11 June 2004
The planned new children's commissioner will have the power to order investigations without first seeking authorisation from ministers after all, Margaret Hodge has told MPs.
The children's minister, giving evidence to the Commons' education and skills committee on June 9, signalled that the government would beef up the powers planned for the newly created post when the Children Bill gets to report stage in Parliament.
As the Bill is currently drafted, the secretary of state would have to approve any decision by the commissioner to investigate a case, effectively giving the minister a power of veto.
But the change of heart means that the 'children's czar' will now be able to launch an inquiry into cases where he or she believes that failings in child protection have a wider significance.
Hodge reiterated that the new post was not designed 'to police individual rights'. However, she indicated that ministers had been persuaded to give the commissioner greater independence.
'Where the commissioner takes the view there's an individual case that demonstrates systemic failure of national importance, I think we'll be putting forward amendments that say in these circumstances she or he will be able to initiate a report,' she told MPs.
Hodge made it clear that the government would not shy away from using the Bill's intervention powers in authorities deemed to be failing children. She said it would be similar to that already faced by local education authorities, with ministers setting up 'the appropriate alternative mechanism to help improve services'.
Hodge also raised the spectre of privatisation for failing children's services, confirming that there would be no ideological bar to drawing on 'private sector organisations and their expertise… or voluntary sector organisations'.