Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1125-1139)




  1125. Good morning, everyone. Could I welcome our witnesses this morning. As you know, we are conducting an inquiry into the public appointments system and we particularly wanted to hear from some of you because of what you have been doing on the Lottery front and to try to find new ways of bringing people into public appointments. Would you like, any of you, to say anything just to kick off or do you want us to launch into questions?

  (Mr Wainwright) Could I say a few words. First of all, I think it is tremendous you are looking at this in detail and also being generous with your time. It's a treat for us to come here and give evidence. Perhaps I can make three initial points. The first one is that this little ship has been afloat for four years and it has not capsized or done any damage. No by-lot members of these committees have been asked to leave them for any reason. I think it is felt that a lot of them have made a useful contribution and indeed Lady Brittan, in her written evidence to you, has endorsed the experiment, but it is a very small experiment. It would be marvellous if you felt able to recommend extending it, even modestly, maybe to other regional Lottery committees, regional partly because it is near people's homes, or similar small quangos because then you would have something a bit more robust where the competing claims of people like myself and criticisms of others could actually be tested more robustly. Secondly, I think from all the very interesting evidence that I have read on your website, induction and support emerge, I think, as tremendously important when you are trying to widen the pool of people involved in quangos and I think it is hard to think of a greater incentive to adding to that than introducing an element of totally inexperienced people who clearly do need that sort of, and I hesitate to use the word "training" because that might offend some of the more eminent people you get on quangos. Finally, I would just like to say that I think quangos are a marvellous thing because 30,000 people brought into the fullest sort of citizenship is terrific, but you will not get your constituents, I do not think, generally saying that they are marvellous. In fact, I think it is largely because they lack that element which the jury provides in the legal system and the election provides in the political system, and that is when at the moment the State abdicates a bit of power and says, "I trust you". There are such people as the `village Hampdens' and George Eliot's "good people faithfully contributing to this", and this system taps them on the shoulder and says, "I want you".

  1126. That is precisely what I wanted to start asking you about. It is nice to have that kind of cheery civic optimism. I have been reading your excellent pamphlet on all of this where you say more or less what you have just said. You say, "Rather than distaste, involving the citizen in public life through quangos deserves renewed emphasis in a peaceful and generally comfortable society like Britain's", and you say, "The quango system, and all the mockery directed at it, as a means of government patronage has great potential for countering this trend for enlisting the citizen to help the State, provided membership is generally within reach of all". I think I would like to ask you a little more about that. You have given us a bit already, but this is an interesting argument for us to hear, the idea that quangos are an arena for civic endeavour and, therefore, not to be worried about and sneered at because they are not democratic enough, but in fact they are almost a compensation or substitute for the decline of other forms of civic participation. Is that what you really argue?
  (Mr Wainwright) Yes. It is not to criticise other forms of civic participation, of which there are an increasing number of lots of imaginative ideas, but that is some of what is inflicted on it and in fact I know that some of it is rather antique, but I was very interested when I came across (De Tocqueville's), the concept of the jury as a political institution. I know that in courts juries are very constricted in what they can do in their ability to ascertain facts, whereas a quango is a different creature. Although with only a limited experience of the National Lottery's Charities Board, now the Community Fund, we were also constricted and we had to obey their rules and we could not just do what we wanted, so I found it interesting to think yes, we are all used to the idea that we may get a letter in the post requiring us to go and judge our fellow citizens, but De Tocqueville's argument was that there was a further process to that and that is the enrichment of the citizen who became a juror, conscious of acting as a citizen in the fullest sense. I think quangos do offer that. You would not call school governors a quango, but there is a similarity there and there are a lot of these things which enlist the citizen like that. It seems to me that the processes required of the member of the committee-negotiating, being confident enough to speak, just having committee skills, are things which actually are much more common in our society than we might like to think. An awful lot of people are involved in, say, an angling club where they can have a great battle with canoeists on the canal. You can use it to the level of the family in the sense that anybody who has got children develops skills and it is that feeling that people generally have these skills that I felt very powerfully are there to be called on. There is a slight personal motivation too because the commonest question I was asked was, "Why should it be you?" and that is what concentrated my mind really and made me think that there are a lot of other people who should do it.

  1127. Turning to Linda and Mike, you are the village Hampdens that have been described by Martin here. Just tell us in a nutshell what happened to you. How did they find you, how did it feel and how is it going? What do you think about the whole thing?
  (Ms Parkinson) Well, for me it was by post. My first inclination was to tear it up, thinking, "Oh gosh, something else silly wanting more money out of me", but then I read it closely and thought, "Well, try because you just do not know. You are always on about wanting to do something", so it is exactly what I did. I sent it back, went to the interview which was a little daunting, but I got through it. My first year was mind-boggling. There was a lot to take in, but I am not one of these people who is afraid to ask, even if it seems to be the most simple question. That is what I am there for and also really I feel as if I am putting something back. I feel like an adult now because I have got really involved. I know where my money is going because I do buy tickets and it has made me aware of how many people are disadvantaged. There has been nowhere else to turn except to the Lottery for a lot of people.

  1128. Did they ask you if you had bought a ticket at the interview?
  (Ms Parkinson) Yes, they did.

  1129. That is interesting. Is that a condition?
  (Ms Parkinson) No, it was just curiosity, I think. It makes me feel as if I am doing my bit now for everyone really because everyone stands the same opportunity to get money from the Lottery.

  1130. Have you been involved in any kind of civic activity before?
  (Ms Parkinson) Yes, I have been for a long time a volunteer teacher, an assistant teacher for adults with learning difficulties which I do once a week at the local college, and I have helped on other little committees through my life, moving around the UK because of my husband. I have had a small input in committees, but nothing as big and as involved as the Lottery.

  1131. So you were a good citizen already really, were you not? That is the truth of it.
  (Ms Parkinson) Well, sort of. Probably like any other mother I wanted to do something rather than be at home all the time, so just to have a bit of sanity I have done something else.

  1132. Can I ask the same of Martin?
  (Mr Gray) Certainly. I think whenever you see a letter which is franked from the National Lottery, you open it with a certain degree of eagerness.

  1133. And then you realised that you had got the short straw!
  (Mr Gray) After the initial disappointment that I had not become a millionaire, it interested me, so I replied. I was welcomed to an interview where they were obviously interested to get people with outside experience of charity work. It was clear, and I am quite territorial by nature, but I was quite keen to see that they wanted someone to represent particularly the area in which I lived, so I was seen as the only person in this part of the south-east and they wanted someone from that area to take part in the organisation. I think, like Linda, to start with it was quite daunting because it is quite a complicated procedure that is presented to you, but once you have got the hang of it, once you have plucked up courage to say you do not quite understand what they are talking about and you are accepted, you then pluck up courage to start challenging a few things and to become involved and it is very worthwhile.

  1134. I think, Martin, you have already done a note for us, which is very helpful, on how it works. It might be useful if someone just in a nutshell tells us quickly how this selection process works or how you find the Lindas and the Martins of this world.
  (Mr Freeney) I am the regional manager for the north-west which is one of nine regions of the Community Fund. The process is that currently our committee is geographically representative of the region in which we work and we recruit one to two members by a random selection process and we would do that on the basis of who is leaving that year, if you get what I mean, because we have a continuous rollover of members to keep us fresh and so on. For example, currently we are missing members from the eastern side of Lancashire, so we are going to do a random selection of the roll from one of those towns, Bolton, or one of the areas out there. What we would do is we will choose a number, and I think Martin has graphically described this in his submission where we take the numbers of the previous Saturday and so on. It is in a way like that and that is the way we do it and from that we will get 100 or 200 people and we will send them an invitation. In the invitation, and hopefully we have learnt from the comments that Linda has made and Martin has made, we will try and encourage them and invite them. In the north-west we send them things like this (indicating), which is our newsletter which tells them about some of the things that we are involved in. We will send them something like the strategy that Parliament has approved and we may even send them a thumbnail sketch of the members of the committee that currently sit and they are welcome to say, "They are from our area", and so on. In addition to that, we will send them a list of successful grants in their area and they are often surprised at what is around the corner in terms of the activities that various charities are doing, so that is the process in terms of attracting them. Some will not respond and some do, so, for example, the last time we took part in this, which was two years ago, we had 100 responses, saying, "Yes, we are interested", and in the end, 30 people arrived on the day and that is how we got them to the office, as it were. After that we have a day when they spend time in the office wandering around, if you like, talking to staff and staff are aware of who they are and why they are here. From my point of view, I have to discipline myself to realise that this is random and I am not here to select in the normal process against criteria. I am here to encourage and that is a completely different mindset for someone like myself who has been recruiting staff all the time, recruiting other members all the time. In addition to that, some of the selected members will be there as well and also the randomly-selected members will be there on the day and they will have lunch or a cup of tea or whatever and they will sit around chatting. The second part of the day, they then begin to look at the portfolio, which is what Martin referred to, which is quite a sizeable document and we tell them, for example, in the north-west that our budget is £29 million which we have to distribute to charitable organisations and in any portfolio we are talking about £4-5 million which they will have to make a decision on. At that point some selected say, "No, thanks. I don't want that. I don't think I can do that". Others then have to ask about the time commitment. If I can give you one very good example of a man, Alan Keith, for the purpose of this, he worked for Ford in Halewood and he was delighted to come, but he was very much put off by the huge sums that we are dealing with. I thought, interestingly from Mr Alexander's submission to you, he had never been asked before and that is what intrigued him about it, that he had never been asked before until he was here. Initially Alan did not want to have anything to do with it, but then when I began to talk to him about the job he does, which was a quality control position at Ford which for some of us was a bit of a joke at that time, but in fact it has improved, I am glad to say, but I began to say, "Your product is a car. Our projects are X,Y,Z and it is very similar. We have quality control, value for money. We are trying to make an impact. We are trying to make a difference to people's lives which is what Ford is trying to do", so he began to see an entre«e for him and his skills. Sadly, when Ford went over to Jaguar, there was immense competition for jobs there and he had to withdraw, but I think in terms of discussing with individual men and women in the street, they have immense skills not only in raising families and in surviving modern society, but also the particular tasks they do in terms of work, employment or non-employment, as the case may be. It is up to us to make that jump away from selection to giving people good information on which they can make a decision and to date in the north-west we have been very successful.

  1135. That is very helpful, but I just want you to complete the story because you have got your 100 through using the Lottery number and then you get your 30 who come to the office for the kind of day you have described and you get some people who then fall out because they decide it is not for them, but how then do you get down to your two?
  (Mr Freeney) We basically do it by our feelings. We do not have a selection process for random people in that sense because we try to avoid it. We feel that some people on the day will make a contribution, so, for example, we will give them a mini-portfolio to discuss, an exercise, and if people are really struggling and finding it too hard, we do not want to inflict punishment but we want them to enjoy it as well, so I think some people will be encouraged out where we say, "I don't think you can manage this. This has serious implications for you", and so on, and in the end the chairman of the committee, who is normally there on the day, will say, "I think we'll go for A and B".

  Chairman: That is interesting and I am sure colleagues will want to pursue that.

Mr Prentice

  1136. I would have no problem dishing out £4-5 million; it would not phase me at all! This is the thing, that the Lottery is a kind of fun job, is it not? I would suspect you would find it less difficult to get people participating in decisions on distributing cash within some other quango really. My question is to Martin really. How easy would it be to extend the principle of random selection across the generality of quangos because you were suggesting that might be the case?
  (Mr Wainwright) I think it must be a modest proposal. I take your point about it being enjoyable, but it is not always enjoyable and there is another side to it in a sense. For the people who are satisfied with the money you have given them, there are plenty of people who are not going to be, so it is worth bearing that in mind. I would not conceive in the immediate future anything like this spreading rampantly through quango land.

  1137. Why not?
  (Mr Wainwright) Well, to contradict myself now, I would be pleased if that did happen, but I do not think in fact that it will and, therefore, the thing would be to concentrate on finding, rather as you suggested, the ones that people might be attracted to and trying it out there and seeing if it works. I think it could work, but one of the ministers rather scoffed at it and it could all collapse.

  1138. When I read your pamphlet, I thought this idea of random selection was something that could be or should be applied more widely because you mentioned Burnley, and places which are oversubscribed for LEA schools in Burnley are filled by the Lottery. My understanding is that Burnley only has one school.
  (Mr Wainwright) Has it changed? I think it was Burnley or Ormskirk which has one or two very popular schools and that is where the Lottery comes in.

  1139. Is that a fair system? The school I am thinking of is ethnically balanced, but is it a fair way of allocating places to schools, would you say, as a general principle?
  (Mr Wainwright) Well, it survived a High Court challenge, but I have not read the papers on the arguments on both sides and I do not know, but I have the feeling there are specific elements there, as it has survived in Burnley and Ormskirk for what must be approaching 20 years now. I think I mention in the pamphlet that the ultimate argument used was that no one could think of anything better. I know that is not a terribly impressive argument, but it is interesting that it has been something that has survived that long and survived a High Court challenge.

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