Memorandum by the Environment Agency (PAP
The Environment Agency welcomes the consultation
on Public Appointments and Patronage by the Public Administration
Select Committee, and the opportunity to put forward views on
this important subject.
The Environment Agency is governed by a Board
whose members are appointed by Ministers. The Agency also has
statutory executive Flood Defence Committees, together with Environment
Protection and Fisheries, Ecology & Recreation Advisory Committees,
members of which are appointed either by Ministers, Local Authorities
or by the Environment Agency itself. Taken together, there are
more than 750 non-executives in these groups. We also have non-statutory
Area Environment Groups, appointments to which are also covered
by the Nolan principles.
The appointments process that we manage is organised
in accordance with the Nolan guidelines to meet high standards
of propriety. Arrangements are in place to ensure, as far as is
practically possible, that individuals from all parts of the diverse
communities of England and Wales are encouraged to put themselves
forward for membership of Agency Committees.
Responses to the individual questions in the
consultation document are given below.
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?
An important distinction needs to be made between:
(a) local bodies responsible for the provision
of local services where accountability lies with elected members
who represent local constituencies; and
(b) National bodies who are responsible for
implementing national policy and carrying out executive functions
on behalf of departments of national government and whose accountability
is to parliament through Ministers.
In the first case, where flexibility of response
to local circumstances, accessibility and local identity are important
considerations, elected representation is the most effective model
to ensure accountability. In the case of national bodies, executive
accountability and funding is the responsibility of central government,
with ultimate accountability in the hands of the relevant Minister.
In such cases, appointment rather than election is the appropriate
model to ensure that membership of the bodies concerned comprises
a cross-section of suitably qualified and experienced people.
It remains important for the balance between
functions carried out by appointed and elected bodies to be kept
under review to reflect the need to maintain effective and efficient
service delivery and arrangements which best serve the public
2. What problems might arise if elections
were held for membership of some public bodies, instead of the
current system of appointments?
It is important that for statutory regulatory
bodies considering complex technical matters such as the Environment
Agency, members can be selected on the grounds of the expertise
and experience they bring, rather than their appeal to the electorate.
It is also vital to consider the scope of the
organisation concerned; the comments under question 1 regarding
geographical scope are again relevant; it is easier to justify
election to clearly local bodies than to those covering a wider
area and/or range of responsibilities. With elected systems, it
is important for individuals to be able to identify with their
Where a body is, like the Environment Agency,
executive and responsible through Ministers to Parliament, direct
election would create a clash of accountabilities. A person elected
to such a body could justifiably claim that the electorate's support
for his or her manifesto takes precedence over any other form
of accountability. To attempt to regulate for this conflict by
defining which powers and functions of the body were subject to
Ministerial direction, and which to the elected mandate, would
be an onerous or even impossible task. (Even in the case of Flood
Defence Committees, where the executive powers lie with local
government but the Agency is the national operating authority
under DEFRA's policy lead, direct election would cut across the
line of accountability to the local authorities created by the
Committee's levy powers.)
3. Should a public appointment be part of
an individual's civic duty? Would a system similar to jury service
be effective and fair?
For appointments to specialist technical and
regulatory bodies, it is vital for members to be selected for
their range of experience and technical expertise, which would
not be provided through a system similar to that used in relation
to jury service.
That being said, there is undoubtedly a need
to promote the ideal of civic duty and responsible citizenship,
to encourage more people from all walks of life to put themselves
forward for public office of all kinds.
4. What are the main priorities for improving
the system of public appointmentsshould 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?
The main priority must be to improve the quality
of decisions or advice produced by public bodies. In many cases,
this will not be demonstrable if the range of people appointed
is too narrow. Therefore, efforts need to be made, both by Government
and others involved in making public appointments, to encourage
a wider range of individualsoutside the traditional "middle
aged white male" stereotypeto put themselves forward
for public appointments. It is increasingly important that appointed
bodies are representative of the community that they serve. There
should still be the correct geographical balance, specialist/generalist
knowledge and commitment to the body concerned. For a national
regulatory body it is important to have a national spread of membership
but members need to see their primary responsibility to the body
concerned and relevant Secretary of State, not to a national or
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?
The role of departments in conducting open and
objective appointments processes on Ministers' behalf is to be
supported. In practice, however, the process is often very extended
and the quality of communication with candidates poor, with the
result that able and busy peopleincluding those who may
have been actively encouraged to consider applyingare discouraged
by the process itself. There need to be some quality standards
that should include limits to the time that Ministers have to
consider recommendations at different stages of the process. Candidates,
including those excluded from long or short lists, need to be
better informed at all stages of the progress of their application.
If this requires greater delegation of elements of the selection
process to officials, it should be supported.
6. Are there any aspects of the Government's
approach to public appointments which appear to be inconsistent
In our experience, making the right appointments
depends more on the availability of suitable candidates than on
any policy issues. More effective headhunting of candidates from
diverse backgrounds is required. Government and Government bodies
need to do more to develop potential candidates from under-represented
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?
We do not believe that there is evidence of
any improper political interference in any of the multitude of
appointments made to the Environment Agency each year.
8. What part, if any, should politicians
play in the public appointments process?
See answers to questions 5 and 7 above.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that
there is political bias in the public appointments process?
In the case of the Environment Agency, there
is statutory provision for five Local Authority members on each
Regional Environment Protection Advisory Committee. These are
appointed according to procedures agreed through the Local Government
Association to meet clear criteria that provide for a balance
on political, tier of authority and geographical grounds. Whilst
application of such criteria is often challenging, it has largely
been successful in the past and demonstrates what can be achieved.
We have no evidence of political bias in the appointments process.
10. Is political bias ever acceptable in
the appointments system, for example to correct a political imbalance
accumulated under a previous Government?
Where there is a significant political imbalance,
this needs to be adjusted but only within the context of selecting
people with the appropriate qualities, skills, experience and
geographic origin. Appointees with a declared political background
or history are no less likely to act objectively than those without,
and care should be taken not to discriminate against them. The
Agency has no experience which would suggest that those appointed
to its Board or other Committees act other than in the best interests
of the body and the public interest generally, and we believe
that too much can be made of the question of perceived "political
balance" on public bodies.
11. What role if any should Parliament play
in public appointments?
The most appropriate role for Parliament is
scrutiny and ensuring transparency in the processes, rather than
scrutiny of individual appointments. It should be noted that Parliament
is able to call Ministers to account for activities of bodies
generally and appointments to them.
12. Do you believe that an independent appointments
commission should be introduced instead of ministerial appointments?
It is not clear how this would be more objective
or balanced than the present process. Presumably, Ministers would
still be accountable for appointments; if this were to be-say-a
Cabinet Office Minister responsible for such a commission rather
than Minister in the relevant Department, this would be a retrograde
step because it would divorce responsibility for appointments
from the accountable Minister.
13. Is there evidence to suggest that the
current system is not attracting applications from the widest
pool of candidates?
It is difficult to attract the best candidates
when appointment processes are lengthy and benefits (to the individual
or to society as a whole) are not as clear as might be possible.
Indeed, good candidates who have an interest in a number of opportunities
may be lost because of the time processes can take. Diversity
is important and there is a lack of candidates from diverse backgrounds
with the requisite skills and other qualities.
14. How can greater diversity best be combined
with reassurance that the principle of merit in public appointments
is being upheld?
As already noted, we regard it as increasingly
important that appointments are drawn from and represent a wide
cross-section of our diverse society. Application of the Nolan
rules, combined with creative means of targeting audiences, should
ensure maintenance of both merit and diversity in appointments.
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, however small, could help encourage
people to apply. Remuneration also reinforces the value of the
job to be done, although status remains important. It is important
that extending remuneration arrangements should not be allowed
to blur distinctions between executives and non-executives or
undermine the public service ethos.
Levels of remuneration should be more consistent
across public bodies in reflecting the size and complexity of
roles and responsibilities.
16. Is the public appointments process understood
by members of the public and seen to be fair, open, transparent
and easy to travel through?
We believe it is unlikely that the appointments
process commands a wide level of public understanding, given the
nature of the process. Promotion of greater clarity should encourage
a wider range of potential applicants.
We do not think that the process is particularly
open or easy to travel through.
17. What improvements, if any, should be
made in the way in which advertising or publicising public appointments
There is scope for wider advertising to promote
diversity. Care may be needed to avoid advertisements dumbing
down what is required, resulting in applications by people who
lack the requisite skills, with consequent disillusionment when
18. What is your understanding of the role
of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Dame Rennie Fritchie?
The Commissioner for Public Appointments has
the responsibility for overseeing the systems for public appointments
and recommending improvements, for monitoring the way in which
it is operated and for looking at substantial problems with its
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?
Partnerships and task forces are encouraged
by government policy as a means of delivering integrated solutions
and more effective public services. It is important not to put
unnecessary hurdles in the way of these partnerships being formed.
The key consideration in membership of partnerships is whether
the bodies constituting the partnership are making a genuine contribution
to the joint effort. If they are, they have the right to nominate
those persons that they think will best represent their interests.
The question of public appointment will therefore not arise.
20. Are there ways in which the system of
independent assessors for public appointments can be improved?
More training and more cross-comparison between
departments would be desirable. Some Government departments are
more rigorous than others, and independent assessors comparing
notes would help.
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?
Not a matter within the Agency's remit.
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?
So far as the Environment Agency is concerned,
the National Assembly for Wales applies a policy of openness and
transparency to public appointments, which mirrors the policy
in England, and there are no substantive differences in the approach
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?
The remit has been extended to other appointments
including those made by the Environment Agency, by Ministerial
24. What is your opinion of the reforms recently
introduced in the system of appointments to NHS bodies?
25. Should every candidate, even important
people for high level appointments, be asked to complete application
forms and attend interviews in the normal way?
It is important for the application of the Nolan
principles for consistent application and interview procedures
to be applied equally to all candidates, with full documentation
of all stages in the process. It would be extremely difficult
to form a fair judgement in a competitive process without such