Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Philip J Champ, Chairman, NHS Logistics Authority (PAP 19)

  I respond as Chairman of this Authority, but also from a background of having for five years been Chairman of Rampton Special Hospital Authority and prior to that a member of the Board of East Midlands Electricity, both in the public and the private sectors. I am also a past president of Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce and a past member of various regional economic development bodies.

  This response is mine, but has been shared with—and is broadly endorsed by—the Board of this Authority.

  The following responses align with the numbering of the Committee's questions.

  1. and 2.  Election is appropriate only for those roles where the prime requirement is "representation" of the views of a constituency. Appointments processes are (or should be) designed to identify the individual with the most appropriate skills, experience, knowledge and capability to undertake a role. The justification for the wide use of appointments lies in the importance of getting "the best person" for the job.

  The wider use of election processes would inevitably lead to the "politicisation" of appointments and to the appointment of individuals with communicational skills and the support of a political party (or other similar well-resourced lobby group), rather than necessarily someone with the skills and experience needed to do the job.

  3.  While there is much to be said for encouraging a sense of civic duty (particularly when seeking to attract individuals already in full time employment onto public bodies), a system that picks people at random would virtually "guarantee" that roles were filled by individuals without any relevant knowledge or skills. There may be a place for this approach where appointments to general consumer representative bodies are to be made.

  4.  This question, I submit, lies at the heart of the current enquiry. In respect of each public body, it has to be decided what the (non-executive) membership is there for. As the Committee identifies in its paper, different bodies exist for different purposes. There is a need for greater clarity about the purpose of the body. If it exists to give expert advice, then there can be little doubt that it should be populated by individuals with eminent expertise in the field. If, at the other extreme, it exists to represent a cross section of public opinion to the executives of that body, then there may be a case for an element of election from the relevant constituency.

    Problems arise from the current lack of public understanding of the purpose of some bodies. Does an NHS hospital trust exist to oversee the effective running of a major public enterprise, spending millions of taxpayer's money, or does it exist to represent the views of the local population to the Executive? Or, cynically, does it simply exist to form a "buffer" between Ministers and what may sometimes be unpalatable local decisions? The different roles call for entirely different skills and different people.

  5.  In general the process appears to work well, however, the role of independent assessors should perhaps, include active involvement from the initial job specification stage. A more robust and active role for well-trained external assessors should include challenging and debating with departments the expectations of the candidates, the person specification and the best way of attracting good candidates.

  6.  I believe that if the Committee were able to bring greater clarity to the role and purpose of some bodies where the function is presently ill defined, the question of the method of selection would answer itself.

  7. and 8.  In the past, in my experience, there has been political involvement in appointments, both in the NHS and elsewhere. In the NHS the system of appointment has just changed and time will tell whether political involvement has now been precluded. However, in some public appointments, a political involvement is inevitable; the issue is whether that political involvement is open, visible and publicly justified, or whether it is "behind the scenes".

  9. and 10.  I have no comment to offer.

  11.  There may be a role for a form of Parliamentary scrutiny where the role of the public body is primarily that of representing/reflecting public opinion, eg the regulators, but not where the public body exists primarily to oversee the effective running of an enterprise.

  12.  It is early days, but I believe the NHS Appointments Commission model, which has just been launched, is one that could be mirrored in other spheres. Indeed, the Committee may wish to ask itself why the NHS Appointments Commission mandate extends to NHS trusts, but not to Special Health Authorities, such as this Authority.

  13. and 14.  There is clear evidence from the profile of people appointed to NHS Boards, that a significant tranche of the population is under represented, namely the working population.

  With the exception of very senior executives, few people of working age have the opportunity to join public bodies (unless membership is demonstrably "part of the day job"). I know that the Commissioner for Public Appointments is campaigning to change this by pointing out to employers the experience value that individuals derive from membership of a public body. However, I believe this is an area where Parliament and Government could make a difference. We should seek to get public body membership, viewed by employers, as a civic duty and a valuable personal development experience, akin to Territorial Army service and actively encourage participation in public bodies from those in full time employment.

  I submit that encouraging and facilitating applications for public body membership from a wider spectrum of the population, will support the principle of appointment on merit.

  15.  The Committee will be aware that there is a wide diversity of remuneration arrangements across public bodies. Government departments do not appear to have harmonised the remuneration arrangements for the bodies for which they are responsible. The principle, I suggest, should be that all (except perhaps minor and short term) service on public bodies should be remunerated, and at a consistent rate, reflective of the time commitment expected. More use of remuneration (at a realistic but not over-generous level) would make it easier for people to participate. Unpaid positions are inevitably filled only by those who can `afford' to volunteer, thus producing an inevitable bias away from those in full-time employment.

  16. and 17.  Based upon my experience of recruiting/interviewing NHS non-executives, no. The process is still perceived as obscure and secretive. Further, because the process is typically extremely protracted—six months from advert to offer is not unusual—good candidates suspect the process, lose interest, and/or take up an alternative role outside the public sector. The process needs to be consistent across the public sector, widely known and speeded up, with the timetable to decision agreed and made know in the initial documentation.

  Perhaps there could be one Internet site on which all appointments have to appear; these could be indexed by health, education, regional, etc. This would make it much easier to publicise and easier to see exactly what is available. The site could also show the timetable of the appointment, who is eventually appointed and how many applications were received. This might go some way to demonstrate greater openness, transparency and consistency.

  18.  I have met and heard Dame Rennie on a number of occasions. Her role is concerned with ensuring the existence of fair and open recruitment processes.

  19.  Such informal partnerships are often assembled from people who already play a role in public administration; as President of the Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce I sat on several. A different code of practice is, I believe, needed to give legitimacy to the constitution of such partnerships from people who are already fulfilling roles on public bodies. I do not believe it would produce the desired result if such roles were the subject of fully open competition.

  20. 21. and 22.  No comment.

  23.  Yes. While the framework for appointments may need to be modified to suit differing situations, in principle I believe all appointments to public bodies should be embraced within the Commissioner's remit and be conducted according to similar codes of practice.

  24.  The launch of the NHS Appointments Commission is a positive development. It is too early to judge the extent to which it will result in better appointments, but I believe it will.

  25.  Why not?

Philip J Champ


April 2002

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