Headlines: July 15th, 2008

New steps have been announced to try to increase the number of women, people with disabilities and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities who are selected for the boards of public bodies. Currently only a little more than a third of public appointees are women and the Government has set out its determination to increase that to at least 40 per cent in the next three years.

The Women’s National Commission has begun a project to encourage more women to apply for public appointments. This includes improving the advice and information on its website, involving its 500 partner organisations and increasing awareness of the opportunities.

The Government is also planning new targets on race and disability. At the moment people from ethnic minorities fill less than six per cent of posts even though they represent almost eleven per cent of the population. Only one in 20 appointees has a disability although one in five of the working age population is disabled.

Other steps announced jointly by Equality Minister Harriet Harman and Cabinet Office Minister Ed Miliband, will see the Commissioner for Public Appointments given a stronger remit for diversity, including the power to take measures to encourage and increase the number of women, disabled, and minority ethnic appointees.

Harriet Harman said the aim was to have fair representation of women, black and Asian, and disabled people at every level of democracy, including in public bodies and she warned, “I’m going to keep a sharp eye on appointments made by each Government department.” Mr. Miliband added, “Public bodies make key decisions which affect people’s lives, whether it is funding choices about sport and the arts, protecting the environment or championing the public’s rights and interests. It is essential that the people appointed to these bodies reflect the country we live in and the public they serve.

There are about 18,500 people on the boards of UK public bodies. They are appointed on merit after an open process. The boards include non-departmental public bodies, Primary Care, and NHS Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities as well as some national public corporations.