Memorandum by English Heritage (PAP 17)
This document forms the response of English
Heritage to the PASC's consultation paper on public appointments
and patronage. English Heritage is an executive non departmental
public body of the Department for Culture Media and Sport. It
is the Government's lead body for the historic environment in
England. Its tasks include:
advising national and local government
on all aspects of the historic environment;
advancing understanding of the historic
environment through survey and research;
giving £38 million a year in
grants to historic buildings, sites, parks and gardens;
managing 409 historic properties
(including parks and gardens) on behalf of the state;
running the National Monuments Record;
through our educational work, increasing
public understanding of the historic environment.
English Heritage does not feel it is in a position
to answer all the questions posed as many are not directly relevant
to us. The following are our views on particular issues of interest.
Please note that the NDPB Board Members of English Heritage are
referred to as Commissioners.
Question 2What problems might arise if
elections were held for membership of some public bodies, instead
of the current system of appointments?
Direct elections for Commissioners would increase
involvement, representation and interest from members of the public.
However, Members appointed in this way would most likely come
from political parties and candidates such as local councillors
would dominate. Therefore, involvement by "genuine"
members of the public may not be as high as one might expect.
However, clearly there would be an increase in directly elected
NDPB Board members and this would alleviate the criticism sometimes
levied of appointed board members and the perceived misuse of
If such elections were held it would be difficult
to imagine how they might operate for a body such as English Heritage.
Representation would rightly be demanded from all geographical
areas of our operation. Equally, it is imperative for English
Heritage that its Commissioners have an in-depth, detailed and
well respected knowledge of our varied and diverse activities.
Although all Commissioners have a core EH wide role, we have separate
detailed role specifications for Commissioners and require appointees
to have detailed knowledge of areas such as archaeology, conservation
and planning. This is a requirement of the National Heritage Act
1983. It is unlikely that directly elected board members would
possess the skills and experience required. English Heritage is
keen to only have Commissioners who have a national standing and
reputation in their fields. Therefore, it is envisaged that any
directly elected Commissioners would need to be in addition to
our current core of appointed commissioners so that there is no
denigration of our skills base. On balance, it is felt that elections
for Commissioners of English Heritage is not appropriate.
Question 3Should a public appointment be
part of an individual's civic duty? Would a system similar to
jury service be fair?
Appointments to the Commission are for long
periodstypically three years. It is felt that this is a
minimum period needed given the time taken to get up to speed
with English Heritage's diverse areas of operation and to ensure
consistency. Appointments along the lines of jury service would
seem unlikely to produce candidates for a national NDPB that would
be willing, equipped or able to provide the high level and long
serving input we require. Additionally, we feel that an individual
should choose to put him or herself forward for service on a public
body, rather than being "volunteered". People so appointed
may do so because they feel they ought rather than because they
want to. There is also a danger that they will not be respected
as being skilled enough to undertake the role, irrespective of
their actual ability.
Question 4What are the main priorities
for improving the system of public appointmentsshould it
for instance be 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
English Heritage believes that the priority
should be to improve the speed, efficiency and transparency of
the appointment process. Equally, there should be an emphasis
on encouraging applications from suitably qualified candidates
from a broader cross section of society.
Question 5Government 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?
It is not the experience of English Heritage
that interviews for appointments to the Commission are held as
suggested by the question. The DCMS independent advisors consider
applications forms and paper submissions. A final decision is
made by Ministers in the light of their comments and those from
the Chairman of English Heritage. Candidates may be short-listed
from either the public appointments unit database or from suggestions
made by the Chairman of English Heritage or from DCMS officials.
There is a strong argument in favour of holding formal "recruitment"
Although there is no evidence that it is the
case, the current process is open to criticism on several grounds:
(a) There may be questions regarding who
the independent assessors are and how qualified they are to make
(b) As indicated in the consultation document,
there could be questions regarding the patronage of ministers
and the basis on which their decisions are made.
(c) As with (b) above there is the possibility
that the role of the Chairman of English Heritage in the appointment
process could be questioned given his role in suggesting candidates
and commenting on others.
English Heritage does not in any way imply that
there is impropriety arising from the current process of appointments,
merely that there it creates the opportunity for impropriety to
be perceived. As long as the process of ministerial appointments
continues, there should be effort to increase awareness of the
system and transparency in order to dispel criticism.
Question 12Do you believe that an independent
appointments commission should be introduced instead of ministerial
The option of an independent commission to undertake
appointments does have some merit. Subject to its rules and remit,
this could have the significant advantage of removing cynicism
regarding patronage and could perhaps be in a position to promote
appointments to a more representative cross section of society.
However, such a body would need to be sufficiently resourced to
undertake what would be a mammoth task. Additionally, there would
need to be mechanisms to ensure that appointments were of the
highest calibre and that those making the decisions had a detailed
knowledge of the work of the body to which they were appointing.
Question 16Is the public appointments process
understood by members of the public and seen to be fair, open,
transparent and easy to travel through? and Question 17What
improvements, if any, should be made in the way in which advertising
or publicising public appointments are made?
There is a significant misunderstanding, lack
of knowledge, cynicism and apathy as regards public appointments.
To counter the above, English Heritage feels
that government departments could do more to promote their vacancies
and the current process. Additionally, it is suggested that there
could be a central website through which all appointments to quangos
and similar bodies should be advertised. This could provide a
"one stop shop" for advice on processes, procedures
and current opportunities.
Question 25Should every candidate, even
important people for high level appointments, be asked to complete
application forms and attend interviews in the normal way?
We feel that for the sake of avoiding criticism,
the procedures should apply equally to all, irrespective of their
seniority. As indicated in our answer to question 5, the DCMS
do not hold formal interviews for appointments to the Commission
of English Heritage. However, there is a trade-off in this respect
in that very formal open procedures could be a disincentive to
the senior and `heavyweight' candidates sought by English Heritage.