It's time to break down the barriers;Interview;Paul Ennals

12th June 1998 at 01:00
The new head of the National Children's Bureau believes his moment has come. Sarah Cassidy reports

THE NEW executive director of the National Children's Bureau is excited about his appointment - a dream job, he says, a broad grin spreading slowly across his face. Paul Ennals finally believes he is in the right place at the right time.

"I have been given a unique opportunity to influence government policy. Big ideas tend to come early in a government's lifetime. If policy on children's services is not radically rethought in the next four years it will probably never happen in my lifetime," he says.

Mr Ennals, 41, head of education at the Royal National Institute for the Blind since 1989, replaces John Rea Price who retires next month after seven years at the helm.

The National Children's Bureau was established in 1963 to identify and promote the needs of children, working across education, health and social services.

Mr Ennals believes its time has now come. "In any field, there is a moment when people are open to new ideas, but government thinking can soon become rigid. I feel that policy on children is malleable right now and I am lucky enough to have a good chance to shape it," he says.

The son of the late Labour peer Lord Ennals, Mr Ennals has already had considerable experience in influencing government policy. As chair of the Special Educational Consortium he lobbied on behalf of children with special needs when the 1993 Education Act was drawn up.

While major concessions were won, he considers developing the lobbying process his greatest achievement. "It is the consensus-building that I am most proud of. We have learned to get people from a wide range of backgrounds to ensure a systematic and intelligent debate," he says.

Although vague about his plans for the bureau, he is enthusiastic about a governmental children's department but does not necessarily want a minister for children.

"I'm in favour of anything that raises the profile of children's services, but the purpose of raising the profile should be to improve those services,"he says. "I'm not sure a minister for children would be the best way of doing that.

"A minister without budgetary control can't achieve very much. The problem is negotiating policy between different departments. Until the problem of a budget for children's services is tackled, the impact of any new initiatives will be hampered," Mr Ennals says.

"The whole structure of government is being rethought. We want to see the barriers that stop co-operation between departments dismantled."

He will focus on what he regards as a gap in government thinking on social exclusion, looking at disaffected nine to 13-year-olds. "They've had ideas about how to deal with problems once they'd occurred, but not how to stop children becoming disaffected and socially excluded," he says.

"We hope to look at prevention with this vulnerable group."

Mr Ennals feels that his appointment coincides with a turn in the tide of the bureau's fortunes. "It is small but I think it punches above its weight. We used to whistle in the dark, now our tune is high on the hit parade."

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