Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)



  20. If that person were appointed despite the views of the independent assessor, would the independent assessor's views on that appointment become public?
  (Dame Rennie) If, as has happened, a minister wanted to go below the line and appoint someone who was not deemed to have the capacity to do the job, I insist in the press release it says that this person was not appointed in accordance with my rules.

  21. That was not quite what I asked. I asked if the independent assessor had objected and that matter was reported to you would that become public on the appointment of that person?
  (Dame Rennie) Unlikely. It is likely that it would become public in my annual report. I would say, "I have concerns and this is what happened several times." It would also become public if I was auditing that department particularly and it would become public because I would be going to the Permanent Secretary and so on, so long as the independent assessor lets me know.


  22. Your annual report does not name names, does it?
  (Dame Rennie) No, but the fact of something happening would become public.

  23. It would only be in a rather general way?
  (Dame Rennie) Yes.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  24. How many complaints have you pending at the moment?

   (Dame Rennie) We have had 37 in total this year. I have found in favour of three of them so far and pending—that is, ongoing—probably about five or six.

  25. I am a new boy and I have had three complaints in my constituency from people who feel they have not been able to get on public bodies. You have had 36. I do not quite cover the area you cover. I have just been reading Asian Women Spring 2000 when you were talking about the pale males. I come from Bridgewater in Somerset. We are pretty dominantly pale males there.
  (Dame Rennie) Is the population in Bridgewater greater than the 52 per cent of women who make up the national population?

  26. What I am going on to say is that, if that is the case, are you not going down the line of just political correctness for the sake of it? How are you going to find people from ethnic minorities in places like Bridgewater when we do not have so many? It is hard enough to find a Liberal Democrat.
  (Dame Rennie) If I may take the complaints issue first, the process is that if people are not happy they must first go back to the department. Many people are then satisfied. They think that if they met the criteria they should have been appointed. Sometimes, there are as many as 700 people applying for one appointment. Therefore, it is important that people recognise that it is not about volunteering and waiting for a turn. They may complain to you and I would be grateful to hear from you about those complaints because I can look into them but I first direct people back to the department. If they are satisfied, they leave it and I collect that information every year. If they are not satisfied, they come to me. Every time a pack goes out about any public appointment that says, "If you are interested, apply", in the information pack is a procedure about how to complain, including a leaflet from me that says how to complain to me. In terms of political correctness, I am not into recipes: one of these, two of those and three of the other. What I am interested in is to make sure that people who want to be considered have the opportunity to be. There is nothing wrong with having a great many people who are willing to give public service come forward. If many of those traditionally have been middle aged men, then we should be saying thank you very much for all that they have done. However, if it is perceived as only an arena for those people and they scarcely reflect the populations that they serve, they therefore do not have the diversity of thinking around the table. Equal opportunity for me is about making sure that everyone who is interested has the opportunity to come forward. Diversity is about ensuring that there is a variety of difference. I think it was Einstein who said, "The problems that we face cannot be resolved by the same level of thinking as that which gave rise to them." If the thinking of too many people of one kind have led to these issues, then we really do need diversity. I am not into political correctness for its own sake, genuinely.

  27. I am glad to hear that because in areas like mine it is enormously rural and it has had problems of its own over the last year. They do look at a lot of this. It is seen as we have got to have because that is what the centre wants. I am glad to hear what you say because I think it can get out of hand but I hope you would continue down that line.
  (Dame Rennie) I certainly do and I get very concerned if people are looking at having to have one of these, one of those and one of the other, which is why my second broad aim for quality outcome means that we must have people who can deliver, who are fit for purpose, rather than only meeting targets or quotas. It is ensuring that a broad range of people come forward and if they do come forward they are supported and able to do it. The board shadowing has been quite an interesting experience where people who previously have not had an opportunity to know what boards are about have attended meetings and shadowed board members and said, "I think I could do this." Some of those boards have said, "We did not know those people were around locally. Why did we not know that? because they seem like people who might make a contribution".

  28. I think you have hit the nail on the head. You are trying to encourage the people that you want to come forward but again the definition includes privy councillors, lord lieutenants, bishops and there is an awful lot of people who cannot be because they are outside the brief. Do you think the brief should be widened?
  (Dame Rennie) I think the brief should be looked at and I am very keen that a mapping process should be done. In the 30,000 public appointments that there are, where are they? Who regulates them? What commonality is there across this regulation? Which ones are not regulated? Then it is for others to decide, other than me, as to where those might go. That is why your particular piece of work is so timely. It is an important area to be considered.

  Chairman: I am sure there are loads of fit for purpose women in Bridgewater.

Mr Wright

  29. In terms of selection on merit, it does not matter what the political affiliation is.
  (Dame Rennie) No.

  30. On equal opportunities, you mentioned the selection of the predominance of the white male on all of these boards and the fact that you have gone out to try to address that problem, but in your annual report you admit that the gender balance has gone down in terms of women very slightly, so some would say you have probably failed in your mission.
  (Dame Rennie) It is a bit early to say. I do not see myself as a one person missionary here but I think I have a part to play, particularly because I am independent and therefore my only interest is in getting good people coming forward and undertaking this role for the benefit of their local, regional or national communities. I have no other interest. When I stand on platforms and say so, the feedback I get is that, "We believe you more than we believe either the civil servants or, dare I say it, politicians", because they may have other interests in this. Therefore, if I am saying it is a proper, fair and open process and do come forward because you will genuinely be considered, it has an effect, but I certainly do not have that as the sole part of my work; nor am I alone in this work. I think it is going to take a decade to be able to stand back and not say we have got there but we have got to a place that we can say is really significantly different. I think that because of two things. One is that we have a reducing number of quangos. The Government have stated aims that there should be fewer of them and it is a policy to look at them very closely and reduce the number of them. Indeed, in Scotland in the bonfire of the quangos, 58 disappeared last year. We also have a number of people like me, like people in government departments and the public appointments unit, going out and encouraging people to come forward so we have a bigger number of people coming forward. In terms of proportionality—that is, making sure that we do not spend too much time on things wasting public money inappropriately—we also have people who can now be appointed and then reappointed to their first reappointment, so long as they have a good appraisal and have been seen to do the job. Therefore we have less turnover and we have a shrinking number of appointments. Appointments usually last three to four years and there could be a reappointment. It is going to take quite a while to show a shift, not just a year or two. That is why we need an overall strategy rather than just a few little projects.

  31. Why not set a gender balance on each of the boards? Why not suggest that 50 per cent of boards should be made up of women?
  (Dame Rennie) That is not a matter for me. That would be a matter for the ministers and departments. What I am suggesting for consideration—and it is not a well thought through proposal—is that particularly for those people who have been disadvantaged and the category of people who may lack some particular experience or expertise and their work or life currently is not going to enable them to gain it, why could different departments not consider having an apprenticeship scheme and look at every board in a particular department. A pilot, having for a year people who are publicised for, properly interviewed and independently assessed and come forward and are given a one year apprenticeship on the board, where they do everything except vote, and really experience it. Diversity would be sitting at every board table. Then they would have a track record that would enable them to be selected on merit. That is what I mean by "imaginative". I am not suggesting we should all do it but I suggest we should think about things like that. We need to consider things like that together, not just me or the Minister for Women or the Women and Equality Unit or in different departments. We need to get together and say, "If we are trying to do this, does it not make more sense if we do this together?" and I think some of your work might help us get together and do that.

  32. You mentioned one of the other areas of trying to encourage younger people to become actively involved in public bodies. We had a debate on House of Lords reforms and suggestions were put forward of younger people, probably no younger than 45. What would you consider the lower age limit in terms of public bodies, or do you consider there should not be one?
  (Dame Rennie) I am not happy to put upper or lower limits on things because I do not know what someone's experience is and what they might bring to bear. I was interested in Wales when they were appointing people—I think it was to a youth justice panel or the children's panel—but they involved children in the appointments and selection process and they made a difference in who they were selecting.

Kevin Brennan

  33. The Children's Commission, I think it was.
  (Dame Rennie) Thank you. One of the independent assessors we have just appointed is in their early thirties. One of the ways that I have endeavoured to encourage people to do something about it is in talking with trade unions and employers and trying to get through HR people in some of the companies to say, "Some of the people inside your organisation may be able to make a contribution." Instead of just thinking of it as being a good corporate citizen in allowing them to do it in their spare time, might you not see it as personal development for that person, instead of sending them on an expensive training course, so long as they have the ability to do it of course, allowing them to come forward with the support of their employer or trade union to apply for and be appointed to these roles before they get to the heady heights of senior management and/or ready for retirement? We need to surround the goal by considering a number of quite imaginative things.

Mr Wright

  34. How many of the 30,000 public appointments have come up where people have one or more appointments? Have you figures for that?
  (Dame Rennie) I only regulate between 12,000 and 12,500 of those 30,000. Of those that I regulate, I cannot tell you how many. I ask government departments for the figures. I cannot say that their record keeping is terribly good.

  35. That could be improved then?
  (Dame Rennie) I am concerned because you end up with someone shifting from one thing to another. When I talk to people either with a disability or from ethnic minority groups, they say, "Your figures are up because this person holds four jobs." It is an area I am endeavouring to tackle, but I am not satisfied. There is no rule that says you can only hold so many. I have put into my Code of Practice and it is in the Best Practice Guide—the public appointments unit produce what I think is an excellent Best Practice Guide for departments—for them to press: can you be sure you can give the time to do this job? Demonstrate to us that you can do this if you hold these other appointments. We have to press on that. I am pleased you have asked because I can now go back to departments saying, "I am being asked these questions so you will have to give me these figures."

Mr Prentice

  36. I am glad you agree with my colleague because I think it is really important. There could be a relatively small number of people holding very many appointments. In my area, there are Asian men—they are always men—who speak on behalf of the Asian community and I want to know what is being done to encourage Asian women and specifically Muslim women to come forward because, in my view, they are invisible in the public sphere.
  (Dame Rennie) I agree. If you want to know what is being done by departments, I think that is a question you would have to ask them. What is being done by me is meetings with Ahmed Versai who edits a Muslim newspaper and makes this point very powerfully. As a result of his pressure, every year I have been involved, as I am again this year, in the awards in the Muslim community. I am one of the judges there so I can get to know some of those women there, to talk about why they come forward or do not come forward.

  37. When you were replying to the question put by Tony Wright about gender targets, you said it was not a matter for you; it was a matter for the politicians. Instead of passing the buck to politicians, what is wrong with linking race and gender targets because, as a government, we have set down targets for race but we do not link the two, race and gender. In my own area, we have a population of 1.5 million in Lancashire. I could count on the figures of one hand the number of young, Muslim women who are police officers. Why do we not link race and gender?
  (Dame Rennie) I do not know. I would have to be given the buck in order to pass it and I have not been given that buck in order to make those decisions. I am happy to work with you and anyone else to look at how we can be creative about making sure we achieve an outcome. All I can do, within the limits of my role, is to press, engage, listen to and encourage more people to come forward and for me to describe how they do it. Some of the work in terms of Asian women really is to get those Asian women, particularly Muslim women, who are now holding these roles, to talk to others about what it feels like, how they did it, how they might do it. We need many more footsteps in the snow. No one walks in the snow until they see someone else has been there before and therefore we need a campaign. In the Asian magazine, the intention there is to have first a story about public appointments; then, to highlight in another edition women who hold those public appointments and then to offer a competition for people who want to board shadow and then to have some events on how to present yourself.

  38. In your annual report, you refer to ethnicity. Have you ever thought about getting a breakdown by religion so we can find out how many Muslims are in public appointments?
  (Dame Rennie) Yes, I have thought about it. It is not a question that is asked on an application form: what is your religion?

  39. There is a big difference between the black sisters and Muslim women.
  (Dame Rennie) I absolutely understand this. This is something that I work with, rather than it being news to me. In terms of disability, I would like to see us do a census in relation to disability. We have only just started collecting those figures. How can we compare? Therefore, I think what needs to happen is a census on all these board appointments, at a particular time of year, to say, "Would you consider yourself to be disabled or would you be prepared to say whether or not you have a disability?" Only if we know what the facts are can we then begin to have a plan to change that. I do not know about religion but in relation to disability we could do some more.

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