Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1140-1159)

MR MARTIN WAINWRIGHT, MS JANET PARASKEVA, MS LINDA PARKINSON, MR ANDY FREENEY AND MR MARTIN GRAY

THURSDAY 12 DECEMBER 2002

  1140. Are you arguing in the pamphlet for extending the principle across the education system, that places should be allocated by random selection by lot?
  (Mr Wainwright) No.

  1141. You are not, so this is just an interesting example?
  (Mr Wainwright) Exactly and you use it yourselves.[2]

  1142. On page 9 you give some other interesting examples of conscription in the United States and admission to medical schools and so on. It seems to me from reading this list on page 9 that people either want to do it, whether it is on the community fund, doshing out money, or if they do not do it, there is some sanction. In the United States, if you do not sign up to the draft, then you go to jail. But what about a system of lot which brings forward people who are just not interested in participating in this quango? What sanctions would apply there?
  (Mr Wainwright) Well, it will not do that because they will not respond. I was interested in that Andy got a very big response. When we did this in Yorkshire and the Humber, we had three from York and two from Barnsley which made it a lot easier and most people self-select themselves out. It is not like jury service, there is no compulsion.

  1143. This is very limited in scope and no one is going to be press-ganged into doing something that they do not want to do?
  (Mr Wainwright) No, definitely not.
  (Ms Paraskeva) It may be limited in scope in that respect, but I think the whole idea is not limited in scope. I was the person who took Martin's idea and made it happen across nine regions and am a firm believer in what it actually achieved. What it achieved was to bring together a pool of people from which to select and I think what it actually brings, rather than election where you get a particular kind of person who wants to put themselves forward for an election or is searching for a job, again a particular kind of person looking for a specific job, it draws from a wide range right across the community, whether you are looking for diversity in terms of age, intellectual capacity, ethnicity, gender, from which you can then select. Having run a small quango and having been myself on a health trust, I know that on both of those occasions I got there partly on merit, but also, in terms of the trust, because somebody knew whose shoulder to tap because of the experience that they knew that I had and they thought it might be useful. What if I had had some of that experience in a different place which nobody knew about? What I think this particular example that Martin came forward with and actually did for the National Lottery's Charities Board, as it was then, was introduce a whole range of people to the opportunity to put themselves forward. We were tapping the shoulders of lots of folk and saying, "Have you thought of this?" It was not in many ways very different from the approach of the head-hunting industry. They go out to people who might not be looking for a job and say, "Did you know this job was available and have you thought of applying for it?" All we are doing here is saying to the community, to whom all of the time we are saying, "Put something back, volunteer, come and give of your experience", so all we are doing is saying to the community, "Here is something we would like community involvement in. Have you thought of putting yourself forward?" I do think then that some kind of selection is necessary obviously in the very cautious way that Andy has suggested and certainly no sanctions if you do not want to do it. But I actually would be more ambitious with your idea, Martin, I think, than you are and I would like to see it applied as a way of getting the consumer involved, for example, in organisations, actually going out there, getting the names and addresses from the electoral roll, writing to people inviting them, then seeing who responds and gathering the people who respond together. Then some self-selection happens and then at the end of the day you might have criteria or you might not, which you might want in the case of your school in order to make sure that you have an ethnically-balanced committee. As I say, I am more ambitious than Martin for his own idea.

  1144. So there is a huge pool of people out there who are just straining at the leash?
  (Ms Paraskeva) Yes, I think so. I think we would all like to be asked and what actually happens is we tell people that they should volunteer and there is lots of onus about, "Come and volunteer, get involved", but no one actually goes and says, "Will you please?" to people other than the people they already know might say yes, and I think there are a lot of people who would say yes if they were asked properly.

  Chairman: You could say that the citizens' panels which many local authorities, probably most local authorities, now run are done in the same way. They simply take people off the electoral register, write to them and say, "Would you like to join our citizens' panel?", and they say yes or no, so that could be another example of how it is operating.

Sir Sydney Chapman

  1145. If we were, in our report, to recommend appointment by lot, from what you have just told us, that is not the case for Linda and Martin. Yes, by lot to get on the first long list, but then subsequently, it seems to me, selection turned out Linda and Martin. That is the first point I want to make. The second is that whilst, Mr Wainwright, you said that you did not think that the system should be throughout the 30,000 appointments, nevertheless, could I press you perhaps to agree that, as a general rule, a quarter of people appointed to a quango might be initially by lot, or are you saying that the person who is pin-pricked on the electoral register should actually, if he or she wants to, be appointed to the quango without an interview?
  (Mr Wainwright) I think there are two very interesting points there. On the first one, the question of the balance between the random nature of things and the subsequent de-randomising of it, one reason why I am cautious, and I am impressed at the radicalism which seems to be in the room, but one reason why I am cautious is that I think a small experiment would allow the quangos involved to fine-tune that and think about it all the way from being literally random, as you suggest, and dropping on someone and saying, "It's you, provided you agree", or having a more substantial interview side to it and then going to the other extreme where you ultimately place parameters on the interview side. The reason why it would be tremendous if you recommended a more robust experiment is that those things could be looked at—what works and what does not. In terms of appointing such a large section of a quango by lot, I would be a bit scared about that, to be honest. On the one hand, I would think,"Great", but, on the other hand, I keep thinking that one must be practical. This is such a tiny experiment at the moment, you must not hope for the moon. I think the feeling is for more than one `by lot' member per quango as I think that one on their own would probably find it very difficult, so the Community Fund system of having a couple works very well. I know it could be described as tokenism, but I just feel that that criticism is a criticism really that stops anything happening because all change begins as tokenism.

  1146. But if people, for example, had to be elected to some quango, you think that two would be too many?
  (Mr Wainwright) I am revealing my mathematical inability! In that case, it could be too many.

  1147. The other point I would like to put to you is that rather than initially by lot to get your long-list or short-list, why not have a publicity drive, either nationally or regionally, to say, "If you are interested in serving on a quango, write in", and then from those people, from that list, from a national register or a regional register according to the particular job, somebody is appointed. How would they approach it?
  (Mr Wainwright) Well, I do not think the two are opposed to one another. I have been really interested in all the imaginative ideas that have come as a result of your inquiry and the evidence to it and I do not think these things are exclusive. I think Janet's point is very fundamental about this. I do not know if it is a national characteristic, but people are so loathe to put themselves forward. I personally am. I was approached in the old, dreadful, pre-Nolan way and I would have never put myself forward for a quango. There is something which says that you should not put yourself up for a quango and that is one distinct thing about this system, that it does actually go to people and say, "Go on!"

  1148. You mentioned the jury system, but of course there is a qualification with the jury system and that is that you have got to be under 70. Now, I am getting very sensitive about this! What I am really asking, and perhaps Andy might like to answer this, but when those people came and you saw them, was it in your mind, "Well, he's too old", or, "That person is just over 18 and has not got the experience"? Did you take those factors into consideration? I am not suggesting you should have done.
  (Mr Freeney) No, the definition of it, made on the understanding of the committee, is that it is fully representative of the whole of the north-west, both geographically, in terms of male and female and in terms of age, so we have a young person as well as a mature person, so we try to make sure that the committee does represent all of the community of the north-west, as far as that is possible in ten people and obviously that is a big challenge, but age is not an issue in that sense. In other words, we would positively try to get people to represent older people. As Mr Prentice knows, in the north-west older people and their carers are one of our targeted groups for the year and we are trying desperately to get more money into Help the Aged and Age Concern and all of those sort of activities, so that is the first thing. The point you made earlier was an interesting one about actually how you select. It is technically possible to use a computer and get one person from one area to come forward and we did in fact look into that. The problem is or the challenge is that when you have got one person and he or she says no, you have got to start again and again and even if you are successful in attracting that person when they come to the first, second or third meeting and then they opt out, the cost in time to us and other costs is enormous, so we go for a sample, if you like, a random sample and by interacting with that sample, yes, we make a decision. We say out of the 30 people, "We think Martin or Linda are the people we want to make a contribution", and to a certain extent it is a form of selection, but I think the initial bit is a very important one and that is what we say to the sector in the-north-west. We say, "Eight of our members are selected by interview and two are selected, as far as possible, randomly", and they have a completely different view and how they are introduced into a very complex system, because of our financial regulations and so on, is a different way. The other thing I would want to say to the Committee is that the other area which certainly I am beginning to work on now is the relationship with their employer because a lot of employers say, "Yes, we will give our staff community time", but when actually push comes to shove and the demands on the economy and so on happen, as in Keith's case, it was, "It's your job, so you make the decision". They were, as I say, changing over to Jaguar and there were a lot of issues going on. I do think another aspect of that is that I as the regional manager need to go along to Jaguar and say, "Look, we are very interested in Keith making this contribution. What is your contribution? Will his job be protected?", in other words, to support that person better. However, the person who applies for a job has made a decision that he or she has the time because we tell them that it is two days a month or whatever it might be, so they say, "Yes, I can do that", whereas the person who is randomly selected gets it dumped on them, as it were. So we are still learning from this, but I think what we have learnt so far is that it does work and we are very positive about it. Yes, Janet was right, it is a system which has worked for us and the proof is in the pudding, but there are areas that we need to strengthen. One of them is my relationship with employers and convincing employers that it is good for their workforce that this person is involved in this. Can I just make one point, Mr Prentice, about—

Mr Prentice

  1149. You keep coming back to me!
  (Mr Freeney) Yes. It is a very good job to give money honestly. There is no better product, is there? We delight people in your constituency—

  1150. No, you do not!
  (Mr Freeney) Precisely! They are the people you write to me about, so the job of the committee is to make decisions to say, "A will get it and B will not", and B is the letter I get the next day from Mr Prentice, and I understand that, but that is what the committee is about. We do not have enough money, it is decreasing and the challenge for the committee is becoming greater, so I still think it is the way forward in terms of representing our communities.

Chairman

  1151. On the Prentice point, when I read your press cuttings, you have got one in here which says, "Lucky number for mother who can change Barnsley's fortunes", and I read it and it says, and it is quoting the person you found, a 27-year-old wife and mother, "`Barnsley does not get much cash and they thought having someone like me would make the situation better'." It surely cannot be right that people come on to it on the basis that they are going to get more money for their areas, can it? Otherwise, you will have troublemakers like Gordon after you!
  (Mr Freeney) No, and that is a press comment, I have to say, and it does not work that way. I think what happens is yes, they do come in with a local flavour, as it were, but they get very rapidly the understanding that their task is to serve a region and in my case that is five major areas, a lot of rural areas, a lot of urban areas and so on, so the challenge is much greater and it does take them a while to bed in. Martin and Linda can probably talk about that better than I can. I do not know long it is before they are happy with the decisions they have to make. I am sure it is at least a year.
  (Mr Gray) Following on from Mr Prentice's point, I can agree with him that being approached by the Lottery is a very pleasant task to undertake, but if you want to extend this elsewhere, and I know very little about quangos, but I would have thought that some of the jobs that they do are probably less attractive, and you will find it quite different. You will not get the same response possibly. As far as the quango is concerned, it has a job to do, so I would suggest that an interviewing process is required because really I would have thought that you want to make sure that those people who serve on it can actually make a positive contribution to it because if you actually end up putting someone on it who, though they might be willing, might not be able to make any contribution, you should question the value of that person's contribution.

Mr Heyes

  1152. I want to try and tease a bit more information out of Linda and Martin, if I may. How long have you each been doing this job?
  (Ms Parkinson) Myself, this is my second year.
  (Mr Gray) This is my fourth.

  1153. Is there a time limit?
  (Ms Parkinson) Yes.
  (Mr Freeney) It is three to five.

  1154. Potentially could they be renewed and kept on, given the skills that they provide?
  (Mr Freeney) Currently on our boards it is a maximum of three to five years and then we need to renew them, and that applies to selected members as well. They sit on them for three to five years and some people commit themselves to three and say, "That's enough".

  1155. I am wondering if there is a trap in this. Clearly Linda and Martin have contributed greatly through the work that they have done and the skills they have developed and potentially you could say, "Thanks very much and off you go", but that would be a potential loss, I would have thought, to the board and a loss to the community in general. Do you have a comment on that?
  (Mr Freeney) I hope that the way people move off the committee is done in a limited way and that we do not get half leaving at the same time, although that is potentially possible if you have illnesses and other matters, but because we try and turn over the committee on a regular basis, I think the opportunities for finding the Martins and Lindas of this world are still there and we still have more people out there that we want to attract. Yes, it is sad sometimes when people like Martin and Linda have to move on because during their last two years they are making an enormous contribution because they are obviously not the new kid on the block anymore, but they actually have taken over from those who have served longer, but I still think the opportunities for bringing in new blood, new ideas and keeping us fresh and me fresh is a very important element of committees changing regularly. I do not like the idea of people staying on committees until their coffin is taken away.

  1156. Martin, do you want to say anything?
  (Mr Gray) I agree, I think it is refreshing to have new people come on to committees, whether it is in this situation or whether it is in a social organisation or whatever. I think it is important that there is a turnover of committees, otherwise it becomes almost a club rather than a committee. The other thing you have to remember is that people like myself, I rely totally on my employer to give me the time to carry out my commitments and it would be unfair to expect an employer to have to continue in that direction.
  (Ms Parkinson) I agree too. It means that the experience I have had I can take on elsewhere and people like me who think, "Gosh, what can I do? Do you really want somebody like me? I am just a housewife?", it means that someone else can have the experience. You cannot keep taking and you have got to be able to give something back. As far as my employer is concerned, I have to use my holidays to do this job, so it is a whole week or more out of my annual holiday that I use, so I am all for your employer to say, "Yes, you don't have to use your holiday".

  1157. As a result of the experience you have had with the Lottery, have either of you got more involved in public life in other ways, more voluntary work or community work? Has it had that effect?
  (Ms Parkinson) For myself, not as yet because I was already volunteering in the college as an assistant teacher for adults with learning difficulties, so this is just something else that has happened on top. It is an old cliche« and I have said it before, but because I work with children, it has made me feel like an adult and it is fascinating. It is hard work, I must admit. In the first year you sit there very quietly and you put your hand up quietly, unsure whether you want to put this question across, but our chairman says, "It does not matter what type of question it is, that is the reason why you are here and unless you ask, you'll never learn", or there could be a mistake that they have made because you were too frightened to ask the question and it is the sort of thing, well, personally it is what I do. The question might seem obvious, but perhaps someone has not asked it.

  1158. You mentioned earlier about the coupling system where you take two people chosen by lots, say. Have you both experienced that?
  (Ms Parkinson) Yes, that is how I was chosen.

  1159. Were there benefits and positives in that?
  (Ms Parkinson) Initially no, because you just have this letter saying that you have been chosen and basically it is an invitation to come to an interview to find out about the charity work. It did not make me feel, "Gosh, that is novel. I have never thought of doing that before". I just looked at the letter, thinking, "Why do they want me?" Then it was, "How did they get my number and my name?" and of course I did not even think of the electoral roll first of all, so it does not make you feel that you are important or that you have the experience they are looking for. It is not until you actually go and then obviously you see that you do have some value, but personally I would rather have seen that first. Not everyone wants to take that risk. When you talk to other people, they say, "Gosh, you were brave doing that. I'm not sure I could do that just from a letter like that".


2   Note by Witness: By which I meant MP's Lottery for time for private members bills. Back


 
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