Appendix: Government response |
The Government is disappointed by, and does not share,
the comments made by the Committee about Sir John Chisholm's appointment.
Sir John has a first class background in business, and has all
the qualities and the perspective needed to chair the MRC Council
successfully through this period of change.
Recommendation 1. The processes involved in making
major public appointments should be transparent and open to scrutiny.
We regret that Sir John was unable to give the Committee a clear
account of the process by which he was appointed. (Paragraph 4)
2. The recruitment process for Research Council chairs
is the responsibility of the Department of Innovation, Universities
and Skills, which has taken on this responsibility from the former
Department of Trade and Industry. The Government is surprised
therefore that it was not asked by the Committee to clarify the
process by which Sir John was appointed.
3. As is the case for all Research Council Chairs,
the recruitment of a new Chair for MRC was conducted by DTI in
accordance with the Code of the Office of the Commissioner for
Public Appointments (OCPA). The Department sought assistance from
recruitment consultants. The appointment of Sir John was made
by Ministers after considering advice from a panel chaired by
the Director General for Science and Innovation which included
OCPA-recognised independent membership.
4. Sir John Chisholm was recruited as the Chair for
the MRC through an open process regulated under the Code of the
Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Code contains safeguards
to ensure that the process is fair and that candidates are selected
on merit. The OCPA independent member on the recruitment panel
confirmed that in their view the process was conducted in accordance
with the Code.
Recommendation 2. We are concerned about the informal
way in which Ernst & Young was appointed to conduct the Joint
Review. Tight timeframes should not preclude proper assessment
and clarity about how public money is spent. The MRC should ensure
that all such appointments of consultants are conducted more formally
and follow existing best practice of open and transparent competition.
5. The Research Councils are permitted to appoint
consultants without an open competition where an applicable framework
agreement exists. Such a framework agreement was in place with
Ernst & Young. However the MRC will continue to appoint consultants
through open and transparent competition; nevertheless, there
may continue to be rare occasions when speed is of the essence.
In any such instances, as indeed was the case with Ernst &
Young, the MRC will negotiate a rigorous agreement with the proposed
consultants to ensure good value for public money.
Recommendation 3. We are concerned that the Joint
Review did not provide evidence, nor could Sir John produce any
evidence when challenged, that the 17-strong Council had been
'ineffective at decision-making'. (Paragraph 10)
Recommendation 4. We welcome Sir John's confirmation
that the ratio of scientists to non-scientists will remain 50:50,
ensuring that the relative quantity of scientific input into the
decision making processes remains the same. However, we are concerned
that the removal of two scientists from the Council could result
in a reduction in the absolute quantity of scientific input. There
will still be the same range of scientific and medical issues
to cover, and it is imperative that the loss of two scientists
does not reduce the Council's breadth of scientific expertise.
6. The MRC Charter specifies that membership of Council
shall consist of not less than 10 and not more than 18 members
at least half of whom shall be appointed by reason of their qualifications
in science. This has not changed. A final decision on the future
size of the MRC's Council has not yet been taken.
7. Sir John did not claim that the 17-member Council
had been ineffective at decision-making. His point was that a
smaller (but not too small) Council could be at least as effective
at decision-making, and that the dynamics of smaller boards is
generally better. At Q55 of the transcript, he said that the dynamics
of meetings involving large numbers of members and long agendas
may result in many people around the table having insufficient
opportunity to engage fruitfully in the discussion.
8. There will be no loss of overall breadth of scientific
input to Council. Much of the more detailed decision-making on
individual scientific programmes is, and will continue to be,
delegated to the Research Boards. Furthermore, the MRC has established
a Planning and Strategy Group which provides scientific advice
Recommendation 5. We note that Sir John assured
us that "I am [
] very much a non-executive chairman".
We expect the Chairman to fulfil this undertaking, and the MRC
Council to ensure that he does. (Paragraph13)
9. Chairs of Research Councils are appointed in a
non-executive capacity, and the Government has every expectation
that Sir John will continue to meet that specification.
Recommendation 6. For the reasons set out in this
paragraph, we have serious reservations as to whether Sir John
is the right person to guide the MRC Executive through the coming
period of change. (Paragraph 14)
10. The Government disagrees with the Committee's
reservations. The Government, the MRC Council and the MRC senior
executive have every confidence in Sir John Chisholm and believe
that the skills and experience he can bring as chair will be invaluable
through this period of change.
Recommendation 7. We are pleased that the Government
is taking steps to involve select committees more fully in the
scrutiny of public appointments. We believe that pre-appointment
hearings with the relevant Select Committee will improve accountability
and help ensure that the right people are appointed to key positions.
We recommend that Chairpersons and Chief Executives of the Research
Councils be included in the proposed list of appointments that
should be subject to these hearings. (Paragraph 15)
11. The Government notes this recommendation. Its
position on pre-appointment scrutiny of public appointments is
as set out in CM 7170, The Governance of Britain, published on
3 July 2007, which states that there should be a role for Parliament,
through its select committees, in scrutinising a number of key
appointments that are not subject to oversight by the Commissioner
for Public Appointments or other form of independent scrutiny.
This scrutiny should take the form of non-binding, pre-appointment
hearings. The Government, in consultation with the Liaison Committee,
will prepare a list of such appointments for which these hearings