Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)



Mr Liddell-Grainger

  420. Scottish appointments. There are too few women, too few disabled people and too many from the central belt. As a Scot I can understand that because I come from the Borders and that has always been a complaint. On that sort of trend—and I will come on to regional assemblies in a minute—how do you get round a problem like that? You cannot dictate to a Scottish Parliament that they have to change but you see there is a problem.
  (Mr Leslie) That is devolution. We are here to talk about those issues that come under the ambit of Westminster accountability and Westminster ministers. The Scottish Executive have their own policy and approach and are accountable for their own policies.

  421. There are a lot of things that are not devolved such as foreign policy and defence and under the Ministry of Defence there is an enormous amount of appointments which you keep your beady eye on, I trust, which do come under the Scottish situation. I am not going to talk about Wales because Kevin will do that. There is a Parliament that you have still got to vote appointments into. Are you able to put your model forward?
  (Mrs Roche) Where they are devolved responsibilities, as Chris says, that is devolution. One would hope and also one would expect that what the Parliament will do would be perhaps to look at what we are doing. We obviously keep in touch. It may well be that they will perhaps decide to look at some of the same practices we have followed on diversity. We would welcome that, of course we would.
  (Ms Ghosh) Of course Dame Rennie, to whom you have obviously already talked, is fully involved in all the arrangements for setting up the new separate Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland. She is fully seized of the importance because she believes so strongly in her own procedures.

  422. That is precisely why I was asking the question. Will you back Dame Rennie? I was hoping you would come up and say, "Yes, we will back Dame Rennie all the way". I want to come on to regional assemblies. I come from the West Country. We are looking for ethnic minorities in Bridgewater and we have not got many and we are stuck. I am a Scot and we have the Cornish so there is not a great deal to choose from. How are you going to build them into regional assemblies, the RDAs, etcetera, which are speaking for vast areas of this country with enormous diversity. If you take the West Country and turn it on its end you get the Scottish borders.
  (Mr Leslie) I think you are going to be one of the first in the queue at the Vote Office for the White Paper.

  423. I am and I am also going to be there for the Civil Service Act but I am still waiting.
  (Mr Leslie) It will be out in due course, of course. The point you are making, though, is that if there are bodies for which we are responsible—

  424. Very much so.
  (Mr Leslie)—That we try and get the best reflection possible of those people on the ground locally, those communities that are served and using the services of those public bodies. We have got to find a way of reflecting that. I do not know Bridgewater that well. I am sure there are a whole range of different people, dare I say men and women as well in Bridgewater who may be able to serve on public bodies and we should be encouraging them to come forward.

  425. It goes slightly deeper than that. Since you have been very kind and mentioned it, if you look at the West Country, we have Objective 1 and Objective 2 but Objective 1 is purely to Cornwall and there is a real feeling that there are resources going in there and representation from one particular area which is too much for the rest and therefore the rest is being slightly discriminated against because of one particular part of our region. How do you get round that sort of feeling?
  (Mrs Roche) It is not easy. I was quite involved in the discussions over structural funds when I was DTI Minister. I negotiated the deal on behalf of the UK. It is difficult whenever you are talking about the regions. Of course you will get different bits of the region which feel they do not get their share of the cake and the trick in this, of course, is to make sure you have processes where you try and involve as many people as possible. I think the RDA in your region has been very successful and has managed to marry quite a lot of these different things together. I completely understand some of the issues there have been.

  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am not sure that business in the South West would agree with you. I think they feel the bias—

  Chairman: This possibly takes us slightly beyond our remit, fascinating though it is.

  Mr Liddell-Grainger: To an extent. We are talking about appointments to public bodies.

  Chairman: We are talking about appointments to public bodies.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  426. And this is a public body and I am trying to get down to representation and how representation is set. I am not quite sure I have got that. I was flicking through this report and I am confused as to what you are trying to achieve. There is an interesting one here where I did notice in the Cabinet Office in 2005 you are going to have 53.9 per cent of women. Are you discriminating against men in 2005? Is it going to go the other way?
  (Mrs Roche) That is our prediction if we added the numbers of women in the WMC and the EOC. We had the Women's National Commission and the EOC and that is our prediction for the way that the figures were going. At the end of the day what we are after very simply is the best people for the job. That is what we expect. What we want to appoint is the best people for the job. The difficulties with our procedures and the lack of awareness means that we do not get the best pool of talent. What the research shows is that they do pretty well in an objective and open process. The problem is because of lack of awareness people do not put their names forward.


  427. Which departments of government are really doing the business on this and which are lagging behind?
  (Mrs Roche) Health has done pretty well, has it not?
  (Mr Leslie) A lot of the trends on diversity go from local to regional to national and the local and regional tend to be more diverse. We need to look at those national strategic public bodies. That is where I personally feel the focus for attention should be.

  428. But the bodies that sit under which department are doing better?
  (Ms Ghosh) There are these super tables here.

  429. Just give us the verdict.
  (Ms Ghosh) Indeed, as the Minister mentioned, the Department of Health does do well with 54 per cent men 46 per cent women for example. That sort of figure reinforces the point that the Minister made earlier that we do comparatively very well where women (in this particular case) can see a close connection between the situation and the scope of the body. So, for example, National Health Service bodies which will come under that DOH figure will do extremely well. Women see an instant connection and also there is the relative visibility of those bodies locally. Whether this department does well and that department does not so well may to some extent be a function of this very fact of visibility and women wanting to make a difference in areas where they feel they have a role.

  430. Who does badly?
  (Ms Ghosh) The Export Credit Guarantees Department does extremely badly.

  431. That is boys' stuff, is it?
  (Ms Ghosh) Money—women cannot cope with finance so that must be the answer there! As I say, all these figures are readily available here. The Treasury does not do very well. Perhaps that has got the same problem there.
  (Mr Leslie) I feel I should defend the Treasury.
  (Ms Ghosh) OFTEL does not do terribly well, DEFRA does not do terribly well.
  (Mrs Roche) The Treasury will be noted. Its card is marked!
  (Ms Ghosh) I am only quoting from very publicly available figures and they include ethnic minority and disability figures.
  (Mr Leslie) The point that we were making is do not forget that the Treasury will not have a lot of public bodies that are locally and regionally based. Because they tend to have disproportionately more of the national strategically based bodies they will therefore reflect those same difficulties that most other departments in the country have. For those bodies where the appointments are supposedly seen to be requiring particular qualifications or particular specialisms those are the ones where we need to put more effort into achieving diversity.

  Chairman: Your apologia would have been noted in the right quarters. There will be bells in a minute that will ring twice, if you can just stop talking while the bells ring for the note takers and then we will proceed after. But until they ring, Kevin Brennan.

Kevin Brennan

  432. I apologise to our guests, the bells do not mean it is the end of the lesson, we have got to carry on after them. I was interested, Barbara, when you spoke earlier on and you said that officials really only get involved with names and things at the end of the process.
  (Mrs Roche) Ministers.

  433. Sorry, I beg your pardon, ministers only get involved at the end of the process. I find that quite surprising. In terms of really important public appointments do ministers not have a meeting with officials at the beginning of the process and not just in order to discuss the criteria, as you said earlier on on the record, but also for ministers to perhaps suggest maybe some names?
  (Mrs Roche) It can happen.
  (Mr Leslie) It can happen. The point is that because ministers are ultimately accountable to Parliament for the appointments that they make they have, of course, the freedom and ability to look around and pick the best people who they feel are there to do the job, so in certain circumstances they might want to look at general criteria alone, in other circumstances they might want to suggest that people put themselves forward, it is on a case by case basis really.
  (Mrs Roche) It is difficult because so much depends on the appointment that you are talking about. In the main you may be thinking about the criteria. If it is just a thing that is coming up the whole time you may not be looking at criteria at all if it is a regular appointment to a public body where in some cases you will have two or three people retiring and some other people going on, it really may just be at the end of the process. Then you will be looking at not only the three places that you are replacing but what the body looks like with it. Sometimes you will be looking at a mix of experience and new blood coming through.

  434. I just wanted to clarify that point.
  (Mrs Roche) It does happen.

  435. I do not think there is anything wrong with it, incidentally. I was surprised when you said that earlier on because I would have assumed that it would happen.
  (Mrs Roche) It sometimes does happen but very often a lot of these appointments—I hate to use the word routine because they are doing important things—are fairly routine appointments into numerous important but worthy bodies. Clearly if you are doing something that is new and something quite high profile then you might be looking at it slightly differently. I would say it was the exception rather than the rule but it does happen.

  436. Ten per cent of cases? I am talking about major appointments.
  (Ms Ghosh) It would just be a guestimate. Obviously the key thing from our point of view is that wherever the suggestions come from, and when it is a high profile appointment lots of people may know about it and ministers might get suggestions from parliamentary colleagues, in each case there will be an open invitation, that is a key requirement of Dame Rennie's rules, and what we are most interested in is that wherever the initial pool of applicants comes from the right procedures are followed thereafter in terms of making it entirely fair and open.

  437. Obviously things have changed hugely from the days when the Secretary of State for Wales would ring up his mate and ask him to become Chairman of the Welsh Tourist Board and that sort of thing. As I said, I emphasise, I think it is entirely natural that happens and if people said it did not happen I would find it difficult to believe. Is there sufficient protection now within the system to ensure that officials do not simply take that as meaning that that is who the minister wants to appoint?
  (Mr Leslie) I think there is and I think Dame Rennie Fritchie as Commissioner for Public Appointments, enforcing her Code of Practice, together with the role of the independent assessors who work in the individual departments are really rigorously making sure that is the case.

  438. So she would know?
  (Mr Leslie) She would report if there was any issue.

  439. She would know. The official would actually record the conversation and she would be aware of the fact that a minister had been the one who had initiated that name as a suggestion.
  (Mr Leslie) I think that the appointment process is quite clearly set out from those applications that arise to the drawing up of the shortlist, the interview process, to the actual appointment process. The independent assessors and the Commissioner are able to monitor those statements.
  (Mrs Roche) In my experience officials are certainly very well aware of the proprieties and what the process has to be because in a sense they are accountable for their own actions through this process as well. Again, in my experience, so are ministers.

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