Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Museums Association (PAP 20)

  The Museums Association is an independent organisation representing museums and galleries and people who work for them. The Association has 4,500 individual members, 611 institutional members, and 131 corporate members. The institutional members encompass some 1,500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest national museums to small volunteer-run independent museums. The Museums Association is a democratic organisation; its governing Council is elected by the membership. It was founded in 1889 and is a registered charity. It receives no regular government funding. The Museums Association only wishes to answer a small number of the questions posed in the consultation paper. We have a particular interest in the role of trustees of national museums and also an interest in the ethnic diversity of DCMS public appointments.

Questions 4 and 6

  There is a certain confusion about the role of trustees of national museums. They seem potentially to fill three quite distinct roles. First, as people with board-level skills that can help the museum with strategic and management issues. Second, as well-connected people able to undertake fundraising on behalf of the museum. Third, as representatives of museum users. In addition, there is still a lingering sense that to an extent trusteeship of a national museum represents some kind of honour. There is also the possibility that their role is to monitor the performance of the organisation on behalf of government or the public at large. These roles are largely incompatible with each other and currently the confusion about roles has led to a severe under representation of people able to represent the interests of museum users.

Question 13

  For several years we have tried to help and encourage the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to increase the diversity, particularly the ethnic diversity, of its public appointments. When we have had discussions with officials and ministers they have certainly appeared keen to make more appointments from minority-ethnic communities. However, in practice we fear that they have not been particularly successful. It is also disappointing that they have generally failed to act on the advice that we have given to them on the need to be proactive and take positive action if they genuinely wish to increase the diversity of public appointments. We do not believe that DCMS has given this issue the priority it needs if there is to be a genuine change in the profile of public appointments.

Question 15

  We do wonder whether many trustees of national museums actually do have enough time and motivation to do much to support the museum in practice and to make a long-term commitment to the institution. On the one hand, paying them for their time may encourage them to give more commitment. On the other, paying them a substantial amount may make them regard the position as part of their employment rather than as public service. One approach could be to put on employers a requirement that people should be released for a certain number of days per year to undertake public appointments and to remunerate the employer for the cost of covering for employees' absences from the workplace.

  There are one or two further points we would like to make. There is a problem that chairs of boards are responsible for steering an organisation and for giving it strategic leadership while they do not have the power to significantly influence the appointment of fellow board members. In an extreme circumstance this could mean that the chair of an organisation is dissatisfied with the majority of members of the board.

Question 16

  We feel there are many problems with the public appointments process. In the case of DCMS the system is very inefficient and there are many hold ups. The system is slow and cumbersome. It appears to be an uneasy combination of open application, combined with a "head hunting" approach in which desired candidates are invited to apply. It would be interesting to inquire what proportion of those members of the public who apply uninvited ever actually are appointed to DCMS—or indeed any—public bodies. Many people who are unsuccessful in their applications are apparently told that their names are being kept on the DCMS database of potential public appointees and they may be contacted again in the future. However, this appears to happen very rarely, no doubt discouraging the individual from applying again for a vacancy.

  A particular problem for the national museums is that they are required to short list three candidates for each available place. This is a real problem as two of the three will, of course, be unsuccessful. This can only serve to demotivate the museum's supporters and informal advisors. These individuals, who are giving their time freely to the museum, find that they are invited to apply for a place on the board only to be rejected. This could discourage them from continuing to support or advise the museum in future.

Question 17

  We do not believe it is enough to simply place advertisements for public appointments in newspapers if the desire is to get a genuinely diverse range of individuals to apply for places. There is a need to make real efforts to target particular groups that are underrepresented on public bodies and to write specifically to individuals inviting them to apply, to organise open days at institutions in search of new members of boards, and to organise events to which potential appointees from diverse backgrounds can be invited.

Question 25

  There is certainly anecdotal evidence that many suitable candidates are deterred from proceeding with an application for an unpaid place on a board because of the requirement they should have to complete an application form and approach the appointment as if they were applying for a job, when in fact all they are doing is offering to give their time voluntarily to serve a public institution. There must surely be a way of inviting key individuals to put themselves forward, while minimising bureaucracy—but ensuring probity.

  We hope that these brief comments are of some help. We would be happy to provide further views and information if that would be useful.

April 2002

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