The U.K.’s newest prisons minister is a multimillion-dollar key-cutting heir known for hiring hundreds of ex-offenders

The U.K.’s new left-leaning Labour government is looking to the business world to tackle a growing problem in the prison sector. And the man they want to lead that recovery is the boss of Timpson, a company famous for hiring ex-offenders.

James Timpson runs the nationwide chain that cuts keys, repairs shoes, and performs dry cleaning and laundry services. He has been appointed Minister of State for Prisons, Parole and Probation under Sir Keir Starmer’s new government.

Timpson’s prison policy

It’s not unusual for customers at these stores, which pop up across U.K. high streets, shopping centers, and supermarket car parks, to be served by a former inmate. 

Timpson, CEO since 2002 and works alongside his father, John, introduced the company’s policy of hiring ex-offenders. 

This practice reportedly started after Timpson visited a prison the same year he took the top job. Timpson met a young inmate named Matt and was so impressed that he offered him a job.

Matt has since become one of Timpson’s most successful branch managers, the CEO said.

Timpson now employs more than 600 “prison leavers,” which make up around 10% of the company’s staff. The CEO was also chair of the Prison Reform Trust until his appointment as prisons minister.

If Timpson can spread a bit of his magic dust on the role, it could be a boon for the U.K.’s prison system, not to mention the wider U.K. social fabric and public finances. 

U.K. Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer said he hired Timpson for the role because he “walks the walk.” But he’ll need to demonstrate that know-how quickly, with prison governors warning that jails are running out of space.

Having been vocal in his approach to rehabilitation, Timpson may be one of the most progressive ministers ever serving in the role.

Speaking to Channel 4 earlier this year, Timpson said the U.K. justice system was “addicted to punishment,” adding that only a third of current inmates should “definitely” be in prison.

The U.K.’s re-offending rates have fallen over the last decade but still stand at around 25%. Unemployment and financial problems, as well as homelessness and mental health issues, 

Timpson says the retention rate for his colleagues who have been recruited from prison or have a criminal conviction is 75%, suggesting a low level of reoffending. 

Meet the Timpsons

Timpson and his family were reported to be worth £210 million ($269 million) in 2019, according to the Sunday Times Rich List

His grandfather and founder of Timpson, William, was ousted from the company in 1973 after EDS Group acquired the company. James’s father, John, became managing director of the company in 1975 and would go on to lead a £42 million management buyout of the firm in 1982.

The company, which remains wholly owned by Timpson and his family, 

The family paid themselves the largest dividend in years in March worth £16.6 million ($21.3 million) after a big jump in turnover.

His parents shared Timpson’s sense of public duty. John and his wife, Alex adopted two of their five children and, over 31 years, provided foster care to 90 other children.

Alex Timpson received an MBA in 2006 for services to children and families. John was knighted for his services in 2017, after his wife passed away.

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