Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Harriet Kimbell (PAP 2)

  I attach as Appendix A the details of the Committees and Advisory bodies on which I have sat for information. The views expressed in this response are my personal views and are not the views of SEAC or the Consumers' Association.

  I will answer the questions set out but would make a few preliminary points;

The Financial argument

    —  The public perception of public bodies is that members are well paid and appointed under a system of "jobs for the boys". In fact members on many committees are unpaid or paid a modest allowance for the days on which they attend meetings.

    —  Members who are unpaid actually have more power to be critical of Government etc because they lose nothing if their appointment is terminated. This means they can be more frank and open and give more balanced views.

The Time argument

    —  To serve on any sort of body properly involves a substantial time commitment—not so much for attending meetings but in reading the documents.

    —  To take time off work to attend meetings etc means you have to have understanding employers or lose pay.

    —  This means that you probably need to be senior (both in experience and age!).

Problems created by the above

    —  Do you chose someone who can give plenty of time for public service—in which case you must pay them a living wage.

    —  Or do you choose someone who is otherwise employed somewhere else so that they bring a breadth of experience to the post, by may not be able to attend fully or prepare fully.

    —  If you create a selection process which requires applicants to jump through too many hoops—application/interview etc they won't bother unless again you pay a proper salary and they will then treat it as any other job application.


  1.  There are too many bodies in the first place. Whether salaries, allowances or just expenses are paid the cost to the public purse is too high. However the justification for appointment to some is that you can then fill the post with the area of expertise you need, thereby achieving a balance—Look at SEAC. You need expertise in a range of area. You can only get this by appointment following selection from a designated group.

  2.  Why on earth would busy people who already have day jobs bother to go through the hassle of an election? Again money would make a difference. If this was to be their only job then there wouldn't be much difference between going for a job interview and an election process except at least you see your interviewers face to face at a job interview, which might not be the case in an election. Furthermore if the election process were done on documents alone the process would favour the highly literate applicant and the person who is prepared to put pen to paper and that would not necessarily bring in the wide range of applicants you want.

  3.  Absolutely not. You don't want lots of disgruntled people being forced to attend meetings when they would rather be elsewhere. It's hard enough to get through agendas as it is. Anyway what is the point of paying someone—even expenses to attend a meeting on a topic about which they have no interest and no expertise.

  4.  I don't really understand what you are getting at here. You may want to extend the range of people who sit on public bodies but this begs the question—how? Nolan has already meant that it is much more difficult to fill posts than it was. If someone has to spot an advert, apply for the post, attend an interview and go through a grilling for a post that pays nothing, as I did for the Woolf Committee (which took up one day a week most weeks for two years), frankly people won't bother.

  5.  It's probably as good as you are going to get. But it is an expensive process and therefore a drain on the public purse, and I have to say pre-Nolan when I was rung up by some senior civil servant or MP who twisted my arm to sit on some committee or other, I would reluctantly agree. I would never have joined it if I had to go through a full selection process.

  6.  If you want to advertise posts you have to consider carefully where to put the advert. The Times and the Telegraph will not bring in the range of applications you need.

  7.  I have no evidence of this. It has never happened to me or anyone I know, but it may well happen, I just do not know of any instances.

  8.  They should be a part of the terms of reference of a body from which they are seeking advice, so they get the range of advice they want to decide on policy. I see no reason why they should not also make suggestion as to the type of person they think should be a member ie areas of expertise, and even suggest names if they know of anyone, but their suggestions should not be weighted more than anyone else's.

  9.  Again I have no evidence of this. I have never ever been asked what my political views are or which party I support and I have never divulged this. I have been appointed to committees under both parties.

  10.  Only if it is the type of committee where political bias is a factor. So if you want the views of a labour voter because it is relevant to the business of the committee, you should probably balance it with those of a Conservative one too. But if the selection process is right, party political matters should otherwise be irrelevant. One thing that absolutely must be avoided is people who make party political points which have nothing to do with the business of the committee and clog up it discussions.

  11.  None—save as I have set out in Q8.

  12.  Probably because it will look better from a public standpoint.

  13.  Yes because the process is so complicated and requires skills that many people do not have. Also advertisements are not placed to attract a wide range of applicants eg in the minority press.

  14.  That is a really thorny issue, and I am not at all sure that Nolan has not made this worse.

  15.  Consistency is not the issue. See my initial comments. Do you want a permanent "employee", or someone who has a "day job" already? Also I believe very strongly in the point I made about the power of an unpaid member to speak their mind. Look at what happens to paid employees that do this.

  16.  No.

  17.  Wider type of press coverage.

  18.  I hadn't heard of her until I read this document.

  19.  Not if it makes them too complicated and thereby dissuades applicants. Further too formal a process causes inordinate delay.

  20.  The question is who are they. Do they themselves represent a wide diversity of background, interests and gender and ethnic diversity? If not, they should.

  21.  I think it's a waste of space.

  22.  No view as I don't know how they do it.

  23.  See my answer to Q19.

  24.  Don't know what they are.

  25.  Not if they then won't bother. If there is enough information known on most of such people to assess them on merit, then that should be enough.

  I hope the above is of some interest.

Harriet Kimbell MBE

March 2002


Government Committees and Task Forces and other unpaid appointments

  MAFF Consumer Food Panel 1989-1995.

  Polkinghorne Committee on Ethics of Genetic Modification and Food Use 1992—report in 1993—Public interest representative.

  Banner Committee on Ethical Implications of Emerging technologies in the Breeding of Farm Animals 1995—Public interest representative.

  Nutrition Task Force 1992-1995.

  Ecolabelling Board 1992-1994.

  Civil Procedure Rule Committee under Lord Woolf 1997-2000—Public interest representative.

  Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) 1998—present day—Public interest representative.

  Consumers' Association 1988—present day—Member of governing Council

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