Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Chairs of Probation Boards in the North West of England Region (PAP 32)

  I enclose herewith a submission for consideration by the Select Committee on Public Administration prepared for and on behalf of the five Chairs of Probation Boards in the North West region.

  We hope that the note is of assistance to the Committee in its deliberations.

May 2002

  1.  Some Public Appointments involve large numbers and these should be seen as major organisational undertakings and their handling and administration should be of a high order. Some aspects of the recruitment of Probation Board Members in 2000-01 was badly organised and administered. This gives a poor image to members of the public who put their names forward.

  2.  Many Public Appointments result in a "short list" being put forward to Ministers and, to the outside observer, the criteria for the Ministerial decision is unclear. There should be greater transparency for this final and critical stage in the selection process. The criteria for appointment and selection should be clearly evident and applied consistently throughout the process.

  3.  It is suggested that the Select Committee should examine two aspects of the process. Firstly the quality of the interviewing. The experience of some being interviewed during the appointment to the Legal Services Commission was of extremely basic flaws in the interview itself even though there was an external adviser brought in to ensure quality. Secondly there should always be good feedback. A number of Public Appointments eg the Parole Board, have failed to give anything like adequate feedback to experienced but unsuccessful candidates. Feedback is always a problem but if Public Appointments are to be open and transparent it is essential that this aspect is attended to.

  4.  High profile failures discredit the whole system especially where blatant interference "appears" to have taken place. A recent example of this was the appointment and then the withdrawal of approval in respect of the recent interviews for Chair of the Audit Commission. Ministerial interference was blatantly obvious, and it serves as a "good" example of such interference.

  5.  Central to any process involving the recruitment of personnel to positions of responsibility is the question of how selection is carried out. This must be the cornerstone of the whole process since it determines who is included and who is excluded. It is considered wholly more appropriate, relevant, productive and fair that selection should be based upon evidence of ability to "do the job" or to discharge the responsibilities involved in the particular duty. Thus, the process of public advertisement and selection made against clearly defined and relevant skills and experience (and where appropriate qualifications) is preferred to a system based upon election.

  6.  Some care can be required when drafting person specifications for posts subject to appointment to ensure that only those requirements, which are directly relevant and necessary, are included. In addition, there is some evidence that this process can work to "favour" older people simply because they could be able to evidence longer experience in the relevant field and may also feel more able to give the time commitment involved. In order to respond to these issues consideration should be given to balancing or weighing the value of greater length of experience with the benefit to be gained by securing a greater diversity from completely different perspectives eg from younger people, the unemployed, service users etc. Such arrangements would evidence that valuing diversity has some meaning and relevance at Board or Committee level. In addition, some consideration could be given to enabling younger members of staff and those in employment to get time off from their "normal"duties in order to increase the likelihood that people from such groups might feel more able to express interest in the range of public appointments that are advertised.

  7.  It is possible that more time effort and resources could be devoted, possibly by Regional Offices/Associations, to promoting and supporting the whole Public Appointments process. This could involve and require:

    —  taking a more proactive role in preparing and publicising information on Public Appointments;

    —  engaging with a wide range of organisations, employers and other agencies to get the message across on the importance of Public Appointments, how they are dealt with, together with other relevant information to correct misunderstanding and encourage expressions of interest from a wider representation of the public.

  8.  It is hoped that these views, comments and suggestions will be of assistance to the Select Committee in its deliberations.

Nigel Mellor

Cedric Fullwood

Leslie Robinson

Tim Gordon

Jon Hardy

Chairs of Probation Boards in the North West Region, England

May 2002

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