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 commentSociety 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
(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
(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
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
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
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