Appointment of the Children's Commissioner for England - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

3  The preferred candidate

The candidate's background

14. Maggie Atkinson is currently Director of Children's Services at Gateshead Council and has oversight of approximately 1,000 staff in direct employment across many professions and disciplines, as well as of some 4,000 staff in 88 schools. She is responsible for management of substantial capital and revenue budgets held by the Council. She also holds statutory responsibility for fostering inter-agency partnership through the creation of a Children and Young People's Trust in Gateshead.

15. From 1 April 2008 until 31 March 2009, Maggie Atkinson was President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, having served as Vice-President in the previous year. She was appointed as National Chair of the multi-agency steering and reference board for the Centre for Excellence in Outcomes in 2008; and in 2009 she was appointed by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to chair the new Children and Young People's Workforce National Partnership, drawing in sector skills councils, unions, regulatory bodies, Non-Departmental Public Bodies, third sector organisations and government officials.

The questioning

16. In line with the guidance drawn up by the Liaison Committee on the conduct of pre-appointment hearings, our questioning sought to test the professional competence and personal independence of the candidate. The Liaison Committee also observes that a candidate will need to be able to withstand parliamentary and public scrutiny should they take up the post, and that questioning may therefore be robust.[8]

17. During the course of our questioning, we explored the candidate's perception of the powers and nature of the Commissioner's role, her priorities should her appointment be confirmed, and her views on the promotion of children's rights. A transcript of the oral evidence is printed with this Report.[9]

The Committee's view on the suitability of the candidate

18. 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.

8   Pre-appointment hearings by select committees, First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 384, paragraph 13 Back

9   Oral evidence to be published in Volume II of the Eighth Report of Session 2008-09 Appointment of the Children's Commissioner for England, HC 998-II Back

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Prepared 19 October 2009