Peter Riddell has called on government departments to better coordinate their public appointments teams, to help boost black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) representation on public boards.
The commissioner for public appointments said there was a strong case for joining up Whitehall’s dispersed appointments teams, in order to share best practice and networks of contacts and databases.
He said the “considerable progress made in recent years” to increase the representation of women serving on public bodies (now 45.5%) had only been partially matched among BAME candidates, who made up just over 9% of appointments in 2016-17 compared with 14% of the overall population.
Just seven of 136 chairing roles were given to BAME people this past year.
“The record is becoming more positive for BAME candidates – though there is still some way to go to make the boards of public bodies representative of the people they serve,” he said.
In a blog posted on the commissioner’s website, Riddell said roughly 2,000 appointments are made to public bodies each year and that while the Cabinet Office’s Centre for Public Appointments provides some central coordination, most selections are made by departments.
Departments differ considerably in the number and type of appointments they make, with some, such as the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, making relatively few and having limited contact with BAME groups.
Riddell also said too many BAME applicants had failed to get to interview and appointments stages, risking “disillusionment with the process”.
Having discussed the issue with Whitehall departments and BAME people, Riddell concluded that a lack of knowledge about opportunities and a lack of confidence among ethnic minorities are among the obstacles to diversity progress.
“Much can be achieved by events targeted at BAME groups which a number of departments have successfully organised to explain the public appointments scene,” he said.
“Yet, second, there is a crucial need for follow-up. Potential BAME candidates need to be identified, encouraged and advised via the type of mentoring and shadowing schemes which NHS Improvement has successfully pioneered.
“This means supporting candidates who might be unsuccessful in one application so as to ensure they are not discouraged from applying on other occasions.”
Riddell added that public appointments are less London-centric than might be assumed, with well over half of selections being made to locally focused bodies, such as independent monitoring boards and NHS trusts.
Riddell has previously called on departments to insist on making applicants for top public sector jobs fill out diversity monitoring forms to address the problem of “patchy and inadequate” data currently available to his watchdog.