Questions Posed by the Select Committee
on Public Administration
1. What, if anything, is the justification
for such a large number of public offices (around 30,000) being
filled by appointment rather than election?
2. What problems might arise if elections
were held for membership of some public bodies, instead of the
current system of appointments?
The Government believes that, as Ministers remain
accountable to Parliament and the electorate for the existence
and work of the public bodies sponsored by central government
departments, it remains appropriate for people serving on such
bodies to be appointed, rather than elected, and for Ministers
to retain ultimate responsibility for all such appointments.
3. Should a public appointment be part of
an individual's civic duty? Would a system similar to jury service
be effective and fair?
The Government is committed to encouraging the
broadest possible range of different people to consider playing
a part in public life by serving on a public body and to ensuring
that the people who hold public appointments more closely reflect
the diversity of the United Kingdom. The over-riding principle
governing public appointments is the principle of selection on
merit from those people with the necessary will, skills and ability
to serve on the body concerned at the time the opportunity arises.
Any arrangements based on compulsion, except in extenuating circumstances,
would seem unworkable, not least because appointments for which
particular individuals might be well-suited and willing and able
to carry out might not come up at a time that would be convenient
The Government is also committed to Citizenship
Education, which is now part of the Personal, Social and Health
Education and Citizenship framework in primary schools and, from
September 2002, will be a compulsory subject from September 2002
in secondary schools.
Citizenship Education has three strands. The
first is social and moral responsibility so that pupils learn
self-confidence and socially and morally responsible behaviour,
both in and beyond the classroom, towards those in authority and
each other. The second is community involvement so that pupils
learn how to become helpfully involved in the life and concerns
of their neighbourhood and communities, including learning through
community involvement and service. The third strand is political
literacy so that pupils learn about the institutions, issues,
problems and practices of our democracy and how citizens can make
themselves effective in public life, locally, regionally, and
nationally, through skills and knowledge thereby providing young
people with a better understanding of our democratic institutions
and what it feels like to take part in decision making.
Citizenship Education will provide a focus for
engaging with the issues of civic values and how to be active
citizens, thereby fostering a climate where more people choose
to play an active part in civic and community life generally,
helping to make a difference by helping to improve their community
or society. Citizenship Education will therefore also support
the objective of ensuring that a wide range of people from different
backgrounds and from all parts of the United Kingdom put themselves
forward as candidates for public appointments. To ensure that
the development of citizenship does not end in schools, DfES have
contracted with the Learning and Skills Development Agency to
manage a developmental phase to stimulate active citizenship within
post-16 education and training. Eleven citizenship education development
projects are currently looking at different ways of teaching citizenship
and making social and moral responsibility a reality through active
engagement at local community level in the post-16 sector.
In addition, the Government also seeks to promote
citizenship in the NHS in four main ways. These are by increasing
opportunities for people to influence decisions and bring about
change by equipping them with the skills to be able to do this;
by changing decision making processes and by promoting individual
rights and responsibilities in the NHS. An example of how this
is intended to work in practice is Patient Forums. Subject to
passage of the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill Patients
Forums will be established in every trust from Spring next year.
They will be made up of local people, they will monitor and review
local health services and make recommendations to trusts about
them. The Forums will also select one of their number to be put
forward for appointment to trust boards by the NHS Appointments
Commission. This will create over 600 new voices for patients
at the top of local NHS bodies.
4. What are the main priorities for improving
the system of public appointmentsshould it for instance
be to extend the range of people involved in bodies, to improve
the effectiveness of the bodies in providing advice or administering
services, or to change the balance so that elected national, regional
or local government has more of a role in public life?
The Government considers that there are two
main priorities in relation to public bodies. Consistent with
the Government's commitment to modernising all public services,
all public bodies need to fulfil their functions effectively and
efficiently, whether their direct customers are the general public
or Government Departments and Ministers, as is the case with many
advisory non-departmental public bodies. The system of public
appointments has to support the achievement of this key objective
and that is why the over-riding principle must remain that the
selection of people to serve on these bodies is based on merit.
Secondly, the Government also remains equally
committed to achieving permanent change by substantially increasing
diversity in public appointments and at all levels of appointment.
The Government considers that it is axiomatic that boards whose
members have relevant but diverse experience and backgrounds are
in the main likely to be more effective than boards whose make-up
is less diverse although, clearly, the nature of the skills and
backgrounds required of individual members, and the overall balance,
are likely to vary from board to board because the range of public
bodies is so varied and because in some cases a requirement for
certain experience is specified in the relevant legislation. But,
generally, the wider the range of candidates for individual appointments,
and the more diverse their backgrounds, the more confident that
Ministers can be that they are making their selection from the
best of all potential candidates.
In line with the Government's commitment to
increasing diversity, each department has published demanding
targets for increasing the proportion of appointments held by
women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. These take
account of the current position and the number of appointments
expected to come up annually. Some, but not yet all, departments
have also set targets for increasing the proportion of appointments
held by disabled people. The latest targets were published in
February 2002 in Public Bodies: Opening up appointments: 2002-05,
which is available at the Public Bodies website (http://www.quango.gov.uk).
The Government will continue to report progress in achieving these
In May 2002, the Government published a White
PaperYour Region, Your Choicetaking forward the
Manifesto commitment to make provision for directly elected regional
government to go ahead in English regions where people decide
in a referendum to support it and where predominantly unitary
local government is established. The Government believes that
directly elected regional government can play a part in bringing
democracy closer to the people, strengthening accountability and
helping to re-invigorate the political process in England. The
White Paper sets out the precise functions and format of elected
regional assemblies. The full text can be seen at www.regions.dtlr.gov.uk/governance/whitepaper/index.htm.
5. Government departments publicise public
appointments, assess applications and draw up shortlists for interview.
Independent assessors take part in the process and appointments
are made on merit. Is this a sensible devolution of power to departments
or does it cause problems and create unfairness?
6. Are there any aspects of the Government's
approach to public appointments which appear to be inconsistent
The Government is not aware of any evidence
to this effect and does not have any present intention to change
significantly the arrangements by which public appointments are
made generally. Individual departments do however from time to
time review the way that the appointments processes for which
they are responsible are handled.
7. Is there any evidence to suggest that
politicians sometimes play an improper role in the current public
appointments system? What are your main concerns, if any?
8. What part, if any, should politicians
play in the public appointments process?
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that
there is political bias in the public appointments process?
10. Is political bias ever acceptable in
the appointments system, for example to correct a political imbalance
accumulated under a previous Government?
The Government is committed to upholding the
over-riding principle of selection based on merit. This is in
line with the Code of Practice issued by the Commissioner for
Public Appointments which states that appointments should be governed
by the overriding principle of selection based on merit, by the
well-informed selection of individuals who through their abilities,
experience and qualities match the need of the public body in
question. The Code also states that political balance is only
a consideration where there is a statutory requirement or, in
strictly limited instances, where the nature of a public body
makes it essential that individual political parties are represented
on it, eg the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the House
of Lords Appointments Commission.
11. What role if any should Parliament play
in public appointments?
12. Do you believe that an independent appointments
commission should be introduced instead of ministerial appointments?
As noted in the Government's response to the
Committee's First Special Report [HC 317] the Government continues
to agree with the views expressed on the issue of who should be
involved in the appointments process by the Committee on Standards
in Public Life in its First Report [Cm 2850]. The Committee concluded
that Ministerial accountability and selection on merit should
be the key elements of the appointments system for public bodies.
They considered, but ruled out, a role for Select Committees and
instead recommended the appointment of an independent Commissioner
for Public Appointments.
On the question of an independent appointments
commission, many public appointments are to bodies directly concerned
with the work of particular departments. It therefore seems logical
for the departments that best understand the different tasks and
context of the different bodies concerned to carry out the appointments
process and for the Ministers who are accountable to Parliament
for the existence and work of the bodies concerned to retain ultimate
responsibility for making the appointments. Where there is a clear
case for change the Government will act, as it did in establishing
the NHS Appointments Commission; in due course there will be an
assessment of how successful this has been and whether there are
any lessons for other appointments.
13. Is there evidence to suggest that the
current system is not attracting applications from the widest
pool of candidates?
As set out in the latest edition of the annual
Public Bodies publication, which is available at the Public Bodies
website (http://www.quango.gov.uk), women held 34 per cent of
the appointments to the bodies concerned at 31 March 2001, an
increase of approximately 2 per cent since September 1997. In
addition, 4.8 per cent of these appointments were held by women
or men from ethnic minority backgrounds, which is up by a third
since September 1997 and should be seen against the background
that people from such backgrounds make up approximately 6.5 per
cent of the economically active population; women from ethnic
minorities held 1.8 per cent of the appointments concerned, an
increase of around two thirds since 1997. Finally, at least 1.5
per cent of the appointees were disabled; comprehensive data on
the total number of appointments held by disabled people is not
yet available but is being compiled for publication and will appear,
for the first time, in the next edition of the annual Public Bodies
The Government is committed to further progress
on diversity in public appointments. The normal length of appointments
and the fact that the incumbent can in some instances be eligible
for reappointment have always meant that it will take time for
the Government's overall objectives to be met. However, the published
targets set by individual departments, and the action plans that
they will pursue in order to achieve them, should mean that, by
2005, further, substantial progress will have been made. Work
is also in hand with the intention of finding ways to broaden
the range of options available to drive up progress on diversity,
in its widest sense, while preserving the over-riding principle
of selection based on merit.
As part of the effort directed towards increasing
diversity in public appointments, the Women & Equality Unit
in the Cabinet Office is running a series of regional seminars
for women interested in serving on a public body. The seminars
are targeted at women considered to have the necessary skills
and competences to be strong candidates for public appointments.
There will be specific seminars focusing on women from ethnic
minority backgrounds, women members of trades unions and businesswomen,
and the women who attend the seminars are invited to join an e-network,
established by the Women's National Commission in partnership
with the Women and Equality Unit in Cabinet Office. A core function
of this network is to provide regular and up to date information
on public appointment opportunities as they arise. The aim of
the seminars has not been simply to promote awareness of the possibility
of registering an interest in serving on a public body but instead
to raise awareness of the various opportunities available and
the various routes to obtaining information and applying. The
seminars have helped women to find out more about the public bodies
dealing with areas of interest to them and provided information
on upcoming opportunities so that they can get in touch direct
with the relevant sponsor department and ensure that they are
invited to apply when the positions are publicised.
There will also be other outreach activity aimed
at raising awareness of public appointment opportunities generally
and at ensuring that, as part of our emphasis on increasing diversity,
applicants are encouraged from every part of the UK.
In addition, in July 2001, the Cabinet Office
issued to departments a Guide to Best Practice in Making Public
Appointments. This details best practice in the handling of individual
appointments processes and preparation, including the drawing
up of role and person specifications, and also gives information
on sources of candidates and on the selection process. The Guide
has been widely disseminated across Whitehall and has also been
made available to the devolved administrations. The intention
is that this should be reviewed periodically to take account of
new developments. Cabinet Office also intends to make a stronger
effort to help sponsor teams within departments apply best practice
in making appointments to the bodies they sponsor as part of the
effort to ensure that the published departmental targets are met.
14. How can greater diversity best be combined
with reassurance that the principle of merit in public appointments
is being upheld?
As noted above, diversity and merit are not
incompatible but inextricably linked. This is recognised in the
Commissioner for Public Appointments' Code of Practice which states
that the principles of equal opportunity and diversity must be
inherent within the appointments process and that departments
should take positive action wherever possible to attract suitable
candidates from all sections of society. The Cabinet Office Guide
to Best Practice in Making Public Appointments provides guidance
on this for departments.
15. Would a more consistent use of remuneration
for members of public bodies help to increase diversity in their
membership? Are there any possible drawbacks to an increase in
the number of remunerated members?
A study commissioned by the Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions, Making a Difference: Women and
Public Appointments (December 2001: http://www.dtlr.gov.uk/contacts/report/index.htm)
identified six factors as being particularly relevant. In order
of relative importance these were awareness of public appointments;
attractiveness of public appointments; confidence in applying
for public appointments; time required to fulfil the duties of
public appointments; childcare and cash. On cash, the study noted
that, although there were mixed views on the issue, on balance
it seemed that the relative lack of remuneration and the inequity
of levels of remuneration across different public bodies was becoming
a real barrier to enabling a broad cross section of women to participate
on such bodies. A copy of the study is enclosed.
While there is therefore some evidence that
remuneration might have an effect on decisions to apply or not
to apply for appointments generally, it is not conclusive and
other factors may have a more significant effect, including those
identified by the study or the availability of support or training
for potential candidates before application. Nevertheless, the
Government intends to explore the issue of remuneration further.
16. Is the public appointments process understood
by members of the public and seen to be fair, open, transparent
and easy to travel through?
The resources to promote wider understanding
to the public at large or to attempt to measure it are limited.
Certainly the Government would wish any potential applicant to
have ready access to a full understanding of the system and, through
outreach and other activity, the intention is that the system
should be seen by all to be fair, open and transparent.
The Government also welcomes the efforts of
the current Commissioner, Dame Rennie Fritchie, and her predecessor,
Sir Len Peach, to raise awareness of the opportunities offered
by a public appointment and, through the work of her office, to
sustain confidence in the propriety of the appointments process
17. What improvements, if any, should be
made in the way in which advertising or publicising public appointments
The Commissioner's Code of Practice sets out
certain requirements in relation to public appointments to ensure
that all appointments within her remit are publicised in an appropriate
way. This issue is also addressed in Cabinet Office's Guide to
Best Practice in Making Public Appointments.
The Government is keen to make it as easy as
possible for citizens who wish to play a part in public life,
and might therefore be interested in appointment to a public body,
to find out what appointments are available. Currently, many individual
departments maintain a website detailing current appointment opportunities
and the Public Bodies website (http://www.quango.gov.uk), maintained
by Cabinet Office, includes links to all departmental websites
and a forward look at public appointment opportunities coming
up over the year ahead. Individual departments also carry out
various activities from time to time aimed at raising awareness
generally and with specific groups in particular.
However, the study commissioned by the Department
for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Making a Difference:
Women and Public Appointments (December 2001: http://www.dtlr.gov.uk/contacts/report/index.htm),
identified that the lack of awareness of the opportunities that
are available as the most important barrier to increasing the
participation of women. The Government therefore intends to explore
ways of removing this barrier, which applies generally and not
simply in relation to women. One possibility under consideration
is the development of a single on-line source of information on
public appointment opportunities, which would be continuously
updated and widely publicised.
18. What is your understanding of the role
of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Dame Rennie Fritchie?
The post of Commissioner for Public Appointments
was established by the previous administration in 1995, in response
to a recommendation made by the Committee on Standards in Public
Life in its First Report [Cm 2580].
The functions, powers and duties of the Commissioner
are set out in the Public Appointments Order in Council 1995,
as amended by the Public Appointments Order in Council 1998. Her
role is to regulate, monitor and report on ministerial appointments
to health bodies, advisory and executive non-departmental public
bodies (NDPBs), public corporations, nationalised industries and
the appointments of the utility regulators. Details of these appointments
are set out in the annual Public Bodies publication. The Commissioner's
remit does not cover non-ministerial appointments to the bodies
covered by Public Bodies (3,595 appointments at 31 March 2001),
appointments to tribunals (12,864 appointments at 31 March 2001)
and boards of visitors to penal establishments (1,357 appointments
at 31 March 2001).
The Government intends to amend the Order in
Council again shortly to take account of changes in the individual
bodies within the Commissioner's jurisdiction and to make some
small necessary adjustments to her functions.
19. There are a growing number of sometimes
informally-constituted partnership bodies and task forces charged
with carrying out public functions, especially at local level.
Should these bodies be subject to the Commissioner for Public
Appointments' Code of Practice?
The Government does not have any present intention
to extend the remit of the Office of the Commissioner for Public
20. Are there ways in which the system of
independent assessors for public appointments can be improved?
The Government fully supports the principle
of independent scrutiny of public appointments and recognises
the vital role that independent assessors play in this. Independent
Assessors are selected and engaged by departments to help them
and their Ministers make effective public appointments based on
merit. They are also to a certain extent the Commissioner's eyes
and ears "on the ground", ensuring that individual appointment
processes conform to her Code of Practice. The Government welcomes
and fully supports the efforts of the Commissioner, as set out
in her revised Code of Practice, regarding the role of independent
assessors and to improve their selection, induction and training
as well as their links with her Office.
The Government is committed to complying with
the requirements of the Commissioner's Code and to making the
best possible use of Independent Assessors in appointments processes.
It will continue to keep the use of independent assessors under
review, as necessary, in conjunction with the Commissioner.
21. What is your opinion of the Government's
proposals for future appointments to the House of Lords? Should
it be treated in the same way as other public bodies?
The Government does not believe that it would
be appropriate to treat the House of Lords as just another public
body since it is a chamber of Parliament. The Government's proposals,
set out in its White Paper The House of Lords: Completing the
Reform (Cm 2591) are aimed specifically at distancing appointments
to the House of Lords from the Government of the day.
Appointment of independents would be made by
an independent Appointments Commission, whose nomination would
be subject to confirmation by the House of Lords itself and which
would include representatives of the main Opposition parties.
That Commission would build on the work of the existing non-statutory
Appointments Commission in opening up the process of nomination
of selection. That Commission would also determine the arithmetic
make-up of the House, according to certain principles, and would
be responsible for inviting the political parties to make nominations
to fill political appointments.
The result of these proposals, compared to the
present system for the nomination of life peers, would be a massive
reduction in the powers of patronage of the Government of the
22. Are there any lessons to be learned
by Government departments about the way in which the Scottish
Executive and the National Assembly for Wales approach public
Officials with responsibility for co-ordinating
the approach to public appointments within the different central
government departments, together with officials who perform this
role with respect to the appointments that are the responsibility
of the devolved administrations and staff of the Office of the
Commissioner for Public Appointments, meet regularly to discuss
developments. While the range of appointments is so varied, these
contacts also provide an opportunity to learn from each other
as with the development of Cabinet Office's Guide to Best Practice
in Making Public Appointments, issued to Departments in July 2001.
23. The Commissioner for Public Appointments'
remit covers specified Ministerial public appointments and her
Code of Practice, which is based on Nolan principles, sets out
the regulatory framework for these appointments. Should the remit
be extended to all other appointments?
The Government does not have any present intention
to extend the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
24. What is your opinion of the reforms
recently introduced in the system of appointments to NHS bodies?
The NHS Appointments Commission has now been
operating for a full year, and in that time it has made 307 chair
and 1,275 non-executive appointments. The introduction of post-specific
recruitment by the Commission, rather than generic recruitment,
has been welcomed by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
The Commission has also introduced a standard appraisal system
for all board members. As with Ministerial appointments, all appointments
made by the Commission have to comply with the Code of Practice
issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Commission
is also required to follow criteria determined by the Secretary
of State for Health in deciding who should be appointed to NHS
25. Should every candidate, even important
people for high level appointments, be asked to complete application
forms and attend interviews in the normal way?
While the Government agrees with the conclusion
reached by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its First
Report [Cm 2850] that "for the appointment of senior people
to major national bodies it will remain important not to subject
them to an overly bureaucratic process", it is committed
to ensuring that all appointments within the remit of the Commissioner
for Public Appointments are made in strict accordance with her
Code of Practice. The Code recognises the need both for proportionality
and to allow departments the flexibility they require to deal
efficiently and effectively with the diverse range of appointments
they make. The Code also recognises that, as the range of appointments
is so varied, occasionally a situation may arise which is not
covered and where this arises or if any significant departure
from the Code is in contemplation, the Commissioner's Office will