Conservative Diary

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What Ministers should do about appointments

Screen shot 2012-10-26 at 13.05.37
By Paul Goodman
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Tim Montgomerie and Fraser Nelson both wrote this morning about trade unions, charities, funding and appointments.

I want to concentrate on that last item - on the Government and patronage.

The failure of Conservatives to apply...

From the point of view of Tim, Fraser, and the Taxpayers Alliance (the source of the illustration above), the careless with patronage by the Government is a serious problem.

But there is another side of the story.

From the point of view of Minsters, the serious problem is the failure of Conservatives, with either a small or large "C", to apply for posts.

I am not referring to big, eye-catching ones, such as (off the top of my head), the Charities Commission, which Fraser referred to in his column.

Rather, I'm thinking of the smaller ones that appear on the Cabinet Office's Public Appointments site and elsewhere.

A brief click on it finds the following items near the top of the queue:

  • Non-executive director of the West London health trust.
  • Member of the Social Security Advisory Committee.
  • Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses.
  • Two non-executive directors of the St George's Healthcare NHS Trust.
  • Advisory Committee on Pesticides Chair Appointment.

There will surely be people of a non-left of centre disposition who both would be capable of serving on these bodies and don't read the websites or papers in which the adverts are carried.

ConservativeHome will return to these matters during the next few weeks.  But in the meantime, there is more to say about -

...The failure of the Conservative political operation to encourage them to apply

Beside suggesting a smaller state (which would make patronage a less powerful tool) and the reform of third sector funding, Tim recommended:

  • A political operation in Downing Street similar to the one that Gordon Brown established to handle public appointments.
  • A new post to oversee appointments across the public sector.

But attention also needs to be paid to individual departments.  After all, appointments to the kind of bodies I cite above shouldn't usually come within the purview of Downing Street.  Ministers of course do not make appointments directly. But -

  • Ministers ultimately ultimately sign off appointments.
  • They can specify how much involvement that they want to have in appointments.
  • They can formally make suggestions.
  • They may also want a say in the selection criteria.

I am told that the involvement of Ministers "could be at quite a high level but in practice, this is unviable due to time pressures".  I think that the way in which Ministers handle time pressures illustrates what their priorities are, and that -

  • A Minister in each Department should be required by Number 10 to take an interest in all appointments rather than simply letting them through on the nod.  He or she should do this in liaison with whoever is appointed to the new Downing Street-based post that Tim recommends.

I am not arguing that Conservatives in Number 10 or elsewhere should simply be able to make public appointments as they please.  But I am saying that given the party political imbalance in the chart at the top of this piece, the Conservative political operation ought to take more of an interest in appointments.

Matthew Elliott has made some of the same points before, as has been noted by Tim on this website here.


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