Examination of Witness (Questions 980
THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER 2002
980. Thank you. The point I am making is the
thrust of your report and that of the National Assembly is how
we get the relevant, good-quality, appropriate people to apply
and also the diversity of people included in that. I want to look
at the mirror of that. It seems to me that the more people that
do apply the greater the likelihood of an increase in the number
of people who are totally unsuitable, and they are totally unsuitable
because they are either inadequate or they misunderstand or misinterpret
the nature of the job that they have put in for. I would like
to put to you a propositionshoot it down but it is meant
to be constructive: in recognising the size of the Principality
compared with the population and size of England, do you think
it would be feasible for anybody who puts in an application for
whatever the public appointment is, in time, should have a personal
interview so thatand we were talking earlier on about the
housewife who has not been in the traditional career of being
the chief executive of that or motivated for that but who might
be a very excellent person for particular public appointmentsif
it was practical, to have an interview system for anybody who
puts an application in in time, so that they could be either encouraged
or they could be assessed and it could be diplomatically pointed
out to them, "Sorry, we are not looking for you, with all
your talents, you are not quite the right sort of person for these
appointments generally", and you will also identify on a
very constructive scale, I hope, those people who have hidden
talents who would be quite excellent for public appointments.
In relation to the ethnic dimension in the Principality, you would
be able to get into contact with leaders of those ethnic groups
who could identify the sort of suitable person who might be invited
to apply. I am trying to make the thing proactive rather than
reactive. I would welcome your comments on that.
(Professor Rees) I very much like the spirit of what
you are saying. It is extremely constructive, but I am not sure
that giving all applicants interviews is an appropriate way to
fulfil that spirit. It does seem to me, first of all, that improving
information and awareness about public appointments helps individual
people to know whether or not this is for them, that is one thing.
There is an awful lot more work that could be done in that area
to help people self-select so you do not get people presenting
themselves who are not appropriate and a potentially damaging
situation. Secondly, this is really in the spirit of what you
are saying, we almost need a kind of coaching system. We need
some seminars, some training, all over the country, to get people
up to speed and to get to know more about what they would be letting
themselves in for, but also to get their own competency developed
and their way of communicating and expressing themselves well-honed
so that they can have a greater likelihood of being appointed.
One of the things that the National Assembly has been looking
at is what I would call the "near misses", people who
have been interviewed for a board and really fall down in one
particular area. The one that comes up most often for me is women
who have not got experience of corporate governance. It is obviously
not just women but particularly women, and when they are asked
a question about corporate governance they do not understand what
it means because they have got no experience of it. You either
know about it or you do not and it can be developed very easily.
The idea is that perhaps the Assembly should run a couple of training
courses a year on what corporate governance is. If this is the
missing thing for you, you could be directed towards that with
a special letter after your interview to say, "You would
have been appointed if you could have known more about this, go
on this training course and next time you will stand a better
chance." So providing more training and background and confidence
building for those kind of applicants would be really good. I
think the Assembly has got quite professional at not sending all
failed candidates "Dear John" letter but sending bespoke
letters thanking them, etcetera, etcetera, to try to encourage
them or point them in a different direction, maybe applying for
a different tier or whatever it might be. That is quite constructive
in keeping these people in the frame and trying to ensure that
eventually they will fit the appropriate kind of post. I do not
think one could interview all applicants because it would not
be cost-effective. I think what we need is a series of measures
that try to grow people, if you like, and help them to self-select
at the most appropriate tier and to progress their own public
service careers. What I think is extremely interesting in my own
experience (over the last however many years it is) is that in
the early days the people who would apply would be "the great
and the good" and mostly one would have heard of them, read
about them, know about them, seen them on television. Now the
entire panel will be looking at people who nobody has heard of,
and I think that is extremely encouraging.
981. How much of this change would have happened
had we still had a Welsh Office, with the same policies? Was it
the structural change and the legislative underpinning that has
given this the impetus or could it have been done using pre-existing
(Professor Rees) That is a difficult question. There
was obviously movement in this direction with the opening up before
the 1997 election with Nolan and all of that, but I have to say
I think there has been this paradigm shift and I think it is the
clause in the legislation setting up the Assembly which has driven
it. I think things have moved a lot faster than they would have
done if we had not had devolution.
982. So it is not simply enough for us to say
to the Cabinet Office, "You have got to follow the Welsh
Assembly"; it needs something more?
(Professor Rees) I would like to see the UK Government
adopt a duty to promote equality legislation. That would do it
nicely. At the moment employers and all sorts of organisations
have had a lot of diversity legislation on race, on disability,
and there will be three more coming because of the Amsterdam Treaty
on sexual orientation, religious beliefs and age. This is really
cumbersome stuff for organisations to deal with, knowing what
they can and cannot do on this, that and the other. To have a
duty to promote equality, to my mind, is much neater and it turns
the organisation away from being afraid of whether they are falling
foul of this or that legislation into proactive, creative, innovative
thinkers thinking "What can we do to promote it?" It
just turns the whole thing round. It stops being a nuisance and
becomes an exciting challenge.
983. I would certainly agree with that. Can
I come back to this consensual issue in Wales. There was a point
made by Sir William Wells earlier on that if you were opposed
to NHS foundation status you were unlikely to be appointed to
an NHS board. How consensual do you have to be to get on to some
of these public appointments? I am interested perhaps because
I come from a non-conformist background. What do you have to do
to attract non-conformists or allow non-conformists to play a
role in public life?
(Professor Rees) Starting with example, by appointing
some non-conformist people, those that make people's eyebrows
raise a bit and think, "How has that person got on there?
This person is known to be very challenging", or whatever.
That sends out a strong message about the openness of the system.
Secondly, it seems to me the only restrictions on appointments
should be the competencies that have to be identified for that
particular post, and supporting whatever that organisation is
there to do with all that that implies, and in the case of Assembly
public bodies the duty to promote equality. There is no point
in having an applicant for a post to a body whose prime aim is
to get that body abolished. I think you have to have a certain
amount, within a broad sense, of signing up to the body and what
it is for. That does not mean to say in the nitty-gritty of particular
dilemmas or policies you cannot have a whole range of different
perspectives, but you have got to be generally supportive of what
the organisation is there to do, otherwise it will become unworkable.
But that is just a personal opinion.
984. One of the dangers I perceive of this is
that you are going to widen the category of people appointed to
public appointments. Is there not a danger that they will become
the next set of usual suspects and you are simply changing one
set of people for a different set of people?
(Professor Rees) But if the characteristics are so
diverse, unless you are talking about those individual people,
I would not be so concerned about it. I think the concern in the
past was that the socio-economic and demographic characteristics
of the people who held positions on all these bodies were very
narrow. Not only that, many of them were multiple job holders.
It was extraordinary when you saw how many people on this board
were also on that board. That is one of the things the Assembly
addressed by saying there should be a limit as to how many boards
you could be on at a time and how long you could be on them.
985. What is that limit?
(Professor Rees) It depends if it is first, second
or third tier. You could be on a top tier one and a one bottom
tier one, there would be no problem about that. Certainly there
has been a big shift away from the fact that you could count up
on two hands the people running Wales basically, and that is how
it was in the past.
986. First of all, our paths have crossed in
the past. You may remember working for NALGO in the research department.
I worked in research and you were the academic advisor for NALGO
and NALGO was the very first union to redraft its entire constitution
and rules in non-sexist language. In a lot of what you say, in
a sense, my community is ahead of the game. 25 years ago we went
out to recruit people from all the ethnic minorities and promote
them in community politics and in every way. I think we are a
long way forward and I would like to think that one of the reasons
we have not had the problems in Luton that have happened elsewhere
in the country is because we have done this. Our experience is
that you have to be extremely sensitive about the different ethnic
minorities and in Luton, where I am the Member of Parliament,
even the Muslim community is widely diverse and one has to be
extremely careful and have a good local knowledge before one makes
an appointment. It is very simple to appoint what look like three
ethnic minority people on a six-person body and not realise they
are all from one community, and the other community gets very
upset. At this stage in our development, this is very important.
Will your assessors be very sensitive to these kind of issues
in multiple ethnic minority communities like mine where this is
very important, more important than political allegiance?
(Professor Rees) What are the boards you are talking
987. I am vice chair of governors for a sixth
form college and we have five different ethnic minorities represented
on that body. Privately we know from which community they come
but every community in the town knows they have got their person
on that body and there is a link going into the community the
other way too. They are all recognised as fine people who are
doing a good job and they are recognised in the community as professionals
who have got the skills. If you do a matrix of skills there are
accountants, teachers, whatever, so there is a mix of people as
well. But it requires very good local knowledge and a lot of sensitivity.
I agree entirely with what you were saying, by the way, but in
making these assessments you have got to be aware of those factors.
(Professor Rees) I think that is interesting. You
are talking about school governing bodies there which are, of
course, outwith this system in a sense. They have a different
988. I am talking about our local health trusts
(Professor Rees) I am trying to think what would be
the most locally based board that would engage with the issue
that you are talking about and I think it is local health trusts,
but even they are rather bigger, are they not, in terms of the
geographical area that they cover? I am very conscious of the
points that you have raised but I am not so sure that they come
up with a responsive public body because they are not so geographically
constrained, if you like. A lot of them are all-Wales bodies and
if they are geographically spatially specific then they would
tend to be much larger areas which would not have the same community
dynamics that you are describing. It is extremely important for
local boards and councils and also for schools, I absolutely agree,
but I do not think it is such a problem for public appointments
in the same way because of that lack of spatial specifics.
989. We have a Luton primary health care trust,
we have a hospital trust, and people are very sensitive to the
membership of those bodies as well. They are not national but
they are large communitiesnearly a quarter of a million
total population in the area.
(Professor Rees) That is a very important issue. I
think the thing is Wales is not so densely populated so I do not
have much experience of what you are describing. It is a very
good point, thank you.
990. You have said a range of extremely interesting
things to us. I want to finally bring you back to your recommendations.
Your eyes lit up at the prospect of legislation, but I want to
know generally if there are any more recommendations beyond the
one you have given us that you would like to leave with us. I
want to clarify the one that you have flagged up for us because
I thought originally you were wanting to talk about the numbers
game and you were citing examples from elsewhere about there should
be so many and so many, but latterly you seemed to be talking
about a general duty to promote equality. They are not the same
approaches and I want to know which one you would prefer.
(Professor Rees) I would prefer the duty to promote.
I think the statutory legislation about gender balance on public
bodies, however, is well worth considering and I think those countries
that have gone down this road are well worth studying, not simply
to look at the effects but to look at what bunking up measures
have been introduced to make it work. We might want to learn a
lot from those measures, even if we did not want to go down the
road of setting those kind of quotas. I am very well awareand
I have been in the equality business for 30 years, thank you for
reminding methat quotas and target can be unbelievably
contentious. They lead to a backlash and accusations of tokenism.
I am very well aware of all that. However, they are working in
these countries and they are producing some extremely interesting
consequences. I would like to see us learning from those support
measures that make it work. To me the best legislation we could
have is a duty to make it work which I think would be welcomed
by employers because it might apply to a lot of the legislation
they are having to deal with and will be dealing with. In the
duty there is one clear message in all that. There would need
to be a lot of expertise and training around to enable people
to work with it. I think it is a long-term strategy rather than
a quick fix and it would need an awful lot of political will to
make it work. I am very aware of that as well. Where I have seen
it work as a consultant at the European Commission on equality
issuesand I have done that for the last 15 years so I have
quite a lot of experience of what different countries within and
beyond Europe have tried to do to promote equalityit is
my considered view that this kind of duty can be very effective
and, of course, it has been a great pleasure for me, being based
in Wales, to see this experiment, if you like, with the statutory
duty to have due regard to equality working there. When I was
EOC Commissioner for Wales I commissioned some research to evaluate
the impact of that clause so farand the Assembly has not
been going for very longand there is clear evidence that
it has had an effect in a whole range of different areas, particularly
things like participatative democracy, transparency, all of that,
some really quite radical stuff. So I think it would be enabling
legislation and I would dearly like to recommend it to this Committee.
Chairman: You have done and we are grateful
for that. I think we should probably want to draw on you in a
number of ways in thinking about these issues but it has been
a wonderful start today. Thank you very much for coming and talking
to us. It has been immensely valuable.
2 Chaney P and Fevre R (2002) An Absolute Duty:
Equal Opportunities and the National Assembly for Wales. Cardiff:
Institute for Welsh Affairs www.iwa.org.uk. Back