While few arrivals at 10 Downing Street have been as long-anticipated as Gordon Brown’s, his first acts as prime minister took commentators by surprise. Going against his reputation as a dour control freak, he reshaped some departments and brought in a government of what he called “all the talents”, including some people not even in his own party. So far, his changes have pleased the social care sector.
What has caught their imagination most of all is the creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). This effectively takes on the children’s functions of the now dissolved Department for Education and Skills, responsibility for the Respect Agenda, which aims to tackle antisocial behaviour, and a range of other areas (see Department for Children, Schools and Families). It also has joint responsibility for youth justice with the Ministry of Justice.
The lightning-quick rise of the department’s new secretary Ed Balls (pictured left), who was made an MP just two years ago, has also been applauded.
Ruth Cartwright, a professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, shares this view. “He’s an amiable chap,” she says. “He has been at the forefront of fighting child poverty. Maybe Ed Balls is our man.”
Balls’ close links with Brown has been seen as an indication of the Prime Minister’s commitment to put children at the centre of the policy debate. The inclusive structure of the DCSF also meets the approval of many campaigning organisations.
Kathy Evans, head of policy at the Children’s Society, says: “The creation of a new child and family-focused government department, and the increase in the degree of Cabinet weight and profile for children’s policy issues, are enormously welcome developments.”
Evans thinks the interconnecting policy briefs between DCSF and other departments, such as co-operating on child poverty with the Treasury, can work. Even so, she calls for further links to be made and a “shared approach to accountability” for refugee children between the DSCF and the Home Office.
As chancellor, Brown took much of the credit for the government’s target to end child poverty by 2020. Tim Nichols, press and parliamentary officer for the Child Poverty Action Group, hopes that current incumbent Alistair Darling will show a similar commitment.
“The immediate priority is for the new chancellor to ensure that the comprehensive spending review in the autumn allows for the extra investment of £4bn needed to meet the 2010 target for halving child poverty,” he says. “The DCSF has a role in helping towards the 2010 target too. Investment in education now is going to make a big difference to the situation 10 or 20 years down the line.”
Nichols believes the right person has been given the top DCSF job. “Ed Balls is obviously someone who is very close to the PM, and who has very good experience in the Treasury,” he points out. “Because of the joint working that will be needed between his new department and the Treasury, and of course with the Department for Work and Pensions as well, I think that he’s very well placed to be successful.”
Steve Broach, the manager of the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, which includes the Council for Disabled Children and Contact a Family, gave a resounding “yes” when asked if Ed Balls had what it takes to deliver for disabled children. “The work we’ve done with him has shown he’s able to get to grips with an issue very quickly,” he adds. “I think he’s able to build very good personal relations with the people who are working with him in the sector.”
Balls’ links with the sector have become even closer now he has appointed Every Disabled Child Matters board member and Contact a Family’s chief executive Francine Bates as his special policy and strategy adviser. He said recently that the DCSF will be “the Every Disabled Child Matters department”.
Broach says: “It’s fantastic to have someone like Francine advising the secretary of state. It should ensure we remain at the centre of the agenda.”
“I was encouraged when I read that the Youth Justice Board was going to be jointly sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and the new DCSF,” says John Fayle, freelance consultant and ex-head of policy at the Youth Justice Board. “It will bring a greater welfare orientation to youth justice that is sorely needed.”
The need to see young offenders as children first and offenders second is a mantra often repeated by campaigners, and it seems that their wish has been granted. But will there be conflicting priorities within the DCSF, with responsibility for the Respect agenda and children’s welfare under one roof? “I’m sure there’ll be battles, but it will be I hope a healthy and constructive tension rather than one that disables,” says Fayle. “I hope that the welfare end of the argument will prevail. In policy terms, what I greatly hope will happen is that the children’s department will start taking more responsibility for children in custody.”
The voluntary sector
As a high-flier, Ed Miliband surprised no one when he was promoted from third sector minister to replace Hilary Armstrong as cabinet office minister. A popular figure, many charities will be happy that he retains a responsibility for the third sector, as well as taking on social exclusion and public sector reform.
Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says: “Given the understanding that Ed has built up about the issues affecting the voluntary sector, we are confident that he will remain a champion for the sector.”
New third sector minister Phil Hope has worked for both NCVO and the National Youth Bureau. With his appointment and that of Lady Neuberger as special adviser on volunteering, the government has access to invaluable expertise.
The Brown legacy?
The new prime minister said he would “invite men and women of good will to contribute their energies”. He has put a strong focus for this new team on children’s welfare, and hopes are justly high. The question is: can he win the next election and be in office long enough to deliver?
Department for Children, Schools and Families (back)
The old Department for Education and Skills has been split into the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
● Secretary of state: Ed Balls. New position.
● Minister for schools: Jim Knight. Remains in post.
● Minister for children and youth justice: Beverley Hughes. Remains in post. Has an expanded role and will attend some Cabinet meetings.
● Parliamentary under-secretary: Lord Andrew Adonis. Remains in post.
● Parliamentary under-secretary: Kevin Brennan. New to post.
The DCSF has responsibility for:
● Children’s social care.
● The Respect agenda.
● Youth Justice Board (jointly with the Ministry of Justice).
It will also work with:
● The Home Office on drugs.
● The DCLG on youth homelessness.
● The DH on child health.
● The Treasury and the DWP on child poverty.
Other key ministers
● Department for Communities and Local Government
Secretary of state: Hazel Blears. Takes over post from Ruth Kelly.
● Cabinet Office
Cabinet office minister: Ed Miliband. Retains voluntary sector responsibilities and takes on social exclusion and public sector reform.
Third sector minister: Phil Hope. Was previously at the DfES.
● Department of Health
Secretary of state: Alan Johnson. Replaces Patricia Hewitt.
Care services minister: Ivan Lewis. Remains in post but has also been given responsibility for mental health from Rosie Winterton.
● Department for Work and Pensions
Secretary of state: Peter Hain
Disabilities minister: Anne McGuire.
● Home Office
Secretary of state: Jacqui Smith. Replaces John Reid.
● Ministry of Justice
Secretary of state: Jack Straw.
Will Brown’s changes improve the political profile of children and families services? Have your say on our Discussion Forum