Cabinet Office criticised over 'rushed' watchdog recruitment

Thirteen-day application window “hardly a good way to get a strong and diverse field” for next UKSA chair, says former Royal Statistical Society chief exec
Photo: fernandozhiminaicela/Pixabay

The Cabinet Office has insisted it is “committed to attracting a strong and diverse set of candidates for its public appointments”, after being criticised for advertising a “high-profile post” at the UK Statistics Authority for less than two weeks.

A listing published this week gives candidates just 13 days to apply to be the UKSA’s next chair.

The ad calls for an experienced leader who can demonstrate “integrity and a strong personal reputation” to fill the £71,250-a-year role, described as a “very high-profile post, which will attract a great deal of parliamentary and public attention”.

The UKSA chair is responsible for reinforcing the independence, integrity and quality of official statistics and supporting the national statistician as the authority’s chief exec.

Drawing attention to the listing on Twitter, former Royal Statistical Society chief executive Hetan Shah said advertising the role for such a short period was “hardly a good way to get a strong and diverse field”.

Asked why candidates had not been given longer to apply, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said the timing reflected the need to appoint a new chair by March 2022.

However, the appointment is a routine one, as the March deadline coincides with the end of Sir David Norgrove’s five-year appointment as chair.

The Cabinet Office – which is responsible for public appointments – did not give a reason why the process had not started earlier.

In September, then-Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told ministers to improve their planning for recruitment campaigns for top roles, after then-public appointments commissioner Peter Riddell called for action to address “unacceptable and unexplained delays” in filling vacancies.

Speaking to CSW, Shah said the rushed process was “disappointing as this post has a fixed term and so it was entirely predictable that a recruitment would be required this year”.

“The very short application window will have a detrimental effect on producing a diverse and high quality field of candidates. It gives very little time and some candidates are being put off by the impression that the process implies the recruiters already have somebody in mind for the role,” he said.

A number of other commentators said the way the job was being advertised created a perception that ministers already had a preferred candidate in mind.

Shah, who has also been deputy vice chair of the Ada Lovelace Institute, an independent research institute specialising in data and AI, has raised the issue of diversity in official statistics on several occasions in the past.

In 2019, he prompted an apology from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee after pointing out the all-male lineup of witnesses for its inquiry into official statistics.

Shah urged the Cabinet Office to extend the application window for the stats authority chair “to get a diverse field of candidates that this important job and indeed our nation’s statistics deserve”.

In response, the spokesperson said: "The Cabinet Office is committed to attracting a strong and diverse set of candidates for its public appointments."

This article has been updated on 29.11.21 to reflect a clarification from the Cabinet Office that the application window is a matter for the department, not the commissioner on public appointments

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