Memorandum by the Probation Board for
Northern Ireland (PAP 48)|
The importance of Community Involvement cannot
The role of those on Public Bodies whether Executive
or Non Executive is to bring added value to the structure of Government
and to also evidence respect and understanding for the issues
that challenge government on a daily basis. The solutions to many
of our problems lie within society and thus measured risks that
cannot be directly taken by Ministers and their departments but
can be cascaded to society via public bodies. This is a vital
element of public governance.
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?
Obviously a balance has to be struck between
the perceived requirements and the added value to governance by
such a large number of public appointments.
Public Office must be inclusive by appointment
via a process that is transparent and accountable.
Elections other than appointment may not necessarily
achieve increased quality or great equity in the process.
2. What problems might arise if elections
were held for membership of some public bodies, instead of the
current system of appointments?
Elections may afford the opportunity to those
in society who have the capacity to lobby to achieve a positive
result and possibly penalise the individual in society who wishes
to make a more personal contribution to public life.
3. Should a public appointment be part
of an individual's civic duty ? Would a system similar to jury
service be effective and fair?
Nopublic bodies require members with
adequate skill, ability and perspective to make a contribution
to different aspects of the bodies' responsibilities.
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 to so that
elected national, regional or local government has more of a role
in public life?
The main priorities should be to extend the
range of people involved and to improve the effectiveness of the
bodies in providing advice or administering services. There is
no need to change the balance so that elected national, regional
or local government has more of a role in public life. The range
of people involved should be extended by simplifying the process
and improving the publicity.
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 present system gives departments too much
power to influence the composition of the body through assessments,
short listing and selection panel membership. Civil servants who
are not panel members may have an undue influence eg by expressing
their views either privately beforehand or during the selection
process. There is a case for a selection process with the emphasis
on independence rather than departmental wishes.
6. Are there any aspects of the Government's
approach to public appointments which appear to be inconsistent
The process of application has become quite
intense and extremely detailed yet the intention behind the process
is to attract a broad range of applicant and ability.
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?
8. What part, if any, should politicians
play in the public appointments process?
9. Is there any evidence to suggest
that there is political bias in the public appointments process?
The present process is designed to be as transparent
and accountable as possible. Evidence of political bias should
emerge from the process if it is correctly operated. Merit principles
10. Is political bias ever acceptable
in the appointments system, for example to correct a political
imbalance accumulated under a previous Government?
No. Merit principles must apply at all times.
11. What role if any should Parliament
play in public appointments?
Establishment and approval of the process only.
12. Do you believe that an independent
appointments commission should be introduced instead of ministerial
This should be seriously consideredsee
answer to question five above. Such a commission would have to
be truly independent eg not staffed by civil servants returning
later to their departments but with staff who have adequate understanding
and experience of the public sector, including the civil service.
Its staff should be drawn from different sectorspublic,
private, voluntary and communityand the commission should
not be restricted or restrained by government bureaucracy as many
public bodies are.
13. Is there evidence to suggest that
the current system is not attracting applications from the widest
pool of candidates.
Yesanecdotal evidence suggests that the
complicated application forms and processes are putting off significant
numbers of potentially strong candidates.
14. How can greater diversity best be
combined with reassurances that the principle of merit in public
appointments is being upheld?
The understanding of "merit" is crucial
to increasing diversity. Public appointments should not be made
on the basis that if eight places are available, they are automatically
given to the eight top-scoring candidates. Rather, a bar should
be set and the eight places filled from the pool of candidates
who clear the bardiversity would be a key though not exclusive
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?
A more consistent use of remuneration for members
of public bodies would be valuable in itself and would help to
reduce the sense of hierarchy in public service. It would encourage
both equity and diversity, making it easier for lower paid citizens
in particular to come forward. However, for many public bodies
it would be detrimental to have to meet the costs from within
existing provision. Central government should be required to make
the necessary resources available.
16. Is the public appointments process
understood by members of the public and seen to be fair, open
transparent and easy to travel through?
No. For the minority who are aware of it, the
process is seen as strewn with obstacles. The application forms
are particularly problematical, being similar to those used for
senior full-time posts. This favours candidates who are educated,
literate and experienced in senior level positions. Likewise the
interview process favours the articulate candidates, especially
those with experience of interviews elsewhere. Overall this appears
to favour the type of candidates who were recruited, largely through
old boys' networks and by word of mouth, in previous days.
17. What improvements, if any, should
be made in the ways in which advertising or publicising public
appointments are made?
Periodic media campaigns could be used, including
local, specialist (eg church and other faith) networks and minority
outlets. This might be staged so that interested individuals could
obtain information as to which bodies would be appointing over
the next 12-18 months and make their plans accordingly.
18. What is your understanding of the
role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Dame Rennie
No formal briefing has been offered in connection
with the role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. This
is an extremely important role and should be clearly explained
to all who hold public office. The Role of the Commissioner in
relation to Devolved and Non-Devolved offices in Northern Ireland
must also be addressed in the short term. Will the New Northern
Ireland Assembly establish its own commissioner for Public Appointments?
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, subject to the concerns about complexity
20. Are there ways in which the system
of independent assessors for public appointments can be improved?
There is a danger that even independent assessors
may develop a symbiotic relationship with particular departments.
It would therefore be helpful to approve assessors (centrally
but independently); build up their numbers through targeted recruitment
with training about their role and context; and rotate them by
time periods and department. Ideally, they would fulfil their
role with the goal of serving the community as a whole rather
than a particular department.
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.
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
It would be unwise to rule out the possibility
that lessons might also be learned from Northern Ireland and the
work of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
23. The Commission 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, subject to the concerns expressed above.
24. What is your opinion of the reforms
recently introduced in the system of appointments to NHS bodies?
Again no briefing has been offered or information
literature circulated in connection with the reforms in connection
with appointments to NHS bodies. Thus no comment can be offered.
25. Should every candidate, even important
people for high level appointments, be asked to complete application
forms and attend interviews in the normal way?
Yes. This may help to persuade government that
the system should be simplified.
In respect of the Public Appointments process,
ongoing training and development of individuals appointed to Public
Bodies is sadly not evident in the present system. Members of
public bodies should be encouraged to attend regular updates,
information and training seminars organised on a sectoral, regional
and national basis.
The public appointments commission must also
be encouraged to host information meetings in the community detailing
the public appointments process and the benefits of serving the
community in this way.