Government did not give us enough time to vet new public appointments watchdog, says PACAC chair Bernard Jenkin

Bernard Jenkin says his Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee needs more time to scrutinise the government's choice for public appointments watchdog – and the government has yet to name its preferred candidate for the civil service equivalent

By Suzannah Brecknell

31 Mar 2016

The government did not allow sufficient time for proper scrutiny when it named Peter Riddell as the preferred candidate to become the next commissioner for public appointments (CPA), according to Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

PACAC approves government candidates for both the CPA role and also for the separate role of first civil service commissioner, both of which are currently held by Sir David Normington.

The CPA oversees the way in which people are recruited to top jobs in non-departmental public bodies, while the first civil service commissioner oversees recruitment into the civil service, chairs selection panels for the most senior grades, and also hears complaints about breaches of the civil service code. Normington's term in both posts ends today (31 March).

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Government named Riddell as its preferred choice for CPA earlier this month, but has not yet named a candidate for the first civil service commissioner.

In a statement, Jenkin said government had agreed to have an interregnum for the CPA post while PACAC completes its scrutiny process.

He said PACAC was notified of the choice “barely more than a week before the House rose for the Easter recess” and the short notice meant that only four out of 11 committee members were able to attend the pre-appoinment hearing with Riddell.

The committee also needs to properly consider the implications of the Grimstone review of the public appointments process, he said, which was published on 11 March.

“PACAC will meet on 12th April, both to take oral evidence on Grimstone and then to continue our pre-appointment hearing,” Jenkin said. “The government has indicated to me that they accept we received notice of the name of the preferred candidate very late. They will therefore accept that there will be an interregnum, rather than by-pass the pre-appointment process.

“In view of the possible controversy about the Grimstone recommendations, the credibility and authority of the new appointment will depend upon the support and confidence of PACAC.”

Normington has spoken out against the Grimstone recommendations, saying they would remove checks and balances put in place to ensure top public appointments are made on merit.

He said: “There are serious questions to be asked about whether it gets the balance right between the power of ministers to appoint and the Nolan principle of appointment on merit after fair and open process.”

Responding to Jenkin's statement, a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office told CSW: ''Of course, the government agrees that Pacac should have the time they need to fully scrutinise the appointment of the new Commissioner for Public Appointments, and we are working closely with them.''


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