The Cabinet Office has set out plans to introduce new mentoring pilot programme for departments as part of a bid to improve diversity in UK public appointments.
It is one of a range of actions outlined in response to last year’s Holmes Review on opening up public appointments to disabled people, but comes in a just-published update to the government’s Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan.
The Cabinet Office said that many of Lord Holmes’ December recommendations would have benefits that went beyond people with disabilities, so it had chosen to incorporate them into a refreshed version of the action plan, which was first published in 2017.
The pilot programme will look to offer mentoring and support to “near miss” candidates for board posts – particularly those from “under-represented” groups – in a bid to help them secure future opportunities. The Cabinet Office said the programme would cover a number of departments and drew on experience from Northern Ireland.
The programme will be set up in conjunction with the Public Appointments Forum and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Cabinet Office said it would be in place by July next year.
Elsewhere, the refreshed DAP includes Holmes’ recommendation that departments should be more selective in their use of executive search companies, choosing those with a demonstrable track record in shortlisting candidates from diverse backgrounds.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said departments were now being encouraged to use firms that had signed up to industry codes of conduct designed to promote gender and ethnic diversity, and this should be expanded to aid the search for disabled board members.
“Departments should also consider using firms that have indicated that they follow the Business Disability Forum’s Charter for Disability Smart Recruitment Service Providers,” he said.
Dowden also confirmed that the government had accepted Holmes’ call for better data-collection in relation to applications for public appointments to make it easier to measure progress – and allow individual departments to be challenged over their performance.
He said the review had “prompted a re-think” of the government’s approach to driving diversity in public appointments.
“The true test of commitment is not just words, but actions,” he said. “With improved data and transparency, this government and its successors will be held to account about the progress it is actually making.”
The updated Diversity Action Plan said around 1,000 public appointments were made to the boards of the nation’s 500-plus public bodies every year.
The government has said it wants women to account for 50% of all public appointees by 2022 and for 14% of appointees to come from ethnic-minority backgrounds within the same timeframe.
According to the updated DAP, 43% of public appointees were women as of March 31 last year; 10% came from an ethnic minority background and 5% were disabled.
Holmes' review said the government should set an 11.3% interim target for disabled appointees by 2022 – mirroring the Senior Civil Service target.
But Dowden's official government response declined to adopt the figure, arguing that there was a mismatch between the disability reporting rate for senior civil servants and applicants for public appointments. Dowden said there was an 82% reporting rate for disability among the SCS but only a 65% for public appointments.
“We do not have comparable data or evidence on public appointments,” he said. “Consequently, it would not be appropriate to set an ambition for public appointments at this stage.”