ASSEMBLY APPOINTEES & CONFLICTING INTERESTS

 

Your right to know of charade behind top jobs and WAG appointments

Western Mail Editorial Comment

January 3rd 2005

"It is surely profoundly ironic that, just as our long-awaited Freedom of Information Act takes effect, Britain's top watchdog on public appointments seems more concerned about leaks to the Western Mail than she does about clear breaches of procedure in a senior appointment in Wales"

"At the National Assembly, Mr Morgan has championed the new procedure as fairer because opposition members are allowed on appointment panels. This seems fair until one realises that the panels remain purely advisory and that ministers retain the absolute right to appoint whom they wish, so long as they attain a minimum standard. With ministers retaining such discretion, it is clear the best candidate will not necessarily be appointed."

READ ON:-

<http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/features/tm_objectid=15034274%26method=full%26siteid=50082-name_page.html>

<http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/newspolitics/tm_objectid=15034199%26method=full%26siteid=50082%26headline=%2dchoice%2dwas%2dthe%2dminister%2ds%2dto%2dmake-name_page.html>

ASSEMBLY APPOINTEES TO THE PARKS

Have you ever wondered about how appointees to the Parks are made in Wales ? The procedure seems to be clouded in mystery. Most people recognise that appointees seem to be selected for ther compliance with the executive and officers and nobody seems to know how the appointee candidates are short listed, or who is on the selection panel . It has even been reported that Chief Executives have a direct hand in vetting prospective candidates as well the minister. So for many it is indeed a charade.

Traditionally vacancies are advertised in the press. This means the local press and /or the Western Mail. If you do not want to buy the daily issues then you can register at the Assembly's Public Appointments Unit and they are supposed to let you know when vacancies occur. The recent alternative is to visit this website link:-

<http://www.wales.gov.uk/recruitment/pubappse.htm>

Below is a letter of complaint dated 5/Nov /04. It is one person's experience after they filled in the public restricted appointment forms in order to be kept informed of vacancies . Instead of being informed it appeared to be a deselection process . Despite the public appointments unit apologising for their failure to register all the candidate's interests into the data base, they said there was "no question that the database was used as a means for pre-selection". However, it cannot be entirely disproved that the data base could be used as a form of screening , rather than a straight forward public information service.

In the light of the above and recent events outlined in the Western Mail , and the examination of some appointments and conflicting interests, how can the public begin to trust any of these procedures ? Obviously an overhall of the system is needed especially in Wales .

 

Letter of Complaint to Public Appointments Unit

Dear Sir

 

RESTRICTED APPOINTMENTS

Thank you for sending me the package explaining your present system of trawling for assembly appointees. However, it has not answered my queries or my requests to have the original information I gave you returned plus a print out of the data base material you have collated on me.

I rang your office this week to find out why I had not been contacted regarding vacancies for appointees on the Brecon Beacons National Park. The form and details I filled in a year or so ago do not resemble the forms you sent me today. Also when I gave over my details I listed what appointment areas I was interested in. These were the National Parks and the Arts. I have since found out that your system or data collating process has de-selected me from applying for the National Parks on the grounds that I have a fine arts degree. And further more your system has also failed to notifying me of any vacancies that have occurred over the last year or so. This has denied me the right that I have to make a choice to apply or not. I will make the following points :-

When I filled in the original form I was not informed that the information would be transferred and edited by someone and then put onto a data base. and used as a means to pre-selection.

I was informed that the process of filling in the form would save me the trouble of having to subscribe to regional papers or visit the library every day to search. Naturally I did not expect any prejudice on the information I freely gave, and I also expected to be informed of the facts and information I had requested.

A BBNPA appointee member has just announced their resignation , but I gather you are using the short list from another vacancy you trawled for in September. Is this correct and in line with procedure ?

I look forward to receiving the database details you have on me and the original information I gave. Also how can I access your Codes of Practice ? Could you also explain the Attribute Codes. I do not believe I have seen this form before. Is it something you want me to fill in or is it the form you use for your data base work ?

I hope you understand my concerns for transparency.

Yours sincerely

 

 

USEFUL INFORMATION.

One of the outcomes of the above complaint was the following two links.

If you want to see what appointments are available visit the following website

<http://www.wales.gov.uk/recruitment/pubappse.htm>

The Public Appointments Code of Practice is also on :-

<http://www.wales.gov.uk/recruitment/punapps-cp-e.htm

 

OUTSTANDING ISSUES

This is NPR's response to the WAG Action Plan. concerning NPA appointments. This was submitted on November 30th 2004

 

9. Performance of /appointment of NPA members (10,16,17, 29, 30)

Assembly Appointees (ref Rec 16 & 30)

There is concern about the selection process of all members, including Assembly Appointees. Surprisingly the LUC review found no fault in this area at all. However, there seem to be gaps in transparency and the 'arms length' principle that is meant to govern the selection of assembly appointees, which represents 33% of an authority's membership. For example: -

As a rule the appointee positions are meant to be filled by people with appropriate expertise. However, this does not always seem to be the case. A good cross section of specialists in planning, planning law, agro-sciences, business management, etc are generally found to be lacking. A number of the appointees are former county council members, who may well have valuable experience, but they are not necessarily experts in any field.

To quote Sue Essex statement about the NPAs in the Assembly chamber in December 2002 ' they have a percentage of members nominated by me '. Even with codes of practice in place and the so- called arms length selection process, there are no real fire walls to prevent any minister effectively placing candidates of their choice on any national park. The codes of practice also allow for political appointments. Many are aware of the controversy surrounding the new appointment to the chair of the Welsh Language Board.

Concern has also been raised over reports that Chief Executives have been known to be involved with the selection and vetting of appointees.

There is also further concern that it is now conceivable that an assembly government may find it expedient to tilt or manipulate the political balance of an NPA. The powers for a government to make minor adjustments are usually acceptable. However, added to the concern about appointees is the proposed collegiate system (recommendation 30) for nominating the democratically elected council members to the Park. If the above two systems combine then it would be possible for an assembly government to gain political control of NPAs with comparative ease.

NPR Recommendations

Recommendation 16 says 'WAG/CCW, with the NPAs and WLGA should make the appointment of NPA members more transparent and accountable' The recommendation omitted to say 'all NPA members' and the action plan has completely ignored the present alleged flaws in the appointee system. Otherwise agreement was found. However, we would agree with Rec 16 regarding the improvements to the selection processes of members, provided it means - all members and all selection processes.

That WAG might consider replacing the Appointee panels of the Parks to include experts from CADW, WTB, CCW, and WDA. At the same time address the composition of the appointee panel in terms of the 'national element ' versus the parochial or vested interest element. Appointees from each Park could be rotated. Maybe it is best for Appointees to be at a certain arms length to the park they are appointed to ?

CONFLICTING INTERESTS

There is nothing deemed wrong with having conflictiing interest whilst you hold public office. However, the only breach is to exploit the situation and not declare them. In addition to this the present system seems to be flawed as it often selects people who will obviously be compromised on many issues and items . What also seems to be an anomoly, in regard to the codes of practice, is that a member or official is not obliged to explain and define what their conflicts of interest are on any given item.

During the next few months this page will publish the declared and undeclared interests of various WAG appointees to the Parks. Unlike other institutions, such as the House of Commons and the Assembly, the Parks do not publish their members interests on the web. The purpose of this exercise is not to rout out breaches and failures to follow good practice. It will be more about revealing the need to raise standards, in the hope that in the future the self serving and vested interest elements come much less to the fore.

If you have any information you would like to publish on this subject please contact us.