MPs slam Hinds' 'unwise' role in social mobility chief appointment

Joe Lepper
Friday, July 13, 2018

A group of MPs have criticised Education Secretary Damian Hinds' "unwise" decision to become personally involved in the appointment of the new chair of the Social Mobility Commission.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds is set to scrap faith school quotas. Picture: UK Parliament
Education Secretary Damian Hinds is set to scrap faith school quotas. Picture: UK Parliament

In a stinging rebuke of Hinds' actions in the appointment of Dame Martina Milburn to the role, which was confirmed today, the education select committee said that his decision to personally ask her to apply could compromise her independence.

Of an 11-strong list of potential candidates drafted by the Secretary of State and Department for Education officials, Hinds personally telephoned Milburn and three others.

Out of the 21 eventual applicants for the role, Milburn, group chief executive of The Prince's Trust, was the only one to be personally contacted by Hinds.

The committee endorsed Milburn's candidature as chair of the commission based on her professional competence.

However, its report on her appointment, raises concerns that a stronger field of candidates could have been attracted had the government backed the committee's calls made in March to strengthen the commission's powers.

The committee also raises concerns around Milburn's "apparent preference for speaking out in public only as a matter of last resort" despite her speaking of being an "agitator".

"Notwithstanding our conclusion on the candidate's professional competence, we regret the poor initial response to what should have been regarded as an important and attractive public appointment," states the committee's report. 

"It should not have been necessary for the department to solicit applications, and was unwise of the Secretary of State to do so personally, as it could have the effect of compromising any chair's personal independence.

"In our view, a commission strengthened in line with our recommendations would have attracted a stronger field of candidates; we hope that the commission grows in strength and influence under Dame Martina's leadership."

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The committee's report into the future of the Social Mobility Commission in March said it needed stronger powers as it had proved ineffective due to a lack of influence with ministers.

The hard-hitting report said ministers had consistently failed to act on its recommendations since it launched in 2012.

They were also concerned that the government had allowed the commission's membership to slump from 10 to only four by 2017.

At the end of last year, the remaining members, including chair Alan Milburn, all quit in protest at the lack of support the commission had received from government.

Confirming the appointment of Dame Martina today, the DfE also announced that a new set of commissioners would be appointed to the commission's board, with applications opening on 25 July.

Education committee chair Robert Halfon MP, said: "I welcome Dame Martina's clear commitment and passion for social justice and pay tribute to her work with The Prince's Trust.
 
"The committee want to be sure that the pledges she has made to the committee in terms of being a campaigner for social justice are evident in the way that she challenges both the government and social injustice wherever it occurs.

"Our committee will be holding her feet to the fire on this. We believe that the Commission must be more than just a think-tank but a body that really transforms social justice in our country and one that will have a role in assessing the impact of key domestic legislation in terms of whether it enhances or is harmful to social justice."

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