A group of MPs responsible for scrutinising public appointments has said a series of recent administrative failings by the Cabinet Office in nominating people for senior roles raise questions about its competence.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has urged the Cabinet Office to produce an action plan explaining how it will eliminate “systemic failures” its members say have made it harder for them to scrutinise candidates the department puts forward for public appointments.
The Cabinet Office has on more than one occasion given the committee too little notice of its pick for a public role ahead of the required pre-appointment hearing, according to a report published yesterday.
The committee published its report two days after holding a pre-appointment hearing for fomer MI5 boss Jonathan Evans, whom the Cabinet Office had nominated to lead the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Cabinet Office had “once again” failed to give the committee a name a week before the pre-appointment hearing was due to take place, as required by its own guidance, it said.
“The Cabinet Office has also failed to give any reason for this delay, which is especially vexing given that applications for the post were closed at the beginning of June, and the date of 9 October for the pre-appointment hearing was agreed with the department in July,” the committee said.
The delay followed “serious administrative failings” in other recent appointments, it added, namely the chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists.
“Such failings reduce the opportunity for the committee to carry out its scrutiny of these important public appointments,” it said.
“This is unacceptable and raises wider concerns about the Cabinet Office’s competence in carrying out routine administrative business.”
As well as examining the requested action plan, MPs may question senior officials at the department in an attempt to get to the root of the problem, they said.
The committee also voiced concerns about the lack of diversity among candidates the Cabinet Office has put forward for public positions.
Evans will be the seventh consecutive man to become permanent chair of the CSPL, and all of the Cabinet Office’s nominees questioned by the committee since the 2015 general election have been white men.
The committee said last month that it would keep the diversity of senior public appointments by the Cabinet Office under review. Yesterday’s report called on the department to give an update on its progress on addressing the issue.
Despite these reservations, the PACAC said it felt Evans was qualified and had the “the necessary personal integrity and independence” to lead the standards body. It said it would support the appointment provided Evans fulfil his commitment to give up his seat on the Parliamentary and Political Services Honours Committee.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "We will carefully consider the committee's recommendations and respond in due course. We remain committed to ensuring that Cabinet Office appointments meet the high standards expected and follow the necessary procedures.
"Diversity in public appointments remains a priority for the government, and we have put in place a clear ambition to see 14% of new appointments go to people from an ethnic minority, and 50% to women, by 2022."