Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Suhail Aziz, Chair of the London Probation Board (PAP 35)

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

  Election process will be complex, expensive and may still not achieve the desired outcome of widening participation. Also, a general lack of financial incentives may deter people from taking part at election.

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

  See (1) above. It will also create imbalance and difficulties in uniformity of administration.

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

  No Jury Service has a legal basis whereas it is difficult to see a public appointment system in that light. The basis of public appointment should still be voluntary, based on application, and ability to make a valid contribution.

4.   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?

  I think a balance of all the elements should be struck. Some flexibility must be there to decide priorities.

5.   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?

  As a member of a minority ethnic group, my experience is that in theory this sounds all right. But in practice, "independent assessors" are influenced, so the process is questionable for fairness and integrity, eg NHS appointments system until about 2001; the people involved; the reaction of unsuccessful candidates; the "Register" of waiting lists etc.

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

  Approach is clear, processes do get distorted in practice.

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

  Politicians and local Committees do have their network of influencing. This has happened before. I understand Government departments have tried to insulate the process, how successfully not yet known.

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

  Should participate in the policy formulation process, eg in Parliament, leaving implementation to Departments and agencies, with the provision of regular reports to be made to Parliament.

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

  Yes, the Party in power seems to generate more public appointments from their Party.

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

  Yes, to correct an accumulated imbalance from the past.

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

  Set policy, monitor practices, take corrective actions. Overall an eye to fairness, equal opportunity and access.

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

  We do have a Civil Service Commission. Its role and responsibilities could be expanded rather than creating another new body. The experience of the CSC should be built upon.

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

  Yes, because of bad experience suffered in the past, people from certain groups, especially ethnic minorities, don't bother to apply for jobs. So self exclusion occurs.

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

  A lot of hard work is involved in undoing the historical experience of the past years. The reassurance is currently given but in practice it is seen as suspect. Diversity should not mean less merit.

15.   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?

  Remuneration with fair and well-publicised procedures and practices may improve the situation. Remuneration will focus the minds better.

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

  Yes, interested members of the public understand the processes with ease.

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

  Publicity as currently produced is adequate. Problem arises when recruitment agencies are used as an arm's length device to discriminate—real or imaginary, perceived or otherwise.

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

  Not sure what she is achieving. It is all very well to apply OCPA Rules during selection process. Her role seem to cease after an appointment has been made, especially with regard to ethnic minority members and their retention—the institutional racism some of them experience with no redress. She seems to have done nothing about the fact that ministerial public appointees have no redress in law because they are not classified as "employees". The Government has taken advantage of that loophole. People have been left with grievances. Employment Tribunals have expressed deep regrets but been unable to assist aggrieved persons due to this glaring deficit in law.

  Dame Rennie Fritchie has failed to protect minority ethnic appointees in many cases by not coming to grips on discriminatory practices.

19.   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?

  Yes, when public interest is involved, procedure should be the same.

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

  System of "independent assessors" is suspect. How can they be independent when their paymasters are the appointing bodies themselves? And they dare not disagree too strongly, or they would not be called to assist, at a fee, in the future. Past experience should be thoroughly investigated.

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

  Yes, but the key is to draw up well thought thorough "person specifications" keeping in view the role and function of the Second Chamber and a Members' diverse range of duties therein and ability to contribute.

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

  These should all be harmonised for the UK as a whole. Public duties or appointments should not be seen as easier or harder because of whether it is Scotland or Wales or England. Same criteria and requirement should equally apply.

23.   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?

  Yes, but there is some concern. There is evidence that Nolan principles and OCPA Code of Practice have been systematically undermined, eg the NHS. I will be glad to elaborate from my experience in oral evidence if called.

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

  The origin of the NHS Appointments Commission has a long and chequered history. A full understanding of the origin of this idea will be worth exploring by the PASC. The new NHS system is still using the old personnel who have undermined Nolan/OCPA in the past. This examination is necessary before replicating the NHS idea more widely.

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

  No. It is off-putting—important people are busy people. There is room for more creative approach to this. Will be glad to elaborate orally.

Suhail Aziz

Chair, London Probation Board

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Prepared 8 July 2003