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Children's Commissioner

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 19th October 2009.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families 3:30 pm, 19th October 2009

No, it is my job to consider very carefully the Select Committee's view-and I did-and to make the right decision in the public interest. That is what I have done. The hon. Gentleman raises legitimate questions about the powers for the Children's Commissioner in the 2004 Act, and the nature of the standing of that person and whether they should be appointed by Parliament or by the Government. However, those are issues for the Act; they were not issues for this particular selection process.

In terms of the selection process itself, it was done independently and rigorously, and any question about who was suitable for the job was addressed by the independent process. The conclusion was that Maggie Atkinson was by far the best person for the job, out of all the people who applied. It is true that the Committee Chair asked Dr. Atkinson whether she had had direct public relations experience. She said that she had never been a PR executive, but she had been heavily engaged in advocacy and in making a case, not only in leading a children's service in Gateshead but in representing them all across the country during the Haringey period. To be honest, any of us who know her know that that is why she has been appointed to this post. That is why Barnardo's said that it was "astonished" by the Select Committee report, the Children's Society said that it was "disappointed", and Anne Longfield said that it was "unfortunate". The Association of Directors of Children's Services also said that it was "astonished". That was the reaction.

On campaigning, Maggie Atkinson told the Committee that this was "an influencing role, and a drawing to attention role, but to me the word 'campaigning' smacks of active politics. This is not a political appointment. Rather, this is not a political post." She went on to say, "This role is not an inspector nor a political drum-beater. It is the holder of a very sharp light which is illuminated by the words and the wishes of children and young people and is shone on policy makers. It will seek out areas on which that light needs to shine. That is really important. It is not campaigning in a political sense, but the office of the Children's Commissioner has the right and duty to say to those making policies"-this, that and the other. I will not go through the long quote. The important point is that she absolutely accepts the independent, strong advocacy role. To say that she is a tame poodle is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman, and unworthy of those who make those comments.

Everyone who knows Maggie Atkinson knows that she is the strongest, most fearless, most independent advocate. That is why she has been appointed, unanimously and independently. Those who do not want to abolish the Children's Commissioner should start to support this post, rather than seeking to undermine it.

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