MPs back Shawcross as next public appointments commissioner

Ministers told to up their game over extensions to watchdogs’ terms of office and interim postings
Photo: Michael Kemp/Alamy Stock Photo

By Jim Dunton

21 Sep 2021

Members of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee have endorsed controversial author and Prevent reviewer William Shawcross as the next commissioner for public appointments.

Shawcross will succeed Peter Riddell next month, following a successful pre-appointment hearing last week at which the writer was grilled on his approach to the role and his intentions to publish polemical writing during his five-year term.

Pacac members also used their report on the hearing to criticise ministers for failing to name Shawcross as their preferred candidate for six months after he was interviewed for the role, which was originally due to be filled from April.

“Given interviews were held in January, it is disappointing that we were only notified of Mr Shawcross’s nomination as commissioner in July,” they said.

“Ministers are not required to take the views of select committees into account when making public appointments, however, where committees fail to endorse the minister’s preferred candidate, it can significantly impact on their credibility and, consequently, their ability to do the role to which they have been appointed.

“Indeed, some have chosen not to take up their appointment under these circumstances. The pre-appointment hearing with Mr Shawcross took place only a few weeks before the end of Mr Riddell’s extended term, leaving no time for alternative arrangements to be put in place should the committee fail to endorse Mr Shawcross’s appointment.”

PACAC said it was forced to assume that the government intended to appoint Shawcross as public appointments commissioner “regardless of the outcome of the pre-appointment hearing”.

“The significant number of extensions and interim appointments required to allow recruitment competitions to take place suggests that it is not a problem confined a single department,” MPs said.

They pointed to a recent review by Riddell that found fewer than half of public appointments were made within the government’s own three-month target and the commissioner’s criticism of “unacceptable, and invariably unexplained delays” in competitions.

MPs said that as the date by which major appointments needed to be made was known several years in advance, there seemed to be “no justifiable reason” for recruitment processes not to be completed in good time.

They noted that as Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove – now housing and levelling-up secretary following last week’s reshuffle – had pledged departments would make improvements in their succession planning.

“We will be watching keenly for signs of improvement in the manner in which public appointment processes are undertaken and will return to it should they fail to materialise,” they warned.

PACAC said January's interviews for the next public appointments commissioner had resulted in two “appointable” candidates being identified from a field of five. 

One reason for the delay in Shawcross's appointment has been his ongoing review of the government's Prevent counter-extremism programme, which was commissioned by home secretary Priti Patel.

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