Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660-679)|
THURSDAY 23 MAY 2002
660. What about paying them?
(Ms Middleton) Paying them, I think, is a tricky one.
If you go back to the issue of independent assessors, if your
mortgage is reliant upon you doing something, inevitably, it has
a consequence on how you do it, and I do not think anybody should
kid themselves that that is not true. Having said that, for onerous
undertakings, when there is a lot of days, then I think, if we
were going to open it to a larger proportion of the population,
there is a need to. But I would argue that there is a careful
balancing act of that, and that I would like to see not too much
of the paying.
661. But, surely, if you want to go beyond the
usual suspects, you have got to recognise that people need compensation,
when they give up part of their job to go and do this public duty?
(Ms Sussman) But, actually, the Cabinet Office are
quite interesting about this, because they say that the biggest
barrier to women is the child care issue and not the remuneration.
662. The evidence that we have got from Operation
Black Vote this morning, interestingly enough, talks about it
being the number one issue, remuneration?
(Ms Middleton) That is fine, and there are different
views in life on everything, and I am sure it is a very important
issue; to me, it is one of the top five, it is certainly not the
top one, and we know from the thousands of people on our programmes
every year. It is definitely one of the issues for the sake of
diversity and for pulling more people in, but it is a solution
right across the board. People come and say to me, "What
are we going to do, no-one's voting?" and you listen to them
for an hour, and then you come to the conclusion that the solution
is putting polling booths in the back of Tesco. Well, actually,
I think there are always issues of mechanism, but there are also
issues of inspiration, and we should not get too tied up with
the mechanism, and not lose sight of the fact that there is an
enormous part of this which is the deal we have in the democracy
with citizens, that they have become part of things, and it is
reinspiring people with that vision, in itself, needs doing. And,
the subject of remuneration, it seems to me to be something that
we need to sort; but once it is sorted it is not going to solve
the bigger problem, which is inspiring people that what they are
doing is worth doing because something will change as a result
663. Having heard that, I regret going back
to the mechanism, but I fear I must. As politicians, we are quite
interested in the way that Internet voting may or may not have
helped the turnout in the recent elections. I spent a happy hour
surfing through your website yesterday, and I can see exactly
what you are trying to do, and it seemed to me to be very approachable
and something which younger people, in particular, would spend
their time doing and think it was profitable; so it was very well
done. The Government does this as well. Why did you set up your
site; what was the reason you did that?
(Ms Middleton) The `Just Do Something' site, because,
to most citizens, and certainly to me, even having been in this
business for the last 12 years, when I look at the 14,000 appointments
that are currently on the `Just Do Something' site, I probably
know about 500 of them, that is 13,500 and not a clue that they
even existed, the bodies, or that I might even, for a minute,
apply to them. It is, one, to make it one place where citizens
can see everything, and, two, a place where they can understand
it, so that they can double-click and find out what exactly that
department or that committee is and where it fits within the structure,
because, of course, for normal citizens, understanding the structures
of this country is very difficult. And then the third thing is
that they need the stories, they need the stories of John Lyons,
who has gone and done something, and "Well, if John can do
it, I can do it."
664. Did you talk to the Cabinet Office about
this before you set up the site, because we had Fi Glover up before
us, who does a radio programme late at night, I am tucked up in
bed usually by then, and she was trying to apply through the regular
Cabinet Office system, and she was finding it difficult.
(Ms Sussman) The register, yes.
665. That is right, and she was finding it very
difficult to do this, and they asked her lots of questions she
did not think were relevant, and did not know how to fill in large
chunks about, I do not know, her strengths and weaknesses, or
something, "If I say this, what will the effect be?"
It did not give her any help. Have you tried to set up yours to
work alongside that, to be a different porthole, because, in the
end, they have to fill in a form, I dare say?
(Ms Middleton) Yes, and to help them think things
through, saying, you know, "My starter and my finisher; can
I really do two days a week, or am I kidding myself; can I really
do the amount of travel they are talking about." So that,
certainly, as an independent assessor, I have seen huge amounts
of applications from people who clearly have not thought it through;
and the danger is that they go and end up in the wrong appointment,
and that is a great sadness, too. I meet a huge number of Common
Purpose graduates, and you say to them, "How did you end
up on that committee?" and they say "Well, I got flattered
into it." And, as we all know, flattery is a very dangerous
thing, because within six months it was not the right thing for
them to do anyhow, so they pulled off it. So it is also to try
to help citizens figure out where they can make a contribution,
but also where the fit is good, so that it is a satisfying experience
on both sides.
666. Did you try to model your website in a
way which would complement or help, the Government's website;
do you discuss this when you deal with them?
(Ms Middleton) Absolutely, and also with a lot of
different organisations, like the Housing Corporation, and also
with a lot of different Common Purpose graduates, from BME communities,
and from disabled communities, so an enormous amount of different
people. But how closed this system is is not to be underestimated.
667. I think any website with the moniker `gov.'
in it puts me off immediately, and I think that may be true perhaps
for other people, so I think it is a good idea to have this, but,
this is my final question, is there any way of measuring the effectiveness
of this, apart from anecdotal things, and can you work out how
many people have gone through you; is it more successful than
the Government, can you measure that in any way?
(Ms Sussman) Currently, we can measure the people
who register on the site and who then pursue contact details,
and we are devising a way whereby we get feedback from the Department
as to how many people who applied actually came through the site.
(Ms Middleton) But also we can measure, by the number
of e-mails that we get back, saying, "I wrote to the Government
Department three weeks ago and have not heard anything; do you
think they got it, and should I send my application again?"
So there is a certain amount that we can do and then it is also
about that sense of being welcoming to other people, and, certainly
on e-mail, most people expect a relatively quick response; now
that may be naive but it is the way the world is. People
get confused when their name gets put on a list and disappears,
and that there is not a sense of being in contact with somebody
who has made quite an important decision for themselves.
(Ms Sussman) The Public Appointments Register, which
is the register held, I have heard it referred to as the public
668. I thought that was the trail for, that
was it, that was very good. Can I just introduce this tricky word
`merit'. I am sorry I have to ask these unworthy questions, but
I can think of people who are imbued with civic vision who would
be catastrophic on any organisation they had any contact with,
and I suspect a good chunk of those might think they were being
disappointed by public-appointing bodies. I just wonder how you
handle that. I can see the inspirational stuff, the civic vision
stuff, but how do you handle this rather tricky stuff, of whether,
in fact, these are people who have got a contribution to make?
(Ms Middleton) You just have to handle it. In any
application, for any job, there are always going to be some people
who cannot do it, and we have all learned, over the years, how
to deal with that, with applications.
669. You tell them this on your website, you
say, "You may just not be up to it," do you?
(Ms Middleton) Sorry, you are talking about my website,
most of them are the Government's appointment system. On our website,
there is a wizard which asks you eleven questions, and which really
tries to encourage you to say, should you be applying to be the
chair, if actually you have never done anything as a civic leader
before at all; and perhaps, therefore, might you want to start
at a more local level first, or whatever it is. So it is there
to help people think through the issues. But there may be people,
indeed, who do not want to look at the eleven questions at all,
they just want to get on with applying; and letting that problem
overcome the fact that there are hugely talented people out there.
And the amount of times people say, "Well, we could have
X, Y or Z do it," and I have said, "Well, actually,
if you go out there, you may find somebody even better than X,
Y or Z, in fact, infinitely better than X, Y or Z, and actually
they will probably still be fit for purpose." And this `fit
for purpose' expression always mystifies me, because there is
an issue of fit for purpose and then there is also an issue of
credible within the sector or community that that committee serves,
and that is just as important, and we need to go out to find those
670. I am sorry if you said this in your previous
exchange; did you tell us just how many people had secured public
appointments through the `Just Do It' route?
(Ms Sussman) The `Just Do Something' site was launched
on May 1, so it is too early.
671. But you will be able, at some point, to
(Ms Sussman) But we do know, for example, that 308
people have already made contact with organisations through the
672. But, as I understand it, you are not just
doing public appointments, you are doing charities, too, are you
(Ms Sussman) Yes; but actually we also know that,
I think, 75 per cent of those applications have been made to the
673. It will be fascinating to see, in the fulness
of time, some of these figures, when they come out?
(Ms Sussman) I do not think we are under, your previous
point, any illusion that we can make boards work more effectively,
ourselves, and that our campaign is not about guaranteeing either
that the board is effective or that the applicant will be the
best person for the job; but there are lots of practical things
that boards are currently doing, and they have been referred to
by previous witnesses here, about how boards are getting better
at governing themselves.
Sir Sydney Chapman
674. In the information we have got about Common
Purpose, I just wondered, a small quote: "Since 1989, more
than 60,000 have been involved in Common Purpose, and over 12,000
leaders from every area of the UK have completed one or more of
our programmes." Can you just develop that; what is the difference
between the 60,000 people who have been involved and the 12,000
leaders, and what is one of your programmes?
(Ms Middleton) One of our programmes is Leeds Common
Purpose, or Exeter Common Purpose, or Cornwall Common Purpose,
whereas, as a leader in your community, public, private, voluntary
or community, you go on a Common Purpose programme, over about
a year, for a day a month, where you learn the language of other
sectors, see things through other people's minds. So that if you
run a hospital you are probably not that knowledgeable about how
things work within the police, or how things work within local
authorities, or how things work within a company, so you acquire
that knowledge and you begin to develop people who are, as citizens,
important assets for that community. The Common Purpose programmes
run pretty well all over the country, there are 12,000 people
who have been through the Common Purpose programmes, some of them
are 14, some of them are 25, the bulk of them are an average age
of 38. The 60,000 is a huge broader network of people who speak
regularly on our programmes, or contribute regularly to our programmes,
or take people on visits, so it is a relatively big network of
people who are engaged in being active citizens.
675. That is very helpful, but let us just look
into those 12,000 leaders; do most of them come from business,
are they sent there by their own businesses?
(Ms Sussman) Forty per cent are.
(Ms Middleton) Forty per cent are from the private
676. You mentioned charities and you mentioned
young people, people still at school, and so on. I would like
to come back to that just a little later, but could I just pick
you up on two things you mentioned. You talked about, and I am
deliberately putting this too simply, the two-day-a-week portfolio
person, who might only be able to take certain jobs, because it
demands a certain amount of time, and one thinks of a self-employed
businessman or woman, or whatever, but surely that is the key,
is it not, possibly, to a very great range of people you want
to encourage, women, whose children might be three or four, or
five or six, and may be able, you know, the nursery provision
problem, child care, that could open prospects to a great number
(Ms Middleton) Absolutely, but, as everything in life,
you can open prospects for one group and actually close prospects
for another; also there are a huge number of women who work, and
so you cut out a vast proportion of women who work by so doing.
So, yes, absolutely, no doubt that is the balancing act of your
lives, how do you achieve one thing without undermining another.
677. Another thing you said, at the very beginning,
was not your view necessarily, but the perception of people who
came to see you was that, oh, well, you get an appointment, and
there is a sort of clique there that seem to get all the appointments;
would it be your view that, when speaking of these 30,000, or
so, public appointments, as a general proposition, you cannot
be absolute, as a general proposition, no person should have more
than one appointment?
(Ms Middleton) I have got a full-time job and five
children, so I try to do one. Hopefully, when the youngest child
is ten, I might have time to do two, I might do quite a good job
with two; if I went much over two or three, I think I could not
manage it. I am on a number of things occasionally when everybody
says, "Ooh, you're no longer the only woman, Julia,"
and I say, "No, it's really exciting, there are a lot of
other women on this committee," but actually none of them
turn up to the meeting, I am still the only woman at the meeting,
because one does get overcommitted. So I think there is a danger
of becoming overcommitted, but I think we need to be a bit careful
about deciding absolute numbers that do not make any sense to
people. So I would argue, if I see somebody on four or five different
major things, I usually go and take them out to supper and say,
"Are you mad?"
678. Another point you mentioned, I think you
were actually referring to, in a sense, that you would not advise
somebody to put in for the chairmanship of a body when they have
had no experience in that particular sphere, but the inference
is that the right people for the right jobs. But it has been put
to us by a number of people that it is very important to have
lay people on some of these public appointments, a typical, obvious
example, a non-executive director of a health authority, you do
not need to have somebody who has been a doctor, or has been a
nurse, it might be somebody who is echoing the views of the patient;
have you any particular views? I feel yours is a quasi-professional
organisation, in seeking to get the right people in the right
jobs, and I applaud you for that, but there is also a raft of
people in public appointments where it may be important to have
people without any direct experience of that particular theatre
but can just bring plain commonsense, or the local point of view,
(Ms Middleton) Absolutely; and people often say, "Well
I know a lot about accountancy, so I suppose I have got to be
the treasurer;" and the answer is, "Well, perhaps not,
and perhaps you should go on something completely different; and,
actually, if you know a great deal about IT, well, perhaps the
health sector needs you." So it is that cross-fertilisation.
And, indeed, the wizard tries to encourage people not to box themselves
off, in terms of their skills, or to convince themselves that
they are not an accountant and marketing expert, or a lawyer,
"All I know is this community; so therefore I suppose I'm
not relevant." Well, the answer is, "If you know this
community then you are hugely relevant."
679. Amelia has mentioned the public disappointment
register, to use her words, I hasten to add, but the perception
of that is that it is somewhat secret and it is organised and
it is not quite transparent enough. And I am just wondering, given
the work that you have done, with Common Purpose, and `Do Something',
whether we should be thinking of having a national, public register,
where people have to get onto it, they could not just put their
names on it, but go for an interview, they are seen to have certain
strengths, or whatever, and, of course, locality is a very important
thing in public appointments, and it could be a national register,
open to everybody, a common register, whatever you want to call
it, and this could, in time, become a very useful tool for public
appointments to be made from. People go through it and say, "Well,
we're going to invite that person for an interview," or this
person, and perhaps make recommendations, if they know they have
the confidence, that they have gone through the first hurdle.
I just wonder if you would like to comment on that?
(Ms Middleton) It strikes me as a perfectly good idea.
All I would be eager to do is to encourage nobody to launch it
until it was extremely efficient and had the support of all the
Government Departments and the consent of most politicians. The
terrible thought would be to do that and then disappoint people;
that would be a terrible thing to do.