Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


  Thank you for the Committee's invitation to comment further on the section addressing ministerial appointments in the Ministerial Code. I express my views recognising that approximately only a third of these appointments do fall within my remit.

  This part of the Ministerial Code requires some general updating. It needs to acknowledge that the remit was broadened in October 1998 from appointments to executive non-departmental bodies and the NHS Trusts/Health Authorities to incorporate: nationalised industries, public corporations, advisory non-departmental bodies, and the utility regulators. However, I also believe that it would benefit by reflecting more closely the principles within my code. Whether formally applicable to an appointment or not, these principles represent what is acceptable as good practice when making any appointment and therefore should be clearly stated and explained in full at the start.

  I raise this point as I am concerned that a large part of this section does not touch on the majority of appointments but on those that are subject to the additional involvement at the final stages of the PAU and the Prime Minister. This emphasis gives me cause for concern for a number of reasons.

  In order for the public to have confidence in the appointment system, there must be an open and transparent system. I have long believed that there should be a map, rather like a tube map, clearly showing the public each stage of an appointment process and how long each stage is expected to take. I doubt that many members of the public appreciate that the PAU and the Prime Minister have a role in some appointments and if they do, do they really understand what the role and purpose is of this involvement? I suspect not.

  Therefore there is a great need, in my view, to openly acknowledge this additional layer within the appointment process and to clarify the purpose of it. Additionally, Ministers should make sure that this additional requirement is made explicit in the information sent out to applicants. Only by doing this can the perception of secrecy be overcome.

  Reading this section of the Ministerial Code has made me reflect on whether as Commissioner, I can be confident that at this late stage of the process there is no possibility of my principles, especially merit, being breached. To date, this part of the process has not been regulated. It may bear future consideration.

  Finally, many of the criticisms that are openly voiced about the long delays within the appointment process may stem from the time this part of the process can add to the overall time span. I would suggest that those most vocal may be the very people who apply for these particular posts.

  I recognise that any section in this Code is going to be succinct and therefore it may be that my concerns are best addressed through separate and more detailed procedural guidance for Ministers. I was pleased to receive recently such a document, drawn up by a Minister at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions for use by her colleagues.

  If the public's confidence in the process is to improve, then everyone involved must apply the principles fully and with enthusiasm.

Dame Rennie Fritchie DBE

13 July 2000

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