Convener is children’s champ choice

ONE of the region’s most experienced children and young people’s services workers has been passed over for the prestigious post of Children and Young People’s Champion at Scottish Borders Council.

At the October sitting of their full session last week, SBC councillors voted 18-11 in favour of installing council convener, Graham Garvie (Tweeddale East, LD) in the role.

In doing so, they rejected the chance to appoint opposition Conservative group leader, Councillor Michelle Ballantyne (Selkirkshire), who has spent most of her adult life involved with children’s services and youth groups of one kind or another.

And for the past eight years, Mrs Ballantyne has also been head of service at Face to Face, the drugs and alcohol service supporting youngsters aged from 11 to 18.

The holder of the children’s champion position has a key role to play in promoting the rights of children and young people across the Borders, especially those who are most vulnerable, including looked-after children and young people, young carers, and children and young people with disability.

However, this time round, the council had also approved a new role profile, based on the results of a working group set up in partnership with local youngsters.

The working group came about after several young people wrote to Council Leader David Parker (Leaderdale & Melrose, Ind) last year, requesting a review of the role, so as to increase accountability and make it more meaningful.

All three children’s champions appointed so far, since the role was first created in 2008, have been Lib Dem councillors, with Mr Garvie following Frances Renton and John Paton-Day.

Nominating Mr Garvie, who was previously the executive member for culture, sport and community learning, and is a member of Borders Sport & Leisure Trust, his fellow Lib Dem councillor Vicky Davidson (Selkirkshire) said the high-profile position needed someone with an equally high public profile.

Arguing her case to be awarded the role, Mrs Ballantyne, a mother of six, said the job was not about being a parent or a grandparent, but about being someone with an understanding of young people of the Borders, their concerns and the issues they faced.

“It needs to be someone who wants and knows how to really engage with young people and children, and bring that information back to this chamber, and then help match that to policies and decisions we are making.

“I don’t always feel they [children and young people] get that and I’m speaking as someone who has worked for the past eight years in children’s services.

“It’s about knowing and understanding all the issues and I already have good engagement with young people.”

However, executive member for education, Councillor Sandy Aitchison (Galashiels & District, BP), who said he did not doubt Mrs Ballantyne’s qualifications for the post, felt Mr Garvie would bring something extra to the job.

“I feel we should be looking towards somebody as an ‘additional champion’, a person at the top who all children can go to, and for that reason I think Councillor Garvie would admirably fill the role,” he said.

A secret ballot was then held, which saw Mr Garvie elected to the post with an 18-11 vote in his favour.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Parker welcomed the appointment: “I am delighted that changes to the role and remit, which came from the young people themselves, have been agreed for the Children and Young People’s Champion and that Councillor Garvie has been appointed to this role.

“These changes and Councillor Garvie’s lead will truly make a difference,” he said.

For his part, Councillor Garvie, said he was delighted to be the new Children’s and Young People’s Champion.

“I am looking forward to working in the newly-revised role to support the rights of our children and young people in the Borders, ensuring that their voice is heard so that we can make a genuine difference in their lives,” he said.