Witness gender diversity Contents

3Discretionary and non-discretionary witnesses


12.From the early days of monitoring witnesses, there has been a view that we need to distinguish between witnesses that committees choose and people who appear because they hold a particular position, namely Ministers and “key office holders”, for example the heads of public bodies falling within the Committee’s remit. We have therefore published the data in total and with these two witness categories disaggregated. While we believe this distinction holds value, we note that it would not be necessary if the gender balance of Ministers and such office holders reflected that of society.

13.We are particularly interested in what it shows in terms of the public appointments process. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has closely monitored developments at government level through its scrutiny of the Grimstone Review, which was published in March 2016. This included a recommendation that Diversity should be added to the list of “Public Appointment Principles”, and that the Commissioner for Public Appointments should be “a powerful advocate for diversity” in appointments.5

14.PACAC published a Report on the Review in July 2016 (that welcomed its promotion of increasing the diversity of candidates, but was otherwise very critical of Sir Gerry’s proposals for threatening to “undermine the entire basis of independent appointments” made on the basis of merit)6 and a follow-up Report in March 2017 which was highly critical of the Government’s response.7 We held an informal meeting with the Commissioner of Public Appointments, Peter Riddell, at our meeting in February 2018 to discuss these issues, including the diversity of public appointments and select committee pre-appointment hearings, which is currently the subject of a separate inquiry by PACAC.

15.The Government’s response to the PACAC report noted that there had been some progress in terms of the gender diversity of public appointments, with 48% of new appointments made to women in 2015-16.8 A ten-point Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan was published in December 2017, which noted that:

“the Centre for Public Appointments has undertaken a review of the diversity of the 5,500 public appointees currently in post. This has established that: 43% of appointments are held by women; and 10% are held by ethnic minorities.”

The Action Plan continues:

“Our ambition is that by 2022, 50% of all public appointees should be female and that 14% of appointments should be from ethnic minorities, bringing their representation in line with the resident population in England and Wales. Our record on attracting disabled people into public appointments is weak and we plan further work as a matter of urgency to better understand the barriers and what is needed to address these.”9

16.We share the view of the Government and the Commissioner that further progress needs to be made. As Mr Riddell put it in July 2017:10

“the level of more diverse appointments to chairs of public bodies remains disappointingly low: only 28% for women, 5.2% for BAME candidates and less than 3% for those declaring a disability. This means that out of 136 appointments and reappointments of chairs, just seven were BAME applicants and three were those declaring a disability.”

17.We are keenly aware of this mixed picture at Committee level, as it directly affects the gender composition of our non-discretionary witnesses. Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for example, recently provided evidence to the BEIS Committee showing that of the 36 public bodies in partnership with BEIS that have chief executives, only seven are led by women.11

18.In his evidence to the PACAC inquiry into pre-appointment hearings Mr Riddell suggested that most of the effort in improving the diversity of appointments needs to be made by departments in increasing the diversity of applicants. However, he also identified the important leadership role that Select Committees can play in reinforcing to Ministers and departments the importance they place on increasing the diversity of public appointments.12

5 Gerry Grimstone, Better Public Appointments: A Review of the Public Appointments Process, Cabinet Office, March 2016, para 3.5 and para 4.10

6 PACAC, Better Public Appointments? The Grimstone Review of Public Appointments, Third Report of Session 2016-17, HC 495, para 85

7 PACAC, Better Public Appointments? Follow-up and Government Response to the Committee’s Third Report, Eleventh Report of Session 2016-17, HC 1062

9 Centre for Public Appointments, Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan, December 2017 page 4

10 Peter Riddell, Guardian Public Leaders Network, 5 July 2017

11 Letter from the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to the Chair of the BEIS Committee, April 2018

12 Written Evidence from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to the PACAC inquiry into Pre-Appointment Hearings, HC 909, 2017–19, para 9

Published: 7 June 2018