Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)|
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2002
20. If that person were appointed despite the
views of the independent assessor, would the independent assessor's
views on that appointment become public?
(Dame Rennie) If, as has happened, a minister wanted
to go below the line and appoint someone who was not deemed to
have the capacity to do the job, I insist in the press release
it says that this person was not appointed in accordance with
21. That was not quite what I asked. I asked
if the independent assessor had objected and that matter was reported
to you would that become public on the appointment of that person?
(Dame Rennie) Unlikely. It is likely that it would
become public in my annual report. I would say, "I have concerns
and this is what happened several times." It would also become
public if I was auditing that department particularly and it would
become public because I would be going to the Permanent Secretary
and so on, so long as the independent assessor lets me know.
22. Your annual report does not name names,
(Dame Rennie) No, but the fact of something happening
would become public.
23. It would only be in a rather general way?
(Dame Rennie) Yes.
24. How many complaints have you pending at
(Dame Rennie) We have had 37 in total
this year. I have found in favour of three of them so far and
pendingthat is, ongoingprobably about five or six.
25. I am a new boy and I have had three complaints
in my constituency from people who feel they have not been able
to get on public bodies. You have had 36. I do not quite cover
the area you cover. I have just been reading Asian Women Spring
2000 when you were talking about the pale males. I come from
Bridgewater in Somerset. We are pretty dominantly pale males there.
(Dame Rennie) Is the population in Bridgewater greater
than the 52 per cent of women who make up the national population?
26. What I am going on to say is that, if that
is the case, are you not going down the line of just political
correctness for the sake of it? How are you going to find people
from ethnic minorities in places like Bridgewater when we do not
have so many? It is hard enough to find a Liberal Democrat.
(Dame Rennie) If I may take the complaints issue first,
the process is that if people are not happy they must first go
back to the department. Many people are then satisfied. They think
that if they met the criteria they should have been appointed.
Sometimes, there are as many as 700 people applying for one appointment.
Therefore, it is important that people recognise that it is not
about volunteering and waiting for a turn. They may complain to
you and I would be grateful to hear from you about those complaints
because I can look into them but I first direct people back to
the department. If they are satisfied, they leave it and I collect
that information every year. If they are not satisfied, they come
to me. Every time a pack goes out about any public appointment
that says, "If you are interested, apply", in the information
pack is a procedure about how to complain, including a leaflet
from me that says how to complain to me. In terms of political
correctness, I am not into recipes: one of these, two of those
and three of the other. What I am interested in is to make sure
that people who want to be considered have the opportunity to
be. There is nothing wrong with having a great many people who
are willing to give public service come forward. If many of those
traditionally have been middle aged men, then we should be saying
thank you very much for all that they have done. However, if it
is perceived as only an arena for those people and they scarcely
reflect the populations that they serve, they therefore do not
have the diversity of thinking around the table. Equal opportunity
for me is about making sure that everyone who is interested has
the opportunity to come forward. Diversity is about ensuring that
there is a variety of difference. I think it was Einstein who
said, "The problems that we face cannot be resolved by the
same level of thinking as that which gave rise to them."
If the thinking of too many people of one kind have led to these
issues, then we really do need diversity. I am not into political
correctness for its own sake, genuinely.
27. I am glad to hear that because in areas
like mine it is enormously rural and it has had problems of its
own over the last year. They do look at a lot of this. It is seen
as we have got to have because that is what the centre wants.
I am glad to hear what you say because I think it can get out
of hand but I hope you would continue down that line.
(Dame Rennie) I certainly do and I get very concerned
if people are looking at having to have one of these, one of those
and one of the other, which is why my second broad aim for quality
outcome means that we must have people who can deliver, who are
fit for purpose, rather than only meeting targets or quotas. It
is ensuring that a broad range of people come forward and if they
do come forward they are supported and able to do it. The board
shadowing has been quite an interesting experience where people
who previously have not had an opportunity to know what boards
are about have attended meetings and shadowed board members and
said, "I think I could do this." Some of those boards
have said, "We did not know those people were around locally.
Why did we not know that? because they seem like people who might
make a contribution".
28. I think you have hit the nail on the head.
You are trying to encourage the people that you want to come forward
but again the definition includes privy councillors, lord lieutenants,
bishops and there is an awful lot of people who cannot be because
they are outside the brief. Do you think the brief should be widened?
(Dame Rennie) I think the brief should be looked at
and I am very keen that a mapping process should be done. In the
30,000 public appointments that there are, where are they? Who
regulates them? What commonality is there across this regulation?
Which ones are not regulated? Then it is for others to decide,
other than me, as to where those might go. That is why your particular
piece of work is so timely. It is an important area to be considered.
Chairman: I am sure there are loads of fit for
purpose women in Bridgewater.
29. In terms of selection on merit, it does
not matter what the political affiliation is.
(Dame Rennie) No.
30. On equal opportunities, you mentioned the
selection of the predominance of the white male on all of these
boards and the fact that you have gone out to try to address that
problem, but in your annual report you admit that the gender balance
has gone down in terms of women very slightly, so some would say
you have probably failed in your mission.
(Dame Rennie) It is a bit early to say. I do not see
myself as a one person missionary here but I think I have a part
to play, particularly because I am independent and therefore my
only interest is in getting good people coming forward and undertaking
this role for the benefit of their local, regional or national
communities. I have no other interest. When I stand on platforms
and say so, the feedback I get is that, "We believe you more
than we believe either the civil servants or, dare I say it, politicians",
because they may have other interests in this. Therefore, if I
am saying it is a proper, fair and open process and do come forward
because you will genuinely be considered, it has an effect, but
I certainly do not have that as the sole part of my work; nor
am I alone in this work. I think it is going to take a decade
to be able to stand back and not say we have got there but we
have got to a place that we can say is really significantly different.
I think that because of two things. One is that we have a reducing
number of quangos. The Government have stated aims that there
should be fewer of them and it is a policy to look at them very
closely and reduce the number of them. Indeed, in Scotland in
the bonfire of the quangos, 58 disappeared last year. We also
have a number of people like me, like people in government departments
and the public appointments unit, going out and encouraging people
to come forward so we have a bigger number of people coming forward.
In terms of proportionalitythat is, making sure that we
do not spend too much time on things wasting public money inappropriatelywe
also have people who can now be appointed and then reappointed
to their first reappointment, so long as they have a good appraisal
and have been seen to do the job. Therefore we have less turnover
and we have a shrinking number of appointments. Appointments usually
last three to four years and there could be a reappointment. It
is going to take quite a while to show a shift, not just a year
or two. That is why we need an overall strategy rather than just
a few little projects.
31. Why not set a gender balance on each of
the boards? Why not suggest that 50 per cent of boards should
be made up of women?
(Dame Rennie) That is not a matter for me. That would
be a matter for the ministers and departments. What I am suggesting
for considerationand it is not a well thought through proposalis
that particularly for those people who have been disadvantaged
and the category of people who may lack some particular experience
or expertise and their work or life currently is not going to
enable them to gain it, why could different departments not consider
having an apprenticeship scheme and look at every board in a particular
department. A pilot, having for a year people who are publicised
for, properly interviewed and independently assessed and come
forward and are given a one year apprenticeship on the board,
where they do everything except vote, and really experience it.
Diversity would be sitting at every board table. Then they would
have a track record that would enable them to be selected on merit.
That is what I mean by "imaginative". I am not suggesting
we should all do it but I suggest we should think about things
like that. We need to consider things like that together, not
just me or the Minister for Women or the Women and Equality Unit
or in different departments. We need to get together and say,
"If we are trying to do this, does it not make more sense
if we do this together?" and I think some of your work might
help us get together and do that.
32. You mentioned one of the other areas of
trying to encourage younger people to become actively involved
in public bodies. We had a debate on House of Lords reforms and
suggestions were put forward of younger people, probably no younger
than 45. What would you consider the lower age limit in terms
of public bodies, or do you consider there should not be one?
(Dame Rennie) I am not happy to put upper or lower
limits on things because I do not know what someone's experience
is and what they might bring to bear. I was interested in Wales
when they were appointing peopleI think it was to a youth
justice panel or the children's panelbut they involved
children in the appointments and selection process and they made
a difference in who they were selecting.
33. The Children's Commission, I think it was.
(Dame Rennie) Thank you. One of the independent assessors
we have just appointed is in their early thirties. One of the
ways that I have endeavoured to encourage people to do something
about it is in talking with trade unions and employers and trying
to get through HR people in some of the companies to say, "Some
of the people inside your organisation may be able to make a contribution."
Instead of just thinking of it as being a good corporate citizen
in allowing them to do it in their spare time, might you not see
it as personal development for that person, instead of sending
them on an expensive training course, so long as they have the
ability to do it of course, allowing them to come forward with
the support of their employer or trade union to apply for and
be appointed to these roles before they get to the heady heights
of senior management and/or ready for retirement? We need to surround
the goal by considering a number of quite imaginative things.
34. How many of the 30,000 public appointments
have come up where people have one or more appointments? Have
you figures for that?
(Dame Rennie) I only regulate between 12,000 and 12,500
of those 30,000. Of those that I regulate, I cannot tell you how
many. I ask government departments for the figures. I cannot say
that their record keeping is terribly good.
35. That could be improved then?
(Dame Rennie) I am concerned because you end up with
someone shifting from one thing to another. When I talk to people
either with a disability or from ethnic minority groups, they
say, "Your figures are up because this person holds four
jobs." It is an area I am endeavouring to tackle, but I am
not satisfied. There is no rule that says you can only hold so
many. I have put into my Code of Practice and it is in the Best
Practice Guidethe public appointments unit produce what
I think is an excellent Best Practice Guide for departmentsfor
them to press: can you be sure you can give the time to do this
job? Demonstrate to us that you can do this if you hold these
other appointments. We have to press on that. I am pleased you
have asked because I can now go back to departments saying, "I
am being asked these questions so you will have to give me these
36. I am glad you agree with my colleague because
I think it is really important. There could be a relatively small
number of people holding very many appointments. In my area, there
are Asian menthey are always menwho speak on behalf
of the Asian community and I want to know what is being done to
encourage Asian women and specifically Muslim women to come forward
because, in my view, they are invisible in the public sphere.
(Dame Rennie) I agree. If you want to know what is
being done by departments, I think that is a question you would
have to ask them. What is being done by me is meetings with Ahmed
Versai who edits a Muslim newspaper and makes this point very
powerfully. As a result of his pressure, every year I have been
involved, as I am again this year, in the awards in the Muslim
community. I am one of the judges there so I can get to know some
of those women there, to talk about why they come forward or do
not come forward.
37. When you were replying to the question put
by Tony Wright about gender targets, you said it was not a matter
for you; it was a matter for the politicians. Instead of passing
the buck to politicians, what is wrong with linking race and gender
targets because, as a government, we have set down targets for
race but we do not link the two, race and gender. In my own area,
we have a population of 1.5 million in Lancashire. I could count
on the figures of one hand the number of young, Muslim women who
are police officers. Why do we not link race and gender?
(Dame Rennie) I do not know. I would have to be given
the buck in order to pass it and I have not been given that buck
in order to make those decisions. I am happy to work with you
and anyone else to look at how we can be creative about making
sure we achieve an outcome. All I can do, within the limits of
my role, is to press, engage, listen to and encourage more people
to come forward and for me to describe how they do it. Some of
the work in terms of Asian women really is to get those Asian
women, particularly Muslim women, who are now holding these roles,
to talk to others about what it feels like, how they did it, how
they might do it. We need many more footsteps in the snow. No
one walks in the snow until they see someone else has been there
before and therefore we need a campaign. In the Asian magazine,
the intention there is to have first a story about public appointments;
then, to highlight in another edition women who hold those public
appointments and then to offer a competition for people who want
to board shadow and then to have some events on how to present
38. In your annual report, you refer to ethnicity.
Have you ever thought about getting a breakdown by religion so
we can find out how many Muslims are in public appointments?
(Dame Rennie) Yes, I have thought about it. It is
not a question that is asked on an application form: what is your
39. There is a big difference between the black
sisters and Muslim women.
(Dame Rennie) I absolutely understand this. This is
something that I work with, rather than it being news to me. In
terms of disability, I would like to see us do a census in relation
to disability. We have only just started collecting those figures.
How can we compare? Therefore, I think what needs to happen is
a census on all these board appointments, at a particular time
of year, to say, "Would you consider yourself to be disabled
or would you be prepared to say whether or not you have a disability?"
Only if we know what the facts are can we then begin to have a
plan to change that. I do not know about religion but in relation
to disability we could do some more.