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Ed Balls overrides MPs on Children's Commissioner appointment

Date:20 OCT 2009

The Children's Secretary, Ed Balls has been criticised for not accepting the advice of the Children, Schools and Families Committee on the appointment of the Children's Commissioner for England.

The Committee, chaired by Barry Sheerman, disagreed with Mr Balls' selection of Dr Maggie Atkinson to be the next Children's Commissioner when Sir Al Aynsley-Green comes to the end of his five year appointment on 28 February 2010.

In it's report the Committee said: "While we are satisfied that Maggie Atkinson demonstrated a high degree of professional competence, we feel unable to endorse her appointment, as we would like to have seen more sign of determination to assert the independence of the role, to challenge the status quo on children's behalf, and to stretch the remit of the post, in particular by championing children's rights".

Mr Balls is the first cabinet minister to reject advice from a select committee relating to a public appointment since pre-appointment hearings to judge candidates suitability for senior public roles were introduced earlier this year.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Sheerman said "Most of us know that Ed Balls is a bit of a bully and he likes his own way".

"Maggie Atkinson is a very competent woman, but we just didn't think she had the independence of mind to stand up to a secretary of state who likes to get his own way. Time after time, we see the secretary of state wanting to have people who will do his bidding.

"He is more of an executive man, rather than a parliamentary man, and I think it is a bad day for parliamentary democracy when - if we are having these pre-appointment hearings - the very first one to say it didn't agree with the appointment gets overridden," Mr Sheerman said.

However, the children's charity Barnardo's welcomed Dr Atkinson's appointment having worked closely together in her current role in Gateshead to deliver services for children and families in the area.

"I am delighted that Maggie is to take up this role. I have been hugely impressed with her work both in the north east and when recently leading the Association of Directors of Children's Services. I look forward to our working together to improve the lives of children and young people," said Barnardo's Chief Executive, Martin Narey.

The Children's Commissioner for England was established through the Children's Act 2004 and its purpose is to raise the profile of the issues that affect children in England. Sir Al Aynsley-Green was appointed to be the first Children's Commissioner for England on 1 March 2005.

Dr Atkinson will take over at the end of February 2010, although she will shadow Sir Al Aynsley-Green for a month from the end of January.