Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Professor Rory Shaw, Chairman, National Patient Safety Agency (PAP 25)

  Thank you for inviting me to comment on public appointments. I have responded to your questions below. I would first like to make a general comment—Society needs those with expertise and time to contribute to the development and monitoring of public and governmental processes. Whilst ensuring breadth of contribution, it is vital that the process of selection of those who will sit on public bodies does not preclude the very people who have the experience and skills that the country requires.

  1.  Public bodies fall into a number of categories. Those such as the National Patient Safety Agency, of which I am the Chairman are charged by Government with very specific tasks. These tasks have been laid down by Parliament. The completion of these tasks requires a specific set of competencies and experience at Board level. The process of identification of those with the appropriate background and skills required a very broad recruitment exercise and a fairly in-depth and sophisticated selection process. It is difficult to see how these processes could have been undertaken by an election.

  2.  There are a number of problems which might arise were elections to be held for membership of public bodies. It is difficult to see how any practical process could work.

    (a)  For example, over 500 individuals applied to serve as Non-Executive Directors on the Board of the National Patient Safety Agency. Applications were screened and short-listed candidates were interviewed. It was thus possible to identify a broad range of different categories of individuals representing different backgrounds and experience to serve on this Board. It is hard to understand how all 500 could have been subject to an election process by the general public. Nor whether at the end of any election it would have been possible to have such a broad range of individuals onto the Board. The process of review of curriculum vitae and personal statement, followed by lengthy interview was time consuming and rigorous and it is difficult to see how the general public could have been provided with the same quantity of information about each candidate in an electoral process.

    (b)  If the general public elected a large number of individuals from whom those serving on public bodies might be chosen, again there would be a very serious risk that diversity of background and experience would be lost. The practicalities of such an approach with 3,000 public bodies are again daunting since approximately 30,000 would have to be elected to be in this pool.

    (c)  Many public bodies require quite a high level of technical competence from their Board members, both in terms of literacy, numeracy and past educational background. Any election process would have to ensure these objectives were achieved if the relevant public bodies were to discharge the duties appropriately.

    (d)  Many high calibre individuals who make an invaluable contribution might not wish to subject themselves to a public electoral process. There is a risk that their expertise would be lost.

  3.  I suspect that many Board members of public bodies regard their action as giving something back to society. Whether the notion of civic duty is widely held in the 21st century may be debatable, but the remuneration that Board members receive is not commensurate with the level of remuneration they would receive were most of the individuals to be in active employment for the same period of time each month.

  4.  The main priorities from my perspective for improving the system of public appointments, would be to offer broader training, both to those who sit on public bodies and to those who aspire to sit on public bodies. The training needs to embrace the appropriate behavior for those who sit on public bodies including handling the media, as well as technical matters relating to the organisation of Government and public service.

  5.  The civil service is a neutral body and independent advisors are also neutral. The current arrangement would therefore seem a reasonable way to avoid abuse or political bias.

  6.  The main problem with the current approach is the timetable. I think it is important for individuals who serve on public bodies to be treated with respect to have adequate notice in relation to interview times and the start of their appointment. Similarly, they need to be informed in appropriate time of completion of their term and whether or not they are likely to be reappointed.

  7.  I am unaware of any evidence to suggest politicians play an improper role in public appointments.

  8.  Politicians of course are the elected representatives of the public and it might be reasonable for politicians to have some say in those who lead public bodies, given that gross political bias can be avoided.

  9.  I am unaware of strong political bias in public appointments.

  10.  This question presumes that there was political bias under a previous Government.

  11.  I personally can see little benefit for Parliament playing a major role in public appointments. The system in the United States where all appointments are vetted is very cumbersome and is subject to complex political manoeuvering. Many UK individuals would not put themselves forward if they were to be subject to such a process.

  12.  There may be some public bodies where an independent appointment's commission would add value, particularly where a public body is set up specifically to monitor or criticise Government policies. It is unlikely that an independent appointment's commission would be optimal for all public bodies, since some public bodies are specifically charged with discharging a particular aspect of Government policy and the Government needs reassurance of those who lead the public body are committed to the task.

  13.  It is important to create an environment where a very broad range of individuals in society are eligible to contribute to public bodies. A way to increase this breadth would be to offer further training to individuals who aspire to sit on public bodies, so that these individuals can increase their chances of success in the selection process.

  14.  It is vital that the public body completes its task effectively. The first priority has to be to have the people with the right skills and experience. It is important that diversity is achieved within this overall objective.

  15.  One of the problems with the remuneration package available at the present time is that only those who are retired or are in the fortunate position to have other independent sources of income can really afford to participate in public bodies. The money available is not commensurate with the duties of the post. The input from younger individuals in the middle of their careers is thus precluded by the present financial arrangement.

  16.  This question requires a broader discussion with the wider public.

  17.  Unable to comment.

  18.  The Commission for Public Appointments was not involved in the appointments for the National Patient Safety Agency.

  19.  No comment.

  20.  No comment.

  21.  It is important that those who monitor and provide criticism on Government policy, should have the appropriate expertise and skills. When considering membership for the House of Lords it is important to appoint individuals who have these relevant skills.

  22.  No comment.

  23.  No comment.

  24.  No comment.

  25.  I am aware of no other methodology that is likely to offer a more satisfactory outcome. Despite its limitations, application and interview are a tried and tested approach in most business sectors. It is unlikely that public bodies are so different that another methodology is going to be more suitable.

  I hope these comments are useful.

Professor Rory Shaw

Chairman, National Patient Safety Agency

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 8 July 2003