Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Veredus (PAP 69)


  Capita RAS and Veredus Executive Resourcing (both wholly owned subsidiaries of Capita Group Plc) have significant experience of assisting Departments and other organisations in recruiting to public appointments (see Annex 1 for specific examples). Using dedicated teams of experienced project managers and consultants, we have considerable experience of managing recruitment projects that are of significant public interest.

  Appointments to Chair and Member roles involving executive search activities to enrich the pool of candidates are primarily managed by Veredus. The Veredus team has handled high-profile appointments of great political sensitivity. Appointments where the requirement is for response handling services and/or assessment only are usually handled by Capita RAS.

  A tailored approach is used for each assignment, using the most appropriate media and methods. For example, Capita RAS recently ran a campaign for lay members which incorporated national and regional press advertising supported by local community poster campaigns and a dedicated microsite. This resulted in distributing 20,000 application packs to candidates and receiving 4,500 completed applications, approximately one-third of which were on-line. After assessing all applications against an agreed competency framework, assessment and interviewing of 700 candidates was arranged, from which 244 were offered appointments.

  In this memorandum, we have picked up some of the points not covered when we gave oral evidence to the Committee on 13 February. We have related our points to the written questions framed by the Committee, using the numbers of the questions for ease of reference.


4.   What are the main priorities for improving the system of public appointments—should it be for instance to extend the range of people involved in bodies, to improve the effectiveness of the bodies in providing advice or administering services, or to change the balance so that elected national, regional or local government has more of a role in public life?

  We believe that the system of public appointments should ensure that those appointed have the necessary skills to fulfil the requirements of the post, while also seeking to ensure that public bodies are representative of society, including balanced representation of women and men, members of ethnic minority communities and people with disabilities. This latter is of course a matter of equity, but also of sound business practice. Our view is that the national interest is well served by extending the range of people involved in public bodies, since diverse teams and diverse boards tend to make more informed decisions. We are committed to diversity, and we mainstream it in all we do. We actively use search/headhunting as a tool for promoting diversity and delivering to our clients candidates who for whatever reason might not otherwise have thought of putting their names forward for key roles.

5.   Government departments publicise public appointments, assess applications and draw up shortlists for interview. Independent assessors take part in the process and appointments are made on merit. Is this a sensible devolution of power to departments or does it cause problems and create unfairness?

  We believe there should be a consistent approach across Departments in terms of the overall rigour of the recruitment process. At present, practices vary. Some Departments include preliminary interviews and references as part of the process, whereas others take the view that this is inappropriate at senior level. It seems inappropriate to us that someone can be appointed to an important role in public life on the basis of no more than a paper application and a 45-minute panel interview (the quality of which can vary greatly).

  In our oral evidence we commended to the Committee the process adopted for the recent appointment of the Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality. A rigorous process along those lines has the advantage that Ministers have more information available to them when making the appointment. Moreover, in terms of public scrutiny, it is clear that the person appointed has cleared a series of hurdles, and there is a perceived objectivity in that; perceptions of undue Ministerial patronage are less likely as a result.

  The same rigour should apply to the preparatory stages. There have been examples of unrealistic timetables being promised to Ministers, which compromises the effectiveness of the recruitment process. Similarly, a job analysis of the role should be carried out at the outset, so that the necessary skills are identified. This would focus the advertisements better, and ensure that the criteria are clear and appropriate—neither so vague as to be ineffective nor defined in such a way as to exclude candidates inappropriately. An example would be specifying that a candidate must be a graduate, rather than of graduate calibre.

  We believe that candidates from the private sector can be disadvantaged due to their unfamiliarity with the public sector recruitment process. As a result, such candidates can tend to undersell themselves, both at the application stage and at interview. Those involved in appointments may need an increased awareness of this factor.

8.   What part, if any, should politicians play in the public appointments process?

  While the degree and nature of Ministerial involvement is of course a matter for Ministers and for Parliament, it must by definition be appropriate for Ministers to be involved in Ministerial appointments. The recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life have helped to instil some clarity here.

  In our experience it is important that the nature and timing of Ministerial involvement should be clearly stated and known, so that it is clear that it forms part of the overall process. When we are engaged in selection processes for posts for which the appointment will be decided by Ministers, we find a Ministerial briefing at the outset very helpful. Candidates are more likely to be convinced by a recruitment consultant if one is able to talk first-hand about what the Minister is looking to achieve in terms of a particular organisation or policy.

13.   Is there evidence to suggest that the current system is not attracting applications from the widest pool of candidates?

  We see a need to ensure a consistently proactive approach on this point. Advertisements are often not enough to encourage people from under-represented groups to apply, because they do not necessarily perceive themselves as the target audience. More effort is needed, through more original approaches to advertising materials and through search, which can target candidates from under-represented groups, and which, through gentle coaching and encouragement, can generate in some potential candidates the confidence and inclination to put themselves forward.

14.   How can greater diversity best be combined with reassurance that the principle of merit in public appointments is being upheld?

  We do not see a conflict between the two. What works best is honesty, transparency of process, rigour of process, and a readiness to help candidates to understand what can seem an alien recruitment process. In practical terms, we would make the following suggestions:

    —  ensure that diversity considerations are mainstreamed throughout the design and delivery of the recruitment and assessment processes;

    —  ensure that inappropriate and non-essential criteria are not used in person specifications;

    —  use innovative methods to access suitable applicants by way of specialist networks and third sector organisations;

    —  diversity-proofing and equality audits of interview and assessment centres to ensure that the whole process is culturally sensitive and responsive to valuing and managing diversity in its widest sense.

15.   Would a more consistent use of remuneration for members of public bodies help to increase diversity in their membership? Are there any possible drawbacks to an increase in the number of remunerated members?

  We believe there is no evidence to suggest that there is more commitment and motivation where there is no remuneration. No remuneration simply means that you exclude anyone who cannot afford to work for nothing, however committed they may be.

  There is a good analogy here with councillors in local government. While councillors were unpaid, most councils were dominated by retired people and wealthy people. In many cases, the introduction of salaries for executive members (and in some cases for all councillors) has been agreed because they are believed to make a difference to this, and will allow for a broader representation of people to stand as councillors. It is likely that this will result in a broader and more representative body of people putting their names forward.

  The same argument would be likely to apply here. In any case, why should public appointments not be seen as professional, and valued accordingly?

16.   Is the public appointments process understood by members of the public and seen to be fair, open and transparent and easy to travel through?

  Many inexperienced candidates find the public appointments process extremely daunting, despite Dame Rennie Fritchie's excellent work doing roadshows to raise awareness and encourage people to apply. (Veredus helped the Women and Equality Unit with the materials for attendees at the roadshows for women.) It follows that the involvement of consultants can be helpful, because there is an independent intermediary to explain the process and help people understand and therefore give themselves the best chance.

  We have no evidence to suggest that candidates feel the recruitment process is not transparent. One of the advantages of using competency-based application forms or asking candidates to address appointment criteria is that candidates know the criteria against which their application will be assessed. It also provides the basis for feedback to help them understand why they were or were not successful.

25.   Should every candidate, even important people for high level appointments, be asked to complete application forms and attend interviews in the normal way?

  We believe that selection procedures for public appointments should be clear, objective, consistent and open, and that they should be monitored and evaluated. This requires that applicants should take part in a similar procedure, so that they can be assessed against the same criteria. In our experience, competence should never be assumed, at whatever level of post. There is already a widespread perception that public appointments are the preserve of "the great and the good"; allowing some candidates to bypass parts of the appointments procedure would feed that perception. It would give such candidates an unfair advantage over others, and would militate against the aim of achieving more diverse appointments to these posts.

  This does not mean that candidates have to complete lengthy and bureaucratic application forms, which we would see as a retrograde step. The practice in Veredus is to request candidates to address the key essential experience criteria, which we seek to restrict to no more than ten points, written objectively, against which candidates can write replies objectively, and which we can then assess objectively.


  The Committee asked whether there is objective evidence of the benefits of using recruitment consultants in the public sector, for both executive and non-executive posts—ie do those organisations using consultants perform better than those which do not. It would be difficult to point to evidence of a direct correlation, partly because the quality of top management is not the sole determining factor in an organisation's success, but also because organisations use consultants for different reasons. Some do so as a matter of policy, on the grounds that an objective evaluation can help the organisation to recruit more effectively. Others use consultants as a means of specifically targeting or encouraging people from groups that are typically under-represented at senior levels, such as women and people from minority ethnic communities. Others again use consultants because their reputation is so poor that they acknowledge they need support in attracting candidates.

  On the latter point, Veredus has a reputation for handling this sort of assignment: for example, we have twice recruited to the post of Chief Executive at both Hackney and Lambeth Councils. In those cases, the Councils turned to us because they knew the posts would be extremely difficult to fill; they were pleased with the results, and therefore used us again when the post next became vacant. Using recruitment consultants does not automatically make an organisation's performance excellent, but we believe it does maximise their chances of attracting the widest range of high-quality candidates.

  Just as there is no direct correlation between high-performing organisations and their use of recruitment consultants, it is not necessarily the case that top talent is attracted to the top-performing organisations. Interestingly, a recent article and leader column in Local Government Chronicle commented on the recruitment implications of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) of councils. The magazine reported that "There is some evidence to show people are attracted to posts in more poorly performing councils, a reversal of the trend which was feared before CPA came out in December." (LGC, 7 February 2003). The article quotes Sir Andrew Foster, Controller of the Audit Commission, and Hamish Davidson, Chairman of Veredus, making the point that there is more scope to make an impact at a poor or weak authority than at an excellent one, which can be an attraction to candidates.

  We referred in our oral evidence to a study by Bristol Business School[2]. This study found that chief executives believed there was a better chance of women being appointed to chief executive posts when recruitment consultants were involved in the appointment. This reflects the value of an objective input to the process, challenging any preconceptions that may emerge.

Veredus Executive Resourcing/Capita RAS

February 2003

Annex 1


  In recent years, we have been involved in a considerable number of public appointments, including:

    —  Chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission

    —  Chairman and 12 Members for the Prison and Probation Accreditation Panel

    —  Chairman and 12 Members of the Youth Justice Board

    —  Chair and Members of the New Opportunities Fund

    —  Chair of the Audit Commission

    —  Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality

    —  Chair of the Commission for Integrated Transport

    —  Chair of the Environment Agency

    —  Chair of the Legal Services Commission

    —  Chair of the Social Services Advisory Committee

    —  Chair of the National Disability Council

    —  Chair of the Post Office Users National Council

    —  Chair of Energy Watch

    —  Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission

    —  Chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission

    —  Chair of the Electoral Reform Commission

    —  Chair and Members of the Committee on Standards in Public Life

    —  Members of the Police Complaints Authority

    —  Members of the NI Civic Forum

    —  Members for the Low Pay Commission

    —  Members of the General Social Care Council

    —  Consumer Council for Postal Services—Regional Committee Members

    —  National Probation Service for England and Wales—Area Board Members

    —  ACAS Arbitrators

    —  Commissioners for the Commission for Racial Equality

    —  Members of the Criminal Cases Review Commission

    —  Fair Treatment Arbitrators for the NI Labour Relations Agency

    —  Members for the Regional Development Agencies

    —  Members of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel

    —  Members of the Parole Board

    —  Members of the National Endowment for Science, Technology & Arts

    —  ACAS Council Members

2   Room at the Top? A study of women chief executives in local government in England and Wales (Pam Fox and Mike Broussine, May 2001). Back

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