Aynsley-Green demands freer role from government and more money

The children’s commissioner for England has called for greater independence and more funding, echoing past criticisms that his office lacked teeth.

Al Aynsley-Green told parliament’s joint committee on human rights this week that he wanted to report directly to parliament rather than to the Department for Education and Skills. He was giving evidence alongside his counterparts from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The other commissioners have greater powers than Aynsley-Green, whose independence was called into question by campaigners – including his UK counterparts – when he was appointed in April 2005.

His remit extends only to representing children’s views and interests, while the other three can safeguard children’s rights. The others can also hold public inquiries into children’s services without government approval, and receive more funding.

Aynsley-Green has largely avoided commenting on the issue, although at the time of his appointment said concerns over his independence should be “put behind us”.

But this week he said that “in an ideal world” he would prefer to report to parliament, “not least because many issues we are concerned about lie outside the DfES”. He admitted to the committee that being accountable to the secretary of state for education “does effect my independence”.

Aynsley-Green cited budgetary constraints as his biggest frustration, preventing him from carrying out further investigations into areas such as youth offending and mental health. Lack of funding also prevented him reaching children across England. “That is what matters to children, not me navel-gazing in London,” he said.

Children’s charities welcomed his call for greater independence. Ross Hendry, head of public policy at NCH, said that although Aynsley-Green had shown himself to be an independent figure, it was necessary to ensure that the independence of the role was not confined to the personality of the post-holder.

But the DfES said insisted the role was “already entirely independent” and that the commissioner’s budget “accurately reflects” his duties and responsibilities.

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Helen McCormack

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