Social Mobility Commission gets new chair - but no new powers

Dame Martina Milburn, the head of the Prince’s Trust, has been nominated to chair the Social Mobility Commission.

But the Department for Education has ruled out expanding the organisation’s powers, despite calls to that effect from senior MPs.

The commission, which sits within the DfE and monitors progress towards improved social mobility, has been without a chair or board since December, when ex-Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn resigned as chair, taking the remaining four members with him. At the time, members, including former education secretary Baroness Shephard complained of the government’s lack of progress towards a “fairer Britain”.

In March, the parliamentary education committee demanded extra powers for the commission, including the power to publish impact assessments on social justice in legislative proposals. MPs also want a social justice minister appointed, and said the commission should be renamed “the Social Justice Commission”.

But in its response, the DfE today said it would not be making the changes proposed by the committee, because government departments are “best placed” to consider the impact of policy and legislative proposals on social justice, “as they are the experts in their policy areas”.

Robert Halfon, the chair of the education committee, said the government had “sadly failed to seize” the opportunity to create a more “beefed-up” commission with the direction needed to tackle society’s problems.

He wants a public hearing with commission’s new chair to “test her commitment to tackling social injustice”.

Once Ms Milburn is formally appointed, a “sufficient number of high-quality commissioners” will also be recruited with her help, the DfE said, and it hopes to avoid a situation in future where the organisation is left without members.

She said it was a “privilege” to be put forward to chair the commission, and that she hoped her experience of working closely with young people from different backgrounds will “help make a difference”.

She has worked for the Prince’s Trust since 2004, and was previously chief executive of the BBC Children in Need appeal.