Martin Narey took up his new role as chief executive of Barnardo’s towards the latter part of last year to have a three month handover period with former chief executive Roger Singleton who retired. Here, following the handover, Narey explains to website editor Clare Jerrom the reasons behind his departure from the Prison Service, confesses his fears for children in prison and elaborates on his hopes and plans for the new role at one of the largest UK children’s charities.
“Clash is too big a word”
“He was home secretary. He was entitled to his view… And I was entitled to go and do something else if I didn’t agree with him.”
And that’s exactly what Martin Narey did. After devoting more than 20 years of his life to the prison service, the fiercely loyal civil servant jumped ship heading directly to the voluntary sector and stepped into Roger Singleton’s shoes as head of children’s charity Barnardo’s.
Many were surprised by his appointment, not least Narey himself. Following initial discussions with head-hunters, Narey was flattered but thought the likelihood of him leading one of the UK’s largest children’s charities was “pretty unlikely”.
Although he describes himself as “nothing special”, he has been head-hunted on numerous occasions during his career, which saw him most recently as chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, although the Barnardo’s role was the first to really tempt him.
His enthusiasm for his new job is boundless and his genuine admiration for the charity and its work is evident. But it was a shock move from a career firmly embedded in the prison service and close to government.
Suggested reasons behind his sudden departure have varied from Noms’ rocky first year to a clash with ministers.
While Narey is quick to insist that “‘clash’ is too big a word”, it is apparent that his relationship with home secretary Charles Clarke was not as favourable as those with Clarke’s predecessors David Blunkett and Jack Straw.
“I took over the prison service when Jack Straw was home secretary and I think with Jack’s support we made significant improvements in prisons. Working with David Blunkett I thought those improvements continued and I think Blunkett had started to say some very brave things about sentencing.”
“And yes it was deflating to begin all that again as clearly Charles Clarke had a rather different view about the prison population,” he added.
“He and I disagreed fundamentally about the number of people we send to prison and the inability of the prison service to cope with the sort of pressure its are under. But he’s home secretary and has to make the decisions. Although we disagreed I left very amicably,” he said.
Narey’s main concern during his tenure overseeing the prison and probation services was the dramatic rise of the number of incarcerated children.
“Privately I was very troubled by the rise in the prison population and most particularly about the ludicrous number of children we lock up,” Narey confessed.
“This country is in love with incarceration even when, because of the typical length of many sentences, everybody knows it’s futile,” he added.
While he concedes that there is a place for the incarceration of children, he says, “we do not need to lock up 3,000 children”.
“I would love to be able to say that short terms of custody for children can have an effect. But it simply cannot.
“Dumping someone in Feltham where there just aren’t enough staff to do any more than keep order, cannot possibly be in the interests of the young person or the society which he’s offended against. We need to keep more out of prison.
“Anything I can do over the next few years to influence the government to take a more constructive approach to reducing crime, I want to do,” he said.
“I’m here for the long haul”
Narey acknowledges that his first year is going to be a huge learning curve but unsurprisingly he is clear about a few things he wants to achieve.
He is proud to be associated with a charity that tackles the “difficult and gritty” issues such as work with child prostitutes, children who sexually abuse others, fathers in prison and troubled care leavers rather than the “fluffy marketable stuff” and wants the public to know exactly what the charity is about. He is also keen to influence government policy on children’s issues.
If the government opens up the market to allow more voluntary organisations to run a greater variety of services he says there “isn’t anything at which I wouldn’t want Barnardo’s at least to look at”.
He’s also at the charity “for the long-haul” and sees the role as his last job. “I’m only 50 and I’d like to stay here for a significant period.”
“One or two staff have asked me if I’m here for a brief taste of the voluntary sector before going back but, no, I’m here for some years,” he insists. Narey says he wouldn’t completely rule out a return to government in five or six years but says that he would not return to the prison service.
He remains “as confident as ever” that Noms will be a success in terms of reducing the seriousness of offending and the volume of reoffending, although he insists a reduction of numbers in prison is key to that success.
While he says he will miss the offenders “who can be a remarkably interesting, entertaining and sometimes touching group,” he will not miss the crisis management and dreading the phone ringing at the weekend for fear it was news that someone had taken their own life in prison.
He hopes he will be remembered for decency and proving that educating offenders is not a lost cause for his time working in the prison service.
But for now he wants to be working with children at a time where more constructive work can be done.
“I thought the challenge of doing something with young people, something which could get at young people rather earlier where the work might be more constructive, was very, very tempting,” he says.
“So much as I still look at headlines about offending and I’ll forever be interested in that, I feel refreshed and stimulated by this new challenge.”
For the full interview transcript, click HERE