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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835