Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 500-519)

MS FI GLOVER

THURSDAY 25 APRIL 2002

  500. That was what you were talking about in the first instance.
  (Ms Glover) Yes. They are not hugely known about. We have 1.28 million listeners across the week, and not one single person phoned in or sent an e-mail saying, "I am going along to one" or "I know one is happening and I am getting involved in it."

  501. Can I ask you more about the barriers you spoke of earlier? Some of them have been touched on but others must relate to the fact that people do not do as much voluntary work and public work as they used to. All the voluntary bodies, political parties, the Red Cross, St John's Ambulance, the traditional voluntary organisations are suffering hugely from a lack of new members in particular coming on board and they have an ageing population; everyone tends to be old and getting older. People are interested nowadays in joining the National Trust and other things where you send in your money and get back a quarterly magazine which tells you what other people are doing, but if the point of the organisation is to go to meetings or whatever it is, people just do not want to do it, they have better things to do with their time. I suspect that is a big element in this. I do not know, perhaps I should have asked the Minister, but I suggest it does tend to be older people who are putting themselves forward.

  502. I think it probably is. The most positive e-mails we got last night were from two gentlemen who had recently retired who were looking for something to do with their time, to presumably put the suit back on and get back to being involved. I am sure you are absolutely right, there is a sense of, "What am I going to get back from the way I am spending my precious leisure time and does it have any kind of pay cheque attached to it".

  503. Earlier generations must have kicked around parallel thoughts like that, yet they thought there was such a thing as a public service ethos, or whatever they called it. I am always surprised at the number of people who write to me and say they do not want to do jury service and could I get them off. I write back and say no, I do not think people should get off, but people are more inclined to try and opt out of those bits of the system which are compulsory.
  (Ms Glover) Yes. It is an enormous thing to get round. There are several kinds of high-falutin ways of getting round it. If employers cared more about the way their employees were spending their leisure time and you were rewarded in some sense, or your standing went up, because you were prepared to get involved, that would be a good thing. There is no earthly way any of us sitting in this room are going to facilitate that change over night. I think there is a sense of public duty and public service which has been dulled by cynicism as much as anything in the last ten years or so, and it is about tapping into that and hearing more stories about why it would count. I was very interested by the question which was suggested we might talk about today, about whether or not payment is a way forward. You are never going to be able to pay enough money to make people turn out if they do not ultimately want to do it. I do not think that is going to be helpful at all. Certainly in terms of women, I think you are going to have to look at ways of—

  504.—covering their costs?
  (Ms Glover) Yes, but almost more than covering costs; it is going to be about child care and about more things than a railway ticket to somewhere.

  505. Does it matter enormously if the society in which we live does not seem to care about this? Does it matter we do not have a broader representative spread? One of the things I was surprised about when we started was to learn that these public bodies oversee the spending of £24 billion. A lot of that is retained and has to be spent on certain areas but nevertheless they are in some important sense responsible for it.
  (Ms Glover) For some of them I do not think it matters at all. If nobody ever joined the British Potato Council again, would we stop eating potatoes? I do not think we would. The British Hallmarking Council—how many monumental decisions have they made in the last couple of years? I have not heard of most of these bodies. But then there are things like the Broadcasting Standards Commission which is important, and it is very important to have some kind of lay representation on things like that. You do wonder about what some of these people are actually doing and how they are spending their meeting times and whether or not there is any great value involved in what they are doing. I hope the individual people involved are having a great time and taking an awful lot from it, but not all of them seem to be pertinent.

  506. We did not seem to get much information from the Government although it seems to be proud of its list. I believe it is true to say this Committee has produced rather more detailed accounts of what has gone on in the past but it was extremely hard work finding out what went in, who they are and what they did.
  (Ms Glover) I can imagine.

  Mr Trend: A great proportion of them are under no sort of supervision appointment at all.

Chairman

  507. A real broadcasting challenge for you would be to take one of these bodies each night, tonight you could take the British Potato Council—
  (Ms Glover) God help us!

  508. That is serious public service broadcasting. You could make it interesting.
  (Ms Glover) Yes. Certainly the Home Grown Cereals Authority could be done on an annual basis. Some of them seem to be incredibly absurd but then you can understand that the Juvenile Justice Board is actually a board of some purpose.

Mr Trend

  509. Do you think this will change in the foreseeable future, that people will suddenly become more public service spirited?
  (Ms Glover) No, I do not, at all. You have to accept that there is a certain age group of people who might be more interested. If people are going to take their retirement early and live longer, then you have a kind of grey workforce who could still be employed. If you want to get the 25 to 35 year olds involved, you have an uphill struggle, particularly women who have had kids who are the child carers. I certainly do not have any immediate solutions but talking about it more and seeing more people who do it might just help a little.

Annette Brooke

  510. I rather feel obliged to ask some questions. Just homing in on something you said and highlighted very well, women have got to want to do these jobs. As I know, it took me a very long time to achieve my ambition, and it was mainly because I was so determined because I wanted to do it so much. This comes to the hub of it. Why on earth does somebody want to be on a quango? They have bad names, they sound nasty. Do you think there is an image problem here? We can make jokes about the Potato Council but the very term "quango" sounds second-rate, politicians tend to be derogatory about them, having more of them is a bad thing in general. I am wondering if we need to look at this whole element.
  (Ms Glover) Yes, they have a very bad reputation, which is why I think people immediately switch off and think, "I do not want to be a part of that, it is part of the waste of government, part of the waste of society, there are all these bodies floating around which may at some stage seek out some kind of political influence. Whether we should have it or not, it is just a group of people getting together to waste their own or each other's time." So I think there is an image problem. Why does anyone want to join one? There are obviously lots of reasons and lots of very good quangos. It seems extraordinary that within that one term you do have the British Potato Council and you do have something as important as the Juvenile Justice Commission doing very different things. I automatically assume the British Potato Council is something about making an awful lot of money for potato farmers actually, it may well be about many other things, but that is the way I see it, as a money-making thing, whereas the Justice Commission is a public service thing. So I think there is a big image problem because they are all bandied together under one term.

  511. Other than what you are doing, which I think is super, how can the media improve the image?
  (Ms Glover) I think the individual bodies have to do that themselves rather than one person, one minister, trying to attract all people to all things. You do not hear very much from any of these bodies about the lay people who are involved in them at all or any kind of influence they might have or anything great which they have brought to the table. An awful lot of people assume that things like the Broadcasting Standards Commission is all about people in broadcasting, who all know each other. They probably do not assume you could get involved in that yourself. I think it would have to be up to those individual bodies to talk more about the normal people who have come to their table. But it is a very hard one to do. I do not mean to use a lay term but it is not a very sexy thing to talk about on the radio. This is our way of making it interesting, by me getting involved in it and me coming here, and that is not going to happen very often.

  512. I think your approach is excellent. We all know what the barriers are and obviously they are being chipped away at gradually over time, but I think with quangos it is actually people not wanting to do it, probably through lack of knowledge as well. I want you to elaborate a little more on the e-mails you had from the men who responded, because there is no reason why the response should not be the same from men and women if the women were interested enough. I think it is lack of interest.
  (Ms Glover) One that we had last night was from a gentleman called David in Middlesex. "Dear Fi, I would be very grateful if you could put my name forward when you appear before the Select Committee later today . . .", so, Dave, I am putting you forward, ". . . As strange as this may sound, I care deeply about society and the future of our nation. The problem is, that it is so hard to find a way of putting these feelings into action. I'm interested in politics and current affairs, but have always been reluctant to get involved in politics because of the partisan and overly confrontational nature of the process. People may joke about quangos but, in all honesty, they are an effective way of involving those outside of politics in the decision making process. Best of luck tomorrow . . .", he says.

Chairman

  513. He sounds like a good man!
  (Ms Glover) He sounds like a remarkably good citizen, yes. Then we had one from another gentleman called Dave, "I once rode a quango down the high street and then the LSD wore off."

Annette Brooke

  514. I think that sums it up!
  (Ms Glover) Brian Crichton sent this one, "I would be interested in being involved in a quango although I wouldn't consider myself as an expert in any field. I recently took advantage of an early retirement package from IBM and am at a bit of a loose end. I wouldn't look for a salary but would expect expenses to be covered. PS. What does the Apples and Pears Quango do?" We were having a discussion about the Apples and Pears Council. So there is interest, definitely interest. But I think both those gentlemen are men of a certain age as well who probably would be able to get involved more easily than other people would.

  515. Because I do not read many of them, I am not aware of the major women's magazines, but perhaps the readers of those are the sort of age group we need on these bodies. Have they done any articles on this? Would you know?
  (Ms Glover) I read quite a few of them myself and certainly the women's pages in all the national newspapers, and I have never seen an article about quangos at all, not once. It would make an interesting read, one would hope, as long as they are not all the same type of people who are doing them, and I am sure they are not, but I have never read a single thing about it.

  516. The sort of articles by women who have set up their own businesses I always find very interesting. I questioned Barbara Roche closely about the fact the seminars appear to be by invitation only, and I have a concern about that because it is just picking the great and the good and definitely leaving the stroppy people off—I have been left off enough things over time exactly, I am sure, for that reason. I wonder how we can break through that. I know she answered it by saying that it was a starting point and if we can improve the ratios, that would be good, but the more I think about it, it could be self-perpetuating, that you get to the target of 50 per cent by only inviting the people who are in that particular circle at the moment. Would you like to comment?
  (Ms Glover) I do not think it is a starting point, I think it is a finishing point, because if it is by invitation only those people are not going to go back to their homes and talk to a wide and diverse range of other women about how they spent their day. They will all probably know each other and talk about it amongst themselves and it will send out exactly the wrong image to other women about who should be involved. I do not know where the roadshows are taking place but I rather fear they might be during working hours at local county halls, or whatever it is, and, to be honest, you have to go to schools and have a meeting at 3.30 so the mums who are picking up their kids can just pop in and have a chat and find out a bit more information. You have to go to places where you are going to be finding the kind of people who are not automatically applying at the moment, and that cannot be by invitation only at all. It is not a helpful way to start an initiative.

  517. I would like to make one more point. Something I try to pick up on is bringing more women into politics, which I have rather dedicated myself to do within my party. My feeling is that though, when you do not get something, the hurt for men and women must be the same, I have the feeling that women are more likely not to apply again, not to try again with that same level of hurt. That is a very sexist thing to say but I think it is something quite important to talk about. We touched on how you would feel if you were not offered anything but I am wondering if this is something you can offer to your listeners, that you really have to be very determined and very thick-skinned as a woman to get through all these barriers, and if you do get rebuffed at the end of the line it is actually very painful. I feel very protective of other people about this.
  (Ms Glover) Certainly if I do not get selected for anything I will think it is my fault. I will think it is because I have not done enough and I did not have enough qualifications to put down. I do think perhaps men might think, "What a terrible system, all these stupid bodies, they didn't pick me." There is a certain type of woman who I am sure would feel exactly the same but I think it is a good point. I certainly would not bother trying again, I would say, "Right, I am not that type of girl, I'll keep out of it, it's for other people."

  518. There is the old story about a couple going into an interview, the man will focus on all the things he can do, whereas the woman will say, "I cannot do that, I cannot do that", and that is my fear about this, that once rejected it is really hard to keep going. You might have been rejected for all sorts of reasons at a local level, so if you could pick up on that in your work I think it is incredibly important.
  (Ms Glover) I think that is why it would be helpful to know a little more about what all these bodies are expecting in a very practical sense, what it does involve doing, how many hours are spent at the meetings, do you then get out and about, do you help form the decisions, so you can get a better picture. If you want women certainly who are thinking of returning to work after they have had a family—and it was suggested that some women might view this as a way of returning to work and I completely disagree with that, because work does imply you give your time and someone pays you, hopefully quite handsomely for it, and this certainly would not be that—you have to give people a better picture of exactly what it is they are walking into, so they can work out whether or not they do feel comfortable with it, confident about it and suitable for it.

  Chairman: We bleed too, you know!

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  519. As a matter of interest, do you have any idea of the geographical spread of Five Live? You said "Dave from Middlesex". Is Five Live going out throughout the whole of the UK including Northern Ireland?
  (Ms Glover) It certainly is not, although after midnight it is going out on Radio Scotland and Radio Cumbria as well.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 26 June 2002