Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1160-1179)

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

THURSDAY 12 DECEMBER 2002

  1160. Martin, you wanted to add to that?
  (Mr Gray) Yes. I received a letter. Curiosity is a marvellous thing when you open some of these letters and there is something unknown at the end of it and, by nature, I will always pursue it.

  Chairman: You must be a dream for these mail merchants!

Kevin Brennan

  1161. And time share!
  (Mr Gray) Once introduced into the process, it appeared attractive and I actually felt complimented to a degree. I did not actually understand that it was literally by a number that I was chosen, but you find out in due course. At that time the door has been opened and you can make the decision either to go to it or not to go to it.

Mr Heyes

  1162. Is it not the case though, Andy, that at the end of this process you have described, there really was a selection taking place and you got down to a handful of people with a few people falling out through self-selection, so there really was a selection going on? Was it not likely that at the end of the day you were choosing people who fit, who fit the image, that you would feel comfortable working with? This is not in any way a personal comment about Linda or Martin, but they are just the same as the people who would have put themselves forward in the ordinary course of events anyway? Can you tell us a bit more about that final stage of the selection process?
  (Mr Freeney) Can I, in contrast, tell you what we do with the selected ones so then you will see that there is a difference. In that sense, people who select themselves to apply to an advert, such as that which we are currently running in the press in the north-west, for example, will in the main be people who are interested in the voluntary sector, possibly involved in the voluntary sector who know what charities are about and so on, so we attract people who are, as I say, currently in the know and with them we would go through a series of questions against which we would have answers and we would want answers from them. For example, we would insist that they know something about the voluntary sector. For random people, we would not dream of doing that, but we would just want them to be interested in doing the task that is in front of us. The selection of the eight members is by criteria and it is an interview and members of the committee and myself will sit on an interview panel, so while there is a day when they can wander around the office and talk to staff and look at the processes and so on and so forth of what we are doing and what the business is, there is still a point where they will sit in a room with a panel and be interviewed and we will make a decision, saying, "This is the better of the two candidates" or the best of the six, as the case may be. So there is a very formal process. With the randomly selected, we do not do that at all. We do not have a series of questions other than we are having now in the sense of a conversation and so on and in the end some, as I say, will select themselves out because they feel it is too onerous or because of their work commitments, whatever the case may be. Then, yes, we are left with half a dozen and the chair will say to the members and myself, "Who do we think will fit?" Remember, going back to Sir Sydney's question, if we are looking for an older person at that stage, and we feel that the older person has made a good contribution, we may say, "We are short of an older person" or, "We are short of a younger person", so somebody of 25, and currently we have a young person on and she is due to leave next year, so randomly when a young person comes forward, we would say, "Well, we will go towards the younger person", so it does depend on the composition of the committee we are trying to sustain.

  1163. Are the key words there not, "Who do you think will fit?" when you have a core of six people? The whole thrust of equal opportunities policy in employment and fair selection processes in employment has been precisely to attack that problem of choosing people who will fit which has resulted over the years in choosing white, middle-class, very often male people, and that is the result of that process, that it ultimately chooses people who will fit.
  (Mr Freeney) It is not a perfect system, but in terms of minority communities, again if there is somebody in the random group from a minority community and that is what we are lacking in terms of representation, that is the person we would want to go for. Currently we are well represented in terms of my committees, but if were to do that tomorrow, we have to say, "In the random, for example, we are going to Bolton to do a random there", and if we get people from those communities that we would like to serve and target, then that is the way we would select. Yes, there is a form of selection other than the IT system I described to you which is very costly and very long-winded in terms of getting somebody for three or four years, which is a long commitment for somebody who has not made a decision.

Annette Brooke

  1164. I understood that this was in two stages. We have actually heard about the Government's organised roadshows to attract people to be on quangos, and it occurred to me, hearing you talking, and I think I could probably address the question right across the board, but could you make an attractive enough invitation sent out by lot to actually get a proportion of people to attend a roadshow to learn about the issue in general? The way Linda and Martin described it, your letter sounded a bit like winning the Lottery, whereas this one would not be quite so exciting. I just throw that to any of you. How would you make the invitation attractive enough so it is not just the great and the good that go to the roadshows?
  (Ms Parkinson) For me, I would say talk to someone like me. I was randomly selected and I had no idea what I was letting myself in for until I went along, so I could tell them what it is like.

  1165. So you would be a good person to have at the roadshow. What about the current format of the letter to make it sound attractive enough because you will not even get them in the first place if you are only going to the roadshow?
  (Mr Freeney) I think the letter could be constructed in the way you suggest to attract people. You have heard from Martin and Linda why they came forward and I think there are many people out there who come for the same reason. I know from my own friends, they say, "I would love to do that", and so on and currently we are encouraging people to put their names forward. I have a number of people who have written to me, saying, "We are interested in joining your committee" because they have heard about what we are doing, and I am sure my colleagues in the regions have the same. In terms of the roadshow, yes, we do have some spin-offs from that and people say, "Yes, I heard this in the roadshow and I am interested in that", so I think you could construct a letter to attract as many people to that sort of a roadshow as possible.
  (Ms Paraskeva) You have to make sure that the letter is personally addressed. The other thing you might need to consider is people's transport costs because even locally that might be something which could prevent some people who would really want to be involved and at least making that offer, I think, demonstrates the commitment to how people get there, so I think that would be something very important if you are going to get a wide range of people, to cost that into it.

Chairman

  1166. Could we perhaps have a copy of the letter that you do send out to people which says, "Congratulations! You have not won the Lottery, but. . ."? Could we please have a copy of that?
  (Mr Freeney) Yes.

Annette Brooke

  1167. Could I very briefly ask Linda and Martin, do you think it would have been helpful if people were actually offered proper expenses for the day?
  (Ms Parkinson) In actual fact I got my expenses back for the day once I actually got there. It was just reimbursed, my time and travel, irrespective of whether I had got through or not.

  1168. So time as well?
  (Ms Parkinson) Yes.
  (Mr Freeney) There is a financial loss allowance given to members who attend on those days and who also attend the committee.

  1169. Moving on slightly, I am interested in this first base because it certainly gets away from just the great and the good being invited to the roadshow, which we talked about. If we actually looked at a more widespread use of the Lottery for different bodies, and I will ask Janet in the first instance, we have had suggestions that perhaps various quangos could actually have a scale of the skills which might be required for them, so could you actually apply the Lottery system to all quangos or would you actually have to be very specific, do you think, about the skills which are going to be required?
  (Ms Paraskeva) I think given what the by-lot system does, which is to give you the pool of people from which to select, whereas there is no reason why you could not apply that in a general sense to any quango or organisation—

  1170. Even an NHS trust?
  (Ms Paraskeva) Yes, perhaps most particularly an NHS trust because having sat for eight years as a non-executive on an NHS trust, I feel sure that there are very many people in the community who have personal experience of the health system who would have a significant contribution to make there. Remember, as I said, that what the whole system is about is getting your pool to select from, so there is a selection procedure and let's not kid ourselves that it is just a complete by-lot system, but what it does is broaden the range of people who have the opportunity. I am absolutely convinced that if you asked some people personally to come to a meeting, to come to an interview, it is significantly different and their reaction is significantly different than just responding to an advertisement and I just think that out there in the community people do have skills. They have experience of education and they have experience of the Health Service. Most people are involved in jobs which require some kind of decision-making, some intellectual contribution to their job, they have homes and they manage budgets, so why should they, therefore, not be consumers of whatever services it is that they are to receive, representing the interests of those consumers.

  1171. Finally, as a committee, we have been told by various people who influence the appointments on NHS trusts that there is a great deal of financial responsibility involved and we have to understand this. You do not actually think that should be a deterrent perhaps to choosing one or two trust members by lot?
  (Ms Paraskeva) No, I do not think so. We traditionally have gathered until fairly recently people on our committees who are among the great and the good. We have not necessarily looked at their experience or their background, how much or how well they have managed or not managed small or large sums of money. Frankly, managing a household budget, and I now manage a budget of £90 million, the same principles apply.
  (Ms Parkinson) We are looking maybe at different methods but at the same principles and what we are talking about is having confidence in the community and in people's ability to transfer their skills to a different environment. With the right kind of support and training there will be very many people from the community who will be able to make a quite significantly different contribution to the management of some of our findings.

Mr Hopkins

  1172. I am much persuaded and very enthusiastic about pushing the whole idea forward. We have problems with the great and the good self-selecting people and other people who have been involved in public appointments for 30 years or more. This would find a rich vein of people who have not been on public bodies. One thing that concerns me is payment. Some public bodies advertise publicly and you have a vast number of people applying for an appointment and the money has an impact. How would you feel about the extent to which people should or should not be paid?
  (Mr Wainwright) I have instinctively disliked it but I was converted during my time on the committee on the grounds of accessibility. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the lucrative quangos. That is another reason why I am cautious because it may be that those quangos are not appropriate to extend this experiment initially.

  1173. You can get 500 for honorarian, which is nothing by comparison to 20,000. There is a big difference. Have you any thoughts?
  (Mr Wainwright) I would still be cautious.

  1174. Have financial considerations affected you when you were agreeing to go ahead?
  (Ms Parkinson) No. The only thing I was concerned about was the expense of the travelling. If that was going to be covered, I could not see a problem. Twice I have had to lose pay to go to my meetings but I am not really out of pocket. For people who have to work, that is a help. You would not do it otherwise. I could not afford to be on the committee without being guaranteed that I would get paid for it.

  1175. Our local council pays £6,000 a year in expenses and that is quite a significant amount of money. Would you think there is a case for payment of that amount?
  (Ms Parkinson) No. You are working for a charity. Where is the money going to come from in the end? A charity has to put a certain amount aside to pay you anyway. Even if it is coming from the government you cannot keep taking and taking.

  1176. Your feelings are very noble but there are some people who might.
  (Ms Parkinson) There always will be. I have had to lose money to do it but sometimes you have to put that on one side if you are determined to do something.
  (Mr Gray) I did not take payment into consideration at all. There was not payment when I started. If you are talking about making substantial payments, the danger is when does it become something which you want to do because something inside drives you to do it and it then changes into a chore almost. I am happy to do it. My commitment to it is reasonable on my time and I can fit it in with my normal life. Fortunately, my employer lets me take time to make that commitment. I do not look for any remuneration but if the job became so large that it started to take over my life, I may well take a different view.

  1177. It is the attitude of people like yourself that makes a significant difference to the sense of civic duty.
  (Ms Parkinson) There are a lot of people like us, but it is just not getting through to them.

  1178. Sadly, some of the great and the good as they are called have a financial interest.
  (Mr Freeney) In terms of the community fund, it is explained to members that the honorarian financial loss allowance and expenses all come from our income, which is lottery. The more we pay in salaries and so on, the less we have in grants. The board has had to make a decision about a balance in terms of payment. We are aware that some people are paid 20,000 on various bodies but people who are attracted to us know that that is not the case. If we gave £20,000, we would have less for your constituents and the impact would be enormous in terms of nine regional committees on which there are in all about 90 people. There is a context for us which may not be the same for other bodies that you are considering.

Mr Lyons

  1179. Andy, in terms of the community fund, is there any mechanism for you explaining what you do to other areas and how you select and so on?
  (Mr Freeney) Other areas of the community fund?


 
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