Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness(Questions 1220-1239)



  1220. And your knowledge of employers leads you to think that this might be possible?
  (Ms Cameron) Some of the large employers already do this. For example, we work with HSBC and HSBC release staff on paid grounds for school governorships and appointments like that. Far be it for me as an ex-trade union officer to speak on behalf of small and medium-sized enterprises but I think this has got to be looked at as a whole, some imaginative investment in resources for them to make it, just as it is possible for working people to be released, practicable for them to release people to fulfil their obligations and abilities in that area.

  Chairman: That is fine. Kevin?

Kevin Brennan

  1221. You said in your submission to us that some appointments are already advertised, albeit in a restricted context, while others continue to be a tap on the shoulder. Can you give me an example of where that has happened?
  (Ms Cameron) You do not want me to name names, do you, Kevin?

  1222. I would love you to name names. I am looking for a steer from you.
  (Ms Cameron) I know some trade union officers, for example, who are tapped on the shoulder for particular jobs, I know employers who are tapped on the shoulder. I have to say that the EOC, for example, did not get it right recently. It tapped an employer on the shoulder and then lost their application form twice, but that is another story.

  1223. So the Equal Opportunities Commission does not use equal opportunities principles in selection?
  (Ms Cameron) I should have remembered that we are on the record here. There have been some problems with employers which politically it was a stupid thing to do. Employers and trade union officers, people in public life already are being tapped on the shoulder probably because in a number of cases they have proven their ability and the organisations want them in. However, that undermines, as I have said before, the whole point of a transparent system where you still have the right to select on a meritorious basis. Quite rightly, the concern that black people and women and disabled people have in corporate life is not that they are patted on the head, "There, there, you have potential, we will look after you." Their concern is that they have all of that in great heaps but the prevailing culture does not want them.

  1224. I realise you cannot name names but what happens when someone gets the tap on the shoulder? Are they told put in an application for this with a nod and a wink, "You will be alright", or is it a case of them simply saying, "Have you considered applying for this post? Have you seen the advertisement?"
  (Ms Cameron) I think you get all of these. One of the things the great and good say is, "I would never bloody well apply for something . . . if I were not invited I would not go through the bureaucratic process of applying."

  1225. The opposite of the Groucho Marx principle: "I would never join a club which had me as a member." On this whole business of headhunters, do you think in public appointments that the use of headhunters, except perhaps in extreme circumstances where you cannot get anybody to do a job, should be outlawed?
  (Ms Cameron) If I had a lot of money and I were a bit younger I would set up an alternative headhunters' organisation that was much more inclusive and imaginative than the current ones are, but that is a different matter. I think it would be a good idea not only to audit what is happening but audit how much you are spending on headhunters in terms of what you deliver according to the outcomes we are exploring in this Committee. I would probably narrow it down very greatly to a few ethical headhunters. I know that is the buzz word at the moment but I think it is important for all the reasons that we are aware of, and give the trusted ethical headhunters and trained civil servants and others I have been talking about very thorough training which should be evaluated on a regular basis.

  Kevin Brennan: Can you just tell us what "ethical headhunter" means?


  1226. Perhaps tell us what an unethical one is and we can spot the difference.
  (Ms Cameron) An example is what John Birt said the other year about only knowing three people in the world who could have carried out the senior function in the BBC. I put laziness and lack of vision and whatever in with the ethics here because they move in the same circles as the people they recruit, they like to get their money as quickly as possible, so they do not really want to put much effort into trawling for, again, meritorious people from wherever they might come and so they already have lists if you like, chair, which they will refer to. It is a recycling all the time.

Kevin Brennan

  1227. The interesting comment you made about costs, you said a moment ago perhaps we ought to look at how much these headhunters cost and then you said they use headhunters—I am paraphrasing—rather than going through a proper trawl and personnel and selection procedures.
  (Ms Cameron) I misled you. There may be a cost associated with going out on a trawl but that is outwith the infrastructure I have talked about where you key into already existing infrastructures like trade unions and community organisations and women and ethnic minorities organisations who would do much of the work for you and produce your talent list. What happens with the headhunters is that they make no move outside the very narrow confines of the lists which are continually recycled and recirculated.

  1228. Can I just ask one other question because I do not want to prolong things too much. You are in favour of using more of these techniques in selecting people to stand for public office. Would that be fair, say, for elected politicians?
  (Ms Cameron) Yes, we had to train the Labour Party selection board for the National Assembly. I am very proud of the proportion of women, although I know it went through the constituency process which was very tough; I am not so proud of the ethnic minority proportions or lack of them. We had, as you know, a very eclectic bunch of MPs and Euro MPs and lawyers and trade union officers who pulled together for two days into an excellent team. It does not take a long, long time to help people be much more fair and consistent. I am now working with elected members' councils. I reckon—and I do not want to stress the negative compliance issue—when council officers turn round to me, like trade union members say to me, "The bloody executive [or the council members] are always an impediment to us moving on", that may be so but, on the other hand, if you exclude them from the training and the understanding and raising the level of awareness, then of course they will continue to be an impediment because they will be excluded from that. In addition to that, I suspect that it will not be very long before the courts will start to challenge the political selection process. The Jepson case was not appealed but there is a local authority case which raises some very interesting issues around that. Selecting somebody in a pub or constituency office somewhere may well come under the scrutiny and probably should come under the scrutiny of people who wish to see a more open and transparent process.

Mr Prentice

  1229. You come across to me as someone who is prepared to rattle the bars of the cage. Did I hear you correctly when you told us earlier that you put in two applications for public appointments and did not hear anything? Without wanting to have all details, did you get back to them?
  (Ms Cameron) I filled in the generic application form twice. I did get back particularly after the first one.

  1230. What did they say?
  (Ms Cameron) "We will send you another one." I then applied for an EOC commissioner post and was short-listed. I was told I was above the line, I do not know what the hell it is, is it the Plimsoll Line, what—in other words, I was material for national public appointments. I had a debrief on that one because I felt that was important.

  1231. So they did get back and explain. Can I ask you about selection by lot. You will have picked up from the tail end of the previous session that this is one imaginative way of extending the pool of people prepared to serve on public bodies. Do you think it is a good idea selecting by lot? Would you extend it beyond the community fund to other areas?
  (Ms Cameron) No, I do not think so. The greatest insult to women, ethnic minorities and disabled people is that although they have the proven abilities they are ignored in the selection processes. I think you should still appoint on merit. I think you can by opening up the processes in the way I have talked about supplementing that with an apprenticeship scheme—shadowing, confidence-building—so that people get familiar with jobs that they are very unfamiliar with. But the goalposts keep on being moved for so-called minorities. I can remember nearly 20 years ago the part-time Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission telling me that women will arrive there when they get qualifications. I knew as a trade union officer at that time because I had audited companies I had dealt with that women had the qualifications but they were not in the jobs they were capable of doing for the reasons I have said. For somebody at her level to make such a daft assumption means that it is there, it is there, it is untapped, and I think we need to make greater effort to get to it. What are you going to do? Say, right, the lottery ticket in Sainsbury's this week is for appointments to the Commission for Racial Equality or whatever? Is that how you are going to do it? I do not think so.

  1232. I do not want to labour the point but what I am trying to get at is maybe where there is a conflict between this objective of extending diversity on the one hand and selecting by merit. You are an expert on ethnic minorities, introducing diversity and so on, and without wishing to appear derogatory or whatever, there may be some ethnic minority groups who are less likely to participate, less likely to be able to participate—people newly arrived into the country, Muslim women for example. There are gradations within the ethnic minorities to the extent they are prepared to participate (Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) and that is what I am interested in. If you wait to select on merit then we may all be dead by then.
  (Ms Cameron) I am just tired, not quite dead, and having seen this cycle through a number of times—

  1233. But you take my point.
  (Ms Cameron) I understand. To take your example of Muslim women, I used to negotiate with international banks, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, others—and even if your Muslim woman got through on the lottery she could well be forbidden by the community leaders from taking up the public appointment, so that is no guarantee that a women of merit, in this particular case from a Muslim community, would actually take her rightful place on that body. That is why I am saying that outreach has got to be much more robust and imaginative than it is at the moment because, quite rightly, as you have implied, you will not get to grips with people because even, and I was talking about the trade union movement, the established structures in that area will not reach out necessarily. I use the trade union movement because it is my personal experience but, yes, you are absolutely right and you would have to be very imaginative about getting to some of the different ethnic communities because women have no rights as far as they are concerned and that is going to be a big problem with religion and belief when it comes into law.

  1234. I know other colleagues want to come in, so just one final question. It is about those people who rock the boat. Let me take the example of foundation hospitals. These foundation hospitals, we are told, are going to be governed by local people reflecting local needs. Would it be legitimate for the government in drawing up the rules for foundation hospitals to have an expectation that those who serve on foundation hospitals are signed up to the whole idea? Is that a legitimate way of discriminating between people, that you are signed up to whatever the body is?
  (Ms Cameron) That is a very dangerous thing to do because if you come up against a conflict of interest in terms of the wider community during a particular board you would have to challenge, you may be out voted but you would have to challenge that, surely? I think what I was touching on earlier was that that is a very primitive way of putting into practice probably what happens unofficially anyway but I think it is a very dangerous challenge to civil liberties to do that.


  1235. I cannot understand why you were resistant to the idea of the lotto approach. It is an additional method of finding candidates. We were talking to Linda in the previous session here. She had not been involved in public bodies before. She was found because the Lottery people went out through this new method, uncovered a Linda, who turned out to be excellent. Surely it is only a form of outreach that we are recommending?
  (Ms Cameron) How would you turn round to a black person or a woman or a disabled person who has the proven ability I am talking about and has gone through a system for a number of years and has been knocked back for no other reason than their so-called minority status? How do you think they would react to being told, "It is alright, folks, you can go out and buy a lottery ticket and you might get that public appointment"?

  1236. If they were receiving invitations through the post to come to an event from an organisation that was trying to recruit more widely, is that not just a better way?
  (Ms Cameron) That is positive action anyway. I see no conflict between inviting people to apply and saying, "We think you have got the qualities necessary or that would be good for this job", and them going through a proper application process, albeit a much simplified application process because some of them are ridiculous.

  1237. We discovered it probably was not a lottery after all and it was a form of outreach really.
  (Ms Cameron) Yes, inviting—

  1238. Can we persuade you that this is really alright?
  (Ms Cameron) I could not be persuaded about the lottery, no, sorry, Tony.

Sir Sydney Chapman

  1239. On that point, I can understand your opposition because if seven per cent of the country are ethnic then they are not going to be chosen by lot but when one out of two of British people are women surely you should welcome the point as outreach, not as just a chance?
  (Ms Cameron) I and a number of other women could produce a list of hundreds and thousands of women who would be absolutely splendid in public appointments, no problem. If they are then invited to go through a transparent and constructive process, fine, I have no problem with that whatsoever, but I am not sure that the people who are invited, Sir Sidney, are always those who have the ability to do the job. They are quite often politicians' wives or again the recycling of the great and the good. We talked about accountability on Tuesday, I think, I do not always agree with the politics of some of these able women, but that is not the point, they are very able, and there are black people who are very able in their own right, and they are more likely to be the voice of folks in the wider community than the ones who are continually tapped on the shoulder at the moment. There is no shortage of talent out there, it is amazing and it is easily accessible but there needs to be a bit of imagination and systematic and robust audit. That combination is necessary to access that.

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