Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Communication Workers Union (PAP 31)

  I am writing in response to your request for responses to the questions you set out in the above paper. This has been circulated to me in my capacity as a member of the Lord Chancellor's Legal Services Consultative Panel, and through the LSCP a member of the Standing Conference on legal education. I was one of the first round of appointments to the LSCP which was created by the Access to Justice Act 1999 and which commenced operation in January 2000.

  In addition, although outside the remit of this particular enquiry by the PASC, I am also a member of the Independent Appeals Panel of the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards into Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS), a member/chairperson of the London Borough of Merton's Education Appeals Panel, and the independent member on the same Borough's Standards Committee.

  I am happy to have the opportunity to contribute to your debate and my responses, using the same numbering system as your own, are as follows:

  1.  There is nothing inherently wrong with appointment rather than election given the number of public offices we are talking about. Election of public officials is obviously costly, and the cost of universal suffrage in this regard may well outweigh any benefit that the offices to which elections are being held are supposed to contribute to the public good.

  Additionally, public enthusiasm for electing officials has shown to be unresponsive to the increased opportunity to participate in this way.

  This is not to say that appointment is a panacea, because it can lead to a closed field of selection.

  2.  Potential problems include:

    (a)  Identifying which public bodies should be filled as a result of election rather than appointment.

    (b)  Public apathy leading to the process being not credible.

    (c)  The appointments process becoming a "beauty contest" devoid of any meritocracy.

  3.  A system similar to jury service would neither be effective nor fair nor efficient in my view.

  However, public appointments are effectively a civic duty in the sense that they represent a "tick in the box" for aspirants in many professions. They also provide an opportunity for intellectual stimulation that can be lacking in the most worthy of occupations once the occupant has been engaged in them for a number of years. Finally, most employers recognise the value of such appointments and therefore extend flexibility to their employees who take up such posts.

  4.  In my view the main priorities for improving the system of public appointments are to extend the range of people involved in these bodies and there should be close liaison with various other government agencies to ensure that the net is cast as wide as possible for potential members.

  However there is also a need for the effectiveness of these bodies to be improved—or at least audited to ensure that they provide value for money and that there is a dynamic debate taking place on how to add value to their work and avoid overlap and costly duplication of the similar bodies.

  5.  It is not a question of a sensible devolution of power to departments—such devolution is essential and inevitable given the scale of the task. However, it does need to be regularly audited at both departmental and independent assessor level to ensure that practices which are of poor value or even discriminatory are not developing or becoming entrenched.

  6.  Yes—sometimes the criteria for successful applicants is not made sufficiently clear and even when the criteria is made sufficiently clear, it appears that the recruitment consultants handling the appointments process do not appreciate or understand this. Recent rounds of appointments to ACAS Employment Tribunals are cited by way of illustration.

  7.  Only in that recruitment consultants are not sufficiently rigorously quality assessed.

  8.  To set the criteria, encourage participation, audit and refine the process.

  9.  Probably.

  10.  Political bias needs to be viewed as an absolute rather than relative concept.


    (a)  By overviewing the involvement of politicians, especially departmental ministers.

    (b)  By reviewing the public appointment process as a whole.

  12.  Yes, but there is room for both to co-exist.

  13.  Yes, but the PASC would probably know better than I.

  14.  An equality and diversity audit/review should be conducted on a joint basis between the various agencies that have responsibility for this.

  15.  This is an interesting debating point. I respectfully suggest you commission research on this.

  16.  I think it is an error to regard "members of the public" as homogenous in their views. I also think it is an error to regard the "public appointments process" as homogenous. For example, I have no idea whatsoever on what criteria/criterion the chairperson of the Legal Services Consultative Panel was appointed.

  17.  In conjunction with the agencies responsible for diversity and equality issues, aspects that should be considered are the placing of advertisements to use the range of media and titles/publications to best advantage.

  18.  Fairly limited—but perhaps discretion is a virtue in this instance.

  19.  Yes, if they fulfil certain criteria.

  20.  Yes—the same as the ways in which the system for the appointment of members of public bodies can be improved.

  21.  I am still making up my mind. If there is an element of the second chamber that is appointed, then these appointments should indeed be treated in the same way as other public bodies.

  22.  I do not know enough about the protocols used by the Scottish Executive and the NAW to comment—deepening the pool of knowledge would therefore seem to be the place to start before we draw any comparisons.

  23.  Probably but we would need to have the debate.

  24.  If one is talking about an appointments process to bodies such as Primary Care Trusts, then the convergence between this method of appointment and those that exist across other governments/non-departmental public bodies is to be welcomed.

  25.  Yes.

  I would be happy to assist the committee in any other way in which it may feel to be of use.

Simon Sapper

Assistant Secretary

May 2002

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