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Government admits probation inspector appointment was mishandled

Simple response to Public Accounts Select Committee's description of episode as 'shocking'

The government has admitted that the Ministry of Justice mishandled the conflict of interest which arose from its appointment of the HM Chief Inspector of Probation.

In February Paul McDowell left his post – two days after responsibility for managing low and medium risk offenders was passed to private companies.

It had emerged that his wife was deputy managing director of Sodexo Justice Services, which, in partnership with another company, was awarded contracts to run Community Rehabilitation Companies in six regions.

While the Ministry of Justice maintained that it had done nothing wrong, in April the Public Accounts Select Committee said that the episode was “entirely foreseeable”.

The then-chairman Margaret Hodge added: “We were shocked by the Ministry of Justice’s mishandling of an entirely foreseeable conflict of interest in its appointment of Paul McDowell – whose wife held a senior position in Sodexo Justice Services, a private provider which subsequently successfully bid for 6 out of 21 probation contracts – as HM Chief Inspector of Probation.

"It is particularly disappointing that the ministry failed to keep parliament adequately informed about this conflict as it developed.”

They asked for detailed information be provided to them from the Ministry of Justice setting out how the appointment came about and how it has changed its procedures since the episode.

Today the department responded to the stinging criticism, stating simply: “The government agrees with the recommendation.”

It has given the MoJ until the autumn to respond to the committee over its request for information.

Chris Grayling, who was Justice Secretary at the time the appointment was made, has since been shuffled out of the post and replaced by Michael Gove.

Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Justice Ursula Brennan told the Public Accounts Select Committee in February that no mistakes had been made over the appointment.

She said that when Mr McDowell applied in 2013: “It would have been unfair to exclude him [for the post] on the basis that his wife’s company may qualify for the work.”

Ms Brennan added at the hearing that protocol had been altered since his appointment.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We have agreed to the committee’s recommendation to write to them, setting out what guidance we applied during the process of employing Mr McDowell. His appointment complied fully with the guidance in place at the time.”