Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness(Questions 1214-1219)




  1214. Thank you for seeing us in Bristol, whetting our appetite for a proper session with you. You have some vigorous views on the whole public appointments system. You have done us a very helpful note so perhaps you would speak briefly through your note and we will pick up some points from that.

  (Ms Cameron) I picked up your point earlier this week about exploring some solutions. I intend to address some solutions in my evidence. I have had a great deal of experience as a national trade union negotiator and subsequently in corporate life over the last 12 years, running my own business, so working with multinationals like Reuters to public sectors organisations and fire and police services, then the BBC and all sorts of retail organisations. I have developed a fairly realistic grasp of what I would call the credibility gap between public policies on fair selection—I mean by that selection on merit, drawing from all over society—and the practice which is delivered, which is quite different. My concern is that this exploration by the Committee should learn from some of the problems and mistakes in the corporate world. The law has required in the corporate world since 25 to 30 years ago a lack of discrimination in selection procedures, both externally and promotionally. Equality policies have developed from a couple of paragraphs long 20 years ago to 12 glossy pages of noble sounding requirements. We still have fewer than two per cent of women, for example, at executive management level, fewer than one per cent of ethnic minorities and disabled people are seven times less likely to be interviewed than their able bodied counterparts. Even where people have proven ability and the paper qualifications, they are not getting into the grades of jobs for which they are eminently qualified. Something else is getting in the way. I sum it up in a very short, true story. When I was a national officer, I went to meet with the director of a major finance company owned by one of the clearing banks. I used to represent the sales force, amongst others. There were fewer than one per cent of women in the sales force and that was the main career route from bottom to top. I said, "Why have you very few women in the sales force?" Quite seriously he said, "Women cannot sell money. They are okay at selling toiletries and things like `Avon calling' but not money. We tried an experiment once. We brought", as he called them, "the senior girls"—they were mature women from the regional sales office—"onto a course with men we were recruiting, but we had to stop it because the women intimidated the men with their knowledge and ability." There was somebody who had been telling me, quite rightly for years, that we were in business to make greater profits and be more efficient. I had other objectives because I was a trade union officer, but I respected where he came from. In that short, true story, he was telling me that, where proven ability was identified which would increase these profits and efficiency, the comfort and cloning factor was a lot stronger. Therefore, my concern about public appointments is that if not consistently applied will result in bad practice. My concern is that some jobs are advertised, some are not; some people get tapped on the shoulder; others have to go through the laborious process of very complex application forms. I filled in two of the red application forms for public appointments and I have heard absolutely nothing. If people like me who know their way around the system get treated like that, God help those who do not understand the system. One of the other issues in corporate life which I suspect is permeating through public appointments is that, if the same people are ultimately choosing particularly the senior appointments, the selection processes are less than worthless. There is a lot of research at UMIST and Sussex University about how you get the same people regardless of the objective procedures. The danger is that apparent transparency provides a respectable mask for the old system. The other ironical thing is that there are a number of radical people from the political, corporate and trade union life who are well known to the great and the good, who probably came up through the traditional system in terms of a very masculine, white culture, who understand that system politically and how to use it, but who have tried to change it for the reasons that you are exploring, who are not acceptable to the great and the good because they are not a safe pair of hands. In other words, they would be analytical and knowledgeable but they will not be passive and compliant. That can happen with men, women, white people as well as people from the ethnic minorities, but I think it relates also to the other issue of recycling safe pairs of hands from amongst the so-called minorities.

  1215. Are you saying there is a black list?
  (Ms Cameron) I have never seen a printed record which I could call a black list but I would suggest that, yes, there are people who would not be acceptable because they would query and challenge, hopefully in a constructive way. I am not meaning that in a Trotskyist fashion. They would not be welcomed because they would be troublesome. I also believe connected to that there is an equal pay issue. If I may say up front, it would be important for the Commissioner and those responsible for auditing to get base data of what happens in terms of the make-up of public appointments because this data is essential to intelligently inform the decision. I have checked equal pay with some of the senior civil servants I have trained in Wales and they have agreed that there is an equal pay issue to be addressed in public appointments, ie. that the majority of women and ethnic minorities will be clustered in either the totally unpaid or the lowly paid public appointments. The payments and the high payments will be enjoyed by mainly white males—i.e., the recycled great and good. There is an important issue here because I understand that public commitment is a passion and the values are absolutely vital. Women tend to lack confidence not only in their self-worth but in getting recognition of their worth in corporate life and our society generally. I think it is wrong to perpetuate that type of pattern. I will come back to confidence in a moment, because there is a problem there that needs to be tackled. The other issue that I am a bit concerned about—and I know I made some remarks about head hunters earlier this week—is that certain key players in this process are left out of the loop. The headhunters have received a bit of a knock in recent times associated with Enron, Andersen and so on, but it is assumed when they are selecting out that they know what they are doing, that they recognise stereotypes, how to deal with them and get beyond them and recruit on merit. That is the wrong assumption to make. Politicians, head hunters and consultants and senior civil servants or civil servants involved in that process should be trained. Independent assessors obviously are. I think these other people should be included in that training. I would say that the appeal court decision on the Lord Chancellor's way of choosing people will be overturned at the European Court of Justice because the whole trend of European decisions and even case law in this country is that way. I also believe therefore that the way head hunters operate will come under the spotlight. I think there is going to be a compliance issue here and it is very important for this Committee in dealing with the opening up process to deal with the legal challenge. Working people and access: I think it is important we do not reinvent the wheel. We had some very interesting discussions earlier in the week about people from communities having access who normally do not have a voice in our society, whether it is in their own community or regionally or nationally. I think we should use some of the existing structures not only to get to proven talent but to reach out to people in these positions. I have knowledge, particularly in the trade union movement, and one of my secret weapons when I was a national negotiator was, through the democratic process, to take in a number of middle aged women into collective bargaining with senior management and financial institutions. They were wonderful. They had amazing expertise. They knew the company inside out. They were talented. We had secretaries with degrees and male managers without those qualifications. The women's profile was raised and I wish I had a pound for every time they were promoted. You have a whole infrastructure there where you have people who have knowledge of committees, of analysing, of challenging on a constructive basis. I would suggest that, rather than just having roadshows where you usually have an invited audience; there are existing structures which would help to reach out to a greater section of our society. For example the government is anyway currently helping to finance learning reps in trade unions they could be trained to understand the appointment system and how to encourage applications from amongst their members. They could start to build that into trade union schools, to conferences, seminars and so on so that the whole profile of public appointments is developed. There is a confidence issue here. Working people, women and black and ethnic minority people are discouraged by the status quo. They do not have the role models. They are discouraged by the welter of paper and bureaucracy. I have done training with the Industrial Society running the strategy model of a senior appointment management course. Even women who are in senior positions of obviously proven ability have a lack of confidence and strategic analysis of systems and organisations. Therefore, part of the outreach work is for people who already are meritorious but do not come forward, because that is the usual cry—"We try to encourage women and black people but they do not come forward." One of the key components of the outreach work is the confidence building and familiarisation of what is available by people who are close to them and they respect because of their functions in the trade union, say. I would also suggest, as far as employers are concerned, it is important to look at paid leave of absence, as we have for certain people. I blethered on the other day about small and medium sized enterprises but the DTI, for example, is piloting HR resource on a regional basis for small and medium sized enterprises. They could extend that into talent banks which would provide maternity replacements and things of that nature, which would add value to the small business as well as replacing the skills that were gone during maternity leave. These talent banks would be another source of information access for outreach to working people who have the ability. I am thinking, mindful of the legislation coming down from Europe, of an imaginative and win/win way that would appeal to employers and working people through the trade union movement. You mentioned targets. I am a carrot and stick person so I like focus. I like there to be systematic, robust mechanisms to deliver. I am a bit wary of targets because of my experience of working in the public sector, where the Home Office, for example, have been laying down targets in the police and fire service. My view is that unless we tackle some of these fundamentals targets will be unrealistic and counter-productive in the short to medium term. Having worked with chief constables right down to sergeants in a particular police force and being aware that police officers were subject to the employment test of proof in discrimination cases that could therefore go to employment tribunals, as from April 1999, I found in practice the complaints department was hijacking employment cases and taking them through the criminal route, subject to the criminal test of proof and therefore going to the DPP for consideration. That can take from 18 months to two years to be resolved. In the meantime you have got police officers alleging discrimination, being extremely ill, off work, denied their rights through the employment courts, and yet they have got targets that they have to achieve in terms of the number of women coming into the police, and the number of black and ethnic minority folks. The message to the communities is, "This is rubbish, they want us in, when we get in we are maltreated", so the target is unrealistic and unrelated to the requirements of public policy.

  1216. You have given us enough to get our teeth into there, thank you very much indeed. Can I be absolutely clear what you do? What does Cameron Woods Associates do?
  (Ms Cameron) Cameron Wood Associates are consultants and trainers in practical employment law, diversity and equality in industrial relations. Masochists is probably the right shorthand!

  1217. In both the private and public sector?
  (Ms Cameron) Right across sectors, private, public, political, voluntary, the lot.

  1218. That is what gives you the perspective on recruitment and training issues. Do you share the view that we have had expressed to us already this morning that the world of public bodies and public appointments needs to be seen not as a sort of poor substitute for elected bodies but as potentially a great arena for civic activity if only we get it right. Is that a view that you would share from your background?
  (Ms Cameron) Yes, it is a view that I would share from my background, but I would not agree with people who say there should not be payment because if you are going to access that at every level of our society then there are some working people who work in very lowly paid jobs who have the job requirements of the public appointment who could not rise to that challenge because they could not afford to.

  1219. So you agree with payment. Do you think statutory provisions about paid leave for public service would be a good route to explore?
  (Ms Cameron) Yes, I think it would be.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 28 January 2003