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Roger Evans: Public Appointments - what the Government needs to do

EVANS ROGERRoger Evans is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge

Far from abolishing hordes of quangos in a huge bonfire, the government has kept many and appointed political opponents to run them, as this site reminded us on Saturday. In the Autumn I wrote an article urging Conservatives to apply for these positions but the government needs to take its share of the responsibility too. The whole process needs to be opened up to encourage applicants from all walks of life, not only our own supporters.

Public appointments are filled by competence based assessments. When a post falls vacant the civil servants will create a job description and a person specification which list the skills required to do the job. These documents form the basis of the job advertisement which will attract certain types of candidate. They are used to pose the questions on the application form and at the interview. The process is seen as fair because you get the candidate you specify.

So the job description and person specification are vital, but too often these are just pulled out of a drawer, dusted off and reused with no alterations. This government is filling positions using the same template as the Labour government so it should be no surprise that it is getting the same results.

For example, many of the job descriptions call for experience in quangos or similar bodies. The same appointees are recycled and familiar names crop up in supposedly new roles. Experience can be important but so are new ideas and innovation. Ministers need to consider how much change they want to see and write the specifications accordingly.

Another example is the equalities experience which is found in every job description without exception. Equal access to services is important but ministers need to find a way to promote this without putting off applicants from outside the public sector who might not have the same credentials as their public sector competitors. A more consumerist approach which defines the right of taxpayers to receive excellent services regardless of their race, sex, religion etc would be a good way forward.

In these difficult times every job description should include experience of managing and reducing a budget. Experience of outsourcing and letting contracts should also be high on the list. Too often these important skills are not even sought.

The application process should also be made easier and less time consuming so that it doesn’t discourage busy people. Application forms need to be streamlined and focused on the key skills required rather than trivia and we need less of the impenetrable public sector jargon. And is it really necessary to include a monitoring form which asks so many intrusive questions about the applicant’s personal details?

Ministers are busy and it is no surprise that they choose not to get involved with the rather dry and laborious recruitment process. Nevertheless, they need to find someone – special advisor, PPS, or just an ambitious backbencher – to put in the legwork on this. Otherwise, if they keep asking for the same skills and experience, they will keep getting the same people. 


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