THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER 2002
Tony Wright, in the Chair
EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES
SIR WILLIAM WELLS, Chairman, and DR ROGER MOORE, Chief Executive, NHS Appointments Commission, examined.
(Sir William Wells) If I could, Chairman, very briefly, first of all say that we are pleased to be here because we think we do have something to offer to the debate. Albeit that we have only been in operation for just over 12 months, during that period we have made over 2,000 appointments from 32,000 people who made inquiries, just to give some idea of the scale. As you know, one of the main reasons for the creation of the NHS Appointments Commission was the alleged politicisation of appointments within the NHS and I am pleased to say that during our time we have not had any involvement from ministers at all in any of the appointments we have made. Indeed, the board of the Commission does not know the political activity of any of the people who are coming up for recommendation for appointment, so that we believe we have certainly achieved that objective amongst many others which were set up. I wanted to say that right up front.
(Dr Moore) No, that is fine.
(Sir William Wells) Thank you very much.
(Sir William Wells) A very good question. We are required by OCPA to collect information on people's political activity. The forms are quite clear. We have a pack here that we send out to all, and one of the questions is: Do you have any political activity? If you do, there are certain other boxes that you have to tick and then that is returned with their application for the particular post in question. That particular page from the application form is then detached by our offices in Leeds and London and is then purely inputted for the statistics which OCPA require, and which we make public, because we think it is very important that people should see what the situation is. The application forms are then, without the political activity page, sent to the short-listing committee for short-listing, interview and so forth, so that the people who are involved in the appointments right from the very beginning have no knowledge of the political activity of any of the individual applicants.
(Sir William Wells) We did not attempt to remedy it, I have to say. We have a very simple credo: we appoint on merit and it is not our concern whether somebody has declared political activity or not declared political activity. That is what the Appointments Commission was set up to do, actually to appoint the right people to do the job, not because they were a member of a political party.
(Sir William Wells) It would certainly make us look quite seriously at whether there were any built-in biases in our appointment process. Indeed - and I said this to the Health Select Committee - it is interesting - and we do not know whether it is worrying or not, and I will come back to that in a moment - that we have in fact actually appointed people in the first year of the Commission in almost exactly the same political proportions as occurred when ministers were making the decision, and that is without us knowing whether we were appointing people. We are not quite sure that that tells us, so we are going to submit it to an independent organisation to analyse statistically, right from application through to decision, to see whether there is any conscious or subconscious bias being built in in any particular direction or in any particular geographical area, because, clearly, we need to look at our procedures to make quite sure that we compensate for it if that is the case, and we will make the outcome of all of that public because we think this is a very important point.
(Sir William Wells) It may well do so. It may well do so, Chairman. Exactly. We just want to know. The figures are very simply, if I remember them, something like 72 per cent of the people we appoint have no declared political activity. So we are only talking about a relatively small proportion. Of the remainder, 26 per cent are Labour, 4.5 per cent are Tory and 4.4 per cent are Liberal Democrat. This is almost statistically the same as it was prior to our appointment.
(Sir William Wells) As far as we are concerned, that is not the case. We explain our accountabilities. We are accountable to the secretary of state for the proper running of the Commission in terms of its money and the like, in the way that any special health authority (as we are constituted) has to. That is the proper machinery of government. We are not accountable to the minister for the appointments that we make. We are accountable to OCPA, Dame Rennie Fritchie, for the process that we undertake - her organisation audits us to make sure that we are following the process correctly, and they will refer cases if they feel that there has been an injustice - and we are accountable directly to parliament for the scrutiny of our overall activities.
(Sir William Wells) Yes. We have changed the process very significantly. First and foremost we actually now appoint to specific roles. Previously there was a generic advertising campaign: Do you want to be a non-executive in the NHS? and people were interviewed to be a non-executive in the NHS and when a vacancy came up they were slotted in. We did not think that was at all satisfactory and therefore we now select/interview for particular posts. That helps because it simplifies, number one, the system. Two, we are very open and we are very transparent: everybody can inquire why they were not appointed and we will let them have a copy of the interview notes. Never before did that happen. What you are alleging happened before could not happen now because they have an ability to be able to see why they were not appointed. As I said before, we have eradicated as best we can party political bias in whichever direction, and we have been much faster and more responsive to the needs of boards, which is another important point. The previous system tended to generically reject or not reject people, without actually a view of what was wanted, sitting round the table of the board of a particular trust or a strategic health authority and the like, and now we actually are much more responsive to the boards needs, so hopefully we are building better teams to carry out the work which they are required to do.
(Sir William Wells) I am actually very pleased. I was a regional chairman beforehand and therefore responsible for making recommendations to the secretary of state for appointments and we were having considerable difficulty in getting required numbers. I think a lot of this was because people just did not know how the system worked, they found they were rejected for no reason and such and so forth. Now we are getting huge numbers of applicants - as I said, 32,000 for 2,000 - and that in itself creates a different problem, which we might address later. So we are not concerned about the numbers. We are concerned - again, this is something which no doubt you will wish to cover - that in some areas we are not getting as broad a representation from the population as we would like, but in terms of sheer volume it is okay.
(Sir William Wells) Yes. Absolutely.
(Sir William Wells) We are going to be asking for an analysis of the database, just giving them the database of all the appointments that we made and asking them to analyse it and to see whether there are any inconsistencies and the like, and then we will ask them to produce a report. We will look at it and we will then decide whether action needs to be taken. If action does need to be taken, we will decide what action, and we will publish the report together with our views on how we can, if necessary, make any correction.
(Sir William Wells) It is.
(Sir William Wells) Well ... It is conceivable.
(Sir William Wells) We employ about 50 people in two offices, one in London and one in Leeds, and our budget is £3.5 million.
(Sir William Wells) By far the biggest cost for that is advertising: we advertise every single post, I think quite rightly because they are public posts. The cost of staff we employ. The cost of doing all the interviewing and the short-listing and the like.
(Dr Moore) Probably about a quarter.
(Dr Moore) It was actually very similar.
(Dr Moore) No, because the job was actually relinquished by the Department of Health.
(Dr Moore) If you like.
(Sir William Wells) We are because we originally were set up to deal with strategic health authorities, health trusts and primary care trusts. We have already been asked to carry out the appointments of a number of national posts within health and I have reason to believe that the secretary of state at the beginning of the next financial year will ask us to carry out all of the appointments in the National Health Service. So those will be a mixture of national and special health authorities and the like.
(Sir William Wells) Perhaps I could answer that question slightly differently, to say that I think we have developed a model - and you were the ones who suggested it in the first place - which actually fits very well into the public sector and it could easily be adapted to deal with public appointments generally. All you would have to do is to tailor the selection and interview criteria to fit the particular jobs in question. You would probably have to recruit specialists, but that is not very difficult, but it would give independent probity and professionalism and it would still allow the sponsoring government departments to be involved in deciding what it is that they want. But our experience- and I think this is a very interesting point - is that when we have been asked to take on these ad hoc roles, the biggest problem is to get them to define what it is that they want. So half the difficulty, we suspect, with public appointments has and will continue to be that they are going out looking for something which they have not actually properly defined and that leads them then into all sorts of downstream difficulties. Because people say, "I wasn't considered." Why? "Well, because you decided something completely different at the time you made your appointment from the time when you made the initial inquiries." That is where you start to get difficulties. And of course, also, they do not make many appointments and therefore they cannot have a proper professional set up in which to deal with it.
(Sir William Wells) I have never thought like that.
Mr Trend: I will come clean. When we were debating this amongst ourselves, there was debate about what happens with a new government, incoming with a completely different philosophy of how to run public services, and in particular the health service. Is it not legitimate for a new government to say, "We want to do things in a completely different way," and then to try to fix it, essentially, so that their people throughout the country ... Indeed, some slightly more candid Labour members said that is precisely what happened in 1997.
Brian White: What should have happened.
(Sir William Wells) It is of course quite difficult - we have only been going for 12 months - but what I would say is that there are 4,500 people for whom we have responsibility, I have just completed a national tour and met with over 2,000 of them, and there is a huge and increased degree of confidence in the probity of the system. I think that if it was abolished there would be very, very considerable disquiet by the people who have been appointed through this system because they know where they are, they are being looked after, and they know that at the end their future is not just going to be decided at the whim of political change.
(Dr Moore) Could I come in here. I think we are in danger of confusing appointment with the role. It is totally appropriate for an incoming government, to use your example, to define the role, and to define the role and therefore the qualities that they are looking for in incumbents, in quite a different way from the previous government. But what we are arguing is that the appointment process itself, whatever the role or whatever the qualities required, should be open and transparent and that is difficult to move away from.
(Sir William Wells) The people who are appointed to boards, one of the things that they have to sign off is that they will actually promote and support government policy. You actually could not do it in that way. I think the point we are making is that the role of a non-executive director was actually changed when this Government came in following the Tory Government, and they have created a different set of criteria from what they wanted their people to carry out - and that of course is perfectly proper and permissible for them to do but actually should not make any difference to the appointment process, because the people who are responsible for appointment merely appoint people to a new role and that must be something the Government will always hold to themselves. In fact we are in the process of being able to discuss with the Government a further refinement to the role of non-executive directors because we think it can be further improved to the benefit of the health service. So I think that is an ongoing situation.
(Sir William Wells) Activity.
(Sir William Wells) We use the definition that is provided to us, which is if you have any political activity in the five years preceding your application you have to declare it. If you have not had any political activity during those five years, then you do not have to declare it. That is the time level. As far as what do we mean by political activity, this is pretty broad-ranging - you know, even to leaflet dropping and the like. But, being quite candid to you, we do not have the time or the resources or, I have to say at the moment, the inclination to check individually whether everybody actually ticks the box quite correctly. I am quite sure you are right, I think numbers of people will wish to hide the fact that they have got any political activity, but there is very little we can do about that. Clearly, if it is self-evident that they have got political activity, people will know that because they are being interviewed locally. Therefore, if they were leader of the council and they have not declared it, then we would correct that and probably disbar them.
(Sir William Wells) They may do. I think it is very difficult. It is not our definition. We are a collecting agency for the political information. That is all we are.
(Sir William Wells) I am sorry, 63 per cent. I was talking, badly, from memory. I apologise. Sixty-three.
(Sir William Wells) I think we have to go back to the criteria and the role. The current criteria to which we are working, which were introduced by Frank Dobson when he was secretary of state, are actually not achieving that which he wished to achieve. They are in fact actually confining the field rather than expanding it. Why? Because they are concentrated on knowledge and skills. Knowledge and skills do preclude large numbers of people who we believe would have the competency to carry out the role but, because they are well experienced in local affairs or whatever it happens to be, they get cut out of it at the sifting stage. We are concerned about that and we are working on it. I have talked both to the secretary of state and the minister of state about it and they are supportive of us coming up with an appraisal which actually changes the way in which we recruit people to a competency-based interview process, which we will make quite structured in order to avoid the point that you are making. At the moment the interviews are not structured and therefore you could claim that it just becomes a self-perpetuating group of people. And, I have to say, you are right: if you look at the cross-section of the people who are non-executives, they are mainly white and middle class, and that is not representative of the people for whom they are going to be responsible - hence us carrying out this exercise at the moment which we will be consulting on and then taking to ministers early next year.
(Sir William Wells) We have actually improved the form very considerably. We have reduced it by about two-thirds in size, but again we will be changing that because it will be moved hopefully, if we get agreement from the secretary of state, to a competency-based application.
(Sir William Wells) We have made it very clear to all chairs of the Commission that they have to have family-friendly and convenient meeting times and they have to take the views of the people who sit round the table - and not the executives, because they should come along, but the non-executives - as to that. Some people meet at half-past seven in the morning because that is most convenient for everybody because it allows them to get off to work or child-minding is easier at that time or ... Others meet in in the evening. Very few actually, except in deeper rural areas, meet in the middle of the day. That is the first thing. The second thing is that the cost of child-minding is provided and therefore it is very important that we do not preclude people with children because they are very important for us to have on the board. As far as money is concerned and time, this is something that we are in active debate about at the moment. At the moment a non-executive director is required to spend five days a month doing the job. This, we think, is extremely restrictive because it means that people who are in full-time employment have to persuade their employers to let them have over a month a year off work. And it is not on, because I have been to see the CBI and IOD and they are all saying, "Forget it." You know, "We will simply not campaign on your behalf to get full-time workers to do this." So we are looking to see what the consequence would be of two and a half days a month, which is much more acceptable to employers. It is also means that five days a month for the low paid, on £5,000 a year fee, just does not match up, so they say, "Forget it. We cannot afford to do it." Therefore, again, we are looking to shorten the time. If we cannot shorten the time, we are going to have to put a strong case to ministers that the remuneration has to be adjusted, otherwise we really are pushing increasingly towards those people who are financially self-supporting or are supported by a partner and this is only one section of the population.
(Sir William Wells) This is a question of balance. We of course require a full declaration at the time of the application forms as to what other public jobs they have. They have to declare that. If they then get through to the interview stage, they are examined very extensively about their time capability and conflict. A chairman of a social services committee, for example, it would be very difficult to have sitting on a hospital trust board. A number of people do not get it because we think that they are trying to build up a portfolio of public sector jobs just for the sake of doing it and therefore they cannot give us the time that we need. On the other hand, it is actually very helpful for us to have people who are active in other parts of the public sector on the board, because, you know, if they are involved in education they can bring knowledge of education and child care. Similarly, for people who are involved in the local authorities for social services - because there is a very strong partnership, particularly in primary care reform - it is very important that we have them. But we do not want everybody like that; we only want one or two like that because they have to be balanced with people with other skills.
(Sir William Wells) Everybody is free to express any views and to have any views that they like, but these boards only work as a team. They are bound by the rules of cabinet and once they have made a decision they are all responsible for that decision and if they are not prepared to be responsible for that decision then they have to resign. So people have to examine their own conscience. They may well have strong views about certain things. Provided that they believe that they can carry out their role as a member of the board - and remember they are individually and collectively responsible for that - and reconcile those particularly strong views they have in any direction, there is no way we are going to disbar them. But if they become single issue people and we think they are single issue people, we tend to weed them out, I am afraid, because that is not what we want on this board. We actually want people who are prepared to bring in a certain skill, a range of skills and competences, but become part of a team.
(Sir William Wells) It is a moving feast.
(Sir William Wells) However, we were asked and we did give a lot of advice to the policy makers about corporate governance issues on foundation hospitals and they broadly accept the division that we suggested, that the hospitals should have a board to run the hospital and should have a stakeholder council to represent local views and to advise on strategy. How the people on those two organisations are going to arrive is very much in the melting pot. I can only tell you what I read in the press. Certainly, as far as we are concerned, it has not been discussed with us.
(Sir William Wells) I think it is because it was only, what, 10 days ago that they actually decided what was going to be the broad framework of foundations hospitals and I have absolutely no doubt that it will wend its way through the system and come back to us. I do not know if what I have read in the papers is just conspired by the journalists. But clearly the idea was - and I have no reason to believe that this will be any different in the outcome - that the board runs the hospital, and they will be people chosen very specifically to make sure that the hospital runs as efficiently and effectively as possible, and the stakeholder council will be drawn from a range of local people, in order to give a much greater of feeling of ownership of their hospital through the stakeholder council. That is the philosophy. We can make that work perfectly well in corporate governance fashion, but how those people arrive on each of those boards I think is still a matter of debate.
(Sir William Wells) No. We suggested that the actual board of the hospital should be comprised in the same sort of balance as it is comprised at the moment. What you would do is put in an additional local stakeholder group, which would be drawn from local employers, local authorities, staff - you know, a broad range of people - to be the sort of strategic guide, the organisation which would monitor performance and be responsible for checking complaints and the like.
(Sir William Wells) We try to ensure ourselves that everybody whom we appoint as a non-executive will challenge - because that is the key part of their job, to challenge the executive. What tends to be or can be quite disruptive on boards is if a particular director is only prepared and only willing to talk about a particular issue. I am afraid, that can be the case. They are a passenger. For the other 95 per cent of the activities of the board they do not play a part. It is a team.
(Sir William Wells) I agree. If someone demonstrates that they are able to do that at interview, then they get appointed. If somebody makes it very clear that they are only interested in the care of the elderly, for example, and that is what they would contribute and that is all they want to do, then you are starting to create an unfortunate tension in the board. But a lot of people would say, "Yes, we are very interested in the elderly, that is our key, but we understand that we have to play a broad-ranging role on the board," and we certainly would not not consider them.
(Dr Moore) I think the fact that 32,000 people respond to advertisements is some indication that people think it is worth getting involved and worth applying.
(Dr Moore) That is part of the test. I think the other test is drawn from the fact that the principal focus on the health service at the moment is to put the patient at the centre and to encourage patient involvement at all levels, and the trusts, and particularly our primary care trusts, are taking quite major steps to encourage the public to come forward to take part in focus groups, to ask patients to complete questionnaires and the like, and to respond on the direction of travel in terms of treatment strategies and whatever, and the public are coming forward and patients are responding to those requests to play a part.
(Sir William Wells) We will have, of course, as from next year, patient fora around the country: each patient forum will be able to elect one of their number to become a non-executive director of the relevant trust. So that all the time you are pushing out the ability of people to get involved. Certainly from my experience there is a growing interest in getting involved in health care issues. What we want to do is to try to coral that locally because the whole of Government policy is to decentralise back to the local communities so that they feel it is their health service rather than someone else's who is being paid to run the board.
(Sir William Wells) Unfortunately, we do have to turn people down. That is a matter of fact. And I think it is very healthy. Previously nobody complained about the system at all because they knew there was absolutely no point in writing a letter to the minister because they never got a reply and therefore they did not. I am afraid that is a matter of fact. That has been going on for years. We do reply and we do actually give them reasons and we do get the involved. I would say that 999 out of 1,000 people sometimes do not like being told why they were not appointed but huge numbers actually accept that we have come to an opinion. They may not agree with that opinion but we have done it in a fair and open way and we have told them what it is.
(Sir William Wells) I reply to every single major complaint personally.
(Sir William Wells) Okay. Yes.
(Sir William Wells) What happens is someone does not get appointed and they are written a letter saying they have not been appointed, thank you very much indeed. They then say they want to know why. They either ring up or write and they will be asked by the relevant person on the staff would they like to see a copy of their interview notes or the sift panel notes. If they say yes, they get sent those. If after that - and I have to say this is a relatively small number - they feel that an injustice has been incurred, then they write to me. If I am unable to satisfy them and they are concerned about the process rather than the quality of the decision, then they write to Dame Rennie Fritchie. That is the process.
(Sir William Wells) I agree.
(Sir William Wells) I agree. We were only discussing at the Appointments Commission board last month, now that we have a bit more time, now that we have got through the bulk of the huge amount of appointments we had to make because of the reorganisation in the health service, that we need to be more selective and pro-active about the way in which we tell people that they have not been appointed. In some cases it is only fair and right to tell them that they have not been appointed and not to give them any hope, because there are a significant number of people, frankly ----
(Sir William Wells) In a perfectly and decent and nice way. There are some people who have not quite made it, for a variety of reasons, and we feel somehow or another we need to keep them much more interested than we are at the moment and we are working on that. People who are near-misses we do write to especially and say, you know, "You have been a near-miss. Hang on in there because we think you could stand a very good chance of getting something in a shortish period of time."
(Sir William Wells) In fact some members of those groups are actually not non-executives. They are not involved in the health service. To the two people that we put together to chair these groups we said, "You should draw mainly from the NHS but if there are other people you think could make a really good contribution to that, please use them". There is certainly one, if not two, on the BME group who are not anything to do with the National Health Service.
(Sir William Wells) We are making use of standing groups, advisory groups, because they are extremely valuable to us, but we are also encouraging them to bring in people who they feel can help in a particular thing in order to advise them. Although broad statistics of gender and ethnic balance are pretty good, they disguise some areas where we are not at all good, and that is the real challenge for us. There are certain geographical areas where we have very significant ethnic populations where we are not scratching them. We are very good in London but we are less good in some parts of the Midlands and the north. A lot of that is actually getting the right people in those communities, to get them along and find out from them how we can best penetrate those populations and then go out and do some really pro-active spreading of what it is all about to be a non-executive in order to get some representation.
(Sir William Wells) Can I answer the question in a slightly different way, and I will come back to the PCT point which you made. The responsibilities and accountabilities of members of these boards are pre-prescribed, and they are very considerable. This is the thing that many people do not understand. When you come on to the board of a trust or a health authority, you are accountable for the financial well-being of that organisation, personally and corporately, and we are not talking about small organisations; the minimum size is about £100 million, and a lot of them are half a billion pounds. You are also accountable directly to the Secretary of State for delivering his targets, government policies and the like. You are also, obviously, charged with making sure that you improve the health care of the people for whom you are responsible. A lot of people, when they realise that, withdraw their application, because it is not what they thought it was, and we must not live a lie here. This is something I feel very strongly about. I think it would be quite wrong not to level with people as to the responsibilities they are taking on. They are very considerable, and things can go wrong. Those of you who have no-star trusts in your constituencies and see the chairmen and non-executives disappearing very quickly out of the door will know this, because that is what they do if they have failed. This selection severely affects their local standing, and people need to be aware that accountability means accountability, and it is not just a talking shop to reflect what everybody might want to do. As far as PCTs are concerned, they, of course, have got to reflect what people want, but they have the same accountabilities and responsibilities as all of the other trusts. They have to deliver their budget, they have to procure the health care in an efficient and proper way, and they have to deliver the Government's targets. I was only saying at the PCT Conference last week in Harrogate that what we want PCT non-executives to do is to create an infrastructure which will enable patient and public involvement, so that they know what the public want. They should not spend a huge amount of their time doing that themselves. We are going to have patient forums, which will be considerable, attached to every PCT. Every PCT will have up to 20 people on a forum. We want them to be able to set the infrastructure so that they can find out from those organisations what it is that is going on and what it is that their public wants of them.
(Sir William Wells) Dare I say it: I imagine the people who will go on to patient forums will be the people who are on CHCs. They will be drawing from the same pool - voluntary organisations, normal people and the like - but people have to volunteer. They do not get any remuneration for it. It will differ from area to area. I know that we have appointed the Chairman of the over-arching national body recently, Sharon Grant. I was talking to her the other day and I know she has some very firm ideas about ensuring that we get people on to these who do truly represent the communities for which they are responsible, and that is going to be easier, because they do not have the considerable range of responsibilities and accountabilities that a non-executive director sitting on a board has.
Sir Sydney Chapman
(Sir William Wells) Expressions of interest.
(Sir William Wells) No. We send a pack to every single person expressing an interest. This pack sets out the information pretty simply, and we think very clearly. In fact, everybody does say this is very good. It is at that stage that peple say, "Crikey!" Eighteen thousand of them say, "Crikey!" and put it into the waste bin.
(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.
(Sir William Wells) Five thousand pounds.
(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.
(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.
(Dr Moore) No.
(Sir William Wells) Providing you do not give more than £5,000 a year.
(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.
(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
(Sir William Wells) No. You can always make an application, but you would have to stand down as an MP.
(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.
(Sir William Wells) Yes. It is set in their appointment letter.
(Sir William Wells) No; by us.
(Sir William Wells) We are the only people who can remove them.
(Sir William Wells) I have to say we have quite a lot of cases like that.
(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.
(Sir William Wells) We do have cases.
(Sir William Wells) No.
(Sir William Wells) We have removed a chairman and a number of non-executives, yes, particularly in badly performing trusts.
(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.
(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.
(Sir William Wells) No, objectives.
(Sir William Wells) Some of them can be quite soft, and you cannot have a soft target, because a target is normally a number or a quite clearly expressed situation, whereas some of the objectives are softer things like improving the standing of the hospital with the general public.
(Sir William Wells) We call them objectives, but of course, a lot of them are targets, because they are things which are imposed upon the trust from above and therefore we have to, quite properly, reflect those through the performance of the board.
(Sir William Wells) Effectively an appraisal sets out the pre-agreed objectives, so there is a session at the beginning of the year between the two, the appraiser and the appraisee, and they agree the objectives. At the end of the year you have another session, and you sit down and decide between you whether the objectives have been achieved, and the appraisal is the document which is agreed between appraiser and appraisee and signed off.
(Sir William Wells) What will be public is whether the trust has met its targets, but the appraisal is a document which is between the appraiser and the appraisee and the Appointments Commission.
(Sir William Wells) The Regional Commissioner and/or the strategic health authority chairman is responsible for appraising the chairman. That person will have the appraisals of the other people on the Board so that they will have a knowledge of the outcome of those appraisals when they do the appraisal of the chairman. It is going to be at least 100 if not a 200 per cent improvement on what we have at the moment, which is nothing, and therefore you go on hearsay and hope.
(Sir William Wells) Yes.
(Sir William Wells) The system is that everybody is appointed for four years, and ideally we would like to re-appoint people for three or four years after that. They will get re-appointment without competition if they have four appraisals which demonstrate that their performance has been consistently good over those four years. If they have one year when it is not deemed that their appraisal is good, that will be taken into account and they will not be automatically re-appointed. I suggest if they have two, steps will be taken to make sure that they go.
(Sir William Wells) Yes. Then, as I said, they are looked at by the strategic health authority chairman.
(Sir William Wells) Yes, and the other person has to sign to say they also agree that it is an accurate reflection, and it may well be that they do not agree. If they do not agree, it goes up to the grandfather.
(Sir William Wells) The strategic health authority chairman or the commissioner.
(Sir William Wells) The commissioner is the person who is responsible, but there is often a mismatch. We were introduced as a body before the government decided upon strategic health authorities. They subsequently decided on the introduction of strategic health authorities and they said they were responsible for the performance management of the trusts. Therefore, we said pragmatically, "Look, if you are responsible for the performance management of trusts, you should actually be responsible for the performance of the individuals on the board, and accountable to us for it." This is done in different ways across the country. In some cases strategic health authority chairmen ask the regional commissioners to do some of these appraisals, and in some cases they do it themselves, but whatever the outcome is, the team of the strategic health authority chairman and the regional commissioner will decide on whether action is needed or not, and if it is, they will make a recommendation to the board.
(Sir William Wells) You can indeed, provided that the chairman has not presided over the no stars. We have come to a fairly pragmatic decision, which is not a rule, but if a chairman has been with a no-star trust for longer than 18 months, in most cases we would suggest that that person is responsible for the no stars and therefore should go. What we are endeavouring to do - and we are working very closely with directors of health and social care in this - is to anticipate this, because I think it is bad news when suddenly somebody decides that a trust has no stars and everybody says, "My goodness! This is a terrible surprise. We need to sack the Chairman and the Chief Executive" when we actually should know a lot further in advance than that, and that is the reason for the appraisal system. If we see a trust is descending down through the stars and the appraisal looks a bit iffy, then that is the time to take action, before they become a no-star trust.
(Sir William Wells) We have a very comprehensive training programme. It did not exist before. It was very patchy. London was quite good. The rest of the country was pretty poor. What we have done first and foremost - and the last line of questions was interesting - is we are setting in train some very high-quality appraisal training to take place over the course of the winter. Chief executives are going to be involved in that, so that we have the executive taking the same approach as the non-executive side. It is the first time it has ever happened. It is very important. When we have got through that, so that we can hopefully have some really proactive appraisal processes in the spring, we are going to be introducing whole-board training - again, this has never happened before - where executives and non-executives, alongside each other, are actually trained in how to operate as a board and get a much better understanding - and this is one of the big problems, that executives do not understand what non-executives are about, and non-executives are pretty unclear as to what executives are about. A lot of boards are far less efficient than they should be as a result of that, from one small but very fundamental misunderstanding. We will be starting quite simply, taking boards away, getting them to understand what each other's roles are, how they can best work together and the like, and that will be the bulk of the training for 2003. We think we will get a step change in performance as a result of that. I think we will be able to see that not only internally but externally, coming back to your point about how they interface with the community. I think there is a lot of confusion about how they should do that, which means it is getting lost.
(Sir William Wells) They are not required to say that they are, but it would be pretty odd if they did not, frankly.
(Sir William Wells) We actually ask it. There are many questions on the application form, such as "Are you a patient, a carer, a user? What are your views about the ideals of the NHS?" There are zillions of questions. You can soon suss out whether somebody is just standing on the sidelines.
(Sir William Wells) There was a huge political row about it. It used to be asked, and it was removed.
(Sir William Wells) The answer to that is that we hope to appoint people who are provocative. "Troublemaker" I always think has a negative connotation.
(Sir William Wells) Clearly, it is crucially important that we have people on boards who do challenge, because there is no point in having five non-executive directors on a board if they all sit there like patsies, agreeing with what the executives have to say.
(Sir William Wells) That is a good question. I can cop out of the answer to that by saying it would depend on whether you were best candidate or not, but I think it would probably create some difficulty, because you are required as a non-executive director to promote government policy, and if it were government policy that foundation hospitals should be introduced, you would be in contravention of what it was that you were going to have to sign as the appointment.
(Sir William Wells) At present, with difficulty. That is why we are revising the way in which we search for people. We are moving away from knowledge and skill base, which makes it impossible for those sort of people to reply positively to a competency base, and she would have all the competencies.
(Sir William Wells) We are quite proud of it. It was the first thing we did. There was no induction, no knowledge transfer. We produced this, (indicating) which is called "Welcome to the NHS", which is an induction manual, which is even more sought after by executives working in the NHS than it is by non-executives, so they can find out what the NHS does. It is in simple language. We send that to them. We have nationally sponsored induction so that they can learn at a high level what the NHS is about, and we are introducing a framework for local induction so that they can find out.
(Sir William Wells) We have specific areas of training going on the whole time.
(Dr Moore) I work with them very closely. We are talking with them at the moment about the new website that they are hoping to open, and we intend to link with that our own web-based activities.
(Dr Moore) They do not at the moment. This is one of the things we are talking about, so that we can pick that up in the future.
(Sir William Wells) My answer to that would be that if government wishes to have appointments made professionally, and which quite self-evidently are made independently, openly and transparently, I cannot see that there is any other way in which they can do it then through an independent organisation which is professionally set up to do it, has the expertise to do it, and has no axe to grind. It will always be perceived that the minister has an axe to grind whether they have or not.
Chairman: That is a very useful and interesting note on which to end. You have been most helpful. Thank you very much indeed for coming along.
EXAMINATION OF WITNESS
PROFESSOR TERESA REES, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, examined.
(Professor Rees) Thank you very much for inviting me. I welcome this opportunity to talk about what is going on in Wales, because I think it is quite exciting. The place to start, I think, is to say that the legislation that set up the National Assembly for Wales had a clause in it which said that everything the Assembly did should pay due regard to equality of opportunity. There was another clause which basically said there should be proper structures and mechanisms to make sure that the Assembly could deliver on that objective of having due regard. So this duty of having due regard is paid very serious attention in Wales. It is in effect a statutory obligation to promote equality, which exists in Northern Ireland and does not exist in England, Scotland or in GB as a whole. This is delivered through a cross-cutting Equality of Opportunity Committee which is all-party. What is interesting is that the individual politicians of all parties appear to be very committed to this clause. You will be aware, I am sure, that 42 per cent of the Members of the Assembly, (which has 60 Members), are women, which is, outside two Swedish regional assemblies, the best gender balance of any national or regional government in Europe. It is also the case that five out of the nine Cabinet members of the National Assembly for Wales are women, which as I understand it is unprecedented in the world, as far as I can establish. So you have that gender balance, which I think means that there is a particular interest in this whole issue. The Assembly itself is by its words and deeds very committed to participatory democracy and to social inclusion. At the time the Assembly was set up, we had a situation where it was post-Nolan, and there was a movement towards having independent assessors. I myself was appointed as an independent assessor post Nolan by the old Welsh Office, but it was the case that patronage was regarded as the norm and ministerial appointments were administered in the normal way for that period. So the Assembly has been quite committed to cultural change in the whole area of public appointments, and trying to open up the Assembly Sponsored Public Bodies, in essence, not simply to try to get a more diverse group of people putting themselves forward and being accepted for public appointments, but to modernising public service in Wales more generally. This participatory democracy is simply one element of that. It is worth mentioning also, I think, that Wales was dubbed at this time "Quango-land" - I think we had more quangos per square inch than other parts of the UK - so it was a particular issue. When I became an independent assessor in the mid-Nineties, it was clear to me that the civil servants in the Welsh Office - and I have no reason to believe they were any different from any other part of the Civil Service - were not experienced in making appointments per se. They did not have that system of appointment to public appointments or indeed to their own Civil Service. There was also not much cross-learning across departments. If you think of the old Welsh Office as a mini-Whitehall in a sense, because all the different functions were covered, each department was developing its own new trajectory and way of dealing with things. That was the situation. What has happened since then I think has been a very concerted effort to improve the professionalism of the public appointments system. There was a raising awareness week with Dame Rennie Fritchie, a building up of the list of people reflecting the Public Appointments Unit in London's own list and trying to ensure that there was better gender balance and so on on that, moving towards advertising appointments, and slightly jollier advertisements are now to be seen than the ones in the early years, ones that say, "Do you have these competencies? Are you interested in the National Health Service? There is a chance for you." So rather more exciting advertisements perhaps. A lot of advice was sought from the various statutory equality agencies and the voluntary sector on how to get a wider range of people to put themselves forward. The scoping exercise you have a copy of, which was really a bit of a brainstorm on some lines of approach to try to widen this up, and there have been other pieces of work too, like Morgan's report on the representativeness of the various communities. There has been a consultation on the remuneration and expenses, and much more use of the Internet in trying to convey information about opportunities. The independent assessors such as myself have all been sacked, because we were appointed by the "tap on the shoulder" method, which was an in-built paradox, to my way of thinking. That has come to an end, and now if you want to be an independent assessor for the National Assembly, you need to respond to an advertisement which is coming out next week, and I myself will be responding and I am sure lots of other existing assessors will be responding, and we will be vetted and trained and professionalised in that way. Another initiative that has been taken forward is the introduction of more elements on citizenship into the National Curriculum in Wales to try and instil in young people the notion that this is part of what they might do as an adult. A number of ideas have emerged from all this. With your permission, I will just mention them briefly. The first I think is progression routes. We quite often see, for example, people becoming involved in school governing bodies who, when their individual child has left that school, are in a sense lost to public service, and we feel in that sort of situation some of these people might be harnessed and encouraged to move into another layer or tier of public service, perhaps by applying for a public appointment. So the issue of progression routes is one that we are quite interested in. Also, the use of independent assessors: at the moment it is my view that they are rather under-used. They are keen, they are willing, sometimes they are only called once or twice a year, they come from all over Wales, they are fairly diverse - hopefully they will be even more diverse after this recruitment exercise. We have been suggesting that they could go out into the highways and byways of Wales, making connections with voluntary organisations and so on, and doing presentations to those members of those organisations, encouraging them and informing them about opportunities for public service in this way. We have looked at work-shadowing, for example: attending board meetings and opening up some of those meetings to people who do not really know what goes on behind these doors. We have discovered enormous ignorance really about the whole issue of public appointments and public service and what goes on. I think the ignorance is a major barrier to all sorts of people participating. The use of head-hunters is a very contentious issue on the equality angle. My own view is that as long as they are properly briefed to go out and look for diverse heads, there is nothing wrong with using them. It is when they are in effect rather lazy, and rely on existing networks and knowledge that they have, that tendency to be rather restricted in their characteristics, that it can become a problem. The issue of retention I think is also important. I was very interested in the debate about performance appraisal and review. That is all part of the agenda in Wales for modernising public service, but how do you also keep good people? Also, I think the issue that was raised about how you assess competencies. You might be a very good, competent person who had been at home for many years looking after children and developed competencies in stress management, multi-tasking, all these things that are essential for this kind of existence - how do we draw those people in? There has been an enormous change in the forms used from the mid Nineties, which asked you to list, for example, your marital status, the name of your wife and her maiden name and to list your medals. We have moved on from that now to a situation where we ask people to look at the competencies required for the post and to explain how they have them. The Assembly emphasizes in the forms that these may come from being at home looking after children or sick relatives, they may come from voluntary sector activity or from employment. It is not presumed that only people with traditional forms of employment will have these competencies. That is very much emphasized. I think we have to look at the enigma of merit and potential. As a social scientist, I would want to deconstruct these terms and say, "What is it we really are trying to get at here?" and we like head hunters must not be lazy and read off from a person's career that they must have or must induce that they must have these characteristics because they have had that career or because they have been on 19 public bodies already - they may have been terrible! That is the way in which the debate is developing: a search for these competencies, not how they were acquired. There is one particular appointment that maybe, if you were interested, I would like to have the opportunity to describe at some stage, and that was the appointment of the Children's Commissioner in Wales, which I believe does not exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom at the moment, where children from care were involved in the appointments process. Seventeen children took part in this. Some of them had learning difficulties. They were not a statistically representative sample of children in care, but they were a cross-section. As the independent assessor on that appointment, I was asked for my advice on how to involve children. I found this very unnerving and ran immediately to Dame Rennie Fritchie, who thought it was extremely interesting and worthwhile, it probably had not been done before, and wished me luck but I was on my own on this one. To cut a long story short, the children visibly grew up before our very eyes. They took the exercise extremely seriously. There were two independent panels, in a sense. The children went through all the short-listed candidates by themselves and submitted them to extremely gruelling tasks and interviewing. Fortunately, their top candidate was the full panel's top candidate, including the Minister's. What we would have done if that had not been the case I am not sure. I was very heartened by that process, and I think it is an extremely interesting example of participative democracy and one that meant that the Children's Commissioner basically had the vote and support of children in care as well as the Minister and the Appointments Committee. Maybe I should stop there. I am hoping I am conveying an enormous paradigm shift in approach to this whole issue, and an attempt to professionalise and to enhance participative democracy. It is a slow process. It is like turning a great ship around. But I think there are some welcome signs that we are having some results.
(Professor Rees) I think the most important issue is increasing the diversity of people who put themselves forward and are appointed to public appointments. At the moment, like any other part of the country, it is largely men, particularly in the more senior appointments; it is largely white people; there are very few disabled people, and so on. Of course, in Wales we have the Welsh language as well, and the urban/rural dimension. So it is ensuring that the people appointed to the Assembly Sponsored Public Bodies reflect better the population that they are serving. At the moment it is clear that there is quite a long way to go on that. That is the first issue. Following on from that, it is not simply a question of getting a few quick wins by targeting, for example, some disabled people, getting them on to the boards. It is also about changing the way in which the boards do their business to facilitate the participation of these people. It is no good having people who are not terribly experienced in working in committees if they are going to be interrupted and overruled the whole time. The culture of the way in which the business is done needs to accommodate these people and needs to hear their voices. It might mean more telephone work, it might mean more video-conferencing, instead of the standard way in which business is done. It is about changing the nature of the engagement, not simply getting more people of a diverse background in. The second way in which I think the democratisation is occurring is through transparency. There has been a tremendous shift from the old system of the minister tapping on the shoulder to these appointments being advertised, but being advertised very proactively, through the web, through organisations, including the voluntary sector, being encouraged to nominate people or encouraging people to nominate themselves. It is very much an outreach programme to try and get information out to people and to encourage people to apply, and to make the whole system transparent. What I have noticed in getting on for ten years of working in this area is that people in the past would say, "Well, there is no point in applying. These things are always fixed. They may be advertising them now, but that's obviously going to go to X." That is now changing. You are getting more people applying for these posts and a more diverse range of people putting applications in, particularly from ethnic minorities, and that is very heartwarming. Part of what this project will hopefully do is to monitor and provide some baseline data, to see which under-represented minorities populations still need to be targeted and tackled. The equality agencies have worked very hard with the Assembly in partnership on this whole agenda. They have been very active in trying to get the message out to groups.
(Professor Rees) Yes. I think in Wales the scale is not as great as we were hearing about with the NHS, and so it is more manageable within the existing structure. Ministers still play a role. The appointment panel will produce a recommendation and a very detailed report, and that report is increasingly professional in stressing how this name has emerged through merit and through fitness on the competencies. It is much more difficult for a minister then to disagree with the outcome of an appointment panel if that demonstration is there. So ministers still have the last word, if you like, in these appointments.
(Professor Rees) I am not sure that I could make a very coherent argument for retaining it except in that these are elected people.
(Professor Rees) That was the point. They were entirely in the gift of the elected people, and there was no system of matching up, as far as I could see, merit and the skills needed for the post. Indeed, the skills needed for the post were not even articulated at that time. This, I think, is a system where you have checks and balances, but you still have some ministerial input into the system, but essentially, what is driving it is merit and fit-for purpose, not political preference.
(Professor Rees) I am not going to go to the wall on this one. What I can say is that in the National Assembly the politicians' involvement is cross-party, and if they arrive at a consensus and have that cross-party support, it strengthens the position of those public appointees to know that they have come through on the basis of merit a fairly rigorous appointments system, and they have support not simply from one person but from the Assembly. That is quite a powerful support. That is an imprimatur, if you like; that is a permission to go out and do the job with that backing. If you removed that, you may then set up a situation for these people where ministers have a go at them, criticise them publicly. You could end up with a situation where actually that post becomes untenable. I think there needs to be some sort of compromise there. I think the system in Wales is rather different from the ministerial system here. Partly there is a two-party pact in Scotland and in Wales, of course, so you have to have consensus politics to an extent because of that, and there is in essence in the National Assembly an all-party commitment to making the Assembly work, and therefore, in that spirit of good will, the system currently works, to my mind, effectively. If any of those things were to change, the concerns that you are raising would be stronger.
(Professor Rees) It helps to strengthen the position of the appointees to have that all-party support.
(Professor Rees) You can get into Chinese boxes. Who are going to be the independent assessors on the appointment of the independent assessors? I do not know how that is going to work. That is a very good question.
(Professor Rees) It will be the responsibility of the First Minister to make sure the system was done properly, but the purpose of terminating all the independent assessors and starting afresh is precisely to improve that system, and to make sure, of course, that all the independent assessors have the appropriate training. I think that is incredibly important. They are the guardians of the fair system.
(Professor Rees) The assessor posts are being advertised next week. I am not on the inside track.
(Professor Rees) To the National Assembly. They will decide how to select assessors for the process of selecting assessors.
(Professor Rees) I have no idea. It would not be right for me to know, would it? I am a candidate.
(Professor Rees) I do not think they need to be owned as such. Dame Rennie Fritchie has an extremely good relationship with all the independent assessors. She provides them with information, she invites them to seminars, she provides training, and I feel there is an excellent relationship there. I think you might put the question round the other way: given the number of public appointments and given the difficulties of providing UK coverage with different legislation, given this business of promoting equality in Northern Ireland and in Wales and different situations in England and Scotland, you might argue that there should be a Dame Rennie Fritchie in each of the four countries.
(Professor Rees) I absolutely agree, which is partly why we have the situation in Wales that we have. That is an attempt precisely to respond to that internal paradox.
(Professor Rees) I suppose it is a bit of both, but the intention is to make it more of a science, and the difficulty, it seems to me, is in actually specifying what is precisely needed in the post. One of the things that I have observed over my years as an independent assessor is that quite often if somebody leaves a board, they come to the end of their period of appointment, the attempt is made to replace that person, whereas I think when you get to that situation, it is an opportunity to say, "What is the purpose of this Board? What are the competencies that you need on the Board as a whole? What competencies are already represented on the Board and what are needed, bearing in mind this underlying agenda of modernising the public service and moving that agenda forward?" Therefore, you devise the competencies in that context, and very often in the early days what we saw was, "We want somebody who looks like X" and what you get is somebody who looks like X. That is one of the ways forward in all of that, and also to try to take best practice from normal job appointments. That field of work in trying to make the appraisal process more scientific is very well developed and I think the public appointments system can learn from it.
(Professor Rees) No. It simply means being sure about what the competencies are that you want. We are not necessarily doing psychological testing or anything like that. It is a fraught area, but certainly I can report from my own experience in the early days that there was no discussion about the competencies. "What we want is a good egg." That was more or less as involved as it got, and good eggs appeared - good eggs remarkably similar to the good eggs that were already on the board. So I think it is a question of thinking of those broad competencies, but not in a kind of over-mechanistic way.
(Professor Rees) People use the term "merit" - "We will appoint on merit", "We are looking for people on the basis of merit" - but they never really describe exactly what it is that they mean by that. That is what I think needs to be further articulated. If I could go back to the Training and Enterprise Councils that we used to have, for example, the idea of merit there in terms of appointments to the TECs was articulated, and one of the criteria was basically you had to be a chairman of a small or medium sized enterprise. That, to me, is institutional sex discrimination because it is far more likely that men will have that opportunity or that position than women. So the concept of merit was actually being translated into a specific set of experiences that one gender was much more likely to have had than another. So merit was being conflated with a particular set of experiences there. That is why I think we need to be more rigorous about what we mean by merit. We can talk about integrity and all those kinds of things. That is fine. But what we are really talking about is fit for purpose.
(Professor Rees) I think we are thinking about people who are able to do these kinds of tasks, and the point is, where they have achieved the experience to enable them to do those tasks does not matter. So we are moving away from traditional employment-based applications to ones that list the tasks: "You have to be a team player. Give us an example of your team playing skills." "You have to be able to sift information and analyse it and come to a reasonable decision on an appropriate outcome." You can have that skill from a whole range of different experiences, including bringing up children. That is what I mean about merit, that we too often use as a shorthand for merit a particular set of experiences derived from very traditional kinds of backgrounds, very often male employment backgrounds, and what we need to think is what are the particular skills that are needed - team player or whatever - and how we can present this opportunity in a way that people can read into it "I can do that", including a woman who has stayed at home looking after children for many years and running play groups.
(Professor Rees) I think that is a long haul, because there are particular cultural issues about being in public life. You are well aware of them. I can describe what happened when I was the Equal Opportunities Commissioner for Wales. We were vexed by exactly this issue, and the Director of the EOC called a conference of ethnic minority women in the area. It was really the first time that these women had been brought together, and it was an opportunity for their voices to be heard on almost any subject that they were interested in. What came over clearly was that Bangladeshi women in particular, who did not speak English, or indeed Welsh, had no way of interacting with social services, health services, on a satisfactory basis. They were unaware of what services were available, they were unaware of how to access those services and so on. A considerable amount of work has been developed since then setting up this organisation called MEWN Cymru, which means "being in" in Welsh. It is Minority Ethnic Women's Network. They have branches in different parts of Wales, particularly in the cities. This has worked at a voluntary level with support from the Equal Opportunities Commission and others, to try to develop not only a knowledge and awareness of public services, but the beginnings of engagement with it, and confidence among some of these women to start participating in these activities. This is a slow business, but it is developing at a grass roots level, and it now means that there is this organisation that can be consulted, for example, by the Assembly and other organisations. It can be relied upon to provide a voice. There are other ethnic minority groups in Wales, of course, all-Wales organisations, but this is the only one that focuses on the women's voices. So I think it is grass roots work in that kind of way that can eventually hopefully produce Moslem women candidates for these kinds of appointments. But there is no quick fix.
(Professor Rees) I am not a great fan of these things myself, because it seems to me what you can end up with is a desperate attempt to get some of these unrepresented groups on to committees without the appropriate support and without an appropriate culture to receive them and make the most of them. It can be a very uncomfortable experience for them, and it can put other people off. On the other hand, having said that, I think it is worth noting that in at least three European Union Member States there is legislation that says there must be a gender balance on all public committees. In two countries it is 40 per cent and in one it is 30 per cent, and the world has not come to an end in these countries. What is extremely interesting is, of course, some women have been fast-tracked into this, but if you talk to men in Finland, working perhaps in the private sector, who are involved in the public sector in some way, they say they now feel discomfited if they are on a board of directors or whatever and there is not a gender balance. They feel they are missing part of the equation, they are missing a whole set of insights and experience that they are getting on these gender-balanced public committees. If we had legislation like that in this country, it would mean we would have to put all these other measures into place to make it work, and that is what those three countries - Sweden, Finland and Italy, now France are going for it as well - have had to do. So targets in themselves I think are very crude. You need a package of measures. Legislation is something I will certainly invite the Committee to consider on sex equality, but I do not think it is appropriate for ethnic minorities; it is far more complicated. There are other approaches. I have to say the gender balance in the National Assembly has completely transformed the governance. It is extremely interesting.
Mr Prentice: I have just come back from Finland, and I met one male Finnish MP when I was over there for a week and probably about eight or nine women MPs, and it seemed to me that women in Finland really are the movers and shakers.
Brian White: Most of the country did not vote.
Chairman: We only have Annette, but it is quite an "only".
(Professor Rees) I absolutely agree. I could not agree more. This is something that is being addressed in the action plan. It is all part of the agenda of modernising the public service. You cannot bring people in who are not used to the particular cut and thrust of a style of working and expect them to work effectively unless you change the culture of the way in which that organisation works. This is extremely delicate, because the people who are running it in the way that they are running it are doing so out of the goodness of their hearts, and it has always worked for them. Essentially, it is quite challenging then to say, "We may have to re-think how the business of the committee/board is conducted." So there has to be a real openness and a real commitment to that. One of the ways that I have tried to influence this in the National Assembly on all the panels for which I have been an independent assessor is to say to candidates, "You will be aware that the National Assembly has to pay due regard to equality of opportunity in all that it does, and this of course includes the Assembly Sponsored Public Bodies. What would you do on this Board to promote equality?" That is one of the criteria, that is one of the competencies that we are concerned with, an openness to this agenda, ideas about how to deliver on this agenda through public bodies. By including that, over time only people who have reasonably acceptable answers to that, or are prepared to engage with it and be open to suggestions about that, should theoretically get through. I can remember in the early days of public appointments interviewing people for what was then one of the biggest quangos in Wales, and saying, "What about this issue of equality of opportunity?" We had replies along the lines of "Well, I am a big employer, and frankly, I am only interested in appointing on merit." The second one was very much along the lines of "Oh, I know what the legislation is and how to make sure I don't fall foul of the legislation." The third one is, "Well, my wife's a woman, so don't worry, I am kept up to speed on all that business. Next serious question, please." Making it clear in the interview process that that approach to the equality issue is not acceptable basically changes the whole agenda. The candidates realise this is an important issue, and if they want to get on the board, they have to sign up to this. They do not have to be terribly knowledgeable about it, but they have to sign up to it. It is part of government policy in Wales to promote equality, and it is part of its statutory duty. So with that background, it is easier to try and push this forward amongst new candidates. It is more challenging to change the culture of existing boards, but that is being addressed through training and through strong messages from ministers and so on. But I could not agree with you more, and nothing would be worse than improving the diversity of candidates, getting people with different backgrounds on to the boards, and then subjecting them to being patronised, humiliated, ignored, whatever. That would just be disastrous. It would be better if things carried on in their own sweet way, I think, than to subject people to that.
(Professor Rees) I certainly think it is something that is well worth asking about. What I do know is Dame Rennie Fritchie has put a lot of emphasis on the need to identify what is required and to think imaginatively about the job rather than simply cloning past members. So I think there is a lot of work going on there. What is going on in the women's equality unit on this particular issue I am not terribly familiar with.
(Professor Rees) Shall I deal with the first question about the set of attitudes? It is not so much a set of attitudes; it is ensuring that applicants are aware of the obligation of ASPBs to promote equality. That is the statutory responsibility of the Assembly and it is quite different from UK/GB and Scotland. It would be like asking a candidate for an NHS board "Are you into promoting health?" It is not really more than that. But because it is a new statutory legislation, people may or may not be aware of it, and therefore it has to come out in that way, whereas with a health appointment you would assume people were into promoting health.
(Professor Rees) I really think the Conservative Party did enormous good through Nolan, introducing independent assessors, and took a giant step forward in turning that culture around which had been more or less the same historically for a long, long time. I think that was an extremely important step forward, which has obviously been built on since then. The situation in the National Assembly for Wales appointments is that people are asked if they have been politically active in the past five years. They are not asked for affiliation or vote or anything prior to five years, and it is made clear on the form that this will neither help nor hinder them, nor will having no political activity at all. It is an awareness thing, particularly if you are going to make a press release about an appointment. If you are not aware that somebody is extremely politically active in some part of the country, that can cause all sorts of embarrassment. So basically, the appointing panel needs to be aware of activity.
(Professor Rees) It is different. This is devolution. There are differences.
(Professor Rees) The thing is, if this person is politically active in a political party, the chances are it may well be known anyway. It is public domain stuff. That is different from affiliation.
(Professor Rees) We are all related to each other! I agree there is an issue there, but it is hard to convey how inclusive things are in Wales, with all the cross-party committees and this joint cross-party commitment to making the Assembly work. It is much less of an issue than it is in Westminster.
(Professor Rees) No.
(Professor Rees) The appointment panel, and, as I say, it is really about sensitivity at the press release stage.
(Professor Rees) Information about political affiliation is not collected. It is political activity in the last five years.
(Professor Rees) Of activity, office holding or seeking office. It is a very small number.
(Professor Rees) I am losing your point, I am ashamed to say.
(Professor Rees) A less transparent system because a question is asked about political activity in the last five years?
(Professor Rees) Affiliation is not known. Political activity in the last five years is known, and there is an enormous difference there.
Mr Trend: I may be wrong about this but I think political activity in the last five years would debar you anyway.
(Professor Rees) It could not be done.
(Professor Rees) Because you have the independent assessors operating there. Ministers are basically presented with a nominated candidate. If it is a very big appointment, they might chair the panel or be on the panel, but for the most part, the name comes through the system, which ministers are not involved in, and they say yes or no at the end. I cannot ever remember a minister refusing a candidate that has come through the system that they are not involved in. I do not know of one.
(Professor Rees) They would go to the list of candidates that have been deemed by the process to be above the line, and they would presumably choose one of those. But those candidates have come through the system, assessed on merit, with the independent assessors, and deemed above the line - maybe not the first choice - but that is what would happen. If they could not select one from the candidates that are deemed to be above the line, the process starts again.
(Professor Rees) I would want that checked out with the National Assembly Public Appointments Unit, but my understanding is that affiliation is not collected at any stage, only political activity within the last five years. That is what is on the form.
(Professor Rees) I do not know that any of them have.
(Professor Rees) This was a scoping exercise at the invitation of Edwina Hart, the Chair of the Equality of Opportunities Committee at the time, and Dame Rennie Fritchie, with a view to identifying possible ways forward to look at this whole issue of motivation and what motivates people, and what does not motivate people who are not motivated, which is more difficult, and so on and so forth. What has happened since then is this has been considered and some of the specific recommendations - they were not packaged ---
(Professor Rees) --- Some of the recommendations have then been built into the action plan (which I think may have been tabled this morning) which is in the process of being signed off by the Assembly. It has been agreed by the Equality of Opportunities Committee and I think it is with the First Minister now who has to sign it off, and some of those proposals are built into this plan to move them forward.
(Professor Rees) It was on the web page on 6 March.
(Professor Rees) The current version, which I tantalisingly have here, is amended so slightly that really the one that is tabled is pretty much it. For some of the scoping exercise ideas, as I understand it from Dame Rennie Fritchie, there had not really been much thought on this topic about motivation in public appointments before so this is a very first exercise, casting bread upon the waters, and getting some reaction to see what people think might be worth pursuing, building on some of the things that we know about volunteering, for example, which is related but different, and some things we know about those who already present themselves for public appointments. So a few of those things have been picked up in the action plan and, as I understand it, once the First Minister has signed this off they will be developing that. £80,000 has been set aside for the Public Appointments Unit for the coming year to implement some of those studies and other actions that are identified in the plan.
(Professor Rees) But you would not do them all.
(Professor Rees) No.
(Professor Rees) No. This is the thing. It is a very new area to explore.
(Professor Rees) Not on this particular topic.
(Professor Rees) This was commissioned, as you can see ---
(Professor Rees) Exactly and so obviously things have moved on since then but actually there is precious little information on this, particularly on systematic social science - and I am a systematic social scientist. Obviously there are journalist reports and interviews you can read about that but, no, there is no systematic proper research on those kinds of things.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: Alright.
Chairman: It is a good job Ian is not on the panel evaluating this application.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: We would be here all day.
Sir Sydney Chapman
(Professor Rees) I feel nervous about answering that question, Sir Sydney, because I do not have the data. The data could easily be obtained from the Public Appointments Unit of the National Assembly for Wales. All I can say is that increasing numbers of applications is not necessarily a brilliant measure because in the early days when these appointments were opened up to the public, when the terms of reference were described in hopelessly broad terms, the entire population felt that they would be eligible and applied and you would have ridiculous numbers of people applying for a post when three-quarters of them were ineligible, although their ineligibility was not clear from the job description. If you improve the description of the post so that only eligible people apply to it, you would expect a reduction in the numbers, so with the professionalisation of the system you would expect them to reduce in numbers. At the same time, if you are trying to promote diversity, you want more eligible people from more diverse backgrounds to apply. So my argument is that the number of applications is a very crude measure. What one really should be looking at is the number of eligible applications and while I do not have those statistics - they are obtainable - my impression is from my independent assessor work that the numbers of eligible applications is going up and the proportion of eligible applications to the whole is increasing, and these are good signs. This is my impression.
(Professor Rees) I very much like the spirit of what you are saying. It is extremely constructive, but I am not sure that giving all applicants interviews is an appropriate way to fulfil that spirit. It does seem to me, first of all, that improving information and awareness about public appointments helps individual people to know whether or not this is for them, that is one thing. There is an awful lot more work that could be done in that area to help people self-select so you do not get people presenting themselves who are not appropriate and a potentially damaging situation. Secondly, this is really in the spirit of what you are saying, we almost need a kind of coaching system. We need some seminars, some training, all over the country, to get people up to speed and to get to know more about what they would be letting themselves in for, but also to get their own competency developed and their way of communicating and expressing themselves well-honed so that they can have a greater likelihood of being appointed. One of the things that the National Assembly has been looking at is what I would call the "near misses", people who have been interviewed for a board and really fall down in one particular area. The one that comes up most often for me is women who have not got experience of corporate governance. It is obviously not just women but particularly women, and when they are asked a question about corporate governance they do not understand what it means because they have got no experience of it. You either know about it or you do not and it can be developed very easily. The idea is that perhaps the Assembly should run a couple of training courses a year on what corporate governance is. If this is the missing thing for you, you could be directed towards that with a special letter after your interview to say, "You would have been appointed if you could have known more about this, go on this training course and next time you will stand a better chance. " So providing more training and background and confidence building for those kind of applicants would be really good. I think the Assembly has got quite professional at not sending all failed candidates "Dear John" letter but sending bespoke letters thanking them, etcetera, etcetera, to try to encourage them or point them in a different direction, maybe applying for a different tier or whatever it might be. That is quite constructive in keeping these people in the frame and trying to ensure that eventually they will fit the appropriate kind of post. I do not think one could interview all applicants because it would not be cost-effective. I think what we need is a series of measures that try to grow people, if you like, and help them to self-select at the most appropriate tier and to progress their own public service careers. What I think is extremely interesting in my own experience (over the last however many years it is) is that in the early days the people who would apply would be "the great and the good" and mostly one would have heard of them, read about them, know about them, seen them on television. Now the entire panel will be looking at people who nobody has heard of, and I think that is extremely encouraging.
(Professor Rees) That is a difficult question. There was obviously movement in this direction with the opening up before the 1997 election with Nolan and all of that, but I have to say I think there has been this paradigm shift and I think it is the clause in the legislation setting up the Assembly which has driven it. I think things have moved a lot faster than they would have done if we had not had devolution.
(Professor Rees) I would like to see the UK Government adopt a duty to promote equality legislation. That would do it nicely. At the moment employers and all sorts of organisations have had a lot of diversity legislation on race, on disability, and there will be three more coming because of the Amsterdam Treaty on sexual orientation, religious beliefs and age. This is really cumbersome stuff for organisations to deal with, knowing what they can and cannot do on this, that and the other. To have a duty to promote equality, to my mind, is much neater and it turns the organisation away from being afraid of whether they are falling foul of this or that legislation into proactive, creative, innovative thinkers thinking "What can we do to promote it?" It just turns the whole thing round. It stops being a nuisance and becomes an exciting challenge.
(Professor Rees) Starting with example, by appointing some non-conformist people, those that make people's eyebrows raise a bit and think, "How has that person got on there? This person is known to be very challenging", or whatever. That sends out a strong message about the openness of the system. Secondly, it seems to me the only restrictions on appointments should be the competencies that have to be identified for that particular post, and supporting whatever that organisation is there to do with all that that implies, and in the case of Assembly public bodies the duty to promote equality. There is no point in having an applicant for a post to a body whose prime aim is to get that body abolished. I think you have to have a certain amount, within a broad sense, of signing up to the body and what it is for. That does not mean to say in the nitty-gritty of particular dilemmas or policies you cannot have a whole range of different perspectives, but you have got to be generally supportive of what the organisation is there to do, otherwise it will become unworkable. But that is just a personal opinion.
(Professor Rees) But if the characteristics are so diverse, unless you are talking about those individual people, I would not be so concerned about it. I think the concern in the past was that the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the people who held positions on all these bodies were very narrow. Not only that, many of them were multiple job holders. It was extraordinary when you saw how many people on this board were also on that board. That is one of the things the Assembly addressed by saying there should be a limit as to how many boards you could be on at a time and how long you could be on them.
(Professor Rees) It depends if it is first, second or third tier. You could be on a top tier one and a one bottom tier one, there would be no problem about that. Certainly there has been a big shift away from the fact that you could count up on two hands the people running Wales basically, and that is how it was in the past.
(Professor Rees) What are the boards you are talking about?
(Professor Rees) I think that is interesting. You are talking about school governing bodies there which are, of course, outwith this system in a sense. They have a different system.
(Professor Rees) I am trying to think what would be the most locally based board that would engage with the issue that you are talking about and I think it is local health trusts, but even they are rather bigger, are they not, in terms of the geographical area that they cover? I am very conscious of the points that you have raised but I am not so sure that they come up with a responsive public body because they are not so geographically constrained, if you like. A lot of them are all-Wales bodies and if they are geographically spatially specific then they would tend to be much larger areas which would not have the same community dynamics that you are describing. It is extremely important for local boards and councils and also for schools, I absolutely agree, but I do not think it is such a problem for public appointments in the same way because of that lack of spatial specifics.
(Professor Rees) That is a very important issue. I think the thing is Wales is not so densely populated so I do not have much experience of what you are describing. It is a very good point, thank you.
(Professor Rees) I would prefer the duty to promote. I think the statutory legislation about gender balance on public bodies, however, is well worth considering and I think those countries that have gone down this road are well worth studying, not simply to look at the effects but to look at what bunking up measures have been introduced to make it work. We might want to learn a lot from those measures, even if we did not want to go down the road of setting those kind of quotas. I am very well aware - and I have been in the equality business for 30 years, thank you for reminding me - that quotas and target can be unbelievably contentious. They lead to a backlash and accusations of tokenism. I am very well aware of all that. However, they are working in these countries and they are producing some extremely interesting consequences. I would like to see us learning from those support measures that make it work. To me the best legislation we could have is a duty to make it work which I think would be welcomed by employers because it might apply to a lot of the legislation they are having to deal with and will be dealing with. In the duty there is one clear message in all that. There would need to be a lot of expertise and training around to enable people to work with it. I think it is a long-term strategy rather than a quick fix and it would need an awful lot of political will to make it work. I am very aware of that as well. Where I have seen it work as a consultant at the European Commission on equality issues - and I have done that for the last 15 years so I have quite a lot of experience of what different countries within and beyond Europe have tried to do to promote equality - it is my considered view that this kind of duty can be very effective and, of course, it has been a great pleasure for me, being based in Wales, to see this experiment, if you like, with the statutory duty to have due regard to equality working there. When I was EOC Commissioner for Wales I commissioned some research to evaluate the impact of that clause so far - and the Assembly has not been going for very long - and there is clear evidence that it has had an effect in a whole range of different areas, particularly in promoting things like participatative democracy, transparency, all of that, some really quite radical stuff. So I think it would be enabling legislation and I would dearly like to recommend it to this Committee.
Chairman: You have done and we are grateful for that. I think we should probably want to draw on you in a number of ways in thinking about these issues but it has been a wonderful start today. Thank you very much for coming and talking to us. It has been immensely valuable.