In the news - Public appointments and political activity (17 March 2014)
Since the office of Commissioner for Public Appointments was created in 1995 it has always been possible for Ministers to appoint people with political backgrounds to the boards of public bodies.
The public appointments system – as set out initially by Lord Nolan in 1995 – requires that there is a test of merit for people who want to sit on public boards, but there is no bar on people who have declared political activity being appointed to boards. This means that if a candidate can demonstrate to an independent selection panel that that they have the skills, experience and qualities necessary for the role, and, if in the nature of the job, political activity is no bar to doing that job well, it is possible for their name to go forward to the Minister as one of those that can be appointed. The Minister is offered a choice of candidates marked ‘above the line’ by the panel.
The current Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies introduced in 2012 recognises this. It says (at paragraph 4.2):-
“Political activity in itself is no bar to appointment. To allow the panel to explore such activity with the candidates in the context of their ability to perform in the role, candidates should declare any significant political activity (which includes holding office, public speaking, making a recordable donation, or candidature for election) which they have undertaken in the last five years. This information will only be provided to the panel for those applicants selected for interview.”
It is also worth pointing out that the number of people appointed to public appointments who declare a political affiliation is relatively low and has been declining as the graph below shows. In fact only an average of just over 12% of public appointees have declared a political affiliation over the past ten years. In 2012-13 only 9% declared an affiliation – 98 out of the 1087 regulated public appointments in that year.
The statistics supporting this graph were originally published in June 2013 in the Commissioner’s annual statistics on the number of appointments and reappointments to public bodies that fall within his remit.