The former chair of the Youth Justice Board Rod Morgan (pictured) has called for the independence of the board to be preserved.
Giving his first interview since announcing his resignation in January, Morgan warned that the government could seek to “tighten the reins” on the board.
He said it was vital that the board be allowed to criticise policies that were inconsistent or were not achieving stated government outcomes such as cutting custody numbers.
If the government cannot tolerate criticism, the board “might as well be abolished” and youth justice returned to the Home Office to be run by civil servants, he added.
Morgan said it was “enormously frustrating” that the numbers of children in custody went up during his watch and added: “I could see that the gains that we were trying to make were being put at risk.”
He said he faced opposition not just from the Home Office but from Downing Street during his three years in the post. At the time of his resignation, Morgan indicated that the government had forced his hand by telling him they were to re-advertise his post, even though it could have been extended by three years.
Since his announcement, speculation has centred on the relationship Morgan had with home secretary John Reid, youth justice minister Baroness Scotland and Louise Casey, the head of the Respect task force.
Reid never met Morgan despite many requests. Relations with Scotland are believed to have been cool and he clashed with Casey over the Respect agenda at the Youth Justice Convention in Cardiff last November.
Morgan was due to return to the public arena yesterday to deliver a speech at Barnardo’s annual conference in London at which Casey – rumoured to be prime minister Tony Blair’s favourite to succeed him as YJB chair – was also due to speak.
He said he did not want to “personalise anything” by discussing any individuals and said he was not “absolutely certain” who had called for him to go.
“I don’t say it is necessarily the home secretary. In this job you work with ministers and with Number 10 and precisely who wasn’t too keen that I continue frankly I can’t answer that question,” he said.
He revealed he had been tipped off about ministers’ plans at the convention in Cardiff and met with Scotland in December, who told him he should re-apply.
“The argument was that advertising of posts such as mine was a general policy and that no inference should be drawn from it. That I regarded as risible. If the minister had confidence in me it would not be re-advertised”.
Fighting for the post was not an option, he said: “If ministers aren’t talking to you, if you are not winning the argument then you are not achieving. You have a duty to go.”
He says that in letters and e-mails he has received since his resignation, youth justice practitioners have emphasised the importance of retaining the devolved system of managing youth offending teams, with a “light touch” from the board, alongside a “straight-talking” chair.
Addressing fears about the direction of the board, Morgan said there was “no need” for concern over the interim chair, Graham Robb, or the other board members, who are all “committed to the same ends”.
In next week’s Community Care Morgan will discuss criminal justice policies that have driven the number of young people upwards in custody and how they should be reversed.
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