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Wiliam Shawcross CVO – ‘Public appointments are too London-centric’

Blog post by William Shawcross

Friday 9 December 2022

Commissioner for Public Appointments – Annual report 2021-22

William Shawcross CVO, the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments, has today published his annual report for 2021–22 and said more needs to be done to reach talented candidates from outside London and the South East to join the boards of public bodies in England and Wales.

The Commissioner regulates the appointments made by Ministers to the boards of over 330 public bodies to provide assurance that they are appointed after a fair and open competition, in line with the government’s Governance Code. Today’s report brings together a range of data from departments and information about the Commissioner’s work which is to regulate appointments to the boards of public bodies between April 2021 – March 2022:

  • 1253 appointments and reappointments made in 2021- 2022 compared to 1538 last year.
  •  42% of appointees to UK government bodies are based in London or the South East (35% in 2020-21). 
  • Appointment of females is 51%: the second highest year on record in line with the government’s Diversity Action Plan ambition.
  • Appointments of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds is the highest year on record at 17% in line with the government’s Diversity Action Plan ambition.
  • Appointments of individuals declaring a disability remain relatively unchanged, from 6% seen five years ago to 7% and 8%. The data for this report is derived from government departments, some of whom use the ONS ‘two-stage’ question, while others use the single stage question. 
  • Appointees declaring significant political activity remains below 10%. 
  • Less than 50% of new board members are under 55 years of age (same as last year).

William Shawcross CVO said:

“As voters and taxpayers, we should all care who is appointed to the boards of public bodies. Billions of pounds of  public funds need to be seen to be well spent, so these bodies should be led by and managed by those with competency, experience and goodwill.

“This year’s statistics show good progress on the appointment of females and people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, but there is more to do to encourage young people and people from outside London to apply. In my report, I have identified three areas where I would like to see further improvement in  the appointment process: swiftness, responsiveness and relentless pursuit of talent.

“Ensuring integrity, objectivity and fairness without creating barriers for those who don’t write ‘bureaucratese’ is hard, but necessary. There is a risk that government and public bodies are not giving sufficient focus to the diversity of experience and perspective that helps mitigate ‘groupthink’ on boards.

“Too few applications come from regions outside London and the South East. For example, only 15% of all applications came from the North of England, while 45% came from London and the South East. Departments must do more to explain why these positions are worthwhile and accessible to those who have much to contribute but lack the confidence or connections to put themselves forward. Government must increase formal and informal outreach, across the whole country, using mentors within Departments to explain and promote the roles available. Next year I intend to spend time in the North East, the North West, Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to do what I can to help raise awareness of these roles and encourage people to consider putting themselves forward. I am delighted to see HM Government recently launch the Boardroom Apprentice Scheme, successfully delivered  in Northern Ireland for many years, to match prospective board members to over 40 host boards across HM government and the third sector. Schemes such as this, providing an opportunity to shadow a board and develop practical skills, are essential for us to widen the pipeline of talent.

“Departments also need to invest more in candidate care, from first contact to last. We need to use the best tools to make the process more efficient alongside training everyone involved – from the most junior to the most senior – in the art and science of managing candidates professionally. We can learn much from the commercial companies that do this well. I intend to devote my time as Commissioner to a better candidate experience, building on the work of my predecessors and publishing data which measures progress.” 

Download the Commissioner’s annual report for 2021-2022

Notes to Editors

  1. Media enquiries about the work of the Commissioner for Public Appointments to Maggie O’Boyle on 07880 740627.
  2. William Shawcross was appointed as Commissioner for Public Appointments in September 2021 for a five-year term. The Commissioner for Public Appointments regulates the processes by which Ministers in the UK and Welsh Governments make appointments to the boards of national and regional public bodies. 
  3. The post of independent Commissioner for Public Appointments was created in 1995 following a report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life chaired by Lord Nolan.
  4. The data used to compile this report is obtained from the government departments that manage appointment processes for public appointments and declarations made by candidates. The Cabinet Office’s Diversity Action Plan 2019 “has set ambitions for 50% of all public appointees to be female and 14% of all public appointments to come from ethnic minority backgrounds by 2022.” 
  5. For more information about the work of the Commissioner please go to: 
  6. Follow the Commissioner for Public Appointments on Twitter @publicapptscomm