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2003 16 Sept: Wainwright reports progress on lotteries for quango members

Posted by kleroterion on Sunday, 20 December 2009

Commons select committee on public administration’s report (July) on quangos included this recommendation: 

“strengthening diversity on public bodies would be to adopt the process of selection by lot”

Selection by lot‹talent hunting

Re: Selecting quango members by lot‏

From: Northern Guardian (hey.wainy@virgin.net)
Sent: 16 September 2003 05:23:18
To: Conall Boyle (conallboyle@hotmail.com)
Hi there Conall – glad you’re still beavering away!

Did you know about the Commons select committee on public administration’s report (July) on quangos and specially this recommendation:

Selection by lot‹talent hunting
171. One possible way of strengthening diversity on public bodies would be to adopt the process of selection by lot pioneered by the National Lottery Community Fund.[105] The Fund’s nine regional awards committees in England select two of their 10 members by way of an initially random process. People are first chosen at random to receive a letter inviting them to apply for membership of a committee. Those who show an interest then go through a rigorous selection process, described to us by Andy Freeney, the Fund’s regional manager for the north-west, and the successful candidate is chosen on merit in accordance with the committee’s needs and balance at the time.[106] In this way, both diversity and merit are combined. Other members are appointed after public advertisement and interview in the conventional way.

172. So far 26 people have been chosen by lot, aged between 18 and 55, and include an electrician, swimming instructor, police officer, and housewife. Janet Paraskeva, who developed the scheme while she was at the Fund, described the process as “head-hunting” in the community at large. Such rigour should overcome objections that it is a fundamental departure from the merit principle. Ms Paraskeva said that it drew from a “wide range right across the community, whether you are looking for diversity in age, intellectual capacity, ethnicity, gender from which you can select”:

“Having run a small quango and having myself been on a health trust, I know that on both those occasions I got there partly on merit, but also, in terms of the trust, because somebody knew whose shoulder to tap onŠ We [at the Fund] were tapping the shoulders of lots of folk and saying, ‘Have you thought of this?'”.[107]

173. This is an imaginative and innovative approach to extending the range of people involved in public appointments, which we would like to see taken up more widely. We are in favour of a modest pilot scheme using ‘lot’ to attract candidates for lay positions on public bodies, and which would in turn enhance public perception of these bodies as more open and inclusive. This approach can be combined with a final decision based on the principle of merit. We are aware that there is a possible tension between using this technique and the case for making more effective use of existing networks to access already active talent from under-represented groups.[108] But we believe that these different approaches can be reinforcing. We are also aware of the objection that selection by lot might seem to lack the dignity deemed necessary for appointments to major national bodies. We are not deterred by that argument either. Jury service, based on random selection, is a jealously-guarded cornerstone of the constitution and is less rigorously conducted than the Fund’s processes. We see no reason why a system of selection based on the same principle should not be used to offer to a wide range of people the chance to take part in public life.

174. We therefore recommend that the Government should organise and publicise a pilot scheme for public appointments involving an element of random selection by lot, with the final selection still made on the basis of merit.

I’ll also bore you with a comment piece I did in the paper which gives the website reference incase other Kleroterions are interested.  Next step:  a conference, I hope, bringing together possible suitable quangos and some of the random selectees from the Community Fund
All v best

Martin

Comment
————————————————————————
Don’t leave it to the experts

‘No!’ said the quangocrats. ‘Absolutely not!’ But why shouldn’t Joe Public serve on a public body?

Martin Wainwright
Friday August 29, 2003
The Guardian

The squawk of the startled quangocrat is one of nature’s most evocative sounds and fans should definitely buy the new collection published by those old hands, the parliamentary select committee on public administration. All the long-standing favourites are here, many with ruffled feathers audible in the background and the clatter of suddenly disturbed nests.

The cause of the fluster is the committee’s report, Government by Appointment: Opening up the Patronage State, and particularly one suggestion of how “ordinary” people could be involved. This is the lottery community fund’s use of voluntary jury selection to pick, randomly from the electoral roll, a couple of members of regional quangos that annually dispense millions of pounds.

The select committee offers positive reasons for extending this experiment, including its success with the community fund for four years and approval by an independent monitor. But the most powerful argument is entirely negative and provided by existing – appointed – quangocrats themselves.

As a back-up to written and oral evidence – including a persuasive session with two “ordinary” community fund recruits – the committee circulated a list of questions, including: Should a public appointment be part of an individual’s civic duty? Would a system similar to jury service be fair?

A lot of quangos did not reply, but those that did are illuminating. They include such cheering bodies as the United Kingdom atomic energy authority, the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the NHS logistics authority, which – guardedly – see some merit in the principle. But the majority said things like this: No! Absolutely not. An impossible task.

Why? Here are some of the arguments, or more accurately assertions. The zoos forum quango says that a jury system “would not seemingly work” and predicts that “people would probably find excuses for not turning up at the meetings, which would undermine the effectiveness of the body.” It is also the respondent that added “No!”

Yet if you browse the zoos forum’s own annual report, you will see that two of its 14 appointed members did not attend any of the three meetings held in 2001-02. Did that undermine the effectiveness of the forum? Presumably “No!”

English Heritage, meanwhile, takes a line common to many respondents: that the job is too demanding for non-specialists, which is at least a reasonable premise for debate. But it goes further: “We feel that an individual should put him or herself forward for service on a public body, rather than being ‘volunteered’.” There’s the rub. The sort of people who confidently stick up their hands and yell “Me sir, me miss, pleeeease!?” are never hard to find, for quangos as for everything else. The ones you really want, as Janet Paraskeva, chief executive of the Law Society, told the committee in oral evidence, are those who would never dream of putting themselves forward. Jury choice extends the traditional tap on the shoulder to them.

A quangocrat who has heard of the experiment is quite a find; but one who has still refers to it with revealing vagueness. Paula Ridley chairs not only the Victoria and Albert museum but the Liverpool housing action trust, while also working as director of the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation’s UK branch.

A thorough sceptic, she tells the MPs “it is believed that one of the lottery boards is experimenting with this method” and “presumably it will be carefully monitored.” This is scarcely a Nolan standard of debate when both the belief and the presumption can be rapidly established as (a) fact and (b) correct.

It goes on and on. Harriet Kimbell, who has sat on seven panels, committees, boards and taskforces, is an “absolutely not” respondent on the grounds that jury-chosen quango members would have “no interest and no expertise”. The cheek of it, to use an old-fashioned expression.

Why shouldn’t Jane and Joe Public contribute as much as Harriet, even to the UK xenotransplantation interim regulation authority, chaired by Lord Habgood, the former Archbishop of York?

Xenotransplantation may sound as expert and specialised as Lord Habgood claims, but it only means animal-to-human transplants. How healthy to have one or two lay people on the authority, if only to say: “Hang on, what does that mean?” This type of “emperor’s new clothes” contribution has been one of the specific virtues perceived by monitoring of the community fund system.

But thank goodness for Dr Tony Wright MP and his colleagues on the select committee. They describe the community fund experiment as “an imaginative and innovative approach to extending the range of people involved in public appointments, which we would like to see taken up more widely.” They recommend a wider pilot. Now it’s over to the government, which – at least officially – believes in such things.

· Martin Wainwright, northern editor of the Guardian, chaired one of the Community Fund jury choice pilots. The select committee report is on http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmpubadm/165/16502.htm

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