Dame Martina named new chair of Social Mobility Commission amid controversy

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Education Committee has endorsed Dame Martina Milburn as chair of the Social Mobility Commission, despite concerns that the education secretary became too personally involved in the appointment.

Following a hearing with the Government's preferred candidate for chair of the commission on Wednesday, the Education Select Committee has endorsed her appointment.

However, in a report prepared for the Government following the hearing, the commitee has criticised the education secretary Damian Hinds for the way he became personally involved in the appointment of the new chair for the Social Mobility Commission (SMC), which has been empty for more than six months.

In May, it was announced that the education secretary Damian Hinds had put forward Dame Martina Milburn for chair of the SMC and her appointment would be subject to a hearing with the Education Select Committee.

Following the hearing, the Education Select Committee said it was satisfied that Dame Martina Milburn has the skills and expertise to be an effective chair and endorsed her appointment.

However, in its report, the committee said it was 'unwise' of the education secretary, Damain Hinds, to be so personally involved in the appointment as it could compromise her independence.

It went on to say that in its view, if the Government had taken up its recommendation to strengthen the commission, the vacancy would have attracted a ‘stronger field’ of candidates.

A list of 11 potential candidates for the role of chair was drafted by the education secretary Damian Hinds and Department for Education officials. Of these, Mr Hinds personally telephoned just four, including Dame Martina.

Out of a total 21 applications for the role, Dame Martina, group chief executive of The Prince’s Trust, was the only one to be personally contacted by the education secretary.

The committee endorsed Dame Martina's appointment based on her professional competence.

The Education Committee also raised concerns over her preference for speaking out in public 'only as a matter of last resort'.

Chair of the Education Committee 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. I am also encouraged by her enthusiasm for vocational education and understanding of how apprenticeships and skills provide a ladder of opportunity for the most disadvantaged in society.

‘The committee has endorsed the appointment. We 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.

‘Dame Martina also stressed that she wanted a board of Commissioners drawn from a broad spectrum of society and would also appoint apprentices to the secretariat. The Commission should have the capacity to champion social justice and influence policy. Our hope is that it is not just made up of the great and the good but represents people from all backgrounds and all parts of the country and flies the flag for social justice.’

Now the position of chair has been confirmed, a new set of commissioners can be recuited. The application process is open until 25 July.

Dame Martina Milburn said, 'I am delighted to be the new chair of the Social Mobility Commission. I hope my experience of working closely with and listening to young people from many different backgrounds will help make a difference.

'This Commission matters, because its purpose is to help people enjoy better lives.

'My first priority is to recruit my team of commissioners and we’re looking for people from all walks of life. I want to engage real people, with real life experiences, who can challenge government, business and society as a whole, to create a fair system where people can thrive.'

  • Read the report here

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