The home secretary names Tom Winsor as her preferred candidate as the next chief inspector of constabulary, provoking outrage from officers already opposed to Mr Winsor’s recent proposals on pay.
Mr Winsor will have to appear before the home affairs select committee before his appointment as the head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) could be sent to the prime minister and the Queen for approval.
The choice of Mr Winsor as preferred candidate is deeply controversial as his report into police pay and conditions, published in March, led to a mass protest by police officers. He has also never been a police officer – the current chief inspector, Sir Denis O’Connor was previously chief constable of Surrey.
Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: “We look forward to hearing from the home secretary how the appointment of Tom Winsor provides the profound understanding of policing that is so important for public safety.”
A man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly; perhaps not an easy character to love but a good man to take on the vested interests of the police.
His sentiments were echoed by John Apter, chairman of the federation’s Hampshire branch: “The home secretary will have her own reasons for choosing Mr Winsor over other credible candidates, at this time I am struggling to understand what they might be.”
A lawyer by training, Mr Winsor is a tough operator with a history of plain-talking. From 1999-2004 he was the rail regulator, a role in which he became famous for publicly criticising Railtrack for failing performance targets, even when it was improving.
Nigel Harris, editor of Rail Magazine, told Channel 4 News Mr Winsor was “totally fearless, outspoken, incredibly articulate with a sharp intellect. He understands the problem down to the last degree and then follows the evidence wherever it goes, unswayed by politics”.
Others who knew him during his rail industry years described “a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly; perhaps not an easy character to love but a good man to take on the vested interests of the police”.
And in this respect Mr Winsor has already made a bold start.
When his report on police pay and conditions was published, Mr Winsor said: “The overriding principle of this review has been fairness – fairness to police officers and staff and fairness to the taxpayers.”
With the taxpayers doubtless in mind, the first part of his review, published in March 2011 proposed saving £1bn over three years with half the money going to frontline police services, the other half to the Treasury. Its focus on reforming bonuses and overtime payments drew threats of public protests from the Police Federation which said the changes could leave forces in a position “worse than in the 1970s”.
The publication of part two of Mr Winsor’s review in March 2012 provoked even more ire from uniformed officers who were incensed by the proposals to lift the ban on compulsory redundancies while cutting other payments and allowances.
Other proposals included: allowing high-flyers to enter at inspector level, rather than having to work their way through the ranks; promotion based on skill rather than time served; higher pay for those officers with specialist skills or doing difficult jobs; annual fitness tests; a standard pension age of 60, rather than after 30 years service.
Mr Winsor said: “I have met hundreds of police officers all over the country as part of this review and I have immense respect for the work they do”.
But that respect may not be reciprocated. In May 2012, 30,000 officers protested on the streets of London over cuts to police budgets and plans to reform pay and conditions. A week later Home Secretary Theresa May was heckled by angry officers when she attended the Police Federation conference.
The home secretary’s decision to propose Mr Winsor for the HMIC role was described as “risky, if not reckless” by Matt Cavanagh, of the Instititute for Public Policy Research (IPPR): “As well as putting the relationship between government and the police under further strain, this provocative choice could put at risk the growing reputation and contribution of HMIC at a crucial time.”
So what would Mr Winsor be doing as head of the HMIC?
As a body, the HMIC is independent of government and the police – its inspectors are appointed by the crown. It carries out inspections on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and specified national police agencies in the public interest. These inspections are either part of the HMIC’s business plan or can be requested by the home secretary and, from November 2012, police commissioners.
The chief inspector reports to parliament and his findings are advisory, but if Mr Winsor takes on the role his proven independence may yet be of great political importance. As one former associate told Channel 4 News: “The police are very good at batting off reform, but he won’t care and will do what he feels to be right. The response of the police shows they know that. He’ll be a new broom all right.”