Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
THURSDAY 14 MARCH 2002
120. Just a mess and you thought it best to
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I just thought it was the
right and proper way out of it from the point of view of the fact
that I think the lottery is a very important thing in this country:
it is important to the people who play, it is important to the
bodies that get the money, and, frankly, it should not get to
the point where one's own sense of self and ego gets in the way.
121. OK. That is the lottery; take us on to
the Audit Commission.
(Dame Helena Shovelton) The Audit Commission, I knew
when I was appointed for a three-year term that there would be
a decision on whether I stayed on. I had no idea how that decision
would be made and I had no conversations on the subject with anybody
in the department. I was asked by one of the civil servants if
I wished to carry on, which I said I did, until I had a meeting
with the minister, who told me that my performance was good but
they had decided not to give me another term.
122. Hearing this news, you said what?
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I did not say very much. I
have never thought it very good to keep arguing the point when
decisions are made.
123. It must have struck you as odd to be told
that your performance was very good but they did not want you
to carry on.
(Dame Helena Shovelton) Yes. "Odd" is perhaps
a reasonable word.
124. And you cannot throw any more light on
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I honestly cannot. I understand
that one is supposed to be appraised, but I was not involved in
that appraisal system, so I do not know what system took place.
I cannot honestly tell you that; I can only tell you the outcome.
125. The interesting point here is: does this
lead you to think there are some difficulties about the re-appointment
process in some of these jobs if this kind of thing can happen?
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I think it could be helpful
to people who are in the post and for the organisation to be given
a period of time where it is possible to appoint a successor,
so that people either know if they are going or know if they are
staying and so that there can be a continuity in the way an organisation
is run. I was told that I was not going to have my appointment
renewed in August and I was due to leave at the end of November.
I worked straight through, as I hope people would have expected
of me, in a conscientious fashion until the end of November. My
deputy, who has full-time work elsewhere, was not able to work
for very long as the chair instead. I do not know this but I think
it must be very difficult for her now, if she has been facing
a considerable period of time where she needs to chair the Audit
Commission. But that is supposition rather than knowledge.
126. Three years seems to me to be a terribly
short period of appointment anyway. Would it not be better to
have a longer period of single appointment, then perhaps leave
open the question of re-appointment after that?
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I would personally find that,
as a candidate or a person in the post, helpful. The only similar
experience I have had of chairing an organisation over a longer
period of time is the Citizens' Advice Bureau, which, interestingly,
has annual elections. You have to go up in front of the entire
CAB service, which, I have to say, for the faint hearted, is not
something to be recommendedit is very direct when you can
see everybody voting precisely how they wish in front of youhowever,
having survived that cauldron of experience, they felt that if
somebody was the right person and they were going to back them,
the chances were that five years was the right period of time.
Certainly in terms of effecting change and doing different things,
five years was the period that it took to do that rather than
three years. If I had left the CAB service after three years,
I would not have been able to do some of the things that I was
able to do. So I think a period of time is important and helpful
to the person in office and to the organisation for knowing what
is going on. I also think it was very useful in the CAB service
that you knew at the end of five years you would go. There was
absolutely no question about thisthis was not to do with
performance, you could have gone beforebut, as far as I
was concerned, I knew that was coming to an end, I could plan,
I could make sure there was an election between people coming
afterwards and you felt you were leaving the organisation in a
sort of controlled and efficient fashion, which, when you have
done a good and big job, is actually of value to you. It is what
you leave behind rather than what you do at the time that is important
and how that then carries on going.
127. Just to be clear, your non re-appointment
to the Audit Commission remains a complete mystery to you.
(Dame Helena Shovelton) Well, I think it probably
would have gone entirely unremarked but for the fact that I said
. . . I mean, if you noticedand it may be you did not noticeI
was not the person who ever was the one going to the press at
the Lottery Commission. I am not the one that seeks to go to the
press or seeks to have a high profile in that regard. I did not
seek to do anything particularly when I left. What I did find
difficult was that people were saying that I had wanted to go
and I had not wanted to go. Everybody who knew me knew that was
not true and therefore I found that difficult and felt the need
to correct it.
128. But you still cannot throw any more light
on the whole decision?
(Dame Helena Shovelton) No. I have been told all kinds
of extraordinary rumours. I have no reason to know whether they
are true or not and I do not think it would be either fair or
proper to share them with you.
129. I cannot promise that my colleagues do
not have a taste for extraordinary rumours! But thank you for
that. Could I just ask Graham Mather one question. When I read
your booklet, which I enjoyed very much, as I was reading it I
thought this was a tract against what was happening and I was
getting quite involved in the argument. Then, suddenly, at the
end, you tell us that this is ". . . one of the most promising
developments in British public life since the last war" and
I was a bit thrown by that. I wonder if you were really of divided
(Mr Mather) I think that the question really ought
to be approached from the perspective of why it is happening.
This process can only be happening if two groups of people are
content with it. One of those groups are ministers: they have
handed over these responsibilities to the appointees voluntarily.
The other group are civil servants: they have at least acquiesced
in this process and they show an enthusiasm for it. I think my
view is that it is benevolent because it means that people who
have careers with greater experience in these very complex and
technical and often politically risky issues are operating in
a format in which they can take good decisions while ministers
can increase the amount of time they spend on things which are
more congenial, that some of us call the showbiz aspects: the
networking and presentation and even spinning. The civil servants,
I think, feel that it brings in more talent and expertise which
they do not have within the civil service and also for them it
is rather like having royal commissions in permanent session:
you have responsible bodies which, provided they are satisfied
with the appointments to them, are likely to have longer term
strategies, be less politicised, have fewer legislative delays
than the departmental system. So my view is probably, therefore,
the same as the implicit view of those two groups: that this is
a good thing and it would not have happened if it was not a good
Chairman: That is fascinating. This was reported
as a great indictment of the appointee state yet it sounds if
you are an enthusiast for it. You want to do a bit of fine tuning
and make it work better, but on the whole it is splendid.
Sir Sydney Chapman
130. Mr Mather, you wrote that pamphlet in 2000.
Have your views been reshaped or changed in any way since then?
(Mr Mather) I suppose to one degree. There is some
incoherence in this system which is beginning to become apparentand
I wrote an article recently highlighting, for example, that in
the health area there seem to be nine interlocking bodies which
have some responsibility for improving health standards and a
tenth, the Commission for the Quality of Health Care, most recently
appointed in order to bring together the work of the other agencies
in this field. I think I would simply say that there are signs
that incoherence may be breaking out; that the model itself may
be rather a good one but if you set up bodies which have vague
powers, which overlap, which interact with each other with no-one
holding responsibilityI called it the "snoopocracy",
everyone is checking on everyone elseit is in a way an
excessive audit function out of control, then I would put in that
caveat, that I believe in those circumstances there may be more
confusion than benefit.
131. Dame Helena, I respect the point you made
about you do not want to speculate on why you were not re-appointed
to the Audit Commission, but may I put it perhaps not very diplomatically
but less confrontationally: I suspect you will have some pretty
colourful views about the role of politicians in the appointments
(Dame Helena Shovelton) No, not really. I think politicians
play roles as ministers, which is that they seek to choose the
person whom they think will best put forward the way in which
they want that organisation to run. I do not think that is surprising.
I have been appointed by two governments, not one, so, as far
as I am concerned, the only line that I felt I had particularly
to offer in going for public appointments was a knowledge of users
(which not very many people have in the level and depth that I
have) and the ability to articulate that, and, secondly, I genuinely
cannot think of when I have ever been associated with any one
party, and therefore I am entirely independent of the political
system in a direct representational way, and so that can be useful
in making appointments of this kind of nature for reasons that
you are outlining.
(Mr Mather) Chairman, if I might just come back to
your point about fixed term appointments. I am a member of the
Competition Commission Appeal Tribunal at the moment. We were
appointed after some human rights cases in Scotland had raised
the issue of independence. As a result of those, the members were
appointed for two consecutive terms of four years, from which
they could only be removed after a report from a High Court judge
suggesting some impropriety, but the members cannot be re-appointed
for further terms. It seems to me that to some extent this procedure,
which is used in central banks around the world, quite long terms
with no re-appointment thereafter, may achieve the best of all
possible worlds, because it may protect against too short appointments
with apparently questionable decisions on re-appointment or non
re-appointment, and yet in the mind of the holder of the office
it means that they really do feel able to operate without fear
or favour, with their minds completely off the question: "If
I do this, I probably won't be re-appointed."
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I do not work on the appeal
side of the Competition Commission, I work on the reporting side
of it, so that I am undertaking an inquiry, for instance, at the
moment, and I was re-appointed without question during the same
period when I was not being re-appointed in another department.
132. I have just one more question to put to
both of you, if I may. It is a sort of an omnibus question. We
are told that there are 30,000 public appointments and we understand
that about 809 per cent of them are unpaid. Is it your view that
because relatively few are remunerated this might not attract
the somewhat high calibre people who would serve well? Or do you
think the balance is roughly right, that some appointments clearly
have to be paid because they demand a tremendous amount of time,
whereas many others just a marginal amount of time? I say that
with qualification because I know that non executive directors
of health authorities, for example, are paid £5,000 a year
and that has been the case for 10 years. It has not changed. I
would just like to explore your views on this. With your background
in the Citizens' Advice Bureau, Dame Helena, it is clear that
your interest in serving the public was formed in trying to help
people with their problems when you were involved with the CAB
and you became national chairman. What is your general view about
whether we should recommend that there should be a more constant
approach in the form of remuneration or not?
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I think, interestingly, it
less important at the senior level than it is at getting the width
and breadth of people actually to join in in the first place.
It is absolutely vital for most people to earn a living. It takes
a considerable time to undertake most public appointments and
most people do not have the luxury of being able to do that without
being paid. I know certainly I was not in that position. I can
remember clearly a moment at the Audit Commissionwhich
at that time when I was first appointed was my only paid employment,
where I was paid the princely sum of £3,000, which a year
is not exactly enough to live onwhen there was debate around
the table because others were embarrassed at being paid so much,
because they felt it was wrong in public service terms that they
should be paid £3,000, and there was an article in the Guardian
saying that we were all fat cats for getting so much money. It
is extremely difficult within all of that to express a viewpoint
with colleagues round the table that says, "It is really
important for me to earn enough money to do this job and I cannot
do it unless I am paid." You may be in the minority and therefore
it is more difficult to be able to say that. My own view is that
if you wish actually to bring people into the public sector to
do public appointments, and really to encourage a very large number
of people to come into that who perhaps are not engaged and not
disposed to do so or who cannot start at a local level because
they do not get onto the sort of first rung of the ladder, then
you really have to address the issue of pay because, without that,
people cannot find the time and cannot make the time to be able
to do the work. From a personal view it is different, but from
a generalist view I think pay is an absolutely integral, equal
opportunities issue of the public appointments system. I always
have felt that. I heard recently something that made me extremely
nervous because I know that nowadays users are wanting to be involved
more and more, that different ways of looking at committees are
being looked at so that "professionals" would be remunerated
but users who came along might not be. This is quite wrong. It
is like somehow there is a second group of people who can just
come along with experience and that is what is needed and valuable
but their time is not. Everybody's time is valuable, so for those
people, it is probably the most important thing of all.
133. That is very helpful.
(Mr Mather) Could I draw a very sharp distinction
between the two groups of bodies, one which are decision-taking
bodies and one where what is being sought is representation of
a wide range of people to become involved in the organisation.
At one end of the scale let us say it is a board member of the
new OFCOM communications' regulator; at the other it might be
a local body of a community nature. In the first case, it seems
to me, it is terribly important that those people are paid at
market rates, that they are fully compensated, that the search
is really to find those few highly able individuals who can do
those jobs better than anyone else. At the other end of the scale,
the representational rolewhich is perhaps more akin to
a university council, a voluntary body bringing together the community
and a range of validating skillsit seems to me it is perfectly
understandable not to pay. I think in those cases many people
will be prepared, subject of course to the time constraints which
Dame Helena mentioned, to give their services without the charge
and represent a range of community dimensions and we should accept
that gratefully and gracefully.
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I would not necessarily agree,
but Graham and I frequently do not, so that is not the issue.
We always find a way of disagreeing while at the same time getting
on perfectly amicably, which is quite an interesting thing. I
think it is more than just pay. I think there are issues to do
with paid holidays: if you are paid on a daily basis, you never
get a paid holiday. There are issues to do with pensions which
are absolutely endemic in all public appointments. None of them
are pensionable. In a world where we are all concerned about pensions
and where every time you work for a public body you get no employer's
contribution to your pension is quite a thing to have if that
is your main income. There are many people who are now doing portfolios
where that is, indeed, the case and the portfolio adds up to an
income, which is fineyou know, you can do that, but you
do work extremely hard, which nobody every believes, but that
is finebut there is no way in which you can then actually
make the sort of provision which anybody who is working in any
other kind of job at that level would expect as a right to make.
So there are some basic inequalities in the way it is thought
through and between departments, because the rates of pay are
so radically different in different departments.
134. I remember when I worked for Abbey National,
they used to give me a day's paid leave to be a councillor. That
is very rare. Is not the whole question of public appointments
excluding people with real jobs? It is a set group of people who
have aspirations to be in politics, who find a whole group of
public appointments which gives them a reasonable living that
allows them to do these kind of things? It is a very narrow band
of people from which you are actually able to select.
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I am a great believer in selecting
on merit but I do think you need the field to be as wide as possible.
There is no doubt in my own mind and from the numbers of different
people I know who are competent that they just cannot go into
this work because either they cannot get time off work to do it
or, alternatively, they are not going to be paid enough within
it to satisfy their employers that if they hand over that it compensates
for their actions.
135. I was interested in reading Graham's paperand
I got quite worried, because I actually agreed with a lot of what
you wrote and it really worried me, but never mind. In a general
election you have a complete change in direction within the country
but, fundamentally, decisions of most of the public service will
not change because there are all these appointed bodies who have
their own agenda, which is not necessarily the agenda of the governmentand
I am not saying which way that government has gone. Is that not
a fundament problem for our democracy: so why should people vote?
(Mr Mather) I believe it is both a problem for the
old model of democracy as well, on the other side, as a potential
advantage. I say that because we have all been party to debates
where people have said, "We must end this swing from one
party to another with dramatic changes of policy"it
was very common in the 70s and 80s: one minute they are nationalising,
the next minute they are privatising. Now, happily, we have a
consensus in many of these areas. We all believe in the market,
and that is why you may have found a surprising number of things
to agree with in my paper. So I think we are all market supporters
now. I am not unaware, however, of a particular problem, and we
see that by comparing the American system with ours. If we have
given away powers to unelected bodies which have got quite long-term
agendas and then the elected part of the system decides it wants
to change course quite dramatically, it may, as you suggest, find
it very difficult to do that. It may find it difficult to call
back power from the unelected. The thrust of this paper is that
politicians ought to think about the rules by which they can call
back power. They ought, for example, to use public service agreements
and service delivery agreements with the agencies to set out what
the old department system expects; they ought to build in arrangements
for what happens if something goes wrong (as the Monetary Policy
Committee has an arrangement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer);
they ought to agree concordats (again, the Chancellor of the Exchequer
has agreed a concordant with Sir Howard Davies of the Financial
Services Authority about how it will carry out its role). So it
is now over to the elected politicians to make sure that by taking
their eye off the ball they have not lost control in a way in
which they would find difficult to get back and would lead to
democratic deficit problems.
136. I always use the example of the electricity
regulator and the gas regulator, where the electricity regulator
thought that environmental considerations were quite properly
a part of their remit, whereas OFGAS chose the opposite conclusion,
that environmental considerations were outwith their remit. As
a result we have OFGEM. That was two regulators in effectively
the same industry coming to two totally different conclusions
against the different groups who were trying to hold both of those
regulators to account and could not get them to change their views,
whichever way they wanted them to go. Is that not one of the issues
that we need to address?
(Mr Mather) I believe it is. The regulators recently
at European Policy Forum gatherings have complained that in many
cases now it is not clear who takes those difficult environmental
or social decisions. Are they as regulators expected to take them?
Does the department wish to take them? Or has the department left
it in a sort of limbo where on a touch-feely basis they will respond
to political pressures? The regulators tend to believe, in my
opinion, that we are now in that third box: it is too touchy-feely,
and that the respective roles of central departments and the regulatory
industries ought to be clarified. I think it is important that
this happens quite quickly or else we will run into difficulties
of the sort mentioned.
(Dame Helena Shovelton) May I add something to that.
I think one of the interesting things is when you are on the regulatory
side is that what you constantly do is to go back to the legislation
to see where your remit lies. Quite often the problem is with
the way that the legislation has been cast or written, such that
things have not been clarified. I think this is a very real issue
for the way in which those different acts are brought together.
That is where I would seek the absolute need for clarity at that
stage, as to how you wish the regulator to take things forward.
I do not know anybody within the regulatory world who is not doing
that (ie, searching in the legislation to see the route forward)
because they all wish to do this in the right and proper way but
it is not often clear.
137. Should this relationship between the appointed
state and accountability be part of the proposed civil service
bill that we are talking about? Is that the vehicle for taking
(Mr Mather) Some are already in the sectoral pieces
of legislation, as Dame Helena mentioned. If it were to be addressed
in the Civil Service Act, I think the drafters of that would have
to be very careful to make sure that they captured exactly what
is in the separate sectoral legislation and did not inadvertently
set up some other cross-currents or incoherences.
138. My final question is on the relationship
between those who are appointed on to boards of groups like CAB,
and people who are advocating on behalf of a user group or a disadvantaged
group, whatever the issue is. How do you get that level of accountability
from the appointed people to the people who actually end up using
(Dame Helena Shovelton) I think it is almost impossible
to get that right. I think you can try very hard to get different
users in different ways and expand on their ability to participate.
I think it often happens at local level welltenants representatives,
for instance, on housing associationsbut you do have to
accept on the whole that bodies will be representing people to
do this and the bodies themselves can have, of course, agendas
to which they operate. So I think it is very difficult. What I
have always found interesting is how an awful lot of saying what
users want and need is a matter of checking back and making sure
that you are properly consulting with people who will have particular
views. For instance, my life has now moved on and I am working
for the British Lung Foundation and it would be essential, within
that, if I was to represent users' views to a select committee
then I would want to have gone back and checked with the people
who are the users with whom we would be involved. I would not
wish to represent a view that was my view rather than theirs.
139. This move to the consumer panels within
various things is not a useful way forward then.
(Dame Helena Shovelton) The same people, I think,
often, on the way round. That is the difficulty. There seem to
be smaller numbers of people in the consumers/users' world that
people can get forward to do representative work.