Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
On 10 December 2014 I informed Members of the publication of Dr Mike Shooter’s independent review of the role and functions of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. The intention of the review was to consider how Wales can ensure it has a Children's Commissioner whose role is as clear and effective as possible. The recommendations seek to further strengthen the Commissioner's valued position and I thank Dr Shooter for his insight and diligence.
I am keen to ensure the recommendations are considered with great care.
There are 15 recommendations identified as operational matters for the Children’s Commissioner. I have met Professor Sally Holland to discuss these. I am pleased she has responded in an open and positive way to the recommendations and is already taking action on a number of them, with a commitment to consider the remaining recommendations further.
There are 2 recommendations concerning scrutiny which are wholly for the National Assembly for Wales and I have written to the Presiding Officer, drawing them to her attention.
Of the recommendations for Government, we are clear after careful reflection, the responsibility for the appointment and funding of the Commissioner should continue to rest with the Welsh Government, whilst the role of scrutiny and accountability rests with the Assembly. Separating these two sets of functions safeguards the effective independence of the Commissioner. The Commissioner is appointed by the First Minister, following fair and open competition which includes a Panel with cross-party representation and young people. The Commissioner, like others in public life, is accountable to the public via the National Assembly’s subject and Public Accounts Committees.
The remaining recommendations need further consideration and a number of these relate to potential legislation. Before committing to new legislation, there is a need to look at whether it is desirable, necessary and practicable. We are conscious of the different roles and powers of the Children’s Commissioner, Older People’s Commissioner, Welsh Language Commissioner and the Future Generations Commissioner, which are specific to their remits, and these should be maintained. We are of the view the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales should not be included as part of our considerations. We would require evidence of the need for a single piece of legislation defining all Commissioners’ roles and purposes, or of the need to amend existing legislation in order to bring greater consistency. Officials have begun work to scope and consider the need for, and implications of, new legislation. However, any new legislation, if considered necessary, would not be possible until the next Assembly term.
Whilst accepting Commissioners’ needs to be adequately resourced to fulfil their role, all bodies in receipt of public funding must be able to evidence value for money. This is all the more pressing given the current financial climate and the need for greater efficiency. We will offer the Commissioners support, advice and encouragement in seeking to maximise joint working, and identify economies in support services and office costs.
There are some recommendations which have already been addressed, such as the involvement of children and young people and Members from all parties in the appointment process for the Children’s Commissioner, the requirement to give up existing posts where there is a perceived conflict of interest and a training strategy to raise awareness of the UNCRC and the Children’s Commissioner amongst professionals who work with children and young people.
The review and its recommendations have allowed for open and honest dialogue with the Children’s Commissioner. I will continue to work with the Commissioner to ensure she is informed and involved in the Government’s work in responding to the recommendations. I will update Members further in due course.