Headlines: July 19th, 2002

Government departments have a long way to go before they process appointments to public bodies in a fully open, transparent and efficient way.Reading through the annual report of the Public Appointments Commissioner, Dame Rennie Fritchie, the problem identified is a rather casual approach to the process, rather than rampant political ‘cronyism’.

Ministers made 3,500 appointments and re-appointments to public bodies last year, of which 39% were women, 9% from an ethnic minority background and 3% declared a disability.

Just over 20% of those appointed and re-appointed said they were ‘politically active’. Of those, 14% were active for the Labour Party, 3% were active for the Conservative Party and 2.5% for the Liberal Democrats.

Audits were conducted at four government departments – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Department of Health (DoH), HM Treasury (HMT), Northern Ireland Office (NIO), plus the National Assembly for Wales (NAW), Scottish Executive (SE), the Royal Mint (RM) and the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).

The objective of the visits was to check whether appointments followed the Commissioner’s Code of Practice and to share details of best – or poor – practice in making such appointments.

The auditors found that guidance on the process at NIO and DCMS was lacking, but even where guidance was in order, there were plenty of examples of it not being followed.

There were examples of Ministers being given a choice of one candidate to appoint, being told they did not have to follow the commissioner’s guidance, destroying of interview notes, failure to publicise appointment opportunities, failure to require candidates to complete application forms, second re-appointments without opening the post to competition.

Some poor practice puts the appointing body at risk. Evidence gathered suggests it is not uncommon to appoint a candidate without first settling remuneration and pension arrangements, leaving departments open to embarrassing and difficult further negotiation. An example of this at DCMS is recounted in the report.

Dame Rennie concludes that while there is much good work going on in making appointments to public bodies, there is a lot still to learn.

Copies of the seventh annual report are on the web at www.ocpa.gov.uk