Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by NESTA (PAP 53)

GENERAL

  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?

  Answer:

  The cost and complexity of elections.

  The need for high levels of specialist knowledge and experience in many of the posts.

  The need for "balanced boards".

  However, some recently established bodies (GTC, ETB) have used elections successfully for some of the seats on their Council/Board. These have worked well and should be examined closely for models for the future.

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

  Answer:

  The danger of "takeover" by lobby groups.

  Even greater delays than presently bedevil the appointments system.

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

  Answer:

  It would not be possible to expect individuals appointed in this way to accept the level of personal responsibility and accountability expected of NDPB board members.

  The variation in requirements between bodies is so wide-ranging that the load on individuals would be very unfairly and unevenly distributed.

  NDPB Board Members need to have made a conscious decision to embrace the mission and values of the specific body concerned—this could not be expected of individuals allocated as part of "civic duty".

  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?

  Answer:

  Improving effectiveness in providing advice and services is the key aim and this would certainly be assisted by broadening the range of people involved. An extensive programme to encourage nominations and self-nominations would be highly desirable.

  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?

  Answer:

  The system makes theoretical sense, but in practice the register of independent assessors needs substantial expansion and broadening.

  The bodies, themselves, should perhaps play a more open and active role, for example including in their website and standard printed information an encouragement to individuals interested in joining the Board to make contact, with a clearer system of channelling suggestions from the body to the Government Department.

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

  Answer:

  Not as far as I'm aware.

POLITICAL INFLUENCE ON APPOINTMENTS

  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?

  Answer:

  No particular concerns, other than the length of time taken to make an appointment.

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

  Answer:

  As at present.

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

  Answer:

  Certainly, NESTA has been well-served by this Secretary of State and her predecessor, with no political bias evident.

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

  Answer:

  Board members should be selected for their experience and expertise, irrespective of political persuasion.

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

  Answer:

  General oversight of processes.

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

  Answer:

  No.

DIVERSITY IN PUBLIC APPOINTMENTS

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

  Answer:

  Yes—I do think the pool can and should be widened.

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

  Appointments:

  Quinquennial reviews to include review of make-up and conduct of Board.

  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?

  Answer:

  Yes—the time commitment can be significant and should be recompensed adequately.

PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING

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

  Answer:

  Probably not—greater public awareness of the role of NDPB Boards and ways of serving on them would certainly be desirable.

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

  Answer:

  Greater involvement of the Bodies themselves would help a lot. It needs to be more of a joint responsibility of the NDPB and the Department.

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

  Answer:

  Promoter of good practice.

OTHER ISSUES

  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?

  Answer:

  No.

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

  Answer:

  Constant refreshment and widening of the pool.

  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?

  Answer:

  No comment.

  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?

  Answer:

  Don't know.

  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?

  Answer:

  No.

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

  Answer:

  Don't know.

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

  Answer:

    Yes.


 
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