Question for Short Debate
My Lords, it is a privilege and a pleasure to have secured this debate on how public bodies can more represent and reflect the societies they were set up to serve. I thank all noble Lords who have signed up to speak. Perhaps there is a fair degree of knowledge in this House of public bodies and public appointments. Part of the reason for securing this debate is that there is, I suspect, probably less knowledge out there in the country of public bodies and what they do. I will set out the ground as it currently is, run through some of the review I did for Government last year and then set out some recommendations for my noble friend the Minister to consider. I know that they have been under consideration in the Cabinet Office since I published the report in December.
Perhaps a useful start point is to consider what a public appointment is. It is a question that I asked some 17 years ago when somebody suggested that I apply for such a role. In those intervening 17 years, I have been fortunate enough to serve on public bodies on equalities and sport, looking at such issues as access to transport, funding for our Olympic and Paralympic athletes through to 2012 and beyond, bringing major sporting events to the United Kingdom and looking at diversity in UK television. That is just me—a microcosm of what public bodies do. Pick almost any area of society and there is likely to be a public body doing important work there: horticulture, defence, health, culture, media, sport, to name just a few. They are arm’s-length bodies doing incredibly significant work, but how many people in the country know about them, know what they do and, crucially, know how they could potentially play a part and be a member of the board of one of these organisations? Yet, there are 6,000 public appointees in the United Kingdom, with well over 500 public bodies responsible for over £200 billion of public spending. That is a quite significant governance role.
Perhaps the most important point in recent history for diversity and inclusion was in 2017, when my honourable friend Chris Skidmore published the diversity action plan. This was the first time we got to see the data. What was going on with these boards? Who were the people serving on them? What was their gender, ethnicity or disability? It was a key point to really drive home the sense that diversity is not about a leg up or an unfair hand, but about enabling boards to make better decisions to benefit from that diversity, not just of protected characteristics but of creativity that comes from it.
Probably the most important statistic that came out was an ambition for 50% of public appointees to be female and 14% to come from BAME backgrounds. No other targets were set. So how have public bodies performed in the intervening years? There is a tremendously positive story on gender, which demonstrates how change is possible and how we do not have to just accept that it is too difficult and that things cannot be other than what they are. In 2017-18, 47.7% of appointments went to females and in the preceding year it was 45.5%, whereas only four years previously the figure was 40%—a significant change not just by chance but because of real commitment from departments and Ministers engaging across women’s networks and society to see what would make a difference and connect gender to potential public appointments. When we consider the stats, the target of 50% by 2022 looks pretty achievable.
The story is perhaps a little more complicated with BAME, with the number last year falling to 8.4% from 9.1% the year before, with fewer BAME candidates and applications coming through to shortlisting. If the Government were to achieve the 14% target by 2022, it seems that there are many learnings to apply from the approach taken with gender to BAME groups.
My interest in diversity and inclusion has been since I began, really, which is why, when I was asked last year by the Minister for Implementation at the Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden, to conduct a review into opening up public appointments for disabled people, not only was I delighted but I realised that this was an opportunity not just to see how we could potentially increase the number of disabled people on public bodies but actually to make recommendations that would benefit all people. I wanted the review to be absolutely rooted in the golden thread of talent. We are talking not about giving somebody a guaranteed interview as a favour, or having a more open or accessible application process, because that will give someone an unfair advantage. It might be the difference between enabling somebody to apply in any event.
I bracketed the work into four areas, which I will go through briefly: data and transparency, attracting talent, applications and interviews, and beyond. Data is obviously essential to this, and a key point is to consider whether we should have a central application portal, so that we can take a real grip on the data. We found patchy data that was different across departments and being collected in different ways, with different uses of the monitoring form—a form that definitely needs changes for consistent and inclusive language. I thank the Business Disability Forum for all the work that it did on that.
When we went to Scotland, where they have a central application portal—admittedly on a smaller number of public appointments—we found that they knew the disability status of 96% of their applicants. Currently, we know the status of only 65%, which is a huge difference. Coming back to those targets—50% on gender and 14% BAME—currently only 3% of people on the boards of public bodies are disabled, as far as we know. So data is absolutely critical, not only to ask the questions at application but to have an annual review, because obviously people’s circumstances change.
In terms of attracting talent, role models are incredibly important. When we launched the review in December, we had three excellent examples of disabled people doing great work on very diverse public boards. We advised the Government to have a mentoring scheme, having seen the difference that can make in other areas of diversity, and also, critically, to look at people who may be near misses at each beat of the application and interview on-boarding journey, to keep them in the loop and see how they can be assisted to the next potential application.
We looked at multipliers, conduits and connectors. Which outlets should we be looking at to raise the awareness of these opportunities? We looked at a huge use of social media, connecting with people in different ways, rather than the more traditional approaches to advertising public appointments. Also, critically, we need to look at executive search and its important role, and the need for guidance along Business Disability Forum lines, to ensure that it plays such a positive role for people who may seek to be involved in these roles.
When it comes to applications, perhaps the most important point is to consider disability confidence. There is such a range of views on this. Probably; as one person said, it is not great but it is better than what we had before. Having a sense of all public bodies being disability confident—as indeed their parent departments are—makes such a difference and shows that some thought has gone into how we enable disabled people to come on board and be part of this.
Finally, on interviews, if we want different results we need to look at different approaches—and maybe not just with the panel but with shadowing and mock boards, to put real innovation into that approach. Ultimately, it is about change. If we want different results, if we want public bodies to fully represent and reflect the society that they were set up to serve, we need to look at doing things differently. The gender case shows that it is entirely possible. I look forward to boards that fully represent and reflect the society they were set up to serve. I look forward to the contributions of noble Lords this afternoon, and to the Minister’s comments.
My Lords, I invariably enjoy the speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. He makes his points well and they are always important. I find myself endorsing much of what he said; he speaks with great expertise and I hope the Government listen.
I want to raise a couple of wider points. First, we must look at the wider cultural dimension. Of course, what the noble Lord said about diversity is crucial. If we are a multi-ethnic, multicultural society, that should be represented on public boards.
In my formative years, as a youngster post the Second World War, public service was regarded with high esteem. It was a great thing to be involved in public service; you were respected across society and expected to deliver in the context of that respect and trust. But the motivation for being on a board would be, hopefully—there were of course exceptions—because you wanted to make a contribution in the public sector. I am afraid that the balance in our society has tilted far too far towards a complete reverence and esteem for the private sector, and a neglect of the public sector. I suspect that this undermines the self-confidence of those who operate in the public sector, on boards or whatever. It is not a very clever thing to be doing; if you are a clever thing, you are making a great success in financial or commercial circles.
We have to get a great deal of leadership put back into our society, stressing the vital importance of the public sector so that we begin to build up again an atmosphere in which it is an esteemed and deeply respected form of activity in which to be involved. That of course goes into the priorities of the management of public bodies and boards. Of course, we want efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Those are crucial in dealing with public money but it is not just about cost-effectiveness, or measuring the economic efficiency of the board with the terminology and priorities of the private sector. The priority of the public sector is to deliver the service for which it is there, doing so at the same time as ensuring value for money, efficiency and effectiveness—I underline “of course” again. But it is not the same as just saying at the end of the year, “We can produce results showing that we are operating more financially effectively than ever before”. That is not an end; the end is the public service, and we have to re-establish that sense of social priority.
I would like to take a specific example because one of the issues which is very important—the health service is a crucial example of what I have been talking about—is the national parks movement, where I have been very involved for many years. I often reflect on just who the people on the boards of the national parks are supposed to be serving. Are they serving the local community or society as a whole in the United Kingdom, for which the parks should be a deeply valued asset? What are they supposed to be providing? They provide a quality or dimension of life which is not available in the hurly-burly of normal existence. They are there to provide space for physical development and fulfilment, but also space for qualitative mental activity and reflection—if you like, the spiritual dimension of the parks. I sometimes detect park authorities being tempted away from this precious and special role into demonstrating their financial effectiveness—of course, I want that anyway—but at the same time, they might say, “If we became more of a theme park, we would be more effective public organisations”. That would be calamitous. It would be a tragedy, because the point of the parks is to provide a totally different dimension—space and pace—in our society.
At this point, I always tell the same story—colleagues will have heard it before and I do not apologise for that. It is the story of a youngster from an inner-city area in Britain, who was at a training centre near Windermere. She was looking terribly excited and animated one day, so was asked by one of her instructors, “What have you done today?”. This girl, who was not yet 10, looked at her with wide eyes and said, “I’ve seen far”. A few days later, the same instructor asked the same girl, who was looking even more excited, “What have you done today?”. She said, “I’ve seen very far”.
That is a precious and special calling for the members of park authorities. Of course they have to take fully into account the economic, social and political lives of the people who live and work in the parks. That is a given, but their job is about something bigger and greater than that. That same approach and analysis applies to many other dimensions of British life. While I therefore applaud all the practical propositions that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, put forward, we need again the realisation that we have to promote the whole standing of public service and its special dimensions to far higher esteem in public life.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my Cumbrian neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I must preface my remarks by saying that, according to analysis I carried out—on the basis of what might be described as the tabloid newspapers’ view of suitability for almost anything in the contemporary world—I have failed completely, totally and dismally.
However, I have chaired two public boards, and they are very different. The first was the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, which I chaired for just over 10 years. The second was the Cumbria local enterprise partnership, which I currently have the privilege and pleasure of chairing. In each case, I was involved in the selection of members, which involves a considerable amount of time, thought and care. In doing that, three things struck me. The first is that you need to know what the board is for. Secondly, you need to be clear how the existing slate of people who are working with you relate to and work with each other. Finally, and obviously, you need to know the qualities and attributes of any applicants you are looking at.
The fundamental purpose and approach of the two organisations that I chaired were entirely different. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, or so-called Waverley committee, was a quasi-judicial body of experts that gave recommendations to the Secretary of State in the DCMS about whether a “cultural object” more than 50 years old should be subject to an export stop, as well as, on occasion, making slightly wider comment about the workings of the art market in this country. The latter’s purpose is to promote the socioeconomic prosperity of the county of Cumbria within the framework of the northern powerhouse, under the umbrella of the national industrial strategy and in conjunction with local stakeholders. The former—the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art—is based exclusively on scholarship and expertise. A failure to base decisions on that leads you to judicial review.
The effectiveness of the system of export control ultimately depends on its acceptance by the art market, both in this country and in the rest of the world. I should declare an interest as president of the British Art Market Federation. If this respect and acceptance is lost, or is perceived to be lost, the system will, in consequence, fail. Obviously, here there is no place at all for extraneous considerations. Some years ago, in my period of chairmanship, there was a real argument within government about the gender of one of the slots within the committee. This became quite animated in certain corridors in Whitehall. In my view, this was completely absurd, because both male and female members of our committee were strong and each played a strong part in the work we did. By any measure, it seems to me that the suitability, scholarship, expertise and integrity of any member is the crucial factor in this body’s working. In my view, the Government’s priority should be, without equivocation, that the guest candidate should have the job on their merits.
It is probably true to say that in the case of the local enterprise partnership, things are a bit different. There is a very big need not only for technical competence and the ability to deliver, but for the board’s work to gain acceptance in the locality. It builds up confidence in all who live and work in the county of Cumbria. In this context, the general as opposed to the specific technical attributes and characteristics of members is of very real importance. It is to do with the locality, sectoral expertise, ethnicity and so on. As an aside, when we are talking about this topic it always strikes me as interesting and perhaps a little surprising that youth and age are rarely bracketed together. An awful lot of the work that public boards do relates to young people, who normally do not sit on them or have much of an input. Equally, in the case of something such as the Cumbria local enterprise partnership, Cumbria is a county with a very high proportion of older people. Once you have gone past the age I am getting to shortly, you just do not find people of that generation playing a role.
It is not a matter of having X person on the board. In my view, what matters is having a board that collectively understand X and what they can do to improve whatever the circumstance of that category of person might be, and to be able to work with people whose own personal experiences may be quite different from their own. I think there is a real risk of reducing good practice in this area in order to a tick a box, when in fact selection should be a matter not of pure merit but merit coupled with an ability to understand and empathise with people, places and things with which one is perhaps not quite so familiar oneself. The paradox is that in an attempt to open up membership of public bodies, which is something I support and think is good—I heard what my noble friend Lord Holmes said and concur with much of it—nevertheless there is a risk, if you are not careful, that the effectiveness of the organisation can be degraded, and thus those whom it is intended to help may be served less well. In the context of such activities, there is occasionally a risk of tension between diversity and effectiveness. We are not doing anybody any favours by attempting to disguise that fact.
It is not a matter of finding an X to be a member of a board to widen diversity. It is a matter of finding an X who can contribute to the wider project of the board. After all, the underlying rationale of all boards is to do something.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and to listen to his experience. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for raising this very important issue.
We need to start with a basic question: why do we do this? Why is this important? It is because there is a business and service reason. Gaining a board with diverse life experiences, ideas and knowledge brings a collective team approach to what is best for serving the public and what is best for the organisation and the staff who work in it. We need to be clear: there is talent in every single community, whether it is one of identity—such as age, gender, sexuality or disability—or of the regions and nations of the UK.
We have to make sure that we do not make it harder—or nearly impossible—for someone’s talent to be brought forward and help the public sector improve what it does through barriers or the way the recruitment and selection to the boards is carried out. I welcome targets—some call them quotas—as a useful tool in helping that, but let us be clear: they cannot and must not be seen as the only tool; if they are, they become a tokenistic tick-box exercise that does not really bring about inclusivity in boards. The basis for having diverse boards that function well and serve organisations that serve people well is to ensure that there is good governance, that the culture of the organisation makes it normal and natural to reach out to everybody they serve and that the people who wish to serve on the board know that it is for them.
What is needed is a multi-layered approach to culture and governance and not a myopic focus on just recruitment and selection. For example, you could have all these tick-box exercises and all the data, but a board has a macho culture that has not changed, when somebody joins it who is not used to a macho culture—perhaps someone female or transsexual—they instantly become alienated. It is about much more than just numbers. We have to think about culture and governance.
I know of an LGBT person who was selected for a public board; there was an away event and the invite went out for partners of the opposite sex. Again, here we have to think about culture and governance. I have heard about disabled members with a sight problem where the board’s whole approach is about reading and paper, not thinking through its own effectiveness. It goes much deeper than just a percentage of people recruited and selected, even though that is important and must continue. It is about how we get sustainable and effective boards based on good governance and good culture as well as selection.
My first important question to the Government is this: why can we not have, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, said, centralised recording and monitoring which shows not just who is selected but how well people are integrated and functioning in public sector boards? That would put a focus to do something back on the board, if it knows it is being monitored not just on whether it has females and people from BAME backgrounds but on whether it is actually thinking about how to integrate and function properly.
The total breadth of diversity is also still not statistically recorded. I looked through the action plan and a number of documents, but could not find anything on LGBT individuals, for example. It is important that we understand the diversity of where people come from.
A big and unspoken issue here is the economic make-up of public boards. Looking around this Chamber, we are probably ideal candidates to be part of those boards; the majority of us are from a professional background. But many people from non-traditional economic backgrounds would make superb members of public boards, bringing their knowledge. How do we reach out to such communities? I see lots of adverts for places on public boards in the Sunday Times, for example. I have never seen one in the Pink Paper or in local daily newspapers that local people read. We have to think carefully about this. Even though we have quotas and targets, do they represent the totality of women or of BAME communities? Those communities and gender-based communities are not monolithic cultures; there are people of difference and diversity within them. How are we making sure that we are reaching out and getting to many people? As a noble Lord said, how are we using social media and digital technology to reach out and bring people to the boards?
I also looked at which recruitment agencies are being used by boards, and it tends to be the normal, big, public sector recruitment agencies and the City types. The whole process tends to be based on a corporate approach to bringing people in. Again, if you do not know that world and you are not used to it, it is very hard to break through. It goes much deeper than just numbers; we have to look at the whole culture and process to make sure that this happens. This afternoon I decided, because I am a sad person, to look at all the public recruitment vacancies around. The interview panels are nearly all of a certain make-up: they include Permanent Secretaries and the great and the good. It would be good if we could have more diverse interview panels, with people from different backgrounds, as they ensure that the views of people who have a different approach and view can be considered equally. It is therefore important that we look at the inclusiveness of the boards, the process and the interview panels, but we must also make sure that we look at the culture and the governance structures of those boards once people are on there, and at how they are working.
I will give the Government a couple of suggestions about how the process could be carried out better—not just recruitment and selection but working out how the boards work and how systems and structures could be put in place by government. When do entry and exit interviews take place? How well are people from different backgrounds being integrated? What are their reasons for leaving or not reapplying? We need to ask where that rich data has gone, then it needs to be fed back, not just to that particular board but so that it can be used much more widely. Why are standards for inclusive governance and culture not set for public sector boards? These should be used not just as part of the recruitment of all public boards and chairs but should become standards that public boards have to think about, looking at how they work and reach out and what their inclusive governance structure should be.
Do chairs of boards get deep, centralised and systematic development in diversity and its use within boards and organisations? If not, could we look at that? In particular, how will we bring about more diverse recruitment and selection panels, which can help to make sure that the talent in front of them is understood properly at interview and then perhaps recruited?
Will the Government commit to a real action plan with targets to improve diversity in public appointments, not focusing solely on recruitment and retention? Will they start to keep data on the whole spectrum of diversity, including social class? Will they work with organisations such as Inclusive Boards to work up standards for inclusive governance and culture within boards? That way, big steps will be made and the prize of better organisations and better services from public bodies to the diverse communities that they are meant to represent and serve will be achieved.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for his report and this debate. His report includes some notable quotes, including about his public “dis-appointments”—which I thought was particularly apposite when, although 13% of the economically active population are disabled, they make up just 3% of public appointments. There is also the absence of the Government’s response to the report, but I hope that we will hear from them shortly, together with their refreshed Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan, which the Minister promised us this month when he spoke in this House on 9 May.
I have been on a journey over the past 50 years. Initially, I saw this issue as an equal opportunities matter: why could not we—women, working-class, BAME, or disabled people—get on to the top boards? When I started work, it was mitigated to some extent, particularly on the class basis, because trade unions were able to nominate to various public sector boards and, in doing so, were able to sweep up those of great ability who had learned via the experiential route about people management, responsibility, representation and some listening and decision-making skills—those who had made their way in life, as my noble friend Lord Brookman, put it recently or, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, had valuable lived experience. As the noble Lord pointed out, when selection criteria favour sector experience or seniority and put less emphasis on skills, output and lived experience, those with more interesting, non-standard CVs tend to lose out.
That is why I started thinking about the issue of representation. Then I noticed something more fundamental: the loss of talent through those groups being unrepresented. We all miss out when people of ability are denied a role in important decision-making in public bodies. Thirdly, I realised that organisations simply could not be effective if they did not reflect the groups that they were set up to serve. The most obvious example was the lack of disabled representatives in organisations that existed solely to meet their needs. Without their voices, such bodies were almost bound to fail.
It took longer for society to recognise the role that patients should play in the health service, parents in education or users in other sorts of service provision, and to realise that unless boards reflected the variety of the relevant user group, the most important voices would never be heard when decisions were taken. On NHS boards, where the whole of society needs to be represented and where, although I am guessing, more than 50% of patients are female, although the representation of women on boards has made progress, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, it peaked on NHS boards in 2002 and has since fallen from 47% to 38% in 2018.
Much worse, and almost unbelievably, just under half of NHS trusts have no BAME board members. The appointment of BAME candidates as non-execs has actually fallen over the past eight years. That is nothing short of shocking.
In the report of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, the first recommendation stands out. It states:
“Government should adopt an interim target of … 11.3% disabled public appointees by 2022”.
Similar figures could be chosen for women, BAME people or indeed those from a working-class background. But what is key is that the Government must first set a target and then take responsibility for achieving it.
The earlier Grimstone report’s first recommendation similarly spelled out:
“Public appointments are the responsibility of ministers and they are accountable for the decisions that they take and the processes that are followed”.
They cannot shy away from that, and the lack of concrete progress must be laid at their door. Any other worthy proposals, from selection criteria, procedures, improved outreach, mentoring or role models, would then follow, were the Government to take responsibility and with it the required action—not just talk—to make change happen.
However, in all this, as Sir Gerry Grimstone writes:
“Good people won’t come forward … if the appointment system appears irrational”,
I fear that his other recommendations made the system worse rather than better by giving a “much fuller role” to Ministers at the cost of potentially overriding the attempts of others to create a fairer and encouraging system. The 2017 code on public appointments required that:
“Ministers when making appointments should act solely in terms of the public interest”—
which seems to fly in the face of some highly political nominations that we have witnessed. That is not about equal opportunities.
We all agree that, as Sir Gerry wrote:
“Public appointments should be representative of our society”.
Of course they should—but that is not the reality. These bodies cannot speak for or on behalf of, nor serve, the needs of the relevant community if their boards come from a parallel universe.
As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, my gender has seen some progress—especially in Scotland, where the 50% target for non-execs has been met—but for the disabled and black and ethnic minorities there is still a very long way to go. We are wasting their talent. They are denied the opportunity to serve and our public bodies are less effective.
In December 2017 the Government set an “ambition”—so much woollier than a target, much less a promise—of 50% female and 14% BAME public appointments. It remains, sadly, a distant hope. So I look forward to some real commitment from the Minister so that we do not have to keep returning to this year after year. I trust that he will not disappoint.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Holmes on securing this debate on an issue he has championed both before and after the publication of his report last year on opening up public appointments to disabled people. I commend the speech he made today, and those of all noble Lords who have spoken—who had to cope for the first time with flashing lights to limit the times of our speeches.
Recommendation 2.1 of my noble friend’s report states that the Government should,
“showcase role models on a rolling basis”.
He has done exactly that for many years. As my noble friend reminded us, he is chair of the Global Disability Innovation Hub, diversity adviser to the Civil Service and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology, as well as sitting on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on FinTech, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He is deputy chairman of Channel 4; he is chair of Ignite, an innovation and change consultancy; and he sits on the future talent steering group. So, it is not just this House that benefits from my noble friend’s wide range of skills, experience and energy.
The question that has run through our debate this evening is basically this: are there more people like him out there, whose energy and talents we can harness? To answer that question, as noble Lords will recall, we asked my noble friend, alongside his already significant responsibilities, to review how we can open up public appointments to disabled people.
Public bodies sit at the heart of our society. They deliver vital and essential services to our communities, such as the NHS, policing, justice and educational services, to name a few. It is vital that these public bodies have strong leadership at their core to help them to make the right decisions to deliver the services that the public need and expect.
The Government make more than 1,000 appointments a year to the boards of around 550 public bodies, spending more than £200 billion between them. It is these appointees who provide direction and leadership in public bodies. By holding senior staff to account, they also provide expert and independent advice. As other noble Lords have done, I thank the many hard-working individuals in public bodies, both within the executive and non-executive teams, who make these public services a reality—many of them also serve in your Lordships’ House.
The Government are committed to improving diversity in public appointments. Given the diverse communities that these bodies serve, it is important that the public appointments we make are as representative as possible of those communities. Indeed, the Prime Minister herself has made it clear that public services like these must represent the people they serve. Not only is this morally the right thing to do, but it also brings genuine value to decision-making. Public bodies regularly face challenging decisions so we need the best minds from our communities to help guide them. As my noble friend said in his report,
“talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not”.
We have made good progress in increasing diversity in appointments. New appointments made of women, candidates from BAME backgrounds and those with a declared disability have all increased since 2013-14. However, I am sure that noble Lords will agree—I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will—that there is still more to do to meet the Government’s ambitions of 50% of public appointments being held by women and 14% of appointments being made from ethnic minority backgrounds by 2022. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, we want to “unlock” talent. Both he and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made a valid point about having a broader cultural base and broadening a board’s outlook so that it has the breadth of vision that is needed.
So what are we doing? In 2017, we published our Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan, which makes the moral and business case for more diverse public appointments. It sets out our goals and a 10-point action plan to help meet the Government’s ambition of achieving 50% of all public appointees being female and 14% of all public appointments being from ethnic minorities by 2022. My noble friend Lord Holmes’s review of the barriers preventing disabled people taking up public appointments was part of delivering this plan. My noble friend reported back in December 2018; again, I thank him for his excellent review, with its moving case studies. The Government remain committed to improving diversity in public appointments and have carefully considered the recommendations put forward in my noble friend’s review.
The review sets out a range of recommendations covering data collection and transparency, attracting and nurturing talent, application packs and job descriptions, interviews and the other issues that were mentioned in the debate; for example, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, mentioned retention and both he and my noble friend Lord Holmes mentioned having a central application portal. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, also mentioned making the interview panel more diverse, which is another recommendation in the report. Many of my noble friend’s recommendations will benefit all those from underrepresented communities wishing to apply for public appointments. I read my noble friend’s report last night. He said:
“I believe that they”—
“could have general applicability and benefits in many situations, across public appointments and to all talent acquisition and recruitment practices”.
Therefore, it makes sense that, in parallel to responding to my noble friend, we refresh the 2017 Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan.
As I recently set out in my response to my noble friend’s Question in May, we will respond to the review imminently—around the end of this month—and at the same time we will publish a refreshed public appointments diversity action plan. I am only sorry that those were not available in time for our debate this evening. Appointments are made individually by departments, so officials in the Cabinet Office have been working across those departments and thoroughly considering how to take forward the review’s aims on a broad front.
In response to a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, I can say that our revised diversity action plan will set out measures that will help to open up public appointments not only to disabled people but to diverse groups in the broadest sense. That includes women, those from ethnic minorities, those of different faith perspectives and those who identify as LGBT+, as well as individuals from different social backgrounds and indeed from all regions across the UK.
I know that officials from the Cabinet Office have been keeping my noble friend Lord Holmes informed of the progress of the Government’s response to his review and the refreshed diversity action plan, and I hope that he has found these updates helpful. I would welcome his views on them when they are published, as would the House as a whole. He will be pleased to know that, in the meantime, we have continued to take forward actions in the Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan published in 2017. We have been working to increase the visibility of appointees from underrepresented groups and have encouraged applications from people with diverse skills and experiences through a series of events.
Since last summer, my honourable friend the Minister for Implementation has been hosting and has spoken at events, including one held in Downing Street with the kind permission of the Prime Minister, to encourage talented individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds to consider public appointments. Events have also been held to encourage the brightest and best in business and those with faith perspectives to consider these opportunities. The Minister went to Birmingham and Newcastle to encourage talented individuals from outside London to apply for public appointments—we want more talented individuals from outside London and the south-east to consider these opportunities—and we will continue to hold further events throughout 2019. We have involved networks in these outreach events to help raise awareness of public appointments and have encouraged them to distribute communications about public appointment opportunities to their members. We have also improved how we collect and monitor data on the diversity of appointments and reappointments made each year through the launch of a new data collection tool.
I shall try to address some of the specific issues raised during our debate. My noble friend Lord Inglewood asked what we were doing to encourage more younger people to take up public appointments. Our public appointees have been getting younger. In 2017-18, 20% of new appointments were of people under 45, compared with 18% in the previous year, and some bodies have created specific roles—
Certainly as far as I am concerned, anyone under 45 is young. I will see whether we can collect statistics on a more granular basis than simply “under 45”.
I was asked what other tools the Government use to achieve inclusivity. Public appointees go through a fair, open and transparent selection process, set out in the Government’s code and regulated by the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments.
What are we doing to attract talent in public appointments? That question was posed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. The measures that we will set out in our refreshed public appointments diversity action plan arrive at precisely the objective referred to by the noble Lord.
My noble friend Lord Inglewood made the point that we should not make the best the enemy of the good. On his point about building a team, that is a matter for the chair, but what is happening at the moment is that the specific methods of choosing people preclude people from applying who may indeed be the best—those who may have the best qualities and unusual life stories. At the moment those people may be excluded.
I do not want to run into injury time. I will write to noble Lords on those points that I have not replied to.
In conclusion, I believe that many of my noble friend’s considered and practical recommendations will help to increase diversity in public appointments from all underrepresented groups and drive up the quality of public services. We are both determined to put that right; I know that he and the House will ensure that we deliver real, positive improvements in the diversity of public appointments in the future.
House adjourned at 7 pm.