Government response

Better Public Appointments review: Government response

Matt Hancock responded to Sir Gerry Grimstone’s review of public appointments and set out how the government will implement his proposals.

Getting the right people, promptly, into the right public appointments is mission critical for delivering the improvements the government wants to see.

It’s important to get this right. So in the summer I asked Sir Gerry Grimstone to lead a review of the public appointments system. Today we are publishing Sir Gerry’s report and the government’s response.

The role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments was established in 1995 following a recommendation made by Lord Nolan and his Committee on Standards in Public Life. Lord Nolan also recommended Seven principles of public life, which have been adopted throughout public life, including in public appointments.

In the course of his review, Sir Gerry has consulted a wide range of stakeholders, including the Commissioner for Public Appointments, ministers, senior officials, chairs of public bodies, lead non-executives of departmental boards, and those who have taken part in competitions both as members of appointment panels and as candidates.

I’m very grateful to Sir Gerry for his work on this review, and also want to express my appreciation to the current Commissioner, Sir David Normington, for his unstinting commitment to public life and for the way he has undertaken the role of Commissioner for Public Appointments and First Civil Service Commissioner.

Sir David’s term of office comes to an end at the end of March and the government accepted an early recommendation from Sir Gerry to split these roles and recruit 2 postholders to take over from Sir David. Competitions for both roles are underway.

We warmly welcome Sir Gerry Grimstone’s report. Public bodies across the UK deliver essential public services. So it is vital that ministers are able to appoint the best possible people to the boards of public bodies.

Sir Gerry’s recommendations will strengthen existing processes, building on work undertaken by Sir David Normington during his 5-year tenure.

We agree with the emphasis Sir Gerry places on the original conclusions reached by Lord Nolan in 1995 that ministers should be at the heart of the public appointments system and that ultimately choice, responsibility and accountability for making appointments must rest with ministers. Lord Nolan’s principles have stood the test of time and are as applicable today as they were 20 years ago.

This is reflected in Sir Gerry’s updated principles for public appointments which will be known as the ‘Public Appointments Principles’.

The inclusion of diversity in the Public Appointments Principles is important and we are committed to ensuring that public appointments reflect modern Britain.

Both government and the Commissioner for Public Appointments should continue actively to pursue and report on progress on diversity in appointments and should include gender, disability and ethnic background as well as wider diversity characteristics, such as sexual orientation, gender identity and social background in their respective monitoring and reporting arrangements for appointments.

At the heart of Sir Gerry’s recommendations is transparency, and the recommendation that for every competition, there should be full transparency of the appointee’s details, the selection process followed and the assessment panel. The government agrees.

A transparent system with external scrutiny and regulatory oversight from the Commissioner for Public Appointments is the best way to maintain public confidence. Effective scrutiny will be secured by the publication of live data on an individual process and the government welcomes Sir Gerry’s recommendations in this area.

Sir Gerry rightly highlights the extent to which slow timescales and a poor experience of the appointment process are major deterrents to good people applying for these important roles, this is something that Sir David Normington has also raised in his annual reports.

Greater clarity and changes are needed to ensure consistently effective appointments processes across departments. As Sir Gerry recommends, the aim should be to complete appointments within 3 months of a competition opening. The government agrees that the new transparency arrangements will ensure that departments are held to account on this aspect of their performance.

Sir Gerry’s report is therefore welcomed and will build on the work already undertaken by Sir David, whose successor will have an important role in helping to implement the new system.

Government will implement Sir Gerry’s recommendations as follows:

  • ministers should continue to make public appointments on merit. The Order in Council will be refreshed to take account of Sir Gerry’s recommendations. We want to consider views and bring forward changes in a new governance code. This will set out the new Public Appointment Principles and provide detail on the process by which appointments should be made
  • all public appointments, with a limited number of exceptions, will be in scope of this new remit
  • the government agrees that ministers should be assisted by advisory assessment panels containing a strong element independent of the body being appointed to. As suggested by Sir Gerry, this could be comparable to the corporate governance code and the government will set out criteria in the governance code
  • political activity should not affect any judgment of merit nor should it be any bar to appointment or being a member of a panel. The government agrees that that there should be transparency over significant political activity
  • as now, at the start of the recruitment process, ministers will agree the job description for the role, the length of tenure and remuneration. Ministers must also agree the composition of the advisory assessment panel and how they will be actively informed of the progress at every stage throughout the competition. The same applies to decisions on reappointments
  • the government agrees with Sir Gerry that as well as keeping the minister updated on progress at every stage, the panel must be made familiar with the minister’s requirements and views in writing or in person at every stage including after the long and short lists are determined. The official on the panel will also represent the minister’s views. Before interviews are conducted ministers should feel free to put names forward to the advisory assessment panel for interview. The presumption should be for these candidates to be interviewed

Sir Gerry also places a strong emphasis on the value that board chairs can bring to the process of developing role profiles and criteria for appointments. The chair of the board is well placed to advise on its composition. While ministers make the ultimate decision on appointments, there should be strengthened opportunities for engagement with chairs.

As now, panels should provide ministers with a choice of appointable candidates. The role of selection panels is impartially to assess candidates against the job description to determine suitability for appointment. Ministers make the final decision on merit and must of course be free to reject advice from the panel on the merit of candidates, as they are free to disagree with advice put to them on other aspects of departmental business. They may then choose to re-run a competition with a new panel or appoint through the exemption process and explain their decision publicly. The government agrees with Sir Gerry that ministers should notify the Commissioner of their intention to appoint without competition, with their reasons, ahead of announcing any such appointment.

The government welcomes the emphasis that Sir Gerry places on more diverse assessment techniques. Government agrees that a greater variety of techniques, both less formal and more expert, should be considered and government will discuss with the new Commissioner how this can best be achieved.

The government agrees that there are some appointments that attract more scrutiny due to the sensitivities of the roles. Sir Gerry describes these roles as ‘significant’ although does not prescribe how this is determined. This is a matter for ministers to decide and the Minister for the Cabinet Office will consult both ministers and the Commissioner for Public Appointments on an appropriate list. As a starting point, the government will regard all appointments subject to pre-appointment hearings by select committees and all chairs of public bodies as ‘significant’.

The government agrees that these significant appointments must contain a senior independent panel member, chosen as part of the agreed panel composition, who will have specific responsibilities set out in an appointment letter. The responsibilities will include ensuring the process is run according to the governance code and highlighting any material breaches that occur during this process which may be escalated to the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

At the end of every competition, the relevant accounting officer or a senior representative from the department should certify the competition was carried out in accordance with the Public Appointment Principles.

These records should be retained by the department, should the Commissioner for Public Appointments request to see them. These individual certificates will be an important part of the evidence base for the accounting officer’s annual assurance statement to the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

The Commissioner for Public Appointments should publish an annual report reporting on the overall state of public appointments. The content of the report should be a matter for the Commissioner but as a minimum it should contain data about appointments made so that diversity, timeliness and outcomes can be tracked.

The government welcomes Sir Gerry’s report and will now work with the Commissioner for Public Appointments to put the new processes in place. A revised Order in Council and new governance code will be published in due course.