Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 60 - 66)



  60. The only reason that you want to be known for your work is because you want to improve the quality of public appointments?
  (Dame Rennie Fritchie) Absolutely; absolutely right, thank you. That was what I was going to say next; so, thank you. It would be helpful if all sorts of people came forward and spoke up about these, and, interestingly, I was looking at the letters, that I had received after Public Service Week, from a group of people who hold these appointments, about 18 of them. One said "How can we help to get more people in?" And one of them said, "We mustn't just be lazy and leave it up to Ministers, we have to stand up and do our bit in the community to encourage people to come forward;" and, in a way, it would be helpful. My attempt at Public Service Week, with all these others, was to try to draw attention to it, that makes a beginning, and I know it is a pilot-light and a small beginning but it is a beginning, doing something a bit different, together with the shadowing, and so on, and it would be grand if all sorts of people, simultaneously, were able to say, "This is a good thing," and more people can come forward. I would be concerned if we ended up with a big recruitment drive, where the number of public appointments that are available remains static, and we quadruple the number of people who instantly come forward. Then we would have a range of people instantly disappointed. So this `slow and steady' approach to saying, "Here they are, and this is how you do it, and it is for people like you, and you can make a difference," I think, is the most important one, and working with politicians, working with the media. I think I must speak to at least one group a week, of one kind or another, about this, young, black leaders at the Commonwealth Club, or the Irish Women's Network, a whole range of people, about once a week, I am out there saying, "This is what it's about, and it is for you, too." And I think that does make a difference.

  61. Can I leave the thought with you of getting a couple of senior Cabinet Ministers to do a couple of events for you, and with you, which might be of some benefit.
  (Dame Rennie Fritchie) Can I say, Mr Stringer, from the Cabinet Office, did come to Manchester and did speak at that event, and was extremely helpful.

  62. What you really need is the Head of the Civil Service though, do you not, the Prime Minister, to do the job for you; and if the Prime Minister did an event for you, or even 20 minutes for you, the publicity effect would be many, many times what you can get from a middle-ranking Minister, with great respect to Mr Stringer?
  (Dame Rennie Fritchie) I would be most grateful.

  63. My very last question to you is, have you got the resources that you think you need to do your job, and are you satisfied that the remit, as it has been given to you, is adequate, or are there changes? I would like to give you this opportunity, before we blame you next year for having failed in your job, at least to say, "Well, actually, I can't do my job properly, for the following three reasons." Are there things that you would like to see altered, either on the remit or the resources side?
  (Dame Rennie Fritchie) I have had every opportunity to raise the question of resources, if I think I need something and can make a good case for it. Currently, the most difficult thing is my own time. This is a three-day-a-week job, and I am Commissioner for England, Commissioner for Scotland, Commissioner for Wales and Commissioner for Northern Ireland. And, certainly, with devolution, my working with Edwina Hart, in Wales, working with, it was Jack McConnell, but now Angus McKay, in Scotland, and so on, it is important that I am in those places as well, listening to people and doing things. So it is my own time. If three days a week could be made into ten, that would be great; but I continue to work hard at it.

  64. Are you asking for it to be a full-time job?
  (Dame Rennie Fritchie) No; no, not at all, not at all. But I am working hard at trying to make sure that my time is properly apportioned.

Mr Trend

  65. Do you think perhaps your successor might have a full-time job; clearly, it is a full-time job, in there?
  (Dame Rennie Fritchie) I am certainly working four days a week plus, to do it, but it may well be that this is a period of time, with devolution, that requires real, extra sensitivity, energy and commitment, and so I would not want to make that suggestion; and I hope I do not have a successor for a while.

Mr Tyrie

  66. You have mentioned what, when I was in the Treasury, we used to describe as `the territories', that is, Wales and Scotland and Ireland, I never quite understood why they were called that, but they were, in all briefs. Do you think that it is appropriate that you should continue to have responsibility in devolved areas?
  (Dame Rennie Fritchie) I am Commissioner in Northern Ireland by separate Order in Council, so should, at any time, Northern Ireland decide they want someone from Northern Ireland, who lives there, in that role, then I stand ready to step aside. In relation to Scotland and Wales, certainly Scotland put out a consultation document, earlier this year, that they are looking at, to see how things are, what the public feels very strongly about and what they want to see happening, and I know they are working on that, and I am working with them. I think it is important that, while we have real differences, and I speak as a Scot, in the different countries, we do have some commonality of principles and approach, across the United Kingdom, and I think that having someone in all those roles at the moment helps to ensure that, and I think that is a positive thing.

  Mr Tyrie: Dame Rennie, thank you very much for coming before us today. We very much appreciate it. There is a great interest in your work in our Committee, even if there is not yet in the country at large, but both you and we are trying to do something about that. Thank you very much for coming before us today.

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