Headlines: July 14th, 2005

New figures suggest that public perceptions of ‘cronyism’ in public appointments are misguided. In her annual report the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Baroness Fritchie, said there had been a further fall in the number of people appointed and re-appointed to public office who declared political activity.It is the third year in a row that the figures have shown a fall in the number of appointees active in politics. The proportion in 2004-05 was 14.4 per cent compared with 15.2 per cent the year before, and the lowest level since 1997. The fall was reflected in those appointed to both the chairs and membership of bodies.

Baroness Fritchie said she was conscious that one of the public perceptions of the appointments system was that ‘cronyism’ was still rife. A recent survey she had commissioned from MORI had identified concerns about the process linked to what MORI described as the ‘current environment of distrust towards politicians and the political process’.

“I hope that this fall in the proportion of appointees and re-appointees declaring political activity will go some way to reassuring the public that public appointments are not confined to the politically active and is open to all who wish to participate in public service. However, those who are politically active are appointed on merit and make an extremely useful contribution,” Baroness Fritchie said.

Her report shows that just over 38 per cent of those appointed and re-appointed were women, an increase of almost three per cent on the previous year’s figure. Nine per cent of those taking up appointments were from ethnic minority groups and just over four per cent were people who declared a disability.

Baroness Fritchie said the report showed the handling of appointments to public bodies was generally of a high standard and that staff were working hard to attract, identify and appoint people on merit. She said her office had continued work on addressing the issues of Ministerial involvement in the process and she had set up a working group that had brought together a mixture of permanent secretaries and Independent Assessors to discuss these issues, and suggest appropriate and compliant solutions.