Examination of Witness (Questions 600-619)|
THURSDAY 9 MAY 2002
600. Lord Stevenson when he came before us said
it would cost too much in terms of stamps to tell people who had
applied for a people's peeragethat is my shorthandwhy
they were unsuccessful.
(Baroness Prashar) Unlike applications to be Members
of the House of Lords, we do not get that number of applications
for posts in the Civil Service, so it does not cost so much if
they ask for it. If people ask for feedback, it is actually given.
That is part of career development. I am not sure there is any
career development in the House of Lords.
Sir Sydney Chapman
601. I would like to go back to clear up one
or two things which were instigated by our Chairman. You have
told us that you have been the First Civil Service Commissioner
for 18 months now, so you were appointed in August 2000. Prior
to that you were a part-time Commissioner from 1990-95, and there
are 15 Commissioners in all. You have graphically explained to
us how you were appointed, by a very high-powered committee, if
I may put it in shorthand, but you went through some sifting levels:
the Prime Minister and then the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh
(Baroness Prashar) No; it had to be cleared by them.
602. When you say "cleared", does
that indicate that you could have been obstructed from becoming
First Commissioner by someone somewhere?
(Baroness Prashar) I suspect that would have been
the case, but I presume, because I was not involved in that sense,
and I suspect I am guessing, that if they had objected to my name,
they probably would have had to re-open the competition in the
way we re-open the competition if the preferred candidate is not
603. I am not seeking to embarrass you in any
way at all, but I would like to put this point to you. You obviously
spoke with pride and sincerity when you said you were independent.
Do you not think that independence has been somewhat compromised
by having to be approved by certain institutions or certain people
after the most high-powered committee which recommended your name?
(Baroness Prashar) I think not, because I do have
pride in the fact that we are independent, and that independence
is in how we do the job and how we exercise the powers that we
have. I can say this with confidence, that since I have been in
for the last 18 months I have not had any interference and I have
not in any way felt inhibited in what I have had to do.
604. How are the other Commissioners appointed?
(Baroness Prashar) As I said at the outset, they also
were appointed through open competition and I was involved in
the process. It was I who determined the kind of Commissioners
I wanted. We advertised. They were interviewed and the interview
panel was chaired by me, one of my part-time Commissioners who
was already a Commissioner, the Secretary to the Commissioners,
and I asked for a representative from the Cabinet Office. In fact,
it was Sir Richard Wilson I wanted on the panel but he nominated
someone else. That was a panel which appointed the Commissioners.
Then they were approved by the Privy Council as part of the Orders
605. Would I be right in saying that if you
felt that an applicant to be one of the Commissioners was not,
in your view, the right person, you would in effect have the right
to say no and deny that person the appointment?
(Baroness Prashar) Indeed, yes. The Commissioners
were really a choice that I made. I was very clear about the kind
of people I wanted, the number I wanted, and there was no obstruction
in what I wanted to do.
606. So you would still hold that the other
Commissioners appointed were appointed with an acceptable sense
(Baroness Prashar) Yes.
607. I note you have devoted your life to the
campaign against discrimination. As I can see from reading your
biographical details, you have committed yourself to the public
service, and I applaud you very much for that, but I think you
are also Chairman of the Parole Board for England and Wales.
(Baroness Prashar) I was, for three years. When I
got this job, I resigned. It was a full-time job.
608. How were the you appointed as Chairman
of the Parole Board?
(Baroness Prashar) If I may say so, that appointment
too for the first time, when I was appointed, was through open
competition. Prior to that all the chairmen had been hand-picked,
and they were invariably former junior Home Office ministers.
The other members of the Parole Board were also appointed through
open competition, and I have to say that when I became Chairman
I also appointed judges, because a proportion of the members of
the Parole Board are judges, and even judges were appointed through
open competition, which caused a bit of a stir within the judiciary,
but now that is an established practice.
609. You have also been Chairman of the National
(Baroness Prashar) That is a voluntary organisation,
which I personally established along with Sir Simon Hornby some
10 years ago. I was Deputy Chairman and became Chairman last year.
610. I am told that there are about 30,000 public
appointments, and you have just told us that you resigned as Chairman
of the Parole Board when you took up your job as First Civil Service
Commissioner. Would it be your view that of those 30,000 appointments,
no one person should be a member of more than one quango, or do
you think there are exceptional cases where they could be on more
(Baroness Prashar) It depends. The Parole Board was
a full-time job, five days a week. I was Executive Chairman. I
could not have done this job and carried on as Chairman of the
Parole Board. It depends on the nature of the public appointment.
Some public appointments are about one day a month, some are one
or two days a week. It just depends, and I think it is in the
judgement of the person concerned whether they are able to give
the time. That is the crucial thing. If you take a public appointment
you have to be sure that you have the ability and the time to
put into that. I would not want to make a stipulation that they
should be on only one.
611. My final question is this: of these 30,000
appointments you presumably would accept that because some are
very specialised and, some are more general, we need a mixture
in the method of appointing peopleI am not inviting you
to disagree with thissome of them are nominated, some are
appointed, some are elected, and one witness has suggested to
us that people might be appointed by lot, making the point that
that in effect is how we choose people to serve on a jury. Would
you have any view about that?
(Baroness Prashar) I think it is right that there
are different routes to getting public appointments and I do welcome
the fact that they have become more open and there is more open
competition, because if I look back, to take an example, if the
Parole Board job was not advertised and they had to nominate somebody,
I am sure they would not have come to me. In that sense, open
competition does open things up. I prefer it being more open.
But I am not sure about the jury service method of picking people
out and saying, "You must serve on these bodies." To
serve on bodies you have to have the interest and the expertise;
you have to be able to make a contribution. As you were saying
earlier, if you put people on who are already not competent and
they feel that they are not making a contribution, it may impact
on their self-esteem. I think jury service is different to serving
on a public appointment. I would be more in favour of opening
up, more outreach, making people more aware of what is available
and encouraging people to apply than saying to people, "You
must serve on a public body."
612. You said earlier on that one of the key
roles is the fact that civil servants have permanent jobs. Why,
given the changes in the world outside, where there are very few
jobs for life, should the Civil Service be the one body that is
exempt from that kind of change and still have jobs for life?
(Baroness Prashar) When I used the word "permanent"
I was not saying you were there for life, because, of course,
the world is changing and nobody now has a job for life. The Civil
Service itself is opening up. To give an example, we have seen
almost a doubling of the number of open competitions. Two years
ago there were just over 100; now there are 202 open competitions,
so of course, there is a lot more flow, and I think it is healthier
for any organisation to have a flow of people coming in and out.
By "permanent" I mean that you have a group of people
who are committed to a particular set of values and have a job
that they do. There is, of course, some merit in continuity as
well, because in a way, it is important to have a memory in an
organisation and certain jobs in terms of whatever you do. It
is important to have people who are there who understand the nature
of the organisation and have grown up with it, but supplemented
by people who come in and out. That is really what I meant.
613. So this set of values is a set of values
over decades so as to concentrate on policy, not implementation,
a whole series of values within the Civil Service which does not
recognise that the world has changed out there?
(Baroness Prashar) I am not talking in terms of what
you are saying, about policy and delivery. It is more about skills
and competencies and not values. To me, the values are about impartiality,
integrity, objectivity, ability to serve the government of the
day, and that is why I was making a distinction between the constitutional
position of the Civil Service and the organisation and development
of the Civil Service. Of course, you need different skills and
competencies, and that is really what needs to develop and to
change, and that is why I am very keen that when we talk about
a Civil Service Act. By entrenching the constitutional position
and the values, we would not be inhibiting the organisational
change and development of the Civil Service.
614. So when you have somebody like me who argues
that we should move away from the Civil Service as we know it
towards a cabinet system as they have in Europe, are you
not a block to that kind of change? Have you looked at the cabinet
system in terms of your role?
(Baroness Prashar) I have not looked at that. There
is a general comment I would like to make here. This is something
which derived from my general experience of working in organisations
and looking at other countries. I do not think it is always wise
to say that we should emulate another country. You can learn from
them, but I think things grow organically within a particular
context, and I think we have to look at our Civil Service in the
context of the way it has evolved and the way it needs to change.
My personal view is that our Civil Service system has served us
well, but that is not to say it does not need to change and evolve
in terms of skills and competencies for what it needs to do. I
have never been a civil servant myself, but I have worked with
the Civil Service most of my career, so I am aware of areas where
it needs to change, and I think that change is possible, without
wanting to almost cause a revolution in the way of shifting to
a cabinet system or any other.
615. I am not sure what the actual equivalent
in the European Civil Service of your job is but presumably there
are European equivalents. Have you looked at those?
(Baroness Prashar) No. I have to say, I have been
in the job only 18 months, but what we do get, of course, is people
coming here to talk to us, and we get visitors from places like
Uganda or India, where there are comparable Civil Services, and
there are people doing similar jobs. But as for Canada, New Zealand,
Australia, I cannot say that I have done a deep study or that
I have visited them yet.
616. You say that head hunting is an acceptable
way of making public appointments.
(Baroness Prashar) Not public. I was talking about
Civil Service appointments. I think it is important that we do
not confuse the two.
617. Can you define what checks and protections
there are for the head hunter route into permanent appointments,
and what are the ways that you audit the companies that do it?
(Baroness Prashar) The check that we have is when
a head hunter is employed to do a search, they are made fully
aware of our requirements, what one is looking for, and they also
know what the role of the Commissioners is and how we act as custodians
of the principles of recruitment, and in terms of giving them
a brief as to where they should be looking. I know issues like
diversity and making sure there is a widening of the pool and
all that is part of that, and obviously, as you well know, if
they want the business, they have to do the job properly. I will
say what I said earlier. We do actually meet with them on a regular
basis. We have a yearly meeting with them, and they are quite
helpful, because in a way, we want to be fully aware of the state
of the art in terms of recruitment, the different processes there
are, and they are helpful sometimes in identifying for us what
is good practice, the innovative ways which are being used in
other sectors for recruitment. They are useful in that sense.
618. Can I pick up one part of that exchange
with Brian White? You talk about a particular set of values. Are
you saying that this particular set of values is distinctive to
the public sector, public service, Civil Service? We have had
witnesses from the private sector on an inquiry we are running
telling us this is fantasy; these are values that they have too.
The second part of the question is, your founding document, Northcote
Trevellyan and all that, was not just about getting probity; it
was actually about getting efficiency, because cronyism was inefficient.
Brian's point about should efficiency not be at the centre of
your thinking too seems to me to be a proper question.
(Baroness Prashar) Let me take the second question
first. I absolutely agree with you, because in my opening statement
I did say that it is through fair and open competition that we
make sure we get the best person, and therefore the Civil Service
is efficient, because in my view, it is no good having an impartial
Civil Service which is incompetent. The competence is just as
important as the impartiality, and you are quite right; it was
about efficiency, fitness for purpose, and I do thinkand
I repeat what I said earlierthat when you appoint people
on merit, you get the best person for the job, and that is how
you ensure efficiency and competency. But I have to say that how
effective we are in getting the right people for the job does,
to some extent, depend on the government departments and the Civil
Service itself developing what we, the Commissioners, say is a
proper human resource capability. Let me explain what I mean by
that. Recruitment at the current level of open competition and
the bringing on of talent, is a new phenomenon for the Civil Service.
Since the launch of the reform in 1999 Civil Service has been
thinking hard how to develop its human resource capability. It
is in partnership that we work with departments and that is why
we work very hard to make sure that we get in dialogue with them
at an early stage, to identify the kind of people they are looking
for, what kind of competences they are looking for, it is a very
important part of that, and at the same time ensuring that people
are recruited on merit and that merits are determined against
the job description.
619. Then in a nutshell this idea of uniqueness
and a set of values.
(Baroness Prashar) The uniqueness is the impartiality,
the integrity, and objectivity. The Civil Service exists to serve
the Government of the day to the best of its ability and therefore
I think it is important that attention is paid to the health of
the organisation itself, how it is evolving, how it is changing,
is it fit for purpose. If I may say so, I do not think we have
done that as well as we could do. This is why I come to the point
that the Civil Service exists in the public interest and therefore
we should be paying attention to its morale, to its health and
its capability and attention needs to be paid to that yet retaining
some of these core values.