Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 920 - 929)



  920. Why not just ask the simple question?
  (Sir William Wells) There was a huge political row about it. It used to be asked, and it was removed.


  921. Do you appoint troublemakers?
  (Sir William Wells) The answer to that is that we hope to appoint people who are provocative. "Troublemaker" I always think has a negative connotation.

  922. Constructive troublemakers.
  (Sir William Wells) Clearly, it is crucially important that we have people on boards who do challenge, because there is no point in having five non-executive directors on a board if they all sit there like patsies, agreeing with what the executives have to say.

Mr Hopkins

  923. If I were a retired professional who came along, had everything going for me, but I was publicly and in the interview strongly opposed to the foundation hospitals on the grounds that they are divisive and would demoralise the Service, would I be appointed?
  (Sir William Wells) That is a good question. I can cop out of the answer to that by saying it would depend on whether you were best candidate or not, but I think it would probably create some difficulty, because you are required as a non-executive director to promote government policy, and if it were government policy that foundation hospitals should be introduced, you would be in contravention of what it was that you were going to have to sign as the appointment.


  924. I think we know what "creates difficulty" means. On the procedural side, we had someone called Fi Glover, who is a broadcaster on Radio 5 come to see us some time ago talking about her experience of public appointments, and she charmed us to bits. Of course, as you know, she has become more famous since she came; her empire has expanded, as indeed yours will too no doubt. When she applied she said she had done nothing. She just went to work and she had brought up a child, so she had nothing to put down, yet when you met her, she was clearly someone you wanted to run every public organisation in the land. When people send their form in, how do they get over that first stage?
  (Sir William Wells) At present, with difficulty. That is why we are revising the way in which we search for people. We are moving away from knowledge and skill base, which makes it impossible for those sort of people to reply positively to a competency base, and she would have all the competencies.

  925. You mention induction as something associated with your role. Do you not only appoint people, but support them when they are appointed? You are appointing lay people to public bodies dealing with professionals, and that is a continuing requirement of support. When they are in post over this period, what kind of support for that scrutiny function are you providing?
  (Sir William Wells) We are quite proud of it. It was the first thing we did. There was no induction, no knowledge transfer. We produced this, (indicating) which is called "Welcome to the NHS", which is an induction manual, which is even more sought after by executives working in the NHS than it is by non-executives, so they can find out what the NHS does. It is in simple language. We send that to them. We have nationally sponsored induction so that they can learn at a high level what the NHS is about, and we are introducing a framework for local induction so that they can find out.

  926. What induction are you providing?
  (Sir William Wells) We have specific areas of training going on the whole time.

  927. Let me end with the larger picture. There is a Public Appointments Unit in place doing a number of things, but covering your territory. What relationship do you have with the Public Appointments Unit.
  (Dr Moore) I work with them very closely. We are talking with them at the moment about the new website that they are hoping to open, and we intend to link with that our own web-based activities.

  928. Do they redirect health-related inquiries and applications to you?
  (Dr Moore) They do not at the moment. This is one of the things we are talking about, so that we can pick that up in the future.

  929. Finally, let me come back to the biggest part of the big picture, which is when the whole area of public appointments was looked at by the Nolan Committee in the mid Nineties, and that is what gave us the Commission for Public Appointments, they pronounced against your model. They said it was constitutionally impossible to have a model which took appointments away from ministers. They said that the sky would fall in. So instead we had a monitor set up to make sure ministers were doing it. The sky has not fallen in and you are telling us the sky is sunnier, so should we not turn the whole of public appointments over to a body like yours and wave goodbye to ministers?
  (Sir William Wells) My answer to that would be that if government wishes to have appointments made professionally, and which quite self-evidently are made independently, openly and transparently, I cannot see that there is any other way in which they can do it then through an independent organisation which is professionally set up to do it, has the expertise to do it, and has no axe to grind. It will always be perceived that the minister has an axe to grind whether they have or not.

  Chairman: That is a very useful and interesting note on which to end. You have been most helpful. Thank you very much indeed for coming along.

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