Questions raised over independence of new Children’s Commissioner

10-Nov-14
Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

The new children's commissioner has been announced as Anne Longfield, current chief executive for the charity 4Children.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children

However her independence was questioned before her selection by the Education Select Committee in Parliament.

Nursery providers, early years experts and childminders were also out in force on Twitter protesting over the Government’s ‘preferred candidate’ for the new Children’s Commissioner.

Critics of the decision to choose Ms Longfield are concerned over her close relationship with the Government, as chief executive of 4Children, which is a lead strategic partner with the Department for Education (DfE) for early years and childcare.

As Children's Commissioner, she will be expected to promote the rights of children to the Government.

During the questioning in Parliament, British Association of Social Workers’ professional officer Nushra Mansuri said she believed her independence won't be compromised by her previous links with the DfE.

On being chosen, Ms Longfield said: “I am delighted and hugely privileged to have been appointed as the next Children’s Commissioner for England.

“It’s a vitally important role with the potential to make a real difference for children in this country - especially for those vulnerable children who need our protection and support the most.”

Before the Government made the appointment, the Department for Education announced that Anne Longfield had been named as the ‘preferred candidate’ for the next Children's Commissioner for England by the Secretary of State for Education.

In a letter to the chair of the Education Select Committee Graham Stewart, Nicky Morgan said Ms Longfield had emerged as the strongest candidate from ‘a very competitive field’ and was the preferred person to replace the current Children’s Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, when her term ends in February 2015.

Petition launched

Childminder Penny Webb, who went as far as launching a petition on change.org ‘To ensure the next Children's Commissioner is able to fulfil the responsibilities of role’, told daynurseries.co.uk: “I am very concerned that the Government had a preferred choice for the new Children’s Commissioner. To fulfil the responsibilities of the role, the commissioner needs to be completely independent of Government influence.

“They should also have a track record of promoting and protecting children’s rights. I am further concerned that there was only a six day window of opportunity to comment and only via Twitter – which is restrictive and not inclusive. Although the choice has already been made, we need to express our concerns and to ensure the process is changed for the future. Which is why I set up a petition to enable people to express their concerns and views.”

Susan McGhee, director of Bertram Nursery Group said she “struggles to see how the proposed appointment can be considered independent and able to meet the role specification.”

While Ken McArthur of Polly Anna’s Nursery in York called for the Children's Commissioner to “not only be free from Government influence but must be seen to be free as well from any business association.”

Children need a voice who dares to disagree

The issue of independence is a big concern for Catriona Nason, managing director of Daycare Doctor, which gives specialist support and advice to nursery providers. She said: “This role requires a children's champion, someone to stand up for children without Government interference.

“Where is the evidence of Anne Longfield's ability and willingness to stand up for children? As chief executive of an organisation that has received a lot of grants, how can she become independent? The sector needs someone who can dare to disagree and give a credible voice for children. The sector needs someone they can trust and believe in to do the right thing for children.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman responded to the criticism saying an “independent panel decides who is long-listed, short-listed and interviewed for the post of Children's Commissioner. After this process is complete, they recommend to Ministers a list of appointable candidates. Ministers meet with the appointable individuals and select their preferred candidate.

“They are then required to write to the Select Committee informing them of the preferred candidate. The Education Select Committee invites the candidate to a pre-appointment hearing and gives the department their view on the candidate. If they approve, the candidate will be formally offered the position.

“As with all public appointments, the appointment process is being conducted in accordance with the requirements set by the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the guidance issued by the Cabinet Office Public Appointments Unit.”

Ms Longfield will take up the six-year post on 1 March 2015 from the current commissioner Maggie Atkinson.

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