Far from abolishing hordes of quangos in a huge bonfire, the
government has kept many and appointed political opponents to run them, as this site reminded us on Saturday. In the
Autumn I wrote an article urging Conservatives to apply for these positions but
the government needs to take its share of the responsibility too. The whole process
needs to be opened up to encourage applicants from all walks of life, not only
our own supporters.
Public appointments are filled by competence based assessments.
When a post falls vacant the civil servants will create a job description and a
person specification which list the skills required to do the job. These
documents form the basis of the job advertisement which will attract certain
types of candidate. They are used to pose the questions on the application form
and at the interview. The process is seen as fair because you get the candidate
So the job description and person specification are vital,
but too often these are just pulled out of a drawer, dusted off and reused with
no alterations. This government is filling positions using the same template as
the Labour government so it should be no surprise that it is getting the same
For example, many of the job descriptions call for
experience in quangos or similar bodies. The same appointees are recycled and
familiar names crop up in supposedly new roles. Experience can be important but
so are new ideas and innovation. Ministers need to consider how much change
they want to see and write the specifications accordingly.
Another example is the equalities experience which is found
in every job description without exception. Equal access to services is
important but ministers need to find a way to promote this without putting off applicants
from outside the public sector who might not have the same credentials as their
public sector competitors. A more consumerist approach which defines the right
of taxpayers to receive excellent services regardless of their race, sex,
religion etc would be a good way forward.
In these difficult times every job description should
include experience of managing and reducing a budget. Experience of
outsourcing and letting contracts should also be high on the list. Too often
these important skills are not even sought.
The application process should also be made easier and less
time consuming so that it doesn’t discourage busy people. Application forms
need to be streamlined and focused on the key skills required rather than
trivia and we need less of the impenetrable public sector jargon. And is it
really necessary to include a monitoring form which asks so many intrusive
questions about the applicant’s personal details?
Ministers are busy and it is no surprise that they choose
not to get involved with the rather dry and laborious recruitment process.
Nevertheless, they need to find someone – special advisor, PPS, or just an ambitious backbencher – to put in
the legwork on this. Otherwise, if they keep asking for the same skills and
experience, they will keep getting the same people.