Select Committee on Public Administration Fourth Report

Routes to diversity

193. The Committee received a wealth of suggestions in written and oral evidence that would assist in promoting diversity in practice. These included:

  • measures to enable the duties of board members to be less time-consuming, and convenient meeting times to make service on public bodies compatible with other employment and family demands (Alison Cawley,[125] and Sir William Wells[126]);
  • shorter and simpler application forms and more flexibility, education and understanding in the appointments processes (Sir William Wells,[127] and Hamish Davidson[128]);
  • advertising vacancies more widely than in the broadsheet and professional press;
  • running general advertisements for non-executive opportunities in the minority press, instead of only for disability, or race, or gender-specific areas (Daniel Silverstone[129]);
  • government offices in the regions should play an active role in identifying people of ability who are active locally who should be encouraged to apply for vacancies on national and regional bodies (Mr Silverstone[130]);
  • Government should make allies of the vast range of civic organisations that exist specifically to assist people to enter public life, such as Common Purpose which has so far involved 12,000 people in its outreach and training programmes, and MEWN Cymru (the Minority Ethnic Women's Network in Wales) whose branches seek to develop an engagement with public services, trade unions, trade associations and others to create an awareness of the opportunities for service on public bodies.[131]

194. We also received warnings, from Judalene Ross of the Bristol Racial Equality Council among others, against making progress on diversity that relied upon 'community gate-keepers, usually male,' and choosing from a small known pool of people from ethnic minorities. It is important, Ms Ross said, not to appoint "the same safe faces—mine Judalene has been around for long enough—but to try to generate diversity within that diversity".[132] She was discussing the position locally in Bristol, but our visit made clear to us that at national as well as local level, recruitment to public bodies must endeavour to go beyond the 'community gatekeepers' in order to achieve diversity within diversity.

Mentoring and shadowing

195. The value of 'apprenticeships' on boards, along with 'shadowing' and mentoring schemes, was a constant theme in our evidence. The point is to enable people to apply for vacancies and to secure appointments.[133] We were interested to hear of the work of Operation Black Vote in providing opportunities for ethnic minority people to 'shadow' a magistrate, giving them the chance to get first-hand experience of how the courts work and what is involved in applying to become a magistrate. A scheme for shadowing MPs was successful in giving a number of other people an insight into the work of Parliament. Similar schemes are now in prospect for public bodies,[134] and we hope that such projects will be fully supported. Judalene Ross spoke of a mentoring scheme for the Home Office in Bristol in which established ethnic minority post-holders pass on the benefit of their experience to others who have just joined a public body, with the use of videos and CD-Roms for the same purpose.[135]

196. We support the need for mentoring and training, especially for people who join boards without previous experience of such service, but also for changes in the practice and attitudes of boards to make them more receptive to a wider range of members. Simon Woolley, national co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote, said fears of tokenism, the difficulties of being "the only black face in the room", and the experience of cultural differences once black people did find a place on a public body lead to "a conscious opt-out" within ethnic minority communities where people feel about public bodies, "There's no place for us there".[136] We do not know how typical Mr Woolley's observations may be and we do not have figures on drop-out rates for members of public bodies. But we believe that the Cabinet Office should conduct a census of drop-out rates, especially among those from diverse backgrounds, and collect evidence on their reasons.

197. We recommend that the Government should introduce apprenticeship, mentoring and shadowing schemes for public bodies to increase access and support, as part of a package of measures to increase the participation of under-represented groups.

198. We recommend that the Cabinet Office should conduct research into the drop-out rates from the boards of public bodies.

125   Q 1296 Back

126   Q 856 Back

127   Q 855 Back

128   Q 1296 Back

129   Q 791 Back

130   Ibid. Back

131   Q 641 and Q 948 Back

132   Q 1087 Back

133   Q 31 Back

134   Q 748 Back

135   Q 1050 Back

136   725 Back

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