COMMONS

Riddell Appointment: Committee issues qualified endorsement

14 April 2016

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) endorses the appointment of Rt Hon Peter Riddell CBE, former journalist and Chair of the Institute for Government, as the Commissioner for Public Appointments, however, the endorsement is not unqualified, says the Committee.

Chair's Comments

Chair of PACAC, Bernard Jenkin, says:

"Mr Riddell has had a long and distinguished career in journalism.  He was appointed a Privy Councillor for his work on the Gibson inquiry into the possible illegal rendition of UK detainees. He was also Chair of the Hansard Society and most recently, Director of the Institute for Government. He is highly respected. However, while there was no formal objection recorded to his appointment, some members of PACAC expressed their concern that Mr Riddell lacks experience of working in a large organisation, or in a regulated environment, or in making or supervising major appointments. This concern was amplified in the context of the recommendations of the Grimstone review into public appointments, which propose a substantial reduction in the direct powers of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. This profoundly alters the context of this appointment. 

PACAC will be reporting on Grimstone and the government’s implementation of its recommendations separately. We would welcome further written evidence on this in the light of our hearings this week which were with the outgoing Commissioner, Sir David Normington, with Sir Gerry Grimstone, and with the Minister, Matthew Hancock MP, as well as with Peter Riddell.

Nevertheless, PACAC approved Mr Riddell's appointment.  We are grateful for the government delaying his appointment until we had time to consider his nomination fully and in the context of the Grimstone recommendations. We will support and scrutinise how Mr Riddell works with Ministers and how he protects the Nolan principles, which established the role of Public Appointments Commissioner 20 years ago. This includes how he responds to our own recommendations in our forthcoming report on Grimstone."

Committee's Comments

Not all members of PACAC were content with the way in which the Government handled the appointment, which was advertised via the Cabinet Office website.

PACAC member, Ronnie Cowan commented:

"The recruitment process is deeply flawed and at a time when the public is rightly demanding more accountability from their elected representatives, the opportunity to apply for jobs such as the public appointments commissioner should be widely publicised across the spectrum of the United Kingdom’s society to encourage a diverse range of applicants. Instead we have gone down the traditional route which will reaffirm the public's view of cronyism and engenders disenchantment and apathy."

Recommendations

The Commissioner for Public Appointments was established in 1995 as a means of enhancing public confidence in the appointments process. In the context of the changes to the appointments process outlined in the Grimstone review's report and the concerns that have arisen from these recommendations, PACAC recommends that in future the appointment of the Commissioner should be subject to a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, as is the case for the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority and the Comptroller and Auditor General. Such a resolution would underline, and act as a public reassurance of, the independence and status of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. A similar procedure should apply for the post of First Civil Service Commissioner.

The Committee is concerned that the changes proposed by Grimstone, as interpreted by the government, alongside other changes such as the introduction of Enlarged Ministerial Offices, may be leading to an increasing politicisation of senior public appointments. The Committee will report on their inquiry into the Grimstone proposals after the Code of Practice for Public Appointments and a new Order-in-Council have been published.

Further information

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