Why James Timpson becoming Prisons Minister is so important to many

James Timpson has been appointed Minister for Prisons, Parole and Probation (Picture: Lauren Hurley/No 10 Downing Street)

Sir Keir Starmer has been busy appointing new ministers to his cabinet after taking the keys to 10 Downing Street in his landslide General Election victory.

While several well-known Labour names have already been appointed to the top jobs, from Angela Rayner to Wes Streeting, one particularly surprising new name has popped up.

James Timpson OBE is founder of Timpsons, a major retailer which provides dry cleaning, watch and shoe repairs, and more.

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The company is also known for supporting the unemployed, offering free dry-cleaning if they have a job interview coming up, as well as supporting ex-prisoners back into work.

James is also head of the Prison Reform Trust – and he’s previously said he believes about a third of people currently in jail should definitely be there.

There are Timpson branches across the UK (Picture: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)

What has James Timpson said about prisons?

Speaking to Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4’s Ways to Change the World podcast, he said: ‘We’re addicted to sentencing, we’re addicted to punishment. So many people who are in prison, in my view, shouldn’t be there.

‘A lot should be, but a lot shouldn’t, and they’re there for far too long.

‘I meet people in prison regularly who are serving sentences longer than they’ve been alive for already, and I think this is common sense being ignored, evidence being ignored, because there is this sentiment around punishment.

‘A custodial sentence is not always the right thing for people. We have 85,000 people in prison, it’s gonna go up to 100,000 pretty soon – a third of them should definitely be there.

‘There’s another third in the middle who probably shouldn’t be there but need some other kind of state support, a lot have massive mental health issues.

‘There’s another third, mainly women, where prison is a disaster for them because it’s putting them back in the offending cycle.

‘I think we need a government that’s brave, prepared to take politics out of sentencing, and is prepared to accept that we can’t afford as a country to build £4-6billion worth of prisons to house more people. It just doesn’t make sense.’

When asked how many of the ex-offenders employed at Timpsons go on to reoffend or steal from the business, James replied: ‘It’s a very low proportion. When I first started it was higher because I was still working it out.

‘We don’t recruit men under the age of 25 from prison, because they’re just not mature enough, they won’t stay and often they’ll get back into their old ways.

‘If I recruit someone from prison they’re more honest, stay with me longer, more loyal, and more likely to get promoted.

‘If you walk around a prison, you get people who just want a job, they don’t want to disappoint their family again.’

Who is James Timpson?

James Timpson has been chief executive of Timpsons since 2002, and he’s credited with helping the business grow to more than 2,100 branches nationwide.

The company claims its growth and success is thanks to its ‘upside down management’ culture where they focus on recruiting people with an ‘amazing personality’ and consider everybody to be equal.

Employee benefits include free holiday homes, weekly lotteries, and a Dreams Come True scheme.

Timpson employs more than 600 prison leavers, making up more than 10% of the company.

James was awarded his OBE in 2011 for the training and employment of disadvantaged people.

Reaction to his appointment to the cabinet has been overwhelmingly positive, but also met with surprise, considering he is not an MP.

But David Cameron’s appointment as Foreign Secretary by former PM Rishi Sunak demonstrated it’s possible to bring members of the House of Lords into the cabinet.

James was elevated to the House of Lords in order to take up his new role alongside Sir Patrick Vallance – a familiar name throughout the coronavirus pandemic, he’s been appointed minister for Science, Innovation and Technology.

The Timpson’s boss’s move to the House of Lords, as well as his new position as cabinet minister, has been praised as he is widely seen as someone who ‘actually’ deserves it.

James is seen as a ‘good egg’ who looks after his employees and creates opportunities for others – so is seen as a shrewd appointment for Keir Starmer, who is giving the impression that he is surrounding himself with expertise.

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