Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness(Questions 1240-1255)



  1240. Okay, I take that point. Let me be the devil's advocate, we are talking about getting the appropriate people into 30,000 appointments and in future it may be more than that. Whilst I understand the generality of what you are saying, surely there should be horses for courses? It is not unreasonable to say that in certain of those—do not ask me which ones—quango bodies, that somebody from the good and the great might be the right person. In others it might be by election or selection of various sorts or even, to come back to the point, perhaps one or two of them, especially when you have got eight people for the job, by lot might be appointed? We are talking about a great range of jobs. Would you like to comment on that?
  (Ms Cameron) There is a great range of jobs but the job and person spec for these jobs should be clear enough for people to understand and therefore apply for the level of job that they feel competent to do and would be of interest to the people who are recruiting. So far as the horses for courses stuff, I have worked in the corporate world for many years now, and I have seen an awful lot of failed business people whose ethics and integrity are open to question becoming leaders or chairs of quangos. I think the assumption that if you are an accountant already, or somebody at a certain level in business, that you are automatically going to be competent to run a quango or a board is a very unfortunate one. Recent events in financial and other institutions have thrown that into relief and really underscored the requirement to be more inclusive and reach out more to people who have the merit and the skills but are not necessarily part of that recycling of the bunch of folks who normally take these senior appointments. This is the type of training I do. I am all for clarity in terms of the advertisements and job requirements. I think it focuses the people we are recruiting on exactly what we want, but I think that assumptions made that certain traditional official jobs qualify you to do others at a similar level in public appointments is one that really needs to be challenged.

  1241. Hopefully there are millions of people out there who would be fit and proper people to serve on one of these 30,000 appointments. Do you think that one of our recommendations in our report should be that no person should hold more than one appointment?
  (Ms Cameron) I think certainly in the short to medium term that is probably quite a good idea. I have not thought that one through, I am just reacting to what you have said. I think it is probably a good idea.

  1242. In your paper you refer to the mind-set of politicians and civil servants. Do you think we are beyond redemption or do you think we can be trained into taking up more appropriate views and attitudes?
  (Ms Cameron) I do not think you are beyond redemption whatsoever. I think that experience of training in Wales was really quite inspiring. I happen to have known a number of the folks over a period of years so my facilitation style was somewhere between Harpo Marx and Stalin because they all had 20-minute speeches in their pockets. They pulled together wonderfully as a team and a number of people who were interviewed by it said it was the best interview they had ever had in their lives. No, I do not think you are beyond redemption at all.

  Chairman: It is worth having you come just to tell us we are not beyond redemption!

Mr Lyons

  1243. Could I turn to the Health Service. There are thousands of appointments every year to health boards, acute trusts and primary care trusts. Some years ago I went on an acute trust and immediately we were on three days of training. It was good and very valuable. I said, "Why don't we front-load that and put it on before people come on a board?" and they rejected it, they refused to consider it. Do you think that may be a way in to encourage people to apply?
  (Ms Cameron) That is part of the outreach work that I was talking about, John. You give people training and awareness and build up their confidence to recognise their current abilities and how these are transferable skills which could be the advantage of a board in the public appointments arena. Yes, I think the front-end outreach training, whatever you like to call it, is essential. I found it to be essential for women who are already in senior appointments, so I think it is doubly essential if we are going to reach out to a good cross-section, yes, I think it makes a lot of sense.

  1244. Something I raised the other day, it is a question of adverts for the board in particular. They seem to be constructed in a way to put certain people off, I feel. They tell you that you will be judging a project of £350 million. If you lack confidence, the last thing you are going to do is apply for that. They then say some knowledge of employment issues and some knowledge of employment law and the list goes on and on and on. However, I think most people could sit and do the job if they are trained effectively.
  (Ms Cameron) One of my other best secret weapons was when this particular trade union were allowed to appoint pension trustees on some of the big financial organisations and of course they got training from the TUC. We nominated on this particular occasion a wee, gallus woman, a middle-aged woman with dyed blond hair who walked around in heels this high, no further education whatsoever, with an Edinburgh accent you could cut with a knife. She was one of the best trustees out because she had the basic training to understand what was going on in the way that we talked about and she asked fundamental questions. When they came out with gobbledegook and technical stuff, she would ask, "What does that mean for my members in terms of what they will receive on such-and-such?" She would ask, "What does that mean in terms of financial probity?" although she would not use those words. "You are going to take a pensions holiday; how is that going to affect the pension fund five years up the line?" or something like that. So, yes, I have great faith in people out there having good common sense, good analytical skills, and a bit of front-end training and some of the committee work they already know would give them a grasp of the process and the confidence to do it.

  1245. I am with Gordon, I think it will take forever and I will have died off before we get there but I do like your point about why do we not focus on something. Could we not focus on the Health Service, sort that out, and then it might become an example to others? Is there any possibility of doing that?
  (Ms Cameron) I would say it is a good idea to pilot sections of two or three different sectors and then develop working models, I do not mean prototypes but working models of where the front-load training and outreach is working, whether your headhunters narrowing down in terms of their widened horizons and so on are being more effective having been trained in terms of bringing people in, under a number of these categories, a few categories but fundamental categories, and see if this actually has an impact on that particular area. And then you can carry out your audits and then your monitoring right across the board because you will have some practical principles (if that is not a contradiction in terms) sorted out.

Mr Hopkins

  1246. I am interested primarily in your remarks on the "safe pairs of hands". I live in a community where we have made enormous progress in appointing minorities and women. We have worked hard on that and we have done well. However, sitting in your seat a few weeks ago we had Sir William Wells, Chairman of the Appointments Commission. I asked him whether if someone put themselves forward who is perfectly qualified in every way to be a member of a health authority (Gordon's question as well) but if they had expressed the view that they were opposed to foundation hospitals, would they be appointed, Sir William said that would be difficult—in other words, no. We had 83 Labour MPs yesterday signing an Early Day Motion opposing foundation hospitals so they would now apparently be unsuitable for appointment to health authorities. Do you think there is, increasingly, a higher degree of political control of appointments to public bodies of this kind? Is that not now taking over from discrimination against women and ethnic minorities?
  (Ms Cameron) I think it is a big factor and I think the need to feel in control or be in control of the people you put into these areas is probably greater. It is all relative if you are already excluding loads of folks in the way we are looking at, equality and diversity, but, yes, I do feel that there is a concern about control that is even greater than there was before.

  1247. That is my basic question. Do you not think that is very insidious for a democratic society?
  (Ms Cameron) From my own experience of my own applications I feel that was it was more important to have people who would say yes most of the time. When I say that, it would be very dangerous to have people on foundation hospitals who were expected to sign some kind of consent form.

  1248. I am talking about the authorities, not even the hospitals.
  (Ms Cameron) But if somebody was disruptive on the board and negative, that is a reason to get rid of them, but not because they have a particular opinion or intellectual or social analysis.

  1249. We have all seen wreckers on committees or at meetings.
  (Ms Cameron) Who are a pain in the arse and time wasters.

  1250. I am talking about intelligent, legitimate criticism which actually could change the view of the body because they have a good case. Have you seen a drift towards weeding out people who might make intelligent criticisms on bodies you have been involved with?
  (Ms Cameron) I have to be clear here that I do not have, precisely because of what I have just said, great experience of being on public boards because I did get to the next step in terms of being short-listed. I cannot really say that I have a great experience, but the grapevine amongst the people I respect suggests that the cloning happens to an even greater degree than it used to and that the few individuals who come in from ethnic minorities or women who would be more representative of a cross-section of women do not get on. It is interesting because ten to15 years ago there used to be some quite open tensions between women and ethnic minorities in the so-called equality area, and a lack of confidence maybe amongst the groups themselves, but I have been in discussions quite recently with some black and ethnic minority men and women who have the same perspective I have, that there is an equality industry out there and it is the safe pair of hands part of that equality industry which is acceptable.

  1251. So if, for example, a very fine black woman or a very fine Indian man were to be appointed and they were also a safe pair of hands, as you put it, they could be appointed apparently on an equality agenda when really they were being appointed according to a political agenda.
  (Ms Cameron) Yes.

Mr Heyes

  1252. To continue this theme that Kelvin was relying on, I have found a contradiction in what you have been saying to us so let me try and test it. You have made a strong case for training and awareness raising and that is really the centre of what you said to us, with the aim of ensuring objectivity, of taking out the fundamentally challenging assumptions that people like politicians and so on are inherently objective and trading away from that. I wonder whether that will undermine the other argument you are making which is that you, supporting Kelvin's point to which I also subscribe, we need people on these boards who will challenge, who will be difficult in an appropriate way, who will not be compliant. Is it not likely that your training towards strict objectivity in the selection process actually undermines that? I want subjectivity in this process. I want people who are close to my value system, who share my views, which includes being challenging, being difficult and not being compliant. Are you not trying to train that out of me?
  (Ms Cameron) We do not. You might get some folk who do but we would not be the sort of folks that would think about that. No, no, no. Knowledge is power. One of the things that I am flabbergasted about amongst senior women is that they often are very coy and modest about getting their abilities recognised within the system, even to the point of getting their signature on a report which is a high-level report which has kudos in an organisation, so a lot of training is about saying to individuals wherever they are, "Look, have confidence in your current and past experience and the skills and expertise you have got there because they are very important in analysing and challenging constructively what is happening wherever you are but particularly in the context of one of the boards." I know it is a cliche but information is power. What you are doing in that training is giving them some information about what the agenda of the board is, the organisation, what sort of issues are dealt with and what maybe some of the decisions being made in the past, and it is a political with a small P process as well as a confidence-building and awareness-raising exercise in terms of not making assumptions about people because they come from a particular part of our society. You know all of the assumptions about women and black people and disabled people that they do not have the necessary qualifications or ambition or experience. So it is really knocking down some of the shibboleths really. It is actually encouraging people to be radical but in a constructive and in an informed way, giving credit to what they already have.


  1253. Thank you very much indeed. In terms of recommendations, in terms of what we are getting our minds round, is there one major recommendation that you would like to leave with us? You have say all kinds of things about improving how we do things. Is there one thing you would like to leave with us in terms of what we might say about trying it make all this better?
  (Ms Cameron) Something I say to loads of folks when we talk about the strategy that will deliver outcomes as opposed to further policies and fine words, I think there needs to be a systematic, robust audit of what happens at the moment.

  1254. We are taking that on board. That is a very, very useful suggestion, particularly what you said about headhunting too.
  (Ms Cameron) I think you will find that there is an investment issue here. It will not necessarily be about spending a lot money to achieve the results and probably in parallel we can look at dealing with people left out of the loop in terms of training. I have given you two, Chairman, I am sorry.

  1255. Thank you very much for that. Now that we have seen you twice in one week I feel you have become an unofficial member of the Committee anyway, and it is very nice for us that you have, and we have learnt a lot from you.
  (Ms Cameron) Thank you, I have enjoyed it.

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