Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)



Mr Burns

  140. The figures I have just given you are all from parliamentary written questions.
  (Sir William Wells) I know, because we provided them.

  141. If we had not asked, if Paul Burstow, if I, had not asked for these figures I cannot believe that on 8 January or on 14 April, I think it was, you would have announced these figures. They were announced because a Member of Parliament had asked for the breakdown of them.
  (Sir William Wells) What we were intending to do was to announce them in our annual report.

  142. When does that come out?
  (Sir William Wells) In the late summer.

  143. You cannot sit here, as you just have, suggesting that you announced them.
  (Sir William Wells) I did not. I said that we provided the figures.

  144. You said, "We announced them".
  (Sir William Wells) No. We provided the figures and we clearly did provide the figures because the only people who can provide figures are the Appointments Commission. That is by the bye. If you ask me was I surprised at the figures, the answer is frankly, yes, I was, because we do not as a Commission concern ourselves with the political affiliation of our applicants. The Commission, when they make their decision, and we make all the decisions on the Board, or on the Committees, have no idea what the party political activity is of any of the people whom we appoint.

  145. Say that again, the last sentence.
  (Sir William Wells) When the Board or the Committees make the decision on who is going to be appointed to what, we have no information as to anybody's party political activity.

  146. Are you saying that when you make appointments you do not have the application forms of the applicants in front of you?
  (Sir William Wells) We detach the OCPA form. We said so in the form. We detach the OCPA form. I said to you right at the beginning that we are the collecting agent for OCPA. They want that information. We do not wish to have it because it is not part of our terms of reference to concern ourselves about political activity. My answer to you is, frankly, I was surprised. As a consequence of that we are instructing an independent organisation to do a full audit of all of the applications, sift, interview and appointees, in order that we can then look at that in an objective way to see whether there is anything to be learned out of it.


  147. The applications you can then categorise in terms of affiliation?
  (Sir William Wells) Absolutely right.

  148. At this stage you cannot do that?
  (Sir William Wells) We have not, bearing in mind we were still making the appointments up until 1 April and we really have not had the time. We are already in the process of instructing Durham University to carry out the analysis for us. When we have that analysis we will make it public because we think it is very important that everybody does see precisely what the situation is, and at the same time as making it public we will (or not as the case may be) say whether we are going to be changing any of the ways in which we appoint people if there are biases which appear to be in the system, whether they be geographical—we will endeavour to address them. One thing that we are doing and in fact have already done is that this political activity form is made available to the sift panels because it is attached to the information. From now on it will not be so that nobody will be aware of the political activity even at application stage. This will be removed by Dr Moore's office and embargoed from anybody seeing it so that we can just send it off. We are very conscious—let me be very clear about this—that our job is to produce boards which, as I said, are appointed on merit. I want to know just as much as anybody else wants to know if we are breaching that in any direction. I have no idea whether we are or not, and it would be stupid of me to speculate on that, but I have no doubt that you will invite us back at some time or another to explain ourselves when we have the information.

Mr Amess

  149. To return to the only contribution I have made so far, the reason I have no confidence in the Commission is that the two commissioners in our area are well known to us, are not new brooms. You are saying that no-one knows the political affiliations. The people in our area, the commissioners, know exactly the political affiliations, I would think, of many of the people. I have aired all this publicly in a debate in Westminster Hall when the Minister tried to deal with the points that I was referring to then. We had a situation whereby the Chairman of our then area health authority fell out with the chief executive and the chief executive was found to be correct and the chairman was found to be wanting in a number of areas. One of your commissioners then decided that rather than remove the person completely they would then become the chairman of our trust. At the same time we had a situation with our mental health trust where there was clearly something not right going on between the chairman and chief executive. Again I aired it publicly, one of your commissioners knowing. Absolutely nothing was done. Putting aside political bias and all of that, do you think it right that, when you draw up the trust and the trust covers two geographical areas, one geographical area has absolutely no representatives whatsoever on the trust? Would you, as Chairman, be concerned about that, or do you think that geographical matters are not important?
  (Sir William Wells) I have to say that a number of your colleagues have written to me, and in fact I am seeing some of them on this very issue. Of course I am concerned because if there are glaring gaps in the system it means that we have not done the job as well as we should have done. There may be good reasons for it, and I come back to the balance between skills and geography, and there are only a certain number of non-executives you can have on these PCTs. Given that we are now being allowed to select some more non-executives for PCTs, certainly one of the things that we will be looking at is where it is perceived that there is a geographical imbalance and I very much hope that you will let me know if you have one. Most people are not shy about it and I will certainly investigate it because I think we have got to try and get a balance as best we can.

  150. On the point of Members of Parliament no longer being consulted but being encouraged to make local residents aware of vacancies and perhaps the money does not come into it at all, how would a Member of Parliament handle this situation whereby it is clear that you have a number of people who are very keen, regardless of their political affiliations, to make a contribution but, because they seem to have fallen out with the commissioners—you see, my difficulty is that we are not dealing with you people, and this cannot be dismissed because this is a big area of the country that you have chosen to continue with the same two people. If there are personal difficulties how can I as a Member of Parliament try and overcome that? I am very happy to write to you about it.
  (Sir William Wells) Exactly that. If you do not think that any one or more of my regional commissioners are doing their job in an objective, fair, even-handed manner, then I must know.

Andy Burnham

  151. Looking at the pattern of appointments, not just recently but over a long period of time, is it the case that more people come forward if they are sympathetic, not necessarily a member of the government of the day? Does that just follow, that people would quite like to work within the system where they agree with the broad thrust of the policy of the government? Is that an explanation for it?
  (Sir William Wells) Frankly, I do not know. I think it would be very foolish of me to speculate as to why people do or do not apply. Everybody has got their own views on this. All I can look at is the hard statistical evidence because I do not have the ability of being able to do an exit interview with absolutely everybody who makes an application to see why they did apply or they did not.

  152. My suspicion is that there is nothing sinister, but basically that is what would happen when you have—
  (Sir William Wells) That may well be but there is no way in which we could comment on that.

  153. When you mentioned the make-up of the applications did you say to the Chair that you would be able to provide that information to the Committee?
  (Sir William Wells) The political activity one?

  154. Of all applications, not just appointments.
  (Sir William Wells) Oh, yes; sorry. What we are going to do is to trace it right from the moment that we get an application to see whether there is any bias in the system and if it is geographical or what.

  155. When was the decision taken to keep that form away from the sifters?
  (Sir William Wells) We made that decision as of last month, when we saw these figures, I have to say. We felt that we had to take every conceivable step to avoid contamination in the system.

  156. As you mentioned, politics is life. My reaction to it is that things go too far and we cannot escape the fact that people have contact with politics and political activity. Do you worry that the balance may go too far in an attempt to address some of the perceived concerns?
  (Sir William Wells) We can only do what we can do. I cannot stop people knowing things and I cannot stop people talking about things. All I can do is to set in train the best set of circumstances I can to make quite sure that we do appoint on merit and that we do not have biases which affect that. That is all I can do.

Dr Taylor

  157. Correct me if I am wrong, but are you setting aside the recommendations of the Nolan Committee because they were a long time ago? I thought they instructed the previous appointments process that political affiliations should be known before the appointment was made.
  (Dr Moore) That was an instruction that ministers should know. We do not think it applies to us.

  158. So it has changed. Thank you.
  (Sir William Wells) Largely because we take it out of the political system. That was put in because it was within the political system.

  Chairman: If there are no more general points on this, can I say that the Clerk has advised me that to deal with the issue raised by Simon Burns earlier we could move into private session so that that issue can be discussed without it being in public. Do my colleagues wish to do that?

  Jim Dowd: I have no objection to that, Chairman. What official record will be taken?

  Chairman: That is a matter for the Committee, I understand. Are there any further general points before we move on to that issue?

Dr Taylor

  159. One general point, please, Chairman. We have not mentioned forums at all. Is not the appointment of members of the forums going to completely swamp you?
  (Sir William Wells) No, because we are not going to undertake it.


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