Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680-699)



  680. A high proportion of people are bound to be disappointed, I think, it depends how many people are on the list, but we talked about 30,000 appointments, or so, and you have said, I think, I think you have actually mentioned, you have had 20,000 people, did you mention 20,000, over the years, who could perhaps be qualified for that common register, or open register?
  (Ms Middleton) People are grown-ups, they know about "The answer is no," they just want efficiency. I am not saying be efficient and run this system so that everybody gets a public appointment, everybody knows there are 30,000 vacancies, and maybe many more people who apply for it, that is okay, we are all used to that, that is the system of applying; but what I mean is people apply to it, half of them are forgotten, they do not get any response, half the Government Departments do not want to be involved in this system and half of them do, and somehow it is not quite as good as it should have been. So people can cope with "The answer is no," but they just want it to be run in a fair, open and sensible way, with a commitment.
  (Ms Sussman) I think that a site that advertises the vacancies is much better than a register; people do not like to be on an open-ended waiting list.

  681. That is a fair point. But I go back to the point that you made at the very beginning, Julia, that, okay, you have seen 60,000 people; they know, they are much better informed and more enthused, as a result of coming to you. But there are many, many times that number of people, who, to use the perception, that is brought to you initially, "Oh, well, it's not for us, it's not our thing," and I am looking to a way where we can get this onto a higher plane, and it cannot be done overnight, but people know, "Yes, public service is a good thing, yes, I'd like to do my bit for public service; here are the opportunities, I must follow that route," and they will not expect to get offered something the next day, it may be five years?
  (Ms Sussman) I think you are right that any site that is branded with `gov.' will have a great problem achieving that. We have got lots of different routes of driving traffic to our site, therefore reaching bigger and wider and more diverse audiences; and a campaign, I think, gets its own momentum. And it is very hard to get on a train and not meet someone who has been through a Common Purpose programme, or been a contributor on a Common Purpose programme; and, locally, the profile of Common Purpose is very high, and I think word of mouth is a very powerful thing.

  Sir Sydney Chapman: From what I have read about you and what I have heard this morning, I think you are doing a very invaluable job, and I wish you well. What I am trying to do is not take it away from you, but see something like your organisation is developed to give a much better service, and much better prospects, and much more confidence in the system of selecting people for public appointments. Thank you.


  682. When I asked you earlier on, you said you do not want to get involved with it, it is the fact that you are not official that gives you the ability to do what you do, but I mean why do they not just contract out the job to you, why do they not say, "Look, we've got to fill 30,000 public appointments, let's get an organisation to do it for us"? Because you keep saying that we have got this silly system now, which does seem to me to be silly, which is that you have got this unit which just keeps a list of names, which is not seemingly well integrated with Departments who actually need the people, and you have got, therefore, all the problems that come with that and it is not as fizzing and exciting as your approach. Would it not be better just to contract out the exercise?
  (Ms Middleton) I have been running for the past 12 years an organisation which is funded 80 per cent on people paying to go on our programmes, we give masses of free places, but they pay to go on our programmes; and that produces independence, and an independence of spirit, that perhaps you are seeing here today and that we try to live all the time. Somehow, being contracted out by Government to do that, to some extent, would undermine some of that independence, and therefore some of what we bring to the party. But there are certainly more things that we could be doing, and, indeed, wish to do, and will do. Just to go back to the young people issue, we are so missing a trick. I was talking to a vice chancellor of a university the other day, and he then went quiet at the end of this conversation, and he said, "You're making me feel very guilty, Julia," and I said "Why?" and he said "Well, I got this letter from a young Hindu woman lawyer, aged 26, who wants to come on the board of the university, and I have got this in front of me, the letter I was about to send her, a sort of `bog off'." And I said "You're not going to send that, are you; how dare you send that, you can't send that, because not only should she be on your board, but as a result, in ten years' time she may be running some major chair of a very important thing that is national, this is about planning the careers of remarkable citizens." So there is something very, very important about getting the younger age group, who absolutely do not think they fit, they get patted on the head by people in their 50s, who tell them that, "If you wait 30 years, perhaps you might get involved."And I think we had to open the world to them, and in so doing do all kinds of things like mentor. I try to mentor a number of young people so that they do go on boards, and so that they are successfully on boards, and try to hand on my knowledge; and lots of people do that, and we need to do it more.

  683. But you do not know whether this woman should be on that board or not?
  (Ms Middleton) I know that he should not refuse her because she is 26.

  684. We know that.
  (Ms Middleton) We do not know, because it does not happen a great deal, that a 26 year old does get on the board, and we have to assume that they are being refused, or they are not putting themselves forward, either of which things we ought to do something about.

  685. No, no; you will lead by saying she should be on this board.
  (Ms Middleton) What I am saying is, "Don't send that letter."

  686. I agree about not sending the letter, yes. This is a serious point, I think. When we had, Michael mentioned, this person Fi Glover, who came to see us, this radio person, who had applied by the Public Appointments Unit, she had nothing much to put on her form. She had got a child and a job, and she was trying to balance the two things, and that was about it; and so most of the boxes were not able to be filled up. And yet, anybody, like us, who met her for a few minutes that morning, would see instantly that she had a vast amount of things to offer any organisation; so no organisation would know that when they got her form back. So, it seems to me, unless we find a way of identifying, as it were, real people who can be on the form, and then, on Sydney's point, that would be a kind of live list that we would have of people that you knew were going to be good. I am telling you things you know, am I not?
  (Ms Middleton) But I agree with you entirely. But also I want to work with her, and, as a very basic, I want her to send me an e-mail on `Just Do Something' saying, "I know I'm special, but I can see my form and I can't figure out how to fill it in," and I would like to go and help her fill it in. But then, also, however much good she is, when she goes to that first meeting it will terrify her. So we have got to get her first through the first and the second meetings. I spent an enormous amount of time, trying to persuade somebody who lives next to me, in Hackney, to be a school governor. I finally persuaded her to do it, and after her first meeting she said, "Oh, I can't do it. They're all so clever;" and I said, "They're not, you know." So it is not just about getting the Fis and getting them to fill in the form and seeing them, but also then making sure that they are hugely successful when they become involved in it, and they are sending the message to the other Fis all over the country that this is something that is worth doing, that "Not only was I appointed, but I've been a successful appointment, and I have made a contribution."

  Chairman: I am sorry to labour this, but I am just not sure we are talking the same category here, you see. In that case, she is someone who is not short of confidence, absolutely not, she would sort out any organisation that she was on, rather like you would; but the problem was, it is getting from where you are now to public bodies knowing that there are such people around. What you are describing is a particular kind of tooling-up for certain kinds of people. I am saying that, yes, of course, that is a category of person; but it is a much wider problem than that, there are vast numbers of people out there who could do instantly an extraordinarily good job by any organisation they go anywhere near, but the system does not know that they exist, and what can we do about that?

Mr Lyons

  687. That point about the system, I think, is very important, because Barbara Roche had said to the Committee there was a lack of awareness, and there certainly is, because to be on the list you have got to be proactive, you have got to know it exists, you have got to feel confident you can go on the list. There is never an attempt to try to lift awareness elsewhere to bring people onto the list; if you are not on the loop you will never know. And, again, about the form, the application forms are all about, whether it is health, or some other body, what you have chaired in the past, what committee you have been on, and so on, never about what you could bring to the committee, in terms of a contribution. So everything is built in almost against people intervening and participating in the work of public bodies; and we need to find a way of breaking it. And, I said to you earlier, I feel strongly about this. I worked for a trade union, UNISON, for about 14 years, I worked in the Health Service, in local government, in higher education, in the voluntary sector, and I found very able women everywhere, but not for a minute would they have thought that they could apply for a job on some of these very important bodies, and they just feel excluded for that reason alone. And, before I finish, I just want to go back to this question, you must address the question of payment. You said earlier on, in your introduction, there is a South East bias. The Board of the National Gallery, which is supposed to be that, a UK gallery, you will find no-one from beyond the South East on it, for the simple reason, if you are not paid, or you are not paid expenses, you will never come from Scotland or the north of England to attend something like that. So the whole structure excludes you, without even starting. So we need to do something about it?
  (Ms Middleton) I know, and I know how much the structure matters, I do believe that you have to get into the heads of your colleagues, who are politicians, that they must appoint people outside the circle. Because I know that the structure, the forms, the people can be barriers, but I do feel that there is a part which is persuading politicians, that encouraging more people is something that they have to lead on, personally, from the front, and I do not see as much of that as I would dearly love to.

  688. But there is just the simple thing, just one simple argument, why do we not advertise nationally in the press for public appointments, rather than The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent; half the population never see the advert.; why do you not just take a simple step, like breaking that and opening up that?
  (Ms Sussman) That is the beauty of the `Just Do It' website.

  689. Yes; but I am talking about the public appointment. There will be no public appointment for departmental appointments, they will just put an advert. in the paper?
  (Ms Middleton) But all those appointments will be on a website, and, of course, there are some people who believe that the web is not getting to many, many people, and a much greater number, but I do not happen to be one of them.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  690. I am intrigued by this, because I have been looking through your brochure, which is fascinating, and thank you for sending it out. You look at, let us just go through them, 20:20, fee £4,500; Profile, fee, £750; Your Turn, fee, £150, £450 per school, but a £1,000. You are sort of trying to buy excellence, are you not, you are trying to get people who can afford to pay into a position where they are going to be leaders?
  (Ms Middleton) I think, what you have not read, is that absolutely everything that we do has the lines, `ability to pay is not a criterion for accepting you on'.

  691. I accept that, but 87 per cent pay, is not that the position?
  (Ms Middleton) No. I said 80 per cent of our income comes through fees; so, no, nothing like 87 per cent pay. We honour a huge number of bursaries, and, in fact, we take a financial risk every year, because we say, that is an open door for as many bursary places as apply; so, therefore, it has always been a huge risk for Common Purpose, which we honour in absolutely everything that we do. So, therefore, no. I also take the view that, if an organisation can pay, and that is a reasonable fee in the market-place for what they are getting, I think they should pay, and, as a result of that, make sure that we supply bursaries for as many as we want in the future.
  (Ms Sussman) Just to clarify, it is not the individuals who pay, it is the employers.

  692. I accept that, you make that clear; but what you are saying, if you have an individual, rather like Fi, who came here, who is an employee of BBC Radio 5 Live, but she wants to do it on her own, she is applying as her. You are probably not going to get, and the BBC is perhaps a bad example, because it is a corporation, but a body like that to pay. If you have got the commitment to do it, you are really going to have to come to you and say, "Look, I'm terribly sorry, but the employer wont . . ." There is a balance here, is there not?
  (Ms Middleton) We are ruthlessly tough, we will get the BBC to pay. But, anyhow, she would apply to the programme, there would be a local advisory group that would look at her application and would take the view as to whether she should be on or not; once they have decided who should be on, we then figure out who can pay.

  693. So what percentage of that 80 per cent actually pay full fees?
  (Ms Middleton) On any programme, there are usually about just between a half and two-thirds pay the full fee.

  694. And most of that comes from employers?
  (Ms Middleton) Yes, the vast majority.

  695. Of which, what percentage are big companies, small companies, can you break that down, as to the size?
  (Ms Middleton) About 38-40 per cent is the private sector; and, no, I could not break it down into small companies, at a national level, no I could not, it varies hugely. We run a programme in Kirklees, where it is obviously a huge number of small firms.

  696. I can understand that. I come from Somerset, I cannot imagine many big firms taking that on, because we have not got any. But, going on to the financial inducement, you are trying to persuade employers to say, "Right, come on, you give us your people for leadership training," well they can also get them to build rafts in the middle of Cumbria, to give leadership training. Are you duplicating what other organisations are doing, do you think, I know you are trying to get leadership for specific bodies, but are you actually, potentially, taking other opportunities from companies away that they could go down the line of; you have put 60,000 people through?
  (Ms Middleton) I think most companies are quite capable of figuring out where they want to develop their people, and looking at the market-place and figuring out who can do what. But, certainly, if those are people who could do with understanding the outside world and not just their own organisation, for a mixture of them as citizens and as professionals, then they would tend to put them on Common Purpose, no doubt have a good experience and then do it again the following year.

  697. And do you get any feedback from companies to suddenly get told by an employer, "Actually, I do need to take a day off, because I am going to sit on this," or "I am going to take a couple of days off," you said that is a bad idea, but some people do it; do you get then companies saying, "Look, I'm terribly sorry, we've paid you this money, but actually we don't want them to take the time off," do you get any feedback like that from companies, that they are giving too much time?
  (Ms Middleton) I think people who go on the programmes have a realistic view as to what they can and cannot do, and what we try to do is give them quite different options, you know, there are some things that take two days a week, and then there are some things which you do in different ways.
  (Ms Sussman) Coming on the actual programme, we are very clear what the commitment is up front, over a day a month, or two a month.

  698. Yes, I can see, obviously, this is just a pre«cis to what they are, but you lay out what you are trying to achieve and what they will come away with, I suppose. But I am just intrigued, because companies nowadays are incredibly fickle about employees, as to the time off, etc., and I know this from other experiences in the constituency, and I just wonder whether you get any feedback?
  (Ms Middleton) We do not find it a barrier; but, indeed, Ian, either in Somerset or anywhere, I would be delighted to invite you to have a look on a Common Purpose day, and if you are on it we will make sure that you speak in some way, so that the participants can also ask you lots of questions.

  699. That will give the participants something to panic about, if I put it like that.
  (Ms Middleton) I would be delighted to welcome you on a programme day, any time you like.

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