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A Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments
UNISON Scotland submission:

Public Appointments and Public Bodies (Scotland) Bill.
A Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments
Scottish Executive Consultation Paper

April 2002

Executive Summary

UNISON Scotland's over-riding objective is to have a public appointments process that is fair, open and democratic; one which actively encourages participation from groups which are currently under-represented - women, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, LGBT people and younger people. We believe that the role and remit of the Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments (SCPA) should embrace these fundamental principles.

Public bodies should be subject to democratic accountability and scrutiny. UNISON believes it is crucial that the Scottish Parliament has a clear role in working with the SCPA to ensure accountability and transparency. We welcome the proposals to give the SCPA powers of monitoring and regulation, and support the arrangements for reporting to the Scottish Parliament.

We believe there needs to be more discussion as to the value of the Scottish Parliament creating a Public Appointments Committee, and we recognise that this is a decision for the Parliament's Standing Orders and the Parliament itself. UNISON would support mechanisms for confirmation hearings - which could include MSPs on hearings' panels - in the hope that hearings would lead to greater transparency and openness.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the consultation document on a Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments (SCPA). UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union with over 140,000 members working in the public sector. Many of our members work for the public bodies that will come under the SCPA's remit.

UNISON has previously submitted comments on public appointments as part of the Scottish Executive's consultation on how to modernise the system of public appointments in Scotland, and we have participated in the consultation on Freedom of Information and the Executive's proposals for a Public Sector Ombudsman. This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation paper issued by the Scottish Executive on the Public Appointments and Public Bodies (Scotland Bill) A Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments.



The role and remit of a Scottish Commissioner

UNISON Scotland broadly agrees with the aims of creating a SCPA to ensure that the public appointments process is fair, open and transparent, and commands public confidence. We agree that the SCPA should work in partnership with the Executive, Parliament and other agencies to ensure that public bodies become more effective, and to scrutinise the work of public bodies and Ministers in relation to them. We support proposals to use the seven principles of public life, as recommended by the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life, to provide the framework for the public appointments process.

Promoting Diversity

We welcome the proposals for the role of the SCPA to regulate, monitor and promote diversity, however, we would like to see more emphasis and importance placed on the "promoting diversity" remit.

UNISON believes it is crucial that the SCPA:

  • addresses how to widen representation on public appointments,
  • looks at the reasons for under representation,
  • takes positive action to assist groups currently under represented.

A key role for the SCPA should be that of investigating the reasons for the under representation of groups such as women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, younger people, LGBT people, and people from low income backgrounds and non-traditional education.

We welcome the proposals to run development programmes for potential appointees, increase awareness of public appointments, and to review targets. However, UNISON believes that the SCPA, working together with other agencies - including trade unions - should take firmer action to ensure such groups are represented.

Any diversity strategy drawn up by the SCPA should include positive action and the adoption of the principles of proportionality and fair representation. In terms of gender, we believe that women and men should be equally represented on public bodies. In addition we believe that certain public bodies should have reserved seats for ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and LGBT people, to ensure that their views are heard.

We welcome the commitment to review targets, and we feel that there should be a more wide-ranging debate on how targets are used to achieve greater representation in public appointments.


We support the proposal to boost the number of Independent Assessors, and as we indicated in a previous submission we believe that organisations such as the STUC should have a role in nominating independent assessors.


We welcome the SCPA's role in reviewing the system of remuneration for board members. UNISON has found the current system of payments arbitrary and inconsistent, and we believe that all posts should be evaluated against set criteria before the type and level of payment is awarded.

UNISON supports the inclusion of childcare and carers costs in a new payments system so as a person's caring responsibilities do not act as a barrier to participation in public bodies. Adequate travel expenses, and locum payments to employers who release staff are welcome and should be incorporated into a new payments procedure.

Reporting arrangements

UNISON believes it is important, in the interests of transparency and accountability, that the SCPA submits an annual report to the Scottish Parliament. We agree that the SCPA should have the powers to inform Parliament if his/her Code of Practice is breached. In addition, there should be clear procedures for dealing with Code breaches.

Bodies covered by the Code of Practice

We welcome the SCPA's remit as covering devolved Scottish public bodies, and believe that there should be structures to facilitate dialogue and joint-working where appropriate with Commissioners covering the rest of the UK.


UNISON supports the proposal that the Parliament will recommend a candidate to be appointed as the SCPA. We accept the consultation paper's position that it is crucial that the SCPA is independent from Ministers since the SCPA will be regulating and monitoring Ministerial powers of appointment.

UNISON welcomes the move to openly advertise the post of SCPA, and assumes that the post would be advertised in a diverse and broad range of publications and communities.

UNISON agrees that the SCPA should not be merged with the Standards Commission. As we stated in our previous submission, it is important that the SCPA should have sole responsibility for public appointments, and not have his/her work diluted or confused with any other responsibilities or remits.


Role for Parliament

UNISON agrees that the Scottish Parliament should, through its open and democratic structures, deal with procedures relating to the appointment and operations of the SCPA.

We note the references in the consultation document to views of the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Service on establishing a Public Appointments Committee in the Parliament. UNISON believes that there should be wider debate on this view, and believes that this is an issue for the Scottish Parliament to consider.

We welcome the Executive's proposals that give Parliament a role in overseeing the work of the SCPA. However, as noted above, we need more consideration of the merits of a Public Appointments Committee. It may be more appropriate for the relevant Committee for the Public Body making the appointment to oversee procedures. Nevertheless we strongly support the moves to ensure scrutiny and debate of the SCPA's Annual Report, and in hearing evidence of breaches of the code from the SCPA. It is a matter for the Parliament to determine how it operates this role, and we would hope that the Parliament would consult widely before deciding how to progress.

UNISON envisaged the Parliament as having a strong role in the appointments process. We believe that the Parliament should have the powers to hold confirmation hearings on proposed appointments for senior positions. The Parliament should also have the power to accept or refer back appointments, and to query current appointments where there is a perceived problem.


Confirmation Hearings

UNISON has previously expressed support in principle for confirmation hearings for senior public appointments, in the hope that such hearings will lead to greater transparency and openness. We would be concerned if confirmation hearings also led to greater politicisation of the public appointments process. This may deter applicants from groups who are currently under-represented.

Whilst we believe that Parliament and MSPs could have an important role to play in confirmation hearings, we feel that there should be appropriate checks and balances to ensure a fair and unbiased process. UNISON supports the incorporation of a range of suitable mechanisms in the hearing processes. These should include: greater control over the types of questions that can be asked in hearings, in order to prevent inappropriate questioning on personal matters; the implementation of a system of positive action and the principle of fair representation for under-represented groups; and a wider civic involvement on the confirmation hearing panels, so as representatives from trade unions, the churches, and community groups are included along with MSPs.


UNISON recognises that the funding of the SCPA by Parliament not the Executive will help to distance the office of the SCPA from the Executive and will send out a strong signal of independence and impartiality. We would emphasise the importance of ensuring that the office of the SCPA is well resourced so as the SCPA can carry out his / her duties effectively and efficiently.

Terms and conditions of appointment

We support the proposed periods of appointment of the SCPA.

Finance and staffing

We support the proposals for the financing of the office of the SCPA and welcome the reporting mechanisms. As noted above, we would hope that the SCPA is given adequate resources for the functions requested to provide.


Overall, UNISON welcomes this consultation document as a positive step towards the establishment of a Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland. We believe that the Executive's proposals will help to create a more open, transparent and accountable system, with the appropriate checks and balances, and will modernise the system of public appointments in Scotland.

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


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