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How to be an effective commissioner

Creating a new Migrants’ Commissioner was one of the key recommendations of Wendy Williams’ review of the Windrush scandal.

Creating a new Migrants’ Commissioner was one of the key recommendations of Wendy Williams’ review of the Windrush scandal. But just creating a post, something governments have done with increasing frequency, does not guarantee impact. This report sets out 10 essential recommendations to help government-appointed commissioners succeed in their “lonely roles with no handbook”.

The report draws on the experience of commissioners. It notes that the troubled history of the government’s treatment of migrants means even bigger challenges face a future Migrants' Commissioners’ task of giving migrants a voice in government.

There are many commissioners across government, including the Children’s Commissioners in England, Scotland and Wales, the Victims’ Commissioner and the Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Party manifestos regularly promise to create more commissioners to take on specific roles. But simply creating a commissioner does not guarantee they will be able to change how government works. Ministers must make sure those appointees are credible with the groups they represent and that they have sufficient resources and genuine independence to allow them to do their jobs. And they must commit to taking commissioner recommendations, however uncomfortable, seriously. 

The suspicion and distrust caused by the Windrush scandal means the daunting task facing a Migrants' Commissioner will be even more complicated. The first appointment to this post, if the Home Office follows through on its commitment to establish it, must have the credibility and powers to help them make a difference to migrants. This includes the “profound culture change” in the Home Office, called for by Williams, to make sure its staff better appreciate the migrant experience and take account of it in policy making.

The home secretary should create the Migrants' Commissioner post only if she and her department are genuinely committed to making a success of the role, and set it up on the most robust basis possible.

For this, and any other commissioner role, the report sets out five recommendations to departments:

  • Give the commissioner a well-defined but not overly restrictive remit
  • Ensure that the role has adequate resources and powers to fulfil its remit
  • Appoint an individual who has credibility with represented groups
  • Reinforce the independence of the commissioner
  • Take commissioner recommendations and input seriously

And five recommendations to potential commissioners:

  • Make sure that the job is set up to succeed before accepting the role
  • Establish credibility with the groups they represent and independence from the government from the start
  • Invest in relationships with government and the wider public sector, parliamentarians and, most importantly, the group they represent
  • Develop a predictable media strategy to deliver key messages to government without damaging relationships with ministers and officials 
  • Network with other commissioners
Institute for Government

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