Michael Gove has confirmed the appointment of two senior figures from his time at the Department for Education to head up the prisons and probation inspectorates.
Peter Clarke – the retired Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner who was appointed education commissioner for Birmingham in the wake of the so-called "Trojan Horse" extremism scandal – will become HM chief inspector of prisons on February 1.
Meanwhile, Dame Glenys Stacy – the chief executive of exams regulator Ofqual – moves to become HM chief inspector of probation at the beginning of March. It was revealed at a pre-appointment hearing for the pair last year that the justice secretary, who served as education secretary in the coalition government, had personally telephoned the pair to encourage them to put their hats into the ring.
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MPs subsequently backed the appointment of both candidates, but said it was "unwise" of Gove "to ring prospective candidates for these specific posts with the apparent purpose of encouraging them to apply for them".
In a written statement to MPs confirming the two appointments, Gove said: "These appointments have been made after a recruitment process for these posts which followed the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
"Both roles were advertised online and candidates were then assessed against the criteria for the posts. An independent selection panel produced a shortlist of candidates deemed appointable. As required under the rules, I then selected my preferred candidates from that shortlist.
"Peter Clarke and Dame Glenys Stacey appeared before the justice select committee, which concluded both were appointable to the roles of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and HM Chief Inspector of Probation respectively."
Clarke will succeed Nick Hardwick, who has served as chief insector of prisons since 2010, and who has spoken out on issues including deaths in custody and prison resources during the tenure of Gove's predecessor Chris Grayling. Dame Glenys will take on the job occupied by former London Probation Trust chief Paul Wilson on an interim basis since early last year.
During November's pre-appointment hearing, Clarke was quizzed by justice committee chair Bob Neill about perceptions he was "favoured" by Gove and could be seen as bringing "baggage" from his time leading the review into allegations of Islamist extremism at Birmingham schools.
But the incoming prisons inspector said he would not shy away from challenging ministers in his new role.
"Anybody who has known me over the years will know that I would not shy away from a disagreement with anybody," he told the committee. "I don’t like to use a cliché, but I am not afraid to speak truth unto power, if that is what is required. I would be betraying the independence of the role of chief inspector of prisons, were I not to be robust."
Dame Glenys also stressed her own independence as Ofqual chair, after confirming at the hearing that Gove had approached her directly about applying for the probation role.
"As far as independence is concerned, I believe that there is no occasion when I have been anything other than an independent regulator," she said. "I believe that I have a strong reputation and an authentic, strong track record for that. Indeed, that has involved difficult conversations with ministers, including the provision of advice that was most unwelcome."
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Of course it's right, and explicitly provided for in the public appointments process, that ministers can suggest and approach potential candidates. It’s especially worthwhile if it encourages high calibre candidates like Peter Clarke and Dame Glenys Stacey to apply.
"The select committee confirmed both candidates were appointable and was ‘satisfied that the process has been conducted in accordance with the appropriate guidance and principles of fair and open competition’."