Better Public Appointments?: The Grimstone Review on Public Appointments Contents

2The Grimstone Review of the Public Appointments Process

21.On 23 March 2015, the Government announced, in a written statement to the House of Commons by the then Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, that Sir Gerry Grimstone had been asked to lead a review into the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. This review would be “the first review of the Office’s status and role since the role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments was created”, with the purpose of establishing “the continuing need for the Office, and to examine its scope and responsibilities.” In particular, the review would “consider the Office’s role in regulating the process by which Ministers make appointments to the boards of certain public bodies and certain statutory offices”.33

22.Few outside commentators reacted to the announcement of the Grimstone review. Press comment was mainly factual at the time.34 Charles Moore, writing in April 2016, justified the review and criticised Sir David, saying:

What we have instead of “the days of political and personal patronage”, which Sir David dislikes, is the heyday of Civil Service patronage, which he has helped dispense. Whitehall controls the process, the people who manage it and the people those people recommend for appointment.35

Mr Moore named cases such as the appointments of Andrew Roberts and William Shawcross in which he argued the public appointments process had been used to exclude people or attempt to exclude people on the basis of their political opinions.

23.The review was given the following terms of reference:

The role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments was created by the Public Appointments Order in Council 1995 on 23 November 1995, following recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan). We are now twenty years on, and this provides a suitable opportunity to review the role of the Commissioner and the processes around public appointments. In the light of the range and diversity of public appointments, it is important to ensure that the procedures are both effective and proportionate. The review will be led by Sir Gerry Grimstone and will report to the Minister for the Cabinet Office.36

It was initially intended that the review would report by the summer of 2015. However in a written statement by the current Minister for the Cabinet Office, Matthew Hancock, on 2 July 2015, it was announced that the review would report “later this year”.37 The review, Better Public Appointments: a Review of the Public Appointments Process was eventually published on 11 March 2016. Mr. Hancock told the Committee that:

It [the report] was not delayed. There was a deliberation. We were listening to Sir Gerry and then there was a deliberation in Government about the publication of the Government response; whether that should be done at same time or [whether Government should] publish one and then the other.38

24.Sir Gerry Grimstone was appointed to carry out the review by the Cabinet Office without a competition. He said that he had been appointed because of his previous involvement with the triennial review of the Civil Service Commission and his experience of being a non-executive director at the Ministry of Defence.39 Sir Gerry did not receive a payment for the work he undertook.40 During the course of his review Sir Gerry interviewed “over 100 stakeholders as part of this work, Ministers, ex-Ministers, candidates, civil servants, academics and head-hunters”.41 He did not take evidence in public or from stakeholders in civil society.

The Grimstone review: diagnosis and remedies

Diagnosis: problems with the current public appointments system

25.The Grimstone report argues that the system of public appointments in the UK has been a “major success” and in particular commends the “pragmatic and sensible” recommendations made by Lord Nolan. The report says that the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the Nolan reforms in general have been successful in “raising both the perceptions and reality of standards of public life in the UK”.42 In oral evidence, Sir Gerry Grimstone acknowledged that Sir David Normington had done a “tremendous job”.43

26.Nevertheless, Sir Gerry Grimstone contends that successive Commissioners have made the appointments process more elaborate, bureaucratic and complex. For example, they have increased the number of processes “covering ministerial responsibility, merit, independent scrutiny, equal opportunities, probity, openness and transparency, and proportionality”. Sir Gerry also says that the Commissioner exerts increasing control and influence over the Public Appointment Assessors on selection panels (these assessors are now appointed, and have their duties allocated, by the Commissioner for Public Appointments).44 In oral evidence, Sir Gerry contended that “I found huge frustration with the present system from virtually everybody that I spoke to.”45 In his report, Sir Gerry says that in his survey of 28 public appointees, 42% said the process from advert to appointment had taken over three months.46

27.Sir Gerry Grimstone’s report acknowledges that Sir David Normington used the “opportunity presented” by his dual role as Commissioner for Public Appointments and First Civil Service Commissioner to “bring public appointments processes more into line with the principles-based approach that the Civil Service Commission operates”.47 However, it also criticises the list of appointments that fall within the Commissioner’s remit, suggesting that all public bodies should be included instead of just those on a specified list. The report notes that “some confusion remains in the system about who is responsible for what and what rules or guidance should be followed”. It also identifies a desire among Chairs of Boards for greater influence in the appointment of board members.48

28.One particular line of criticism directed by Grimstone at the public appointments process is the length of time that some appointments take. According to Sir Gerry, “present processes can generate a huge amount of frustration among candidates”.49 Referring to a survey he conducted of 28 public appointees, Sir Gerry highlighted that only 42% of respondents said that the process from advert to decision took three months or less. The biggest delay, according to this survey, seemed to be between the panel interview and the result: 37% of the surveyed appointees heard within a month, 33% within 2 months, 11% within 3 months and a small number of appointments took much longer to hear back. Such delays, in his view, “are both inefficient and can deter good, busy people from applying”. According to the Grimstone report, delays are often not explained, meaning that candidates can be “left in the dark about what is happening for months after being interviewed”.50

29.On the subject of diversity, the Grimstone report found that, while progress had been made in increasing gender diversity in the appointments process, this was less the case when it came to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and disabled appointees. According to Sir Gerry, “more needs to be done across all areas of diversity, including for example, occupational background and geographical diversity” and noted that many of the people he had spoken to “were concerned that we don’t seem to be able to attract a sufficiently wide range of people to apply to be considered for public appointments”. According to Sir Gerry, relying on “people sufficiently knowledgeable or motivated enough to read the Cabinet Office newsletter or look at the Cabinet Office website is clearly in itself not sufficient”. He therefore suggested that “much more active processes are needed to reach out to people and to publicise vacancies across, for example, private sector corporate talent programmes, talent management programmes, relevant specialist networks and associated social media”.51

30.Sir Gerry recognised that some progress had been made in some areas of diversity. He said in his report that:

Public appointees should be representative of our society and, in at least one respect, tremendous progress has been made on this in recent years. Through a sustained campaign overseen by ministers, the proportion of women being appointed to public body boards has risen to 45% in 2014–2015, an increase of over 10% in three years. There has also been strong progress with women being appointed as chairs.52

However he added that more progress needed to be made, especially with regard to ethnic minority and disabled candidates.

31.Many of Sir Gerry’s criticisms had been anticipated elsewhere. The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) in 2014 heard “complaints about delays and difficulties in finding suitable people, and inadequate pay”.53 The Committee also found that there was “no apparent consistency to which appointments are or are not regulated, as no explanation was given in Cabinet Office written evidence in response to our direct question on this” and also criticised the lack of diversity in appointments.54 PASC concluded in 2014 that “public appointments are not sufficiently transparent, representative, or accountable.”55 In its response, the then Government said that it was working to make appointments more representative and diverse, and argued that processes were already transparent.56

32.The public appointments system has been criticised recently from other directions. Charles Moore, writing in The Spectator, made allegations that in some cases, under the present system, perfectly good candidates are being rejected because of political concerns: in his articles he refers to the case of an appointee at the Natural History Museum who allegedly was turned down because of his views on global warming.57 We have also received evidence that Ministers and assessors have disagreed recently about the competence of candidates for appointment at the National Portrait Gallery (see the separate section below).

Conflicts of Interest

33.PACAC has also noted the recent reports of the Women and Equalities Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the appointment of the Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Both reports expressed concerns about the transparency of the appointments process for that appointment.58 In their report, the Woman and Equalities Committee have expressed the hope that:

The Government will learn lessons from this appointment, particularly in relation to the processes followed by the selection panel, which Sir David Normington told us did not specifically address the issue of Mr Isaac’s role as a senior partner in Pinsent Masons. The Liaison Committee and Cabinet Office guidelines on pre-appointment hearings do not cover the release of panel documents, even in part, which limited our ability to scrutinise the quality of the panel’s decision and we recommend that this guidance be reviewed. The independent candidate selection process lacked transparency and appeared not to pay full attention to the written guidance

Following the publication of this report, Peter Riddell, the new Commissioner for Public Appointments, wrote to the Chairs of the Woman and Equalities Committee and Joint Committee on Human Rights. He said that he had reminded assessors “of the need to ensure that potential or perceived conflicts of interest are fully considered by the [interview] panel”. He also recommended that “whatever emerges from the current review of the public appointments process, I believe that potential conflicts of interest needs to be addressed more explicitly by interview panels”.

34.The current public appointments regime has been in place, with some important modifications, since 1995. While former Commissioners, including Sir David Normington, have played an important role in seeking to ensure an effective and reliable system of public appointments, the current regime is not without fault. There have been frequent complaints of delays and an overly bureaucratic appointments process, directed at Government departments as well as the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

35.We note the concerns raised by the Women and Equalities Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the recent appointment of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. The Women and Equalities Committee stated that “there wasn’t clear accountability for decision making at each step of the independent selection process” and the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that they hoped the Government had learnt lessons about the appointment process from the experience.59

36.The new Commissioner for Public Appointments, Rt Hon Peter Riddell, should continue to remind appointment boards of the need to consider conflicts of interest more explicitly. The Government and the Commissioner should ensure that any reformed appointment process includes a consideration of potential conflicts of interest and the mitigation thereof.

Proposed remedies: proposals for reform of the Public Appointments Process

37.The Grimstone review report contains 41 recommendations for reform of the public appointments process. Grimstone claims they “build very much on the valuable work” done by Sir David Normington and the Nolan principles, described by Sir Gerry as the “cornerstone of our public appointments process”. 60 However, as the Grimstone report notes, “having a set of principles is one thing, applying them in practice is another”. His recommendations are aimed at balancing Ministerial responsibility for public appointments and the need for public confidence in an “efficient, transparent and fair” appointments process that is “not unduly cumbersome”.61 Grimstone’s recommendations cover the public appointments process more generally as well as the balance of responsibilities between key stakeholders such as the appointing Minister and the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

38.With regard to the broader public appointments process, Grimstone recommends that a “set of principles should govern the making of public appointments” and that these principles “should be based on an updated version of Lord Nolan’s original Principles and Recommendations”.62 He recommends that the new Public Appointments Principles should be as follows:

Box 2: Grimstone’s proposed Public Appointments Principles

(a)Ministerial Responsibility - The ultimate responsibility for appointments and thus the selection of those appointed rests with ministers who are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions;

(b)Selflessness - Ministers when making appointments should act solely in terms of the public interest.

(c)Integrity - Ministers when making appointments must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

(d)Merit - All public appointments should be governed by the overriding principle of appointment on merit and the need to appoint boards which include a balance of skills and backgrounds. When giving advice on merit to ministers, Advisory Assessment Panels must contain an independent element.

(e)Openness - Processes for making public appointments should be open and transparent.

(f)Diversity - Public appointments should reflect the diversity of the society in which we live. Ministers should have this front of mind when making appointments including when agreeing the composition of their Advisory Assessment Panels

(g)Transparency - There should be established assurance processes with sufficient checks and balances importantly including an independent regulator to maintain public confidence in the public appointment process.

Source: Better Public Appointments: a Review of the Public Appointments Process, March 2016, p.19

Grimstone recommends that these Public Appointments Principles “and the key associated public interest requirements” for public appointments should be detailed in an Order in Council “backed up by a concise Governance Code, agreed by ministers, containing the recommendations of this review”.63

39.At present the Commissioner for Public Appointments regulates a listed number of public appointments. Grimstone concludes that the effort spent listing these appointments within the Public Appointments Order in Council is not “well-directed” and proposes instead that all public appointments should be made in accordance with the Principles listed above. However, Grimstone also recommends that the process followed in making appointments “should be proportional to the significance of the appointment”:

All appointments are important but some are more significant than others because of the size of the body concerned, the importance and sensitivity of the role, or because the post carries with it regulatory responsibilities. The Minister for the Cabinet Office in consultation with the Commissioner for Public Appointments should agree with ministers which appointments within their responsibilities should be deemed as significant and therefore require enhanced handling. 64

In addition, Grimstone notes that there will be “exceptional occasions when ministers may decide that a full appointments process is not appropriate or necessary”.65 In those instances, he recommends that “there should always be an independent scrutiny before the appointment is announced, perhaps by the lead non-executive board member of the relevant department, to ensure that the process has been conducted with integrity”. As a further safeguard, Grimstone proposes that all such appointments should be notified to the Commissioner for Public Appointments “who will no doubt intervene if there has been a flagrant breach of process”.66 While these proposals mirror the existing capacity of the Commissioner to waive the full appointments process in certain instances (see paragraph 15), these recommendations take the power to override away from the Commissioner and place it in the hands of Ministers.

40.Other recommendations made by Grimstone include providing the Chairs of Boards to which a candidate is being appointed with a voice in their appointment, the replacement of Commissioner-appointed independent Assessors with Department-appointed Advisory Assessment panels, and giving Ministers the power to appoint individuals that a panel has not deemed appointable, with a requirement to justify this decision to Parliament.

41.Grimstone also recommended some significant changes to the role and power of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Commissioner should not, in Grimstone’s view, play a role in the recruitment process but rather assure Parliament and the public that the process is carried out in accordance with the Public Appointments Principles. Currently the Commissioner certifies independent Public Appointments Assessors who chair interview panels and certify that the appointment has been made according to the public appointments process. These posts will disappear if Sir Gerry’s recommendations are adopted.

42.The Commissioner’s role would become much more of a monitoring one under Grimstone’s proposals. For example, Grimstone recommends that the Commissioner should report and intervene in any process which appears to contravene the Principles and should be able to conduct spot checks and receive complaints to support this. Additionally the independent member of the panel should be able to contact the Commissioner should they feel there was a breach. In exceptional circumstances when a Minister appoints without the full process, Grimstone envisages that the Commissioner for Public Appointments would publicly intervene.67

43.Grimstone also recommends that Permanent Secretaries should supply the Commissioner with an annual statement summarising appointments made during the year and certifying they had followed the Principles. These annual statements would be a summary of the statements that each Permanent Secretary would sign after every appointment process was concluded. The Commissioner would be entitled to see statements confirming that each individual appointment process had been conducted according to the rules. Furthermore, the Commissioner should publish annual reports about public appointments which include data about appointments and applicants and commission thematic reviews of appointments. The Commissioner should be an advocate for diversity.

44.Whilst there are legitimate criticisms of Sir Gerry’s proposed new appointments process, the Grimstone report’s emphasis on diversity is to be welcomed. It is vital that appointees to important positions reflect the social diversity of the United Kingdom. The Grimstone report correctly identifies full and proper representation of gender, social, geographic, ethnic minority, occupational and disabled diversity as being important for the public sector.

45.The Government has successfully increased the number of appointments of women in the last few years. The Government should continue to strive to improve gender diversity. The Cabinet Office should continue similar work to improve ethnic minority and disabled diversity, including creating a target for each group so that Parliament can measure success in this area. The Commissioner should immediately implement Sir Gerry’s suggestion that diversity becomes one of the principles of public appointment, to demonstrate publicly the Government’s commitment in this area.


33 Review of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments: Written statement, HCWS448, 23 March 2015.

34 Matt Foster, Francis Maude announces review of public appointments watchdog, Civil Service World, March 2015.

36 Review of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments: Written statement, HCWS448, 23 March 2015.

37 Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Written Statement, HCWS82, 2 July 2015.

53 Public Administration Select Committee, Who’s accountable? Relationships between Government and arm’s-length bodies, HC 110, November 2014, p.24.

54 Public Administration Select Committee, Who’s accountable? Relationships between Government and arm’s-length bodies, HC 110, November 2014, p.25– 6.

55 Public Administration Select Committee Who’s accountable? Relationships between Government and arm’s-length bodies, HC 110, November 2014, p.27.

56 Public Administration Select Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2014–15, Who’s accountable? Relationships between Government and arm’s-length bodies: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2014–15, HC 1129, March 2015.

57 Charles Moore The Spectator Notes; The Spectator, April 2016.

58 House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, Appointment of the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Third Report of Session 2015–16, HC 599, 9 May 2016, para. 31; House of Lords, House of Commons, Joint Committee on Human Rights, Appointment of the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Third Report of Session 2015–16, HC 648, HL Paper 145, 9 May 2016, para.30.

59 Women and Equalities Committee, Appointment of the Equalities and Human Rights Chair, May 2016 p.12, Joint Committee on Human Rights, Appointment of the Equalities and Human Rights Chair, May 2016, p.12.




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5 July 2016