Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by UKAEA (PAP 29)

Q1.   What, if anything, is the justification for such a large number of public offices (around 30,000) being filled by appointment rather than election?

  A1.  We believe that the present arrangement, whereby UKAEA non-executive posts are filled by appointment following open competition, is appropriate for UKAEA.

Q2.   What problems might arise if elections were held for membership of some public bodies, instead of the current system of appointments?

  A2.  In the case of UKAEA, it is difficult to see how filling non-executive posts by election could work in practice, as these roles generally require specific expertise.

Q3.   Should a public appointment be part of an individual's civic duty? Would a system similar to jury service be effective and fair?

  A3.  It seems difficult to believe that a system of "conscription" would work well; those involved would resent the burden being placed on them and, as a consequence, their contribution is unlikely to be effective. There may be a case for encouraging more people to "volunteer".

Q4.   What are the main priorities for improving the system of public appointments—should it for instance be to extend the range of people involved in bodies, to improve the effectiveness of the bodies in providing advice or administering services, or to change the balance so that elected national, regional or local government has more of a role in public life?

  A4.  Our view is that the main priority must be to improve the effectiveness of the public bodies in discharging their responsibilities.

Q5.   Government departments publicise public appointments, assess applications and draw up shortlists for interview. Independent assessors take part in the process and appointments are made on merit. Is this a sensible devolution of power to departments or does it cause problems and create unfairness?

  A5.  We in UKAEA accept that non-executive appointments to the UKAEA Board are a matter for DTI and that the process of making appointments needs to be seen to be independent. As long as the process is carried out efficiently and to time, it does not cause problems for us.

Q6.   Are there any aspects of the Govemment's approach to public appointments which appear to be inconsistent or unclear?

  A6.  No.

Q7.   Is there any evidence to suggest that politicians sometimes play an improper part in the current public appointments system? What are your main concerns, if any?

  A7.  We have no such concerns over the current appointments system. Before the "Nolan rules" were introduced, there was a perception, rightly or wrongly, that some appointments were made because the individuals were known to Ministers.

Q8.   What part, if any, should politicians play in the public appointments process?

  A8.  Ministers clearly have a legitimate interest in ensuring that public bodies will act in accordance with Government policies, but it is not clear that this means that they should normally have any detailed involvement in the appointments process, beyond the formal responsibility for making the appointment.

Q9.   Is there any evidence to suggest that there is political bias in the public appointments process?

  A9.  We are not aware of any such bias in relation to UKAEA appointments.

Q10.   Is political bias ever acceptable in the appointments system, for example to correct a political imbalance accumulated under a previous Government?

  A10.  In an ideal world, party politics would play no role in appointments to public bodies. In practice, some appointments will be seen as being political, and so acting to maintain a political balance may well be necessary in some circumstances.

Q11.   What role, if any, should Parliament play in public appointments?

  A11.  It does not seem to us to be appropriate for Parliament to play any role in the making of individual appointments; that is properly a matter for Ministers. There may be a role for Parliament in checking that the overall system for public appointments works fairly and effectively.

Q12.   Do you believe that an independent appointments commission should be introduced instead of ministerial appointments?

  A12.  No. As Ministers are essentially accountable for the performance of public bodies, it seems appropriate that they should retain the formal responsibility for appointments.

Q13.   Is there evidence to suggest that the current system is not attracting applications from the widest pool of candidates?

  A13.  We have no specific evidence on this, but we recognise the general concerns about ensuring diversity in public appointments.

Q14.   How can greater diversity best be combined with reassurance that the principle of merit in public appointments is being upheld?

  A14.  We believe that the principle of appointment on merit must be maintained. Subject to that, the appointment process can be monitored to check for signs of bias. If particular groups in society are under-represented in tenns of applications for posts, then active steps could be taken to encourage applications by targeted advertising.

Q15.   Would a more consistent use of remuneration for members of public bodies help to increase diversity in their membership? Are there any possible drawbacks to an increase in the number of remunerated members?

  A15.  UKAEA appointments are all already paid. It seems to us that reducing the use of unpaid appointments elsewhere should help increase diversity. The obvious drawback is the increase in costs for the public body.

Q16.   Is the public appointments process understood by members of the public and seen to be fair, open, honest, transparent and easy to travel through?

  A16.  It is difficult for us to provide an informed answer on this. Our perception is that the public as a whole have not fully understood the extent to which the application of the "Nolan rules" has transformed the appointments process.

Q17.   What improvements, if any, should be made to the way in which advertising or publicising public appointments are made?

  A17.  If applications for public appointments are not reflecting the diversity of the potential pool of applicants, then this would suggest that different ways need to be found to draw the appointments to the attention of under-represented groups.

Q18.   What is your understanding of the role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Dame Rennie Fritchie?

  A18.  As set out in the covering note from the PASC.

Q19.   There are a growing number of sometimes informally constituted partnership bodies and task forces charged with carrying out public functions, especially at local level. Should these bodies be subject to the Commissioner for Public Appointments' Code of Practice?

  A19.  No comment.

Q20.   Are there ways in which the system of independent assessors for public appointments can be improved?

  A20.  No comment. We have no direct involvement with the current system.

Q21.   What is your opinion of the Govemment's proposals for future appointments to the House of Lords? Should it be treated in the same way as other public bodies?

  A21.  No comment.

Q22.   Are there lessons to be learned by Government departments about the way in which the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales approach public appointments?

  A22.  No comment. We have no direct knowledge of the arrangements in Scotland and Wales.

Q23.   The Commissioner for Public Appointments' remit covers specified Ministerial public appointments and her Code of Practice, which is based on Nolan principles, sets out the regulatory framework for these appointments. Should the remit be extended to all other appointments?

  A23.  No comment.

Q24.   What is your opinion of the reforms recently introduced in the system of appointments to NHS bodied?

  A24.  No comment.

Q25.   Should every candidate, even important people for high level appointments, be asked to complete application forms and attend interviews in the normal way?

  A25.  Yes.

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