Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by John Marston (PAP 26)

  I am a member of the Lord Chancellor's Department Advisory Group on Enforcement Service Delivery. In this capacity I have been forwarded a copy of your paper and invited to reply.

GENERAL

  1.  I imagine that expense is the first justification. I also think that many people are willing to serve if asked but would not face an election process, and the personal scrutiny and hostility that is evident in political life.

  2.  One problem would be where to draw the line. A criteria would be needed to explain why some people were elected whilst others asked to serve. High profile bodies, or those making a profound difference to our lives and those handling large amounts of money, should be involved in election process. This is especially true where a good deal of work is required and a substantial salary paid. Positions of this nature are seen as opportunities and should be open to as many people as possible. Where however the post involves a professional skill (scientist, vet, accountant etc) then an election is not appropriate, and perhaps candidates should be sought from the professional associations.

  3.  I think any duty placed on every citizen is fair. Clearly we would need to limit those excluded to the usual suspects ie criminal etc. It would certainly be easier for people to justify taking time out of their work if service was seen as a responsibility.

  4.  Clearly the main priority would be to improve the effectiveness of the bodies providing assistance. Delegation is always difficult to do but if the end result is a trickling down of power and authority from central Government to local Government then we will all feel more invested in the system.

  5.  The system seems transparent and fair, and this is obviously important. I personally dislike providing lots of personal and private information on application forms only to be rejected. I think the minimum information should be requested, and if candidates are short-listed then everything else can be asked.

  6.  From my perspective the only point that is unclear to me is why some people are paid and others not. I in common with most people believe that Lords, MP's, local politicians their families and friends all get paid handsomely for public service, whilst those of us who are not so well connected do not. I suggest a big effort should be made to explain why some posts are paid and others are not.

POLITICAL INFLUENCE ON APPOINTMENTS

  7.  Ordinary people can never know whether politicians play an improper role in the appointments system. We all believe they do however and that is the problem that must be overcome. One way to do this is to advertise all positions and to make as many as possible open to anyone, not just politicians and friends.

  8.  Clearly, politicians must be involved in the public appointments process as they are ultimately responsible for running the Country. They should be able to recommend candidates and they can be involved in the selection process, where appropriate. Their involvement must (as far as possible) be open and transparent.

  9.  I think there is ample evidence. Particularly in the National Health Service. Local Counsellors of the ruling Party can normally get elected to NHS boards and other quangos. Or at least this is the common perception.

  10.  In an ideal world political bias is never acceptable. To be practical however, if there is a Political imbalance then obviously the views of the elected Government must prevail, and arrangements should exist for a clearing out of the old guard after a general election. However, this process should be limited to political appointments. Where the appointees are serving in some capacity that is not directly political (for example health and safety issues) then the basis of selection must be expertise in the subject first and any political persuasion second.

  11.  Parliament should be involved in high level public appointments, as clearly politicians will have an interest. If for example the Prime Minister appoints his brother-in-law to a good job somewhere in the system then obviously opposition politicians will have something to say about it. Machinery should therefore exist for appointments to be questioned. The House of Commons is an obvious choice.

  12.  It rather depends where the people being appointed are going to serve. For example, if a Committee is being set up to review the way the Government have handled the BSE crisis (perhaps in the light of 100,000 people dying a year), then clearly the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are going to appoint the person they want in the job. As a lot is at stake (no pun intended) I would quite understand that the truth might have to be a casualty and the survival of the Government a priority. At my level however (down at the bottom of the pile) an independent appointments commission could easily handle me and those like me.

DIVERSITY IN PUBLIC APPOINTMENTS

  13.  I have no idea.

  14.  Head hunting is probably the best way to do this. Another idea is targeted advertising. Most areas of business life have specialist magazines and more use of this medium would at least bring the vacancies to the attention of people who are interested in the subject. For example, Farmers Weekly, The Law Society Gazette, Classic Boats.

  15.  Remuneration is a big problem. I get reimbursed for the attendance costs I incur but I do have to spend the money first. A trip to London takes say ten hours, and although the train fare is recovered I have to apply for it and I do not get any compensation for my time out of the office. Neither am I reimbursed for telephone calls, e-mails or the cost of stationery. There is also a substantial amount of research to be undertaken, and when I am not available to do my job someone else has to do it. There is therefore a cost in helping out, and although I am self-employed and I can to some extent please myself, nevertheless I am clearly disadvantaged in helping out and the problem must be worse for those people who are less able to afford the time and expense.

  One of the problems with not paying people is that those who end up serving are often Civil Servants or members of other similar organizations. These people are certainly very able and professional but they are not ordinary members of the public. I suggest that the question of payment is directly linked to the number, variety and quality of applicants available to serve and should therefore be looked at very carefully.

  As an example, I work with the Council of Europe and I travel about Eastern Europe talking to Deputy Ministers of Justice on the issues of Civil Enforcement. I have my expenses reimbursed but I am not actually paid. I am required to travel over a weekend (to keep costs down) so I am normally away from home and business for approximately one week. In addition, there is a lot of work that has to be done either side of each trip. The visits I make could not happen without me, but as a volunteer I am the only one who is not paid. All of the people I visit are Politicians and the Council of Europe, who organize my trip, set the agenda and travel with me, are all employed. It is very difficult to justify doing this sort of work for nothing when everyone else in the process is paid.

PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING

  16.  When I applied for my position on the Advisory Group I found the process easy to understand and to follow. I was also helped and encouraged by the staff at LCD and they have continued to be helpful and cheerful throughout the process. Had I been asked this question before my experience with the Advisory Group then I would have said that I had no experience upon which to base an opinion few do.

  17.  As stated, targeted advertising in the professional and trade press, together with dedicated head hunting.

  18.  I have no understanding of the role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and until I read your paper I had never heard of Dame Rennie Fritchie.

OTHER ISSUES

  19.  Any body or task force charged with carrying out a public function should be subject to some scrutiny and authority. Fraud and other forms of dishonesty are often carried out by intelligent, highly motivated people, and being acquainted with many criminals I can confirm that professional people who are appropriately trained need to be in place if losses are to be kept to a minimum. A very good recent example is the scandal of the educational payouts that has been withdrawn because of wide scale organized dishonesty. Everyone involved should be asked to sign up to a code of practice, and be regulated by someone who has the resources, time and expertise to do the job.

  20.  I do not know anything about the system as it is, and therefore I cannot help.

  21.  May I suggest that half of those appointed to the House of Lords should be political appointments for life. People like ex-politicians and those who have served in some other capacity ie high ranking Officers in the Armed Services and senior Civil Servants. The other half should be drawn from a list of authorized Organizations, for example the RSPCA, the Law Society, the Unions etc. This finite list, which could be added to or deleted from, should nominate one person to serve in the Lords for a period of five years. They should be paid. Thereafter they would retire and another person from the Organization would be nominated. In this way you would have half the house being political and aware of the workings of the Government and its machinery, whilst on the other hand you would have a disparate group of people all having and representing their own interests (eg care of animals, union rights, lifeboats, lawyers) who would bring to the House their own interest, experience and expertise, and who would be able to take advice from and draw support from those organizations that nominated them. In this way the House would be truly representative of the interests of all of the Country, and to my mind much improved.

  22.  Not qualified to answer.

  23.  The same principles and regulatory framework should extend to everyone if possible. Special cases and exemptions lead to mistrust.

  24.  I have always believed (probably quite wrongly) that appointments to the NHS bodies have always been jobs for the boys handed out by the political party in power. A lot of advertising will have to be done to convince me otherwise.

  25.  Absolutely. No one (except the Queen) should be above the Law, and I think that if someone wishes to be appointed to a prestigious, well paid position, then the least that they can do is complete an application form and attend an interview. It is an important general principle that anyone being appointed to anything must accept and conform to the rules and obligations of the position, and to allow people to take up these posts without submitting themselves to inquiry is inviting a high handed approach to the job with no expectation of any accountancy. It is also unfair to any other aspiring candidates.

  I hope that the above is helpful to you, and please do return to me on any of the points I have made if you would like to.

John Marston


 
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