Matthew Elliott is Chief Executive of Business for Britain
This morning, people were rightly focused on the tragic events unfolding on the international stage, or simply looking forward to a weekend of hot weather. But the Government also made an announcement of note. The Commission for Public Appointments, a little known quango, published a set of statistics that deserve further attention.
For a number of years I have followed with interest the appointment of politicians, former politicians and their advisers to position of influence in the public sector. The latest statistics reveal that, yet again, more of those appointments have gone to individuals from a Labour background, rather than Conservative one.
It is a serious imbalance. This army of Labourites pose a threat, not only to future Conservative electoral chances, but also to public sector reform. Combined with dominance of the left in many charities and campaign groups, these political appointees can, and do, undermine Government policy with criticism that is portrayed as from an impartial observer, but often reflects the political orientation of those at the top of these bodies.
Nowhere has this been clearer than the response of some to the Government’s welfare reforms. Or when the head of the Environment Agency, Lord (Chris) Smith, a former Labour MP, tied to blame recent flooding on budget cuts. These appointments matter. In this instance, it was a factor in Owen Paterson’s removal from Government.
Given this context, the latest statistics make grim reading.
Of those that do declare an affiliation, Labour still dominates, as the chart below shows. Further examination of the statistics reveals that in NHS appointments in particular, Labour dominant. This comes just as attacks on the Government’s management of the NHS is set to be one of Labour’s main electoral attack lines.
It’s worth noting the number of people declaring political activity has fallen. In the latest statistics it is only 5 per cent when in previous years under the coalition it has been closer to 10 per cent, but that is in part because of whole raft of judicial appointees being included for the first time. When you strip out the judicial data we are able to look at the appointment trends for nearly twenty years.
Then the dominance of Labour is obvious. Back in the Blair years, those declaring political activities were nearly a fifth of appointments, even if the numbers have gone down, Labour’s majority at the top of the public sector has not.
Graphs like this make mincemeat of claims from labour die-hards like Dame Sally Morgan that number No.10 is purging non-Tories from quangos. Blair and Brown stuffed these bodies and that trend has hardly been reversed.
It’s time the Conservatives took some concrete action on this problem, rather than simply trying to reduce the number of appointments that are political. After I first raised this issue at a Conservative Home conference two years ago, Tim Montgomerie was kind enough to suggest I be made a Minister for Public Appointments in a future government, but it doesn’t need a new minister. CCHQ should consider playing a role in encouraging activists and supporters to apply for these roles.
For example, people on the Candidates List have traditionally got kudos for serving as Councillors or School Governors. They should also be encouraged to serve the community by applying for these roles.
After all, we can’t complain that Labour dominates appointments if credible Conservative candidates are not applying for the same jobs. Encouraging more Conservatives to apply would not only diversify the background of those leading the public sector – introducing more private sector experience – it would also help correct the imbalance that has been allowed to fester for too long.
With less than a year to go until the election, CCHQ obviously has a huge task to focus on, and polling numbers are obviously the main metric of success. But for the battles in 2020 and 2015, we should also be keeping an eye on improving our performance in the public appointments data each year.