Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Transport and General Workers Union (PAP 3)

  I write further to your correspondence of the 13 March requesting the T&G's response to your Committee's consultation paper on the subject of patronage and public appointments.

  As a trade union, both our policy objectives and our internal organisation are informed by our twin commitments to democracy and equality. And, those commitments encompass not just the economic dimension, but political, civil and social rights as well. It is not for this reason that we regard the issue of patronage and public appointments as being of central importance to our members and, indeed, to society as a whole.

  According to our research, the UK's quangos and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) account for over £18 billion of annual public expenditure: that equates to more than 6% of government spending per year. Consequently, the T&G has two key areas of concern about these public bodies which we would like to highlight in our response to your consultation paper: the first is regarding the role of political influence upon public appointments; and the second relates to the issue of diversity in public appointments.

Political Influence

  For the T&G, one of the basic pre-requisites for a democratic society is that public bodies be democratically accountable. In order to achieve this objective, consideration could be given to the idea of making nominations, or recommendation for appointments, to public bodies subject to the scrutiny and approval of the Parliament.

  In our opinion, the establishment of a system of pre-appointment parliamentary scrutiny might well produce the following benefits:

    (a)  The legitimacy of Quangos/NDPs would be enhanced.

    (b)  Paliament could hold Ministers to account against their equality and anti-discrimination statutory duties.

    (c)  Public awareness and acceptance of appointments to public bodies would be increased.

  We recognise that there is an argument that the prospect of being publicly vetted by a Parliamentary confirmatory hearing might act as a deterrent to those groups—such as women and ethnic minorities—who may not even be used to an interview situation, let alone a public heearing. We would therefore recommend that any system of pre-appointment scrutiny be designed in such a way as to encourage, rather than deter, public appointments' by people from diverse backgrounds.

Diversity

  The T&G fears that, in their present form, Britain's public bodies do not adequately reflect this country's gender, age, racial, cultural or social diversity. To date, the pool from which members have been drawn has tended to be far too narrow. Not only does this deny to public bodies a wealth of talent, skills and experience, it also means that many of them appear to be detached from the communities they claim to serve.

  We therefore believe it to be in the interests both of good governance and of civil rights that the membership of public bodies is more representative of 21st century Britain's pluralistic society. As such, the T&G has concluded that the appointments system must have at its heart a policy of equal opportunities.

  We are convinced that a sustained effort to increase membership diversity would:

    (a)  Significantly improve the effectiveness of public bodies.

    (b)  Ensure that public bodies are more responsive to local communities.

    (c)  Help to reconnect citizens to the political process and to civic life by increasing the opportunities for public participation.

  The issues being examined by your committee are of crucial significance to our political and civic life and I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the consultation process.

  I look forward to studying the Committee's conclusions in due course.

Bill Morris

General Secretary

April 2002


 
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