In a report released today the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) welcomes the broad thrust of Sir David Normington's proposed reforms to the system of public appointments.
The Government’s "arbitrary" cap on pay for such appointments, fixed to the Ministerial salary of the Prime Minister (£142,500), risks discouraging the recruitment and retention of the best talent. PASC supports the need for pay restraint in the current economic climate, but says the government should implement a proper system to assess what salaries should be paid, in line with the report of Will Hutton's review of fair pay in the public sector. The Government should also reduce dependency on outside 'head-hunter' firms to cut the costs of recruitment, by developing Whitehall's in-house recruitment expertise to reduce dependence.
The report forms the committee's response to Sir David Normington's consultation on reforming the regulation of public appointments, and looks at further issues relating to the recruitment and pay of public appointees.
Proposal to streamline the existing code
The committee welcomes Sir David's proposal to streamline the existing Code for Public Appointments and to adopt a lighter touch in regulating the public appointments process, and endorses the proposal to amend arrangements for Departmental audit of public appointments to a "comply and explain" approach. The committee particularly supports his commitment to broadening genuine diversity in public appointments.
Departmental appraisal systems
However, the committee says the Public Appointments Commissioner should be given a new remit to review Departmental appraisal systems, to ensure that underperformance by appointees is consistently addressed and that appointees who are not up to the mark are not reappointed.
Centre of Excellence
The committee also supports the establishment of a government Centre of Excellence for public appointments, which would have the expertise to widen the pool of candidates applying for vacancies. Given their cost to the taxpayer, the Government should reduce the use of recruitment consultants for appointments to public bodies. Substantial savings could be made through utilising and developing the capabilities of existing human resources units in Government Departments and through the establishment of a Centre of Excellence.
Director General for Civil Service Capability
It expresses its concern that the post of manager of top talent in Whitehall (Director General for Civil Service Capability) has effectively been abolished and its functions dispersed. It recommends this post should be re-established as a focus for the management and recruitment of senior talent in the Civil Service and in public appointments.
Comments from the Chair
Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“We support pay restraint, and using the Prime Minister's salary as a cap is useful to get the message across, but it is damaging to use this as an arbitrary cap.
Taking into account associated benefits the Prime Minister receives, his effective pay is actually much higher, so benchmarking against his salary is not meaningful.
We say that this is too crude an instrument to be useful. The Government should substitute that proposal with a proper system to assess the salaries to be paid for public appointments, to ensure we attract and retain the best-qualified, most independent and most effective appointees. This is what Will Hutton’s report recommended.
The other facet of value for money is performance. We have also recommended that the Commissioner be given a new remit to review the Departments' appraisal systems, to ensure that public appointees are performing, and if they are not, to ensure they are not just routinely re-appointed.
We need to retain, within Government, the expertise required to find and recruit from a wide pool of excellent candidates. We are puzzled therefore as to why the Government would abolish the post of DG for Civil Service Capability and disperse its functions.
This is not a function which can be run by the HR director of another department. Assigning HR responsibilities over the senior civil service to a department outside the Cabinet Office will undermine the ability to deliver the role as effectively.
This move should be reversed, with a focus instead on retaining and developing these skills and expertise "in house". This, with a Centre of Excellence, would reduce the dependency on recruitment consultants and attendant costs to the taxpayer."