a hearing either on June 19th or 26th, the Home Secretary may simply choose to over-rule its decision.

In a similar case this February, the education select committee rejected the appointment of Prof Les Ebdon as a new universities "tsar" but Vince Cable, the business secretary, brushed its criticism aside.

Meanwhile there continued to be surprise at the announcement on Thursday that Mr Winsor was the preferred candidate for the HMIC role, which would make him the first civilian outside policing or the military to hold the post.

Several commentators believe it is another deliberate confrontation between the Conservatives, who once prided themselves on being the party of law and order, and the police. It follows budget cuts of up to 20 per cent, the imposition of elected Police and Crime Commissioners who have the power to fire chief constables, and the proposed Winsor reforms which will make it easier to sack officers and bring in outsiders to senior ranks.

David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, told Radio 4's World at One: "It is almost like poking a stick through the bars of the lion's den, at a moment when the police service are most on edge and most subject to disagreement and friction.

"I think the Home Secretary has taken a deliberate decision to say to the service 'Not only are we not backing off to your objections to Tom Winsor, we are not actually going to be listening to your cry of pain in terms of what's happening to the service as a whole'."

The former chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency, Peter Neyroud, said: "The Chief Inspector's role has been a pivotal role in providing independent advice to the Government about policing and I just don't think that is a role that Tom Winsor - a man for whom I have a high regard - can possibly do."

Ian Hanson, chairman of the Greater Manchester Police Federation, representing the rank-and-file, has written to the select committee describing the planned appointment of Mr Winsor as a "deeply provocative and ill-informed step".

He said the commercial lawyer with White & Case did not have the experience to guide chief constables, and would be ill-placed to judge the success of his own reforms to the service.

Nick Herbert, the police minister, insisted: "Tom Winsor is somebody who not only has experience as a regulator, where he was rail regulator - and everyone will remember just how independent of the government he was when he did that job - but also having authored his report for the last 18 months."