Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740-760)



  740. I get the feeling we should just tell people to speak to you about that?
  (Mr Woolley) Well we know a lot of talent, that is the truth, there is no shortage of talent; there just needs to be, we need to build a bridge between the bodies and the talent, and we will help, we want to see that talent. The difference is, as well, that when we see our bridge to the institutions, that people that come through our route come with, I suppose, an ideology that says we want them to have self-development, but we also want them to go into these bodies with a mitre, to say, "Well, I'm here, not just on behalf of the community and myself but to raise the water level for others, too." I am not putting it very well, but what happens sometimes is that people get to high office and they pull up the ladder and say "I'm here because I'm brilliant;" we do not want that, we want people to get to the high office and say, "Right, I'm here, I'm going to help others to come up too."

Kevin Brennan

  741. I apologise for being late; as often in this place, I was at a Legislation Committee which I had to serve on. Do you ever have any contacts, and I may have missed it in your remarks, with Dame Rennie Fritchie, Commissioner for Public Appointments, and what is the relationship like between your organisation and her office?
  (Mr Woolley) Yes, Ashok is smiling.

  742. He is allowed to speak, he does not have to just smile, if he does have an opinion on that?
  (Mr Woolley) He is thinking, "Will Simon be diplomatic here, or will he tell the truth."

  Mr Trend: Tell the truth; have a go at the truth?

Kevin Brennan

  743. We would like you to be candid, because we want to produce a report that makes a difference?
  (Mr Woolley) Sure; precisely. I met with Dame Rennie Fritchie and put to her a positive, proactive programme that would reach out to our communities and have a positive shadowing scheme, and she loved the idea, she said it was fantastic, she said "This is exactly what we want," and asked me to put the proposals and the details, and so I did. And then, some weeks later, it came back to me that somebody, somewhere out there, said that they do not want this, they did not explain why, and it was sat upon.

  744. So your proposal was rejected, or there was no proposal for a modified version of this?
  (Mr Woolley) It was kicked into the long grass.

  745. Who do you think this `somebody, somewhere' is then, because we would like to know, probably we would like to call them here and speak to them, if that were the case?
  (Mr Woolley) I think you will have to ask Dame Rennie Fritchie.

  746. Right; we will have to have her back, I think.
  (Mr Woolley) She knew about it. She loved the idea. Worse still is that they took a similar project, on their own, and did a shadowing scheme; and my understanding is, it has not been a big success. And one of the reasons why it has not been a big success is because, if officials do it, it looks too official, but if independent activists do it, people say, "Okay, it's my time to get involved, it's my time to stand up and be counted," it resonates.

  Mr Trend: Just before we leave that point, would the Committee feel happy if we wrote to her and asked her about this?

Kevin Brennan

  747. Yes, and I do not know whether Simon might be able to provide us with the correspondence that we have just referred to, as well, for our evidence purposes?
  (Mr Woolley) Yes, sure. I would be only too happy to do that.

  748. I think that would be a very good idea indeed. Do you think that perhaps the root of that reluctance was that, as does happen from time to time, organisations like your own are sometimes perhaps regarded as, "Well, maybe they're trying to corner this market for themselves," you know, and "Who do they think they are?" Do you think that is the root of it? Or what do you think, in your view, is the explanation?
  (Mr Woolley) I have got no idea, I would not like to speculate, I really would not, because we are an organisation, we have support from all of the three political parties, that our work is positive, we do not corner a market.
  (Mr Viswanathan) How can you possibly corner a market with four staff.
  (Mr Woolley) And we want others to do it, too. If somebody else is doing it then fine, but nobody is doing it. We do not see it as rocket science, all we see it as is that you have a programme, the community have confidence in us, "Let's go out and do it," and if other organisations are doing it, we will support that too. But not to do it, not to do it at all, really and truthfully; to be honest with you, I was disgusted, I was disgusted that it happened, because I did not have a reasonable explanation why it was kicked into the long grass, and all we have done is, we have wasted two years since that time in not doing anything positive. But we did not put our heads in the sand, we circumvented Dame Rennie Fritchie and went direct to Lord Irvine, and now we have gone to the Public Appointments Unit, and they have said, "Yes, let's work with you."

  749. I am sure we would like to find out what the explanation for that was, as well. In more general terms, I think really what you are describing, as far as public appointments are concerned, or would I be wrong in saying this, is not so much that there are actually discriminatory barriers to entry these days, on public bodies, it is just that public bodies, and the whole system is not active enough in trying to bring people forward from ethnic minority communities, it does not have the expertise itself to do that? Would that be the case; or is there still evidence, I am not talking about political parties now, because I think that is a different issue, but in terms of public appointments to public bodies, is there evidence out there of any racial discrimination, direct barriers, if you like, to people, in the way that we always thought of in the past?
  (Mr Woolley) I think, by and large, there has been a sea change in the way bodies have approached this, and we have found that many want to have more representative bodies. I still think there are elements of racism within it, and there is a lot of subtle racism, that people do not even know they are being racist, and that worries me. I will give you an example. I was up in Burnley, speaking with a magistrate, and she said to me that she hated the BNP and that she loathed them, but she did feel that local people now, like herself, could not speak their mind, for fear of being called, as she said, "a racialist." So I said, "Well, what do you mean?" I said, "If somebody calls me `a nigger', I'm offended;" and this magistrate turned round to me and said to me, "Why should you be offended, sticks and stones may break my bones but names should never hurt you?" I thought, oh, goodness me. This is one of the good guys. So to say that racism does not occur is to say that we are not living in the real world; but there is a climate that is a lot more open, and what we are trying to do is, we are pushing against an open door, we are trying to barge our way in with a positive programme. But you quite rightly mention, Kevin, that those that do have a more open mind about this need help, need assistance, to make the link between the others, and they need to be proactive, they need to think out the box, they need to bring in others to help them, because they say to me, "Well, where do we go, where can I go to find this talent?" We know where it is, others know where it is, but we have got to be brought in to help facilitate.

  750. My final question. In terms of affirmative action, or, let us say, positive discrimination, in terms of positive discrimination, it is a temporary measure, you say, at what point do you abandon it, because I think this is part of the debate in America, that at what point has positive discrimination fulfilled its role, and what is the mechanism, if you like, for abandoning it, when it becomes, in itself, part of the institutional framework, as it is there?
  (Mr Woolley) I think, when, in the normal selection process, race does not become an issue, that the talent is seen, it is recognised and it is coming through, and we can see that by the figures; then you would say, "We don't need it any more." But whilst you see the massive deficits, whilst you look at the figures, whilst you look at so many different bodies, I have got ten here that have less than 1 per cent, then you know there is something wrong. And when you speak to people, the way that they are treated. I do not, every day, want to wear my colour on my sleeve, but at the moment I have to, I am forced to, I am forced to because I have to address the deficit, I have to tell you, I have to highlight the subtle racism that does not allow me, and others, to fulfil our potential. But when I am not talking about race, when I can just talk about the other things that I like talking about, then, you know, there is not a problem. And I would be the first to abandon Operation Black Vote, I would be the first to abandon positive discrimination, and just let us do our thing.

  751. When we discriminated positively in favour of women, as you quite rightly said, in the 1997 general election, it did produce a large number of women; at the last general election, when we did not, because of the industrial tribunal ruling, I think I am right in saying, out of about 40 of a new intake, of which I am one, the Labour Party selected, I think, four women, probably, I do not know, as a matter of interest.
  (Mr Woolley) As you say, the facts are there.

Mr Trend

  752. One other thing which interests me in your evidence is that the pool of people you seem to know who want to do things seems rather larger and more enthusiastic and wanting to get committed than other people who have come here, like-minded pools of people; why is that?
  (Mr Woolley) It is quite astonishing, and it is a missed opportunity, because we want to play a full and positive role in society. Next week, I am speaking at the Afro Hair and Beauty Show, up in Alexandra Palace, and there will be 2,000, predominantly women, in there, and, I kid you not, this will be a Palace full of dynamism, women that are getting things done. And I would imagine that less than 1 per cent of these women are on public bodies, and if I said to them, if you did a recruitment campaign at the Afro Hair and Beauty Centre, you would see a list from here to Westminster.

  753. So why don't you?
  (Mr Woolley) We are there; why don't you? With respect, with the greatest respect. I will be there, and I will be there signing them up to a positive empowerment process, I will ask them to join Operation Black Vote, I will ask them to join the Black Women's Forum.
  (Mr Viswanathan) And all on a bank holiday.
  (Mr Woolley) All on a bank holiday. My partner said to me, "When do we have time off?" But it is a golden opportunity to tap into the dynamism. And these particular black women are getting things done, and they are doubly enthusiastic. We heard a story the other day where a black woman was told by a political party that she was too enthusiastic; give me a break.

  754. Can we touch on one last subject, which was raised in the last session as well, the question of remuneration; how important an element is that?
  (Mr Woolley) I do think it is important. I would like you to look at the figures of how many black appointees get paid.

  755. Do you have figures?
  (Mr Woolley) No, I do not. How many are chairs and how many get paid; because I feel that, even when we do bridge that big gap, we are seen as, "Well, okay, you're there and you'll do it for free," and that is it, end of story. And it does rule out a lot of ordinary people but also a lot of high-flyers, simply because to take the time off has an effect on what they can and cannot do.

  756. Do you think that is true across the board, or there is a particular problem in your community? Julia was mentioning child care, which was a particular issue with people she knew; is it across the board?
  (Mr Woolley) I think it is a particular problem with black women, and that is a slight on black men, not taking responsibility for parentage; but if we are to get many more black women involved then we have to think about these things seriously.

  757. Is that just chairmanships, or down through the whole representative structure?
  (Mr Woolley) Right across the board, really, right across the board, I think that we need to look at child care, and we need to look at saying, "Okay, well if we want this talent, that Simon proclaims is out there, then we have got to make sure that we have got the infrastructure for it to have its place," and I think some financial reward would be a way of bridging that. I do not know whether it is right across the board, but much more than it is, and perhaps to make some special cases.

  758. Is there anything else you would like to say, in conclusion?
  (Mr Woolley) I do not know whether I have missed anything out; Ash?

  759. I suppose, hostility, by election and appointees?
  (Mr Woolley) Ashok is raising that, whether or not there is tension between directly-elected and appointees, because, of course, in the directly-elected process, we get fewer black people through than we do with the appointees; if you look at the House of Lords, for example, we have got disproportionately more than we have in the House of Commons. And there is a tension there, because it is a way to cut to the chase and bring people in, but, of course, there is greater legitimacy from the directly-elected, and ideally we want more from that route. But it does show that, with the willingness, you can cut to the chase and bring people through.

  760. Does that mean you think we should have an appointed House of Lords?
  (Mr Woolley) It leads me to think that, through the directly-elected route, we should have a system there so the talent comes through, and we would need that.

  Mr Trend: We will send you our report one day. Simon, Ashok, thank you very much indeed for coming; it has been very interesting.

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