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Senior Independent Panel Members and public assurance

Blog post by Peter Riddell

Wednesday 13 May 2020

‘I am there to guarantee the integrity of the process, to make sure it aligns with the Governance Code and the principles ,and it is my responsibility to highlight any concerns or breaches.’ Cindy Butts, a Senior Independent Panel Member succinctly describes her role in a new video just posted on our website.

Under the Cabinet Office Governance Code, every appointment must have an independent member involved in the process, but for what are known as ‘significant appointments’, commonly those where the post is high profile, notably the chair of a body, a regulator or prominent office holder, there must be  a Senior Independent Panel Member (SIPM) to provide an additional level of scrutiny and public assurance.

Departments putting together the Advisory Assessment Panel for a ‘significant appointment’ consult my office regarding the SIPM they want to use before the process commences. Under the Code, all SIPMs must be independent of both the public body and the department, must not be politically active and fully understand the requirements of the Governance Code. The SIPM should be involved in the process from start to finish and it is their role to ensure the Code is adhered to at every stage.

For example, appointment processes for the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, the Care Quality Commission, the Pensions Regulator and the Chief Inspector of Constabularies would all involve a SIPM. A full list of these ‘significant appointments’ is agreed between me and the government and published, with changes from time to time.

This process of consulting with my office over the appointment of SIPMs has, in practice, proved to be smooth and uncontroversial. Departments have suggested people with experience of high level interviewing who fulfil the Code’s criteria of independence. In some cases, by agreement with me, they have drawn up prior lists of possible SIPMs for use in future competitions – which simplifies and accelerates the process of consultation when a competition is started. The only problem is that some departments become so attached to a good and effective SIPM that the same name/names can be suggested several times – so my office has to point to the risks that over-use may compromise the principle of independence.

As Cindy describes in her video, she is involved in every aspect – reviewing the job description and the candidate pack, ensuring that the Minister is consulted from the early stages, overseeing the long listing and short listing stages and taking part in the interviews.  After the interviews, SIPMs and the rest of the panel must decide which of the candidates has the skills and abilities to be assessed as appointable to do the job and compile as report for the minister, for him or her to make the final choice. Ministers are given an opportunity to meet candidates and they can also choose not to appoint any of the candidates and re-run the competition.

As Cindy points out, it is the SIPM’s duty is to highlight any breaches of the Code. In the first instance he or she can raise concerns with the Department but can also go directly to the Minister or to me, providing an additional public reassurance of the integrity of the appointment process for these important roles.

For the time being, given the Covid-19 crisis, some competitions for public appointments are being delayed, with ministers consulting my office about extending the tenure of existing appointees for time limited periods. Inevitably some campaigns may take longer to complete as departments and ministers deal with urgent decisions relating to the pandemic. Many of those on the boards of public bodies currently working to tackle these challenges are public appointees, playing their part in our public life in these challenging times.

Cindy’s second video talks about her own experience of both the appointment process and the variety of public appointments she has held – something to watch in lockdown if you are thinking about applying for a public appointment.

May 2020