Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 462-479)




  462. We are delighted to have Fi Glover with us. Fi, you are a bit late for us in terms of your activities on a daily basis but we know all about you and we are most interested in your flirtation with the public appointments system, which we are looking at. I think we would like to know the background to all of this, why you got interested, how you have sought to take the application forward and the story so far.

  (Ms Glover) I do a weekday, late night programme on BBC Radio Five Live, which I am sure you are all very familiar with; it is a marvellous programme and everybody should listen. We decided to do a feature piece and discussion topic about quangos off the back of Barbara Roche's initiative to try and get more women involved, so we did a 4½, 5 minute interview with Barbara Roche herself, and then talked about it in the studio. We have a studio guest every night on the programme who acts as a kind of presenter's friend and knock-about person, and that evening it was the broadcaster and producer, Linda McDougall, who suggested that she and I were not the kind of people who would be invited to join any kind of quango, and in her personal opinion that was because she felt she had belonged to some organisations in her past that people might not look favourably upon—I do not know whether joining the Labour Party was considered to be one of those dubious organisations—

  463. I think it is probably because she is married to Austin Mitchell actually.
  (Ms Glover) You said that, I didn't! So I decided on behalf of the listeners and as a way of opening up the system of quangos I would put myself forward. We had a discussion about it, and usually our discussions are quite lively and quite informal and it is a phone-in and on average we get about 200 to 500 calls in the evening, but on the subject of quangos we got about ten. I am so sorry! The immediate feeling we had in the studio was that people did not really understand what quangos did and they did not understand who it was that any kind of quango would be looking to recruit and what kind of values they would need to have, et cetera, et cetera. So in the last three months maybe four or five times on the programme we have gone back to the topic, I have explained how far I have got with the procedure, I have told the listeners all about the form-filling in and that kind of stuff, and I have told them a little about appearing in front of this august Committee, and I do have some quite amusing e-mails on the subject which we might get to a little later. There are quite a few points which have been made very well by our listeners and the main one seems to be that they just do not think it is for them. There is this idea that somewhere there is a group of people who always go on committees, they all know each other, it is definitely a kind of old boys network, and I think women do feel extraordinarily excluded from that. Another interesting point was that on a team of 15 people at the BBC only one person on the team thought they could apply to join a quango, so it is not a "them and us" thing at all. There does seem to be an air of a closed shop about it. That is where I am at the moment. I have submitted my application form, I am waiting to be contacted by anybody, that has not happened yet. There are certainly some other things I would like to say about the individual process but I do not know whether specific questions are going to come on that but I can certainly outline my thoughts on the actual application now if you would like me to.

  464. I think that will come out through the conversation. If you feel we have not asked about that, then do say.
  (Ms Glover) Yes, I will launch into a series of points to be made.

  465. When you applied, what did you tell them you were good at?
  (Ms Glover) I have told them that I am a broadcaster and I have listed all my broadcasting qualifications, et cetera. The part on the form which says "any relevant information or qualifications" I think is slightly daunting. I was not entirely sure what it was that people would be looking for. I think that might be quite offputting for some people because you do think, "Gosh, am I meant to have belonged to things like this in the past in order to be considered in the future?" The things I could put down were actually from eight or ten years ago and, possibly shamefully, over the last decade my life has been largely about work and family and not about joining different bodies and organisations. If I found that intimidating and if more women should be applying, I think they would probably share that sentiment. Is that the part of the application form where you put down, "Extraordinarily busy having children, many apologies, didn't have time to join anything else"? It is a large section of the form, it is as large as all your educational qualifications and all the other information you are asked for. At no stage could I find anything—and I did my application on the website and then printed off the form and sent it in—on the website which told me the other type of people who have already been picked by these bodies. What would have been very helpful, certainly in terms of talking about it on the radio programme, would have been to have some examples, like, "Jean Richards from Shropshire" and why she had decided she wanted to become involved in the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, if that is what she ended up on, just to give it that more human face, and to also explain what it gives back to people's lives. A few of the e-mails we did have said, "I would very much like to get involved in this kind of thing, I think I do have some kind of public service duty to perform but I do not know a single person who would be able to tell me what it has put back in their life or how it has helped them get back into work or how it has filled their retirement years or whatever it is." It just seems very difficult to find that. I do not know whether it is in fact somewhere on the website and I just was not quick enough with my mouse. I suspect it was not. I did quite a few long, hard searches and nothing was forthcoming.

  466. So if there were names of people you could get in touch with who had done this kind of stuff that you could talk to about the experience, that would be useful?
  (Ms Glover) Very useful, but not even to contact and talk to. From a radio point of view it would have been extraordinarily helpful if we could have found other people to broaden the discussion and give examples, but on a purely personal level I think all you need to do is just read about some people, just to reassure you you were the same kind of person they were. It would also go a long way to dispelling the image of an old boy network because for some reason that is the way people think of an awful lot of these bodies. Most of our responses, when we simply asked the question last night, "Do you want to join one of these organisations, tell us why you do", were male. I think we had two e-mails from women saying, "Yes, I would like to but child care is an issue. Would I be paid? I would have to give up too much time", and they seemed to have problems with it. Quite a few of the men said, "Yes, would absolutely love to go for it". So if you do want to get more women involved, they have only got ten minutes to log on, a couple of personal histories, a couple of explanations, a couple of examples, might go quite a long way to helping bridge that gap.

  467. Have you thought about—perhaps you have done it—getting women on to the programme who have done some of this stuff and could talk about it?
  (Ms Glover) Yes. We hoped that would happen on the first night we were talking about it, and we rather hoped that by treating it as a, "You can call us" phone-in discussion topic, we would get people phoning up saying, "Yes, I joined one of these bodies years ago, I have found it terribly fulfilling", but we did not get a single call. It was one of the lowest turn-out discussions we have had. It did not seem to engage people whatsoever.

  468. Anyway, you sent in your application to the Public Appointments Unit.
  (Ms Glover) Yes.

  469. You told them you want to go on what kind of body?
  (Ms Glover) I ticked several boxes in terms of the different areas I thought my life would be relevant to or I could provide something for—sport, leisure. I thought the topics were very good actually, they gave a very good break down and allowed people to make quite specific choices about their areas of interest. I actually only received all the other information, including a massive great big list of every single body and who is looking for people at the moment, a couple of days ago so I have not got as far as actually saying, "Yes, it is the Armed Forces Pay Review Body for me." I do not know why I have an obsession with that today but that sticks in my mind!

  470. Men in uniform, I think!
  (Ms Glover) Yes, it may well be that! I thought the original application form was good, it certainly sets out enough areas for me to have thought, "Yes, that is quite specific, that is quite personal to me, I am interested in those things."

  471. I was interested in that last thing you said. None of us know what you know about doing this in terms of applying and what happens to you, so it is genuinely a discovery for us. You sent the form in and you ticked the relevant boxes, could you say a bit more about what has now come back to you about the next stage?
  (Ms Glover) There would have been about a three-week gap or possibly a month's gap between my original form going in and the new information I have received. What you get back is a very nice letter saying, "Thank you very much indeed for expressing an interest" et cetera, et cetera, and you are also sent Public Bodies 2001 by the Cabinet Office, which is quite a dense encyclopaedic resumé of every single different advisory body which might be looking for people at the moment. I am not entirely sure that that is particularly helpful. You can get lost just looking through them and finding some kind of humour. I do not know what the Horserace Totalisator Board is, I do not know whether any of you can tell me.

Kevin Brennan

  472. It is the Tote.
  (Ms Glover) I see. It would have been helpful to know that.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  473. We know that!
  (Ms Glover) I am going to put an asterisk by that one. This is just a list of every single organisation that might be interested in you. What is much more helpful is the added list of who is actually looking for people at the moment and what time frame they are looking for people within, and that is a list of about 50 different bodies, some of which want people to start immediately, some of which will be looking for people in May 2003. That is very helpful because it helps you focus your mind and think, "Those are the specific ones I would be interested in." You are then invited to get in contact with them directly if you want to flag up the fact you are available. As yet, I have not done that. That is a good way of cutting down the admin involved, I would imagine, but you think, "Why didn't you just say that at the beginning? Why not send a list of bodies which are currently looking which I am immediately write off to, instead of going into this central pool."


  474. You are going to take this all the way?
  (Ms Glover) Oh yes.

Kevin Brennan

  475. I have to say it is admirable you have persisted with this, given the lack of interest from your listeners. That is public service broadcasting at its best; I would not have thought it would have lasted on commercial radio. I am intrigued by the idea that perhaps we ought to think about using random selection for some of these bodies. It was an idea suggested to us last week by Mark Thomas, the broadcaster, who said, "Why not, like with a jury, select people at random?" He would not want to compel them, which is probably right, but select them, train them and pay them to do the job. Would that not overcome some of the difficulties there obviously are in trying to get a different type of person involved in public bodies?
  (Ms Glover) Yes, I think it would definitely, as long as you had enough people who were willing. The problem is whether or not you do compel people to join. Judging by either the boredom or complacency with which the listenership view the whole topic, I think you might encounter some difficulty in the actual take-up eventually. I can imagine an awful lot of people receiving the letter and thinking, "It is quite nice to be asked but actually I am a bit busy this year" or "I can't be bothered", so I do not know whether compulsion would have to be used. I rather envisage that it would if you wanted to fill all the bodies that way.

  476. I just wonder if there is out there a latent pool of talent which is never going to come forward no matter how open you make the system, no matter how many radio programmes there are about it; that at the end of the day people just like to be asked.
  (Ms Glover) You just have to get across the message that it is obviously very good fun for some people. If you look through this extraordinary list of all the bodies which already have got people—


  477. You could have a hell of a life, couldn't you!
  (Ms Glover) Yes.—it must be fulfilling a role in an awful lot of people's lives already. It is just getting that message across to that completely untapped reserve of people. There has to be some kind of a class element to it as well, I suspect, whereby an awful lot of people simply think, "It is done by them over there". In a sense it is the same problem with a politician's image, white, middle class, 40-something male with highly polished shoes.

  Chairman: Who are you looking at now!

Mr Wright

  478. You looked all the way round the room!
  (Ms Glover) I am looking at Annette Brooke.

Kevin Brennan

  479. I have not always been 40-something, it just sort of happens!
  (Ms Glover) I do not mean to insult any of you gentlemen at all. There obviously is an image problem where people are thinking, "It is done by somebody else, it is not done by me." Programmes like ours are a very good way of dispelling that myth if it should be dispelled, if in fact there are enough people who would be interested, who simply do not know how to do it.

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