Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880 - 899)



  880. Thank you for clearing that up. I am sure you will think I am being over-sensitive, but I want to come back to this question about declaring a party political activity. First of all, I think you said your question asked, "Have you been undertaking any party political activity over the last five years?" I think you were in some doubt as to exactly what that meant. What if I were a paid-up member of a political party?
  (Sir William Wells) It is defined. It is local councillor, MP, MEP, if you were a candidate or if you had been elected, if you have spoken on behalf of a party or a candidate, acted as a political agent, held office as a chairman, treasurer, secretary of a local branch of a party, canvassed on behalf of a party or helped at an election, or undertaken any other political activity which you consider relevant—that is a real catch-all—and made a recordable donation to a political party.

  881. That means over a certain amount of money, not just any subscription.
  (Sir William Wells) Five thousand pounds.

  882. When they are asked to complete that part of the application form, is there any footnote that would say, if you do declare political activity, putting it in shorthand, that this would not necessarily prejudice your chances of success in this application?
  (Dr Moore) There is at the front somewhere.
  (Sir William Wells) If there is not, it is a very good point, if I might say so. We would prefer not to put it in here. We would prefer not to have this page on the form at all.

  883. It may be an obvious thing to say, but in my experience a pretty high proportion of people who are active in my community are active because they subscribe to one political party or another, and in my view, those are the sort of people that might be useful on these particular bodies.
  (Sir William Wells) What it actually says—and I think we might look at this—is "Neither activity nor affiliation is a criterion for appointment." That sort of says what you said, but I think it is something that we might well look at, because I think it is a very powerful point. I would be delighted, as would all my commissioners, if part 7 of this form could be ditched, because it is introducing into the application form something which we are saying is irrelevant to the appointment process, and to that extent you are absolutely right; it does actually produce an unnecessary tension. So I think that is very useful and we will certainly look at that.


  884. It does not ask you about membership, does it?
  (Dr Moore) No.

  885. So you can be a fervent supporter of a political party, reflected in your membership of that party, as longas you do not do anything about it.
  (Sir William Wells) Providing you do not give more than £5,000 a year.

  886. There is an absurdity about that, is there not?
  (Dr Moore) I think this is a question that has been debated with the Nolan Committee in the past and they came to this formulation.
  (Sir William Wells) It is not our formulation.

  887. Sir Sydney Chapman's point though is, of course, a good one, which is that if you are looking for civic spirit in the community, you will disproportionately find that amongst people who belong to political parties, and so to give any indication on your literature that somehow this might be a disadvantage would be extremely unfortunate.
  (Sir William Wells) Quite the reverse. I think we need to be more explicit here that this actually plays no part in the appointment process. I am indebted to you, because I think it is a very good point.

Sir Sydney Chapman

  888. Is there any age limit for applicants?
  (Sir William Wells) No. You can always make an application, but you would have to stand down as an MP.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  889. I am intrigued: at the back of your memorandum it says "take appropriate measures to terminate the appointment of chairs and non-executives if their performance fails to meet the requirements of the post." How do you do that if it is a PCT? Do you go wading in? Who fires them?
  (Sir William Wells) As the Commission makes the appointments, it is the organisation that makes the disappointments legally, and we do that at the Board. The Board decides that somebody's post will be terminated. We have the ability to do that. The words are that they are not acting in the best interests of the National Health Service. In fact, it is slightly more expanded now than that. In practice, what happens is that the Regional Commissioner will work very closely with the chairman of the strategic health authority, who is the performance manager of the trusts within their particular area. It will be a team of those two who will come to the decision as to whether a person should have their post brought to an end or not, and in which case a recommendation will come up to the Board of the NHS Appointments Commission.

  890. Who sets the criteria for removal? Do you?
  (Sir William Wells) Yes. It is set in their appointment letter.

  891. Is it set ultimately by the Minister or by you?
  (Sir William Wells) No; by us.

  892. So if somebody has a fundamental disagreement with the direction of, say, a PCT—I have no example in mind—and they say, "Look, I have a fundamental problem because I think this is clinically wrong," and they are somebody who has been put there because of their excellence, how can they arbitrarily check that in fact what they are doing is not to the detriment of the PCT? Can you be involved to say, "No, I do not think they should be removed"?
  (Sir William Wells) We are the only people who can remove them.

  893. So you would say, "I am terribly sorry. I think this person is doing the right thing. They stay."
  (Sir William Wells) I have to say we have quite a lot of cases like that.

  894. What so far has been the outcome on average?
  (Sir William Wells) In the vast majority of cases we manage to make people see sense, or we get some counselling or mentoring to the particular person if they are perhaps being a little bit extreme and not playing a sensible part in a team. I do not know the numbers, but we do not actually disappoint huge numbers of people. With almost all of the people that we disappoint it is either because they have simply not complied with the terms of their appointment—like not turning up to meetings and things like that—or they have created such a degree of dysfunctionality on the board through their own performance that it is in the best interests of the NHS.

  895. Have you had a situation yet—I know you are fairly new—where you have a major part of a board who agree with a course of action which is actually not what the chairman thinks should happen?
  (Sir William Wells) We do have cases.

  896. Have you had to remove an entire board yet?
  (Sir William Wells) No.

  897. But you have removed major parts of boards?
  (Sir William Wells) We have removed a chairman and a number of non-executives, yes, particularly in badly performing trusts.

  898. When you replace them, what overall role do you have to make sure that that board gets back up and running to an efficiency which is acceptable to you and to the Minister?
  (Sir William Wells) That is a very good point. Can I give an example? Bath is the worst performing trust in the country. We removed the Chairman and one or two or three of the non-executives. We have just put a new Chairman in there and the Regional Commissioner for the South, together with the Chairman of the strategic health authority is down there a huge amount of the time in order to ensure that support, help and training is introduced in order to get that board up and running again very quickly.

  899. The Bath question is an interesting one, because patients from my constituency go to Bath. It is of great concern, because it is not the strategic health authority we are covered by. We are Dorset and Somerset. There is great concern across the border as to what is going on there. Until that is up and running, the concern will continue as to whether they should be referring.
  (Sir William Wells) That is absolutely right. We appointed a new Chairman last week—if it is in your part of the world, you will have a letter telling you—who we think will be very good. Your point is that we need to restore confidence as quickly as we possibly can. The people who can restore confidence to the public generally better than anybody else are the non-executives. The executives you have to have in the trenches, doing the business.

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