Headlines: July 21st, 1997

The concern expressed in many quarters about appointments to Quango Boards and NHS bodies has been allayed by the Second Report of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The widespread belief that these appointments are not made on merit, but on political favour, have been conclusively disproved. The Report for the year ending in March 1997 shows that only 10.3% of appointees to the 1753 posts, declared political activity in the last 5 years. Of this number 5.9% had an affiliation with the Conservative Party and 3.3% with the Labour Party.The appointments extend across 230 executive non-departmental bodies and 654 NHS bodies. In total they have over 8000 Board members who have responsibility for spending some £40b in a year.

Sir Leonard Peach, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, announcing the publication of his Report said: “It is reassuring to see that contrary to some people’s expectations, public appointments are not the preserve of the few.” Sir Leonard took up his post in December 1995.

The job of policing public appointments resulted from the Nolan Committee’s first report Standards in Public Life which recommended that Ministers should continue to make board appointments, but that an independent Public Appointments Commissioner should be appointed to regulate, monitor and report on the public appointments process.

The Nolan Committee also proposed that the Commissioner should recommend best practice and that Departments should have to justify any departure from it. Following from this proposal the Code of Practice for Public Appointments Procedures was published in April 1996 and contains guiding principles including: Ministerial responsibility; appointments on merit and independent scrutiny of proposed appointments. The Commissioner’s auditors found that Departments had sought to implement the Code of Practice and that compliance had been high, despite the short time since the Code was published and the major revisions of procedures needed in some cases.