Unions have reacted with fury after it was revealed a super-rich businessman dubbed the “Prince of Darkness” for his reputation for slashing jobs will spearhead a £1bn reform of the courts service.
Former Kwik Fit chief executive Tim Parker will be the new chairman of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Justice Secretary David Gauke has announced.
The minister said one of the 62-year-old multi-millionaire’s tasks will be “providing better value for the taxpayer” and his “expertise” will be “vital” to modernising the courts arm of the Ministry of Justice.
The Government denied any job cuts were planned but the GMB union voiced grave doubts about Parker, claiming he has a “record of putting profits far above common human decency”.
Parker has been chief executive of shoemaker Clarks, car maintenance business Kwik-Fit, and roadside recovery company The AA. During his time in business, he gained notoriety for operating a “slash and burn” policy, slashing jobs, closing factories and selling off property.
He halved a 7,000 workforce and closed 22 service centres during his tenure at the AA.
The tag “Prince of Darkness” was given to Parker by the GMB after one particular incident in 1995 in which he turned up in his Porsche to sack a group of Clarks factory workers in Somerset.
Andy Prendergast, GMB senior organiser, said: “For a man with such little regard for the plight of his fellow citizens to be placed in charge of Her Majesty’s courts is scandalous.”
Parker has also served as non-executive director on the boards of Legal & General, Alliance Boots and Compass Group.
Despite being worth an estimated £200m, he will be paid £20,000-a-year for his new role with HMCTS and retains three other positions as chairman - with the National Trust, the Post Office and Samsonite.
His role with the National Trust is a voluntary position but he is paid £75,000 for his chairmanship of the Post Office.
Parker also served briefly as Boris Johnson’s deputy when the Foreign Secretary was Mayor of London. He chose to step down as he did not think it was appropriate for an unelected individual to hold the position.
Although the businessman had a fractious relationship with unions, his leadership improved the financial position of the firms he led.
The tycoon’s appointment comes after the MoJ concluded the closure of 86 courts and tribunals last September.
The sale of the portfolio included 64 freehold and 11 leasehold properties, was expected to pump around £41m back into Government coffers.
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “Cuts and sell offs are already causing widespread damage to our courts system.
“The Ministry of Justice axed thousands of staff only to then spend tens of millions more contracting agency workers. And its courts reform program has led to over 100 courts being flogged off for not much more than the average UK house price.
“That the government has appointed someone with a record of a ‘slash and burn’ approach will cause further alarm across a justice sector already suffering from the deepest cuts of any government department.”
Ministers had promised the cash would be pumped back into the justice system, but campaigners say there has been scant investment and that the prisons estate is in dire need of refurbishment.
Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) general secretary Mark Serwotka, however, said news of his appointment will leave HMCTS workers deflated.
He said: “Parker’s appalling record as a slash and burn style businessman will do nothing to improve a service that is creaking under pressure from chronic under-funding over many years and is largely held together by the goodwill of our members.”
Parker will take up his post as HMCTS chair on April 27 following the retirement of Robert Ayling.
HuffPost UK contacted Parker to ask if he wished to comment on the union anger about his appointment but he declined.
As part of an official statement announcing his new role Parker said: “I am delighted to be joining HMCTS and look forward to spearheading its programme of reform - bringing courts and tribunals into the digital age and ensuring they are providing the best service possible for the public.”
Gauke added: “Tim’s expertise will be vital as we deliver our reform and modernisation of the courts and tribunals system – making it more convenient, easier to use, and providing better value for the taxpayer.
“I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to Robert for his outstanding service to HMCTS and the wider justice system through his chairmanship over the past seven years.”
The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, and the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, added: “Tim takes up the reins at a critical time and we look forward to working closely with him.”