Knives out for controversial children's tsar

THE Children's commissioner Tam Baillie is at the centre of a row over plans to extend his contract amid claims of plunging morale among his staff and criticism of his management style.

The former Barnardo's policy director is expected to have his two-year term formally extended when MSPs vote on the issue later today.

The extension comes despite the Scottish Parliament's corporate body (SPCB) being urged to rethink his appointment as Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People (SCCYP) in correspondence which has been released under freedom of information legislation.

One letter states that staff "perceive the current Commissioner to be more interested in self-promotion rather than raising awareness of children's rights". Another accuses him of ignoring "almost all the advice given to him".

Figures already made public reveal that since Mr Baillie took office, the average level of staff sickness in the office has trebled, while about half the staff have left.

Mr Baillie's flagship initiative since taking office, a consultation process called the Right Blether, is also criticised in the correspondence.

It has involved 'Tam's Tour' of hundreds of Scottish schools and a nationwide vote in which children choose between different rights on a ballot-style slip.

Critics who have contacted the corporate body say there has been "little or no management accounting for the cost of the Right Blether which is roughly estimated at 250,000 and that the process is flawed".

The letter adds: "There is a perception that he ignores almost all the advice given to him."

The corporate body should also have awaited the result of an anonymous staff survey which was to be carried out in December, according to the letter.

Another letter raises concerns over the SCCYP grievance and disciplinary process which sees appeals heard by the commissioner himself.

"This is an untenable situation offering staff no protection or support," it states.

The SPCB panel interviewed Mr Baillie last month as well as considering the letters and items of press coverage.

It also considered an evaluation of his work in the role, by former MSP Murray Tosh, before unanimously deciding that he should continue for a further six years.

"The independent adviser deemed the Commissioner's performance to be satisfactory," a report said.

A range of seven different criteria for the post, including managing day-to-day running of the office, as well as leadership and motivation skills, saw Mr Baillie score "pass marks" in each from panel members.

His reappointment has been backed unanimously by the five-member cross party corporate body after an interview last month.

A spokeswoman for Mr Baillie said he was "not prepared to address claims made by individuals in letters" to the corporate body. Information released following a freedom of information request indicates that sickness levels have more than trebled among staff since Mr Baillie took over from an average of less than 2 sick days a year in 2008 to more than six in the first four months of 2010.

Another letter indicates that seven staff have left since Mr Baillie took over. The office employed 14 staff last April.

Experienced operator

Tam Baillie took over as Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People in May 2009.

He previously worked with young offenders, young people in care and young homeless people and was a policy director at Barnardo's before taking on the role of Children's Commissioner.

Since taking over he has been criticised for spending thousands of pounds creating cartoon caricatures of himself for use in a website revamp.

His remit as Commissioner is to promote and safeguard the rights of children set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Mr Baillie took over the post from Professor Kathleen Marshall as controversial proposals to abolish the post and create one commissioner to deal with rights were rejected by MSPs.

The Commissioner's office, based around the corner from the Scottish Parliament, has an annual budget of about 1.3 million. The post of Children's Commissioner itself commands a starting salary of 75,000.