Page last updated at 20:41 GMT, Saturday, 19 December 2009

Ed Balls accused of sidestepping MPs on Ofqual decision

Ed Balls
Future decisions will be subject to pre-appointment hearings, said the DSCF

Children's Secretary Ed Balls has been accused of sidestepping Parliament by naming a new education watchdog chief before MPs had a chance to quiz her.

Kathleen Tattersall was named chair and chief regulator of new exams watchdog Ofqual without being vetted by MPs.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the House of Commons Children's Select Committee, said it was a "shabby" act.

Mr Balls' department said she had been interim head before the policy of involving MPs in decisions came in.

Former education minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said Mr Sheerman had got the wrong end of the stick.

She said: "Not having a pre-appointment hearing when she [Ms Tattersall] was already in post seemed the right decision to me and is also what my officials advised.

"By trying to personalise things in this way, I'm afraid Barry has totally misunderstood what's happened."

Pre-selection hearings by cross-party select committees were introduced with the intention of giving MPs greater say over appointments to senior public jobs.

They were part of a package of constitutional reforms launched by Gordon Brown shortly after he became prime minister.

Opinions 'ignored'

Ms Tattersall had been chairing an interim Ofqual since it began work as part of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority last spring.

Earlier this year, Mr Balls clashed with the Children's Committee when he dismissed its rejection of his choice as children's commissioner for England. On that occasion Mr Sheerman accused him of being "a bit of a bully".

On the latest decision Mr Sheerman told the Guardian: "This is a shabby way to treat Parliament. For the first appointment [Mr] Balls ignored our judgment, for the second one he's sidestepped us altogether.

The permanent secretary advised ministers that - since this is not a new appointment - it need not be subject to the pre-appointment hearing process
DCSF spokesman

"If pre-selection hearings, which were supposed to strengthen parliamentary powers, are to mean anything they've got to at least happen."

In a letter to Mr Balls, he wrote: "As most parliamentarians had understood that pre-appointment hearings were a significant part of the prime minister's determination to strengthen parliamentary democracy, I am rather at a loss to understand the logic in the appointment of the chief regulator with no reference to the committee and no pre-appointment hearing."

A DCSF spokesman said: "Future appointments to the post of chief regulator will - rightly - be subject to pre-appointment hearings.

"But we have always made clear, following her appointment last year after a full public appointments process, that Kathleen Tattersall would be the first chief regulator following the passage of the Act.

"The permanent secretary advised ministers that - since this is not a new appointment - it need not be subject to the pre-appointment hearing process."

Former education minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry told Parliament in February there would be no pre-appointment hearing for Ms Tattersall, said the spokesman.

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