Examination of Witness (Questions 580-599)|
THURSDAY 9 MAY 2002
580. When you interview and short-list these
people, are you aware of how their application came about, whether
it was via a head hunter or whether they replied to an advertisement
or whether they had been suggested by a minister?
(Baroness Prashar) It is never something which has
come to me, someone being suggested by a minister. It would be
a head hunter or through the advertisement. In a way, you can
encourage people to apply or head hunters can approach them. Those
are the two sources, and we are always aware that people have
come through an executive search and that they have actually applied.
581. Do you think it is important to the appointment
process that you know the source of the application, whether it
has come through head hunters or another source? Do you think
it is an important part of the process for you to know that?
(Baroness Prashar) I think it is important to know,
because in recruitment you want to be aware which has been the
most effective way of searching out. Particularly at senior Civil
Service level, when we are looking for talent, the search is important,
because sometimes you have to convince people to apply.
582. So you think it is important that you know.
Do you think it is important, if it were the case that a minister
had originated the name suggested for an appointment, that you
should know that?
(Baroness Prashar) I think it would depend. If the
minister was insisting that this person should be considered,
and they found their way on the long list, yes, I would want to
know, and that would be proper, but if they had said, "Look,
this is the person," and the civil servant fed that name
to the head hunter, who then approached them. . . . There are
shades there. This is where I think we have to exercise our judgment.
583. Would it not pose the people making the
appointment a difficult dilemma if they were considering a person
who they knew had been suggested by the minister? Do you think
that would make it more difficult for the appointment to be fair
and open and on merit?
(Baroness Prashar) Not at all, because to us it does
not really matter where the recommendation came from. We would
be judging that particular person against the job description,
and that would be the panel's decision. They would be interviewed
and they would be assessed like any other candidate. It will not
in any way prejudice us against or for the candidate, because,
as I said, our job is to guard the integrity of the process, to
make sure that whoever applies is treated fairly, that there is
openness and that the appointment is on merit.
584. Therefore, for us to know that the appointment
is on merit, it would be useful, would it not, for us to know
and for it to be recorded when a minister had originally suggested
a name, so that then we could measure whether there was any particular
preponderance of appointments of people suggested by ministers
rather than by any other route?
(Baroness Prashar) Yes. It does not happen often,
but if it were to happen, it would be helpful to record it.
585. So these informal meetings that take place
at the outset of an appointment processin your case we
are talking about the Civil Service but we have also been looking
at other public appointmentsthere should be a note recorded
by civil servants of any meetings like this in which it is recorded
that the minister has suggested an individual name, so that we
can test and Dame Rennie Fritchie can test on other public appointments
whether or not that influences the process.
(Baroness Prashar) I think it would be helpful to
state that there is a difference between public appointments and
Civil Service appointments. As you are probably aware, public
appointments are different in so far as they are not permanent;
they are short-term, not often paid, and ministers have a different
kind of involvement. Civil Service appointments are permanent,
and it is for that reason that the process is slightly different,
so there is no direct involvement of ministers in the way there
is involvement in public appointments. It is important to bear
the distinction in mind and not to confuse the two.
586. One final question: nobody has complained
to you about being ill-treated by Special Advisers under the Code
(Baroness Prashar) No.
587. Do you not think it is highly unlikely
that there ever would be any complaint, because it is such a nuclear
option, and a greater nuclear option than going to the head of
the Civil Service, which they would do before they came to you?
It is actually an unrealistic and frankly ludicrous thing to have
in the Special Advisers' Code.
(Baroness Prashar) I think you are right. The word
"nuclear" has entered the vocabulary because that is
the way it was described by Sir Richard Wilson. It is probably
too daunting for a single individual to complain. I have to say
I was quite amused that the sentence which says that a civil servant
who feels he has been asked to do something inappropriate can
complain to me or the Cabinet Secretary appears in the Special
Advisers' Code. Not very many civil servants are going to read
the Special Advisers' Code. So it is something about how people
are aware and how these things are communicated.
588. They might do if they were complaining
about a Special Adviser.
(Baroness Prashar) The point really is it is tucked
away in the Special Advisers' Code, which I do not think civil
servants would read.
589. In some of our previous evidence, we were
told by the Permanent Secretary that the minister had specified
requirements and said that a civil servant in a particular job
did not have the requirements that the minister wanted, so there
was a sideways move. (If we talk about that in the abstract and
I will not be saying something that I should not.) That gives
the minister a great deal of power, does it not, to actually move
civil servants around by just drawing up specifications and, lo
and behold, somebody is moved? Is there any degree of openness
about that process?
(Baroness Prashar) As you are probably aware, we are
not involved as Commissioners in internal promotions or internal
management moves. Those are of course the responsibility of the
Departments themselves. We only get involved in open competitions.
So I am afraid I am not in a position to comment on that. That
is an issue you really ought to be raising with the Cabinet Secretary.
590. I think we have. I am just wondering whether
there is scope for taking that into another arena, because I do
not think we have got to the bottom of how people could be just
moved sideways by specification. I will leave it at that. That
might be an interesting line to pursue within the Civil Service
Act perhaps. What I really wanted to ask youand it is changing
the subject, but I know that you are concerned about this as wellis
this. We have been looking at gender issues, and obviously other
minority groups, in terms of public appointments. What do you
think are the greatest barriers to being under-represented in
(Baroness Prashar) You are talking about public appointments
591. Yes. I want to generalise and just have
your views on it, please.
(Baroness Prashar) I think in public appointments
the barriers really are high. One is lack of knowledge and the
other is lack of awareness of the range of public appointments.
I think it is also the confidence of the people who might apply:
"Do I apply? Will I be able to cope?" Some I think are
quite daunted by the process, because there is a view that if
there is an application, will they get fair treatment. "Is
there discrimination against women or minorities?" So people
do not want to put themselves in a situation where they might
fail. Those are, in my view, barriers. One needs to raise awareness,
tell people what is available, and encourage people to apply,
make sure that the processes are fair, and possibly use role models
where people can see people who have been successful and have
contributed. The other thing if you are looking from the point
of view of minorities, in particular, of which I have some personal
experience, is that people feel they cannot quite relate to public
bodies, because they do not have much experience of them, particularly
women, if they have been isolated from mainstream activities,
engagement with a public body is quite alien to them.
592. Finally, I think this is going to be an
important part of our report, and I think the questions are: is
enough being done? What else could be done? But the other fundament
point, which does not apply to under-representation of groups
but seems to apply across the board, is that really, there is
not very much interest proportionately in the number of places
that are available. If you were to give one single piece of advice
to this Committee, how do you think interest and actually wanting
to be involved and some form of ownership of all these public
appointments could actually be generated?
(Baroness Prashar) I think this is pretty complex.
There is not one thing you can do. This relates to what I was
saying to you earlier, if some communities do not feel fully involved
or engaged, or such that they have no stake in society, expecting
them to put something back through a public body is probably a
step too far. You need to have a number of strategies at local
level. In my experience there is a level of involvement among
minority communities, in particular in voluntary organisations,
the non-governmental sector, where there is a great deal of community
self-help. If one can begin to look at that particular group and
see how one can connect the voluntary activity that they are involved
in, be that advice-giving, health or whatever, one can begin to
connect these communities to statutory public bodies. It seems
to me that not enough work has been done to link voluntary activity
with public service and involvement with public appointments.
That is where they do get involved, and that is where they gain
confidence. Recognising the skills and the confidence gained through
voluntary activity and linking that with public appointments would
be an important area.
593. Have you any knowledge of the type of seminars
that are being organised across the country where selected people
are being invited?
(Baroness Prashar) Yes, indeed I have.
594. Do you think that that is targeted at the
right people? I was quite concerned when we were talking about
this a fortnight ago that you were perhaps just tapping into those
who were already known anyway, because it is by invitation only
to the seminars. Do you think a lot more work could go into the
invitations or somehow making the seminars more accessible?
(Baroness Prashar) Yes, you are right to some extent.
If the seminars are by invitation, you obviously invite those
who are known, and are already part of the network. So more outreach
work is important. I do think that you have to do outreach through
some of these informal community groups and very local voluntary
organisations, where I think people are doing some sterling work
and they can be connected to public bodies. As you know, we now
have quite a strong network of radio and television programmes,
and I am not sure how much use is being made of radio and television
programmes to talk about what is available and how people can
595. Can I follow on from the points that Mrs
Brooke was making. I am very concerned about the invisibility
of Moslem women in the public sphere. You told us earlier you
have a clear agenda for what you want to achieve, bringing in
new talent and diversity. How do we get Moslem women on to public
bodies, reflecting the numbers that there are in the wider population?
(Baroness Prashar) I think through some of the things
I have already said. There are some very strong Moslem women's
organisations around the country. They are involved at community
level, and it is a question of almost step by step, making sure
that outreach takes place. You identify organisations at local
level where they are engaged and therefore they are drawn out.
Building confidence, particularly in communities where women do
not have the kind of freedom that may be available in other communities,
is going to take a lot longer.
596. I understand that, but I do not think we
have time on our side. I think we have to force the pace. Outreach
is fine as far as it goes. I was interested in what you were saying
about role models. But what about gender targets?
(Baroness Prashar) The point really is you can set
gender targets, but how do you meet the targets if you have not
reached the people? What happens with targets is that public bodies
have a target to meet, and they will go to the very people they
already know in an effort to meet the target. I know time is not
on our side, but at the same time, if you want to make real change,
it is important that you begin to reach out to those communities
and those people who are not part of these networks.
597. Let me make a prediction: I would say in
ten years' time we will be no further forward unless we force
(Baroness Prashar) Yes, I agree that we need to force
the pace, but what I am really saying is, can you force the pace
by setting targets? What you will do by targets, as I said, is
you may get one person serving on several public bodies because
they happen to be from a Moslem background. I am fully aware of
this, because when there is pressure on public bodies or organisations
to meet targets, they will use whatever method they can to get
the targets met. That does not bring about the real change. To
force the pace, I do think you should set the targets, but at
the same time, you have to have an approach of outreach, which
has to be meaningful outreach.
598. I understand that, but the ethnic minorities
are very often lumped together, and there is a huge difference
between the black Caribbeans, the Moslem women from rural Pakistan,
or what-have-you, and I am just trying to get some sense of how
we ungently address this issue of making public bodies truly representativenot
five, ten, 15 years down the track, but now. I do not want to
labour the point. Can I move on to something else? I am interested
in what you said about merit. You said, "How do we interpret
merit?" At senior level, does it just come down to personal
chemistry? If you have a lot of people who could do the job of
a Permanent Secretary or Cabinet Secretary very well, does it
come down to personal chemistry?
(Baroness Prashar) Not necessarily. In terms of merit,
the way we interpret that is that you have people who may be more
competent to do the job, then it is a question of which is the
best fit for that particular job. They have to have something
extra. Merit is competence plus the best fit for the job. When
you talk about chemistry, when we get involved in senior appointments,
the line manager is only one person on the panel. The panel is
only chaired by the Commissioner, and there will be some outsiders,
so it is the collective opinion of the panel which determines
who is the most meritorious candidate in a given situation against
the person specification.
599. It sounds on the face of it very scientific,
and if it is scientific, is there any problem about telling unsuccessful
candidates why they were unsuccessful?
(Baroness Prashar) Often candidates ask for feedback,
and feedback is given.