Memorandum by The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is a Non-Departmental
Public Body and as such pleased to receive the opportunity to
respond to the issues outlined in the paper by the Public Administration
Select Committee. The Museum is governed by a Board of Trustees,
in accordance with The British Museum Act (1963). It is the appointment
of Trustees that we would like to discuss initially in this response,
prior to responding to the questions posed in the PASC paper.
Our responses are focused on our institution in particular, rather
than public bodies in general.
The Museum has 12 Trustees; eight are appointed
by the Prime Minister; one is appointed by the Secretary of State
for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the recommendation of the
President of the Royal Society; and three are appointed by the
Board of Trustees themselves. The appointments are part-time,
unpaid and normally last for five years with the option of a second
The current system of appointment for the Prime
Ministerial appointments is defined by DCMS. When a vacancy arises
on our Board of Trustees the Museum nominates three candidates,
each of whom possesses the necessary skills and experience needed
to maintain the appropriate balance across the Board for the purposes
of governing the Museum. The three candidates may be substituted
by other individuals at the discretion of officials to generate
a final short list. The final short list is considered by a DCMS
advisory panel who then submit the name of the nominated candidate
to the Prime Minister for consideration.
Our 12 Trustees collectively have very high
standing and experience in the academic and business sectors,
and in public affairs. In our opinion it is vital for three reasons
that their quality and balance of skills and knowledge is maintained.
First, the public must be able to have confidence in the standards
of leadership and governance set by the Board; second the Board
must command the respect of the Museum's highly qualified and
dedicated staff; and third, the Board must have the diversity
of experience necessary for the delivery of the wide array of
functions carried out by the Museum. We have been fortunate to
date that DCMS has not replaced any of the candidates whom we
place on the short list, and we are consequentially blessed with
an extremely effective Board of Trustees.
We would be concerned if any nominations were
substituted, in view of the specific skill sets that we require
in each member of our Board, and the knowledge of the candidates
in the area that the Museum staff and Trustees possess.
The issue of political influence in the process
is mentioned in the PASC paper. Our Board of Trustees was established
to govern the Museum, and as such it is our belief that they should
be able to select their Chair from amongst their number, rather
than having a political appointment imposed upon them. In view
of the longevity of the institution (it was a founding part of
the British Museum in 1753) and its custodial function of developing
and maintaining the collections on behalf of the nation, it is
vital that our independent corporate governance is maintained.
1. and 2. Appointment procedures can be
clear, transparent and publicly defensible if the goals, methods
and criteria are well-defined and well-publicised. Such procedures
can lead to high quality appointments. Elections bring no guarantee
of transparency and fairness (eg Who selects the candidates?,
Who is the electorate?, How is its membership defined?), and there
can be no guarantee of merit in the elected candidate.
The Museum is strongly opposed to the election
of its Trustees. It could be highly damaging in terms of the balance
and quality of the Board and would be a highly retrograde step.
3. Absolutely not, for the reasons given
and 1 and 2 above.
4. The main priority is to avoid imposing
a "one size fits all" solution for all public bodies.
There should be sufficient variation across the various public
bodies to ensure their own needs and requirements are met. As
long as all systems are clear, transparent and publicly defensible
there is no need to have a single mechanism for all the 1,000+
5. It is a sensible devolution, but could
be improved by streamlining it.
Political Influence on Appointments
7. and 9. Not so far, but vigilance is needed,
particularly if Government move to having greater direct involvement
in the appointment process.
8. Ratification of nominations against published
criteria rather than direct selection.
9, 10 and 11. No comment.
12. Not if the procedure outlined at 8 is
Diversity in Public Appointments
13. There is no evidence that the system
fails to attract applications from the widest range of candidates
who satisfy the criteria required of potential Trustees.
14. By having a procedure whereby each public
body sets out clearly and publicly the experience and skills required
for its Board Members, their duties and the process by which nominations
for ministerial considerations are made.
15. We have no evidence that a lack of remuneration
is a deterrent. Payment would in any event be only nominal, given
that payment at the level appropriate to the skills and experience
of many of our Board members would be unaffordable.
In terms of appointment to our Board, there
is a statement published on our internet site outlining to members
of the public the skills and experiences that we look for in our
Board members, and inviting people to nominate themselves if they
consider that they have the necessary attributes. This is our
way of contributing to Government's commitment that appointment
to our Board is open, transparent and based on merit.
25. No, especially if a large number of
applicants is put through this procedure for each vacancy. This
would be a severe deterrent to high quality applicants.
We trust that our comments are of use to the
Committee, and look forward to hearing its recommendations in
Sir Neil Chalmers,