Maggie Atkinson thrust herself into the limelight this weekend with a controversially timed call to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12. She was instantly shot down by the Ministry of Justice, and roundly criticised for her suggestion. The Children’s Commissioner was not so much appointed by Ed Balls’ as shoehorned in without the agreement of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee. This is true to form for the Secretary of State of course, who tends to pay scant regard to the appointment process.
Of course, everybody is entitled to their opinion, and Dr Atkinson may even come back with studies that back up her ideas, however insensitive they seemed. But it’s not the Commissioner herself that is necessarily the problem: her organisation just shouldn’t exist as a public body. In How to Save £50 billion, we identified the trendily titled 11 Million as a body to be cut. It would save around £3 million and it does not deliver policy on the frontline. It merely exists to ‘give children a voice’, and to ‘influence decision makers’. This weekend’s swift put-down by the Ministry of Justice proved it is
hardly influential, though. So why should the taxpayer fund these objectives? Countless charities do this job far more effectively by looking after and promoting the interests and welfare of children. Many local authorities run youth projects, as do schools, that involve children in community activities at the local level.
As with many quangos, 11 Million does something that is already done elsewhere – and done better, too – by both state and non-state bodies. Naturally Dr Atkinson is rewarded handsomely to carry out this work – up to £140,000 a year. That’s an expensive lobbyist by anyone’s standards.