Public Appointments Commissioner calls for change to “elite” membership of NI Boards

This one seems to have one a bit unnoticed in the media. The BBC reported two weeks ago, the comments of John Keanie the Northern Ireland Public Appointments Commissioner.

He complained about a lack of diversity in the membership of the boards of public organisations. According to his publications (here and here) there is a gross over representation of older white men: even worse than their over representation on such organisations in mainland GB. He also suggests that there is a perception that board positions are for “an elite”.

Other questions on diversity might also be asked: the political views of the board members would be very interesting. Indeed such is the nature of NI society that is might be reasonable to ask for a breakdown by unionist: nationalist (and just as relevantly letsgetalongerist).

The other question, which is of course, beyond Mr. Keanie’s remit is whether Northern Ireland needs 100 of these different bodies with 1,400 members. In a time of austerity when we are cutting the number of public sector jobs it might be reasonable to suggest that the number of these organisations could be radically reduced.

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  • chrisjones2

    Perhaps that comes from the selection process which clearly requires

    * skills and experience
    * the unmentioned sponsorship by a Minister
    * docility to party diktats and an unswerving loyalty
    * ability to recognise a commercial opportunity that can be used to help the party or oneself or a mate (perfectly legally of course)
    * enough intelligence not to look too stupid while doing what the SpAd tells one
    * bifocal moral vision where anything down below looks so fuzzy that one cannot (and should not) notice it unless it involves themuns

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Could we also ask for stats for letsgetalongerists of a unionist persuasion, letsgetalongerists of a nationalist (well, reunification) persuasion, letsgetalongerists of an ‘agnostic’ persuasion, unionists of a pragmatic persuasion, unionists of a British nationalist persuasion, nationalists of a pragmatic persuasion and nationalists of an Irish nationalist persuasion?

  • Brian Walker

    An interesting idea to make boards fewer and more representative but easier said than done. The great and good kept NI going during 30 years of the Troubles when there was no regional government and to some extent, still do in the extensive monitoring and regulatory architecture that guarantees fairness.
    Most of the present membership is middle of the road and until recently at any rate, wouldn’t be seen dead voting for either the DUP and Sinn Fein. This makes them untypical of the dominant political leadership but probably more representative of general opinion. I suspect this has suited the parties as well as they don’t want to increase the number of squabbles over public appointments. The question is,would a smaller bureaucracy,however desirable in itself combined with more direct political control, force the parties to cooperate better or make matters worse?

  • chrisjones2

    Really? What about the Boards of NIHE, NIW, etc tec etc

    Remember Jenny Palmer – if you don’t do what you are told what use are you to the party

  • Turgon

    Mr. Walker,

    The need for 100 boards with 1,400 members for a population of 1.7 million is difficult to take seriously (as is 108 MLAs and all the councillors etc.).

    Furthermore you say: “The great and good kept NI going during 30 years of the Troubles”

    That is extremely debatable both whether they did or not and whether we needed as many of them as we had. Furthermore they were well paid for their “work” throughout the Troubles.

    Even if you assertion were true, unfortunately now we seem to have at least as many of them (boards and members) as we had before.

  • paulgraham7567

    Are you really surprised we need so many boards and members and MLAs?

    Given the history of mismanagement and poor governance in NI, there needs to be substantial oversight. And given recent examples of dodgy practices by politicians from both sides of the divide, I doubt we are in a position to reduce that oversight.

  • Turgon

    Well despite all those boards for decades now we seem to have had pretty woeful governance. I agree the politicians have indulged in somewhat dodgy practices but the assorted Board members have failed completely to prevent this and indeed frequently seem to be part of the problem: sometimes even more so than the politicians.

    At least the politicians are accountable to the electorate (though I agree they are rarely removed in Northern Ireland). The “elite” the Public Appointments Commissioner, Mr. Keanie referred to are unaccountable, appear to be self perpetuating and there are a shocking number of them (1,400) and as you observe they do not seem to be doing a very good job of their functions.

    That said of course we “need” all these posts as otherwise the great and good letsgetalongerists would not have as many boards to be on, renumeration to get and awards to receive (on behalf of all of us you understand).

  • 23×7

    You appear to be an expert. How many boards do we need?

  • Turgon

    I am not an expert and In all honesty I am not sure how many we need: however, I am extremely dubious at any suggestion we have either too few or just about the right number; hence, a reduction looks reasonable.

    I note we reduced the number of Health Trusts and District Councils pretty radically without any obvious problem (indeed one could argue we could go further). In a time of austerity it would be reasonable to look at reducing the number of these boards and their memberships.

    Of just as great relevance, however, is the call to open these boards memberships’ up to people outside the “elite”. That being the main focus of the article.

  • 23×7

    As I thought you haven’t a clue. Maybe we need more.

  • Turgon

    Well we certainly did not need more Health trusts or councils than we had. Even now we might be able to have less.

    Also it is not me who is saying the Boards membership is unrepresentative: it is the outgoing Public Appointments Commissioner: does he have a clue?

  • paulgraham7567

    I think the whole point of the original report was to diversify the membership to remove cronyism.

    I fail to see how less oversight of our self serving politicians will create better governance?

    Imagine how much dirtier Stormont etc would be if there was less oversight?

    In certain areas there could, perhaps be a trimming of the fat, but I doubt that it would save much money.

  • chrisjones2

    Ha….most of the mismanagement and corruption and expense gouging is BY the MLAs and Councillors

  • mary

    Dear commissioner,
    Coming through a nightmare , no different from anyone else the troubles!
    Witness aware and growing up in a dysfunctional crazy abusive community.
    Seeing people murdered, tarred only crime was love- listening to godfathers inciting hate, I.e. the other side.
    At 15 years old knock at my door, watching ( top of the pops, pans people) told that I was wanted up the street. So went, woman standing behind the door – long gun. “Whats wrong” I said. “Do you know ……….. yes Why? Nothing to do with these evil blood hounds – people. Wanted -point him out in my work why? Because he hates Catholics! UDR partime man. Jes what had that to do with me. Someone husband father, I could not do this, 15 years old I knew it was wrong. I have no understanding why anyone would want to kill anyone. My up bring was thou shall not kill. Every monday commissioner, they waited for him.
    my nerves were broken. I protected this hard working 23 year old several weeks passed.for 37 years on I lived with this fear saw his face every day. He had a lucky excape- sorry to say they got him in the end. I dont know who blew this poor man up. After all those years. Point is it is worse seeing these people acting as do gooders. PTSD today. True peace will come when these people taken to task, all murders is wrong, whats in power needs to be removed untrustworthy true, then maybe true peace will come when those all sides face law of the land .All guilty as sin..No one should be above the law. Deal with the past then maybe true peace will come. Please god.

  • npww

    You state the report finds ‘there is a gross over representation of older white men’. In other words there is a critical deficit of women. This means men are priviledged in these positions and the capacity of the boards is significantly weakened by a lack of gender diversity. This should be urgently addressed with comprehensive actions to expand women’s participation. Slugger you can lead the way and demonstrate your own commitment to equality. Isn’t it high time to diversify your editorial board? The all-male list of editors on the right of this page is appalling.

  • Ian James Parsley

    There is a reality that board membership requires professional experience.

    In practice, that does mean that certain groups will be overrepresented.

    However, there is no doubt that that “in practice” has gone too far. For a start, too many appointments effectively require experience on other Boards – so they are only really open to those who already have a foot in the door.

    It had also been my understanding that you cannot be paid twice out of the public purse; but it appears, in fact, that this only means that a public sector worker cannot be paid as a Board member. However, members of several Boards get paid for each. I think that should end, and that any individual should only be able to claim one Board payment in any given month. That would de-motivate people from applying for several at once, and open the door at least a bit.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I went through them a few years ago myself, and was comfortably able to reduce them by a third.

    Indeed, one of the issues of the Sport NI scandal is that, frankly, Sport NI doesn’t need to exist at all.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I think this is the key point; you need to do another piece on it!

    Despite the array of boards and experienced people on them, we have some boards which effectively can’t operate; and others which still get embroiled in scandal.

    So, does the current system work in terms of delivering good governance? Not really.

  • barnshee

    “There is a reality that board membership requires professional experience”.

    What is this “professional experience”

    Can they heal/treat the sick?
    Design a structure that won`t fall down?
    Teach anyone anything? (other than how to fill in expense forms)
    Lay brick? Fix a leak ?

    Other than occupying space at public expense what exactly do they DO

  • Sergiogiorgio

    An, the People’s Front of Judea…..