Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus a Gweinyddiaeth Gyhoeddus
Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee15/12/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Mabon ap Gwynfor MS|
|Mark Isherwood MS||Cadeirydd|
|Mike Hedges MS|
|Natasha Asghar MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Adrian Crompton||Auditor General for Wales, Audit Wales|
|Auditor General for Wales, Audit Wales|
|Matthew Mortlock||Archwilio Cymru|
|William Shawcross||Comisiynydd Penodiadau Cyhoeddus|
|Commissioner for Public Appointments|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Owain Davies||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 10:34.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 10:34.
Bore da a chroeso. Good morning and welcome to this meeting of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee in the Senedd. We've had apologies from one Member, Rhianon Passmore. Apart from myself, other Members are attending remotely. Do Members have any declarations of registerable interests that they wish to declare beyond those already on the public record? No. Thank you.
We have a number of papers to note. We have a letter from the Chair of the Finance Committee on the annual scrutiny of the Wales audit office and the Auditor General for Wales. The Chair of the Finance Committee has written to this committee about their report on their annual scrutiny of said bodies, and during their scrutiny, the Finance Committee have considered the significant delay in laying the Welsh Government's consolidated accounts 2020-21, which, of course, we've discussed extensively in the past. Given their responsibility for oversight of the governance of the Wales audit office and the office of the auditor general, the Finance Committee believe that it's important that they are notified directly of such delays. In their report, the Finance Committee recommend that the auditor general formally notifies the Chair of the Finance Committee in writing if he is unable to complete an audit within the four-month statutory deadline. So, could I invite the auditor general to respond?
Certainly. Thank you, Mark. As you say, we've discussed this point several times in this committee as well, and I very much welcome the clarification of the arrangement to communicate both with the Finance Committee and this committee in the event of our missing the four-month statutory deadline. I assume, around the audit of the Welsh Government's accounts, I'll be writing to the Finance Committee quite soon to accept that recommendation, but I'd suggest that we probably need to do a little work behind the scenes with this committee and the Finance Committee just to clarify the scope of that requirement, because my office audits around 850 or so organisations each year, they all have statutory deadlines of one form or another associated with them, but they're not all four months. I also suspect that committees wouldn't want to hear about delays with all of those in the same way as for the Welsh Government. But I very much welcome the recommendation, which I'll be accepting.
While on the subject, the committee will be pleased to hear that, on Monday evening, I signed off the audit of the 2021-22 Welsh Government accounts, so we're in a much better place than we were this time last year.
Thank you. Could I just ask, out of the roughly 800 bodies you referred to, how common is it for a deadline not to be met or the statutory deadline not to be met?
It's not common, but it does happen, and there will be, within that body of organisations, everything from the Welsh Government through all of the local authorities, pension funds, police, fire authorities, the NHS right through to the town and community councils. So, inevitably, in amongst those numbers, there will be audits that are delayed, sometimes significantly so, because issues arise.
But we're not potentially asking you to have to write scores and scores and scores of letters.
I assume not—[Laughter.]—but that's exactly what I will look to clarify.
Okay, thank you very much indeed. Well, are Members otherwise content to note the letter?
Chair, may I ask a question, please, just in relation to what you asked Adrian a second ago? I'd just like to know has a fine been incurred for the delay.
Has a fine been—
Because the accounts have been delayed, has there been a fine incurred to the Welsh Government for the delay in submission?
No, there hasn't, and there is no provision for that to be the case. What will have happened, and the Finance Committee has asked for notification of that as well, is that our fee for the audit will have had to have increased because of the length of time taken. But there's no provision within the legislation for that kind of penalty either of the audit office or of the Welsh Government.
Thank you for the clarification.
Thank you. Well, the second item to note is the Minister for Social Justice has provided an update on the Welsh Government's progress in implementing the recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee in the fifth Senedd's report, 'Delivering for Future Generations: The story so far'. This builds on the original Welsh Government response sent on 1 October 2021 and a further update of 25 May this year. This committee has previously agreed to keep an active watching brief on progress, inviting six-monthly updates from the Welsh Government. Progress appears to be generally satisfactory with a number of areas of work still in progress. This committee has an important role in continuing to monitor progress in this area, but further updates on an annual basis rather than six months would allow adequate time to monitor their progress. I invite Members to comment on the letter and whether you would find it helpful to have annual progress updates now, rather than on a six-monthly basis.
No comments? Mabon.
Buasai blynyddol yn dderbyniol, am wn i. Os ydyn ni'n hapus ac yn fodlon eu bod nhw wedi gwneud camau ymlaen, yna does yna ddim rheswm pam y dylen nhw fod yn ei wneud e pob chwe mis, ac yn hytrach gellid ei wneud yn flynyddol. Does yna ddim gwrthwynebiad gen i.
Annually would be acceptable, I would imagine. If we are happy and content that they have taken forward steps, there's no reason why they should do it every six months, and they could instead do it annually. I have no objection there.
Right. Sorry, another technical glitch at my end, but it's sorted now. So, did you get that? Would anybody like to comment additionally on these points or follow up on that? Okay, thank you very much indeed. The six to 12 months, are Members generally content with that proposal? No objections from any of you. Mike, are you happy with that? Okay, we'll go with it. How long did we wait for this particular letter?
I don't think it was particularly long. We've been having six-monthly updates. They have been coming on time.
Just to say, Mark, I think this is a pretty helpful update overall. It comes, of course, alongside the publication of the future generations commissioner's recent report under section 20, and there are a range of issues and recommendations made there, as well as the original commissioner's report as well. So, I think, in the round, the Welsh Government is amassing a large number of recommendations around the future generations Act. So, I think pulling all that together in terms of either your scrutiny or elsewhere within the Senedd is going to be important. There is one specific recommendation that is of interest to us at the audit office, which is recommendation 7, around the extension of the Act to include a number of other bodies. We're in continuing dialogue with the Welsh Government about the practical and resource implications of that, and we'll keep the committee informed as necessary.
Okay, thank you. In that case, are Members content to note and move forward on that basis? Yes. Thank you.
We have now a letter from the Senedd—no, we haven't; yes, we have—a letter from the Senedd Commissioner for budget and governance to the Chair of the Finance Committee. The Commissioner wrote to the Finance Committee Chair at the end of November to highlight a number of significant points arising from the Senedd Commission's budget setting and scrutiny process. A copy of the letter was circulated to us for information. Do Members have any comments on that letter? It's on pages 7 to 10 in your revised pack. Natasha.
Yes, thank you, Chair. On page 9 of our pack, it states that the most significant increase to the costs is going to be in utilities. It states that:
'The budget documents an increase from £582k in 2022-23 to an estimated £1.251 million...in 2023-24.'
I obviously know what 'utilities' means, but, specifically for the purposes of this exercise, 'utilities' means gas, electric and water in the Senedd, I'm assuming, for this particular figure. Or is this inclusive of other figures as well, such as, I don't know, an increase in staffing requirements for those particular features or anything like that? So, if I could have a little bit more elaboration as to what this 'utilities' term means in this particular context, it would be appreciated.
Any knowledge on this, anybody?
Does it include phones, and does it include broadband connection?
My biggest concern is that, at the moment, the Senedd also has this routine whereby our temperatures are being set at 20 degrees, and, quite frankly, it doesn't feel like it is being set at that particular temperature. So, I just want to know what figure and what exactly are the details it includes, because I'm getting a lot of complaints from my own colleagues and Members within the Senedd who work in different departments that the Senedd is freezing cold constantly. So, what exactly are these utilities entailing and covering? That's what I'd like to know, please.
Okay. We can follow up on that and can seek clarity. Any other thoughts on this particular letter? I can see faces apparently skimming the lines to check.
Quite happy to note the letter, Chair. Quite happy to note the letter in relation to what it states.
Mike says 'yes'. Mabon, are you happy to note? That's great. Thank you very much indeed.
Our next item to note is a letter from the Minister for Finance and Local Government, a response to our report on the Welsh Government's LCM—legislative consent memorandum—on the Procurement Bill. The Minister's provided a response to our recommendation 1 on this; the recommendation aligned with a recommendation made by the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee report on the same LCM, which the Minister also rejected. She has not yet responded to the rest of our recommendations. Do Members have any comments, or are they content to note the letter?
Content to note, Chair.
And, yes, heads nodding otherwise. Thank you very much.
We now have a letter from the interim director general, education, social justice and Welsh language to the Auditor General for Wales, a response to the auditor general's report on equality impact assessments, 26 October this year, and a letter from the same person to the auditor general, a response to the auditor general's report on equality impact assessments, 7 December this year. The first letter sets out the Welsh Government's response to the recommendations made in the Auditor General for Wales's report on equality impact assessments. The second is a follow up to clarify a point made in relation to recommendation 4 of the report. The committee considered the auditor general's report at our meeting on 23 November, and we agreed to forward the report to the Equality and Social Justice Committee for consideration. Discussions are ongoing via the clerking teams in relation to this report. Any updates, or are discussions simply ongoing?
The discussions are ongoing.
Are they going to take it?
I'm not sure. I think, given the demands on their work programme, it's still being considered. So, I don't have an answer to that just yet.
Okay. Thank you.
I think it's unlikely.
So, it may be batted back to us.
It might be something that we want to consider, yes.
Okay. Thank you. Could I invite the auditor general to comment?
Well, nothing much more on top of that. I think, once you are clear about where responsibility lies to take forward the work, we'd be very happy to brief you again. But I think one of the things that will need to be clarified is the timetable for the review of the PSED regulations. So, in the Government's response they say formal consultation on that will take place during 2022-23, so it's important to clarify that, but only once we have certainty about whether it's this committee or ESJ taking the work forward.
Okay. Thank you. Well, on that basis, are Members content to note and then revisit this in the new year when, no doubt, you'll have an update for us ahead of the next meeting?
Thank you. Well, that brings us to the end of the items to note. We'll have a temporary break now while we bring in the witnesses for the next session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:49 a 11:03.
The meeting adjourned between 10:49 and 11:03.
Croeso. Welcome back to today's meeting of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee in the Senedd. Our next item is an evidence session for our inquiry into public appointments. I thank our witnesses for being with us and invite them please to state your names and roles for the record.
My name is William Shawcross. I am the Commissioner for Public Appointments, based in London, and I cover England and Wales. And I'm here with my colleague, Gabrielle Bourke, who is an amazingly brilliant and well-informed person, and I'm very lucky to have her. It's a privilege and a pleasure to be with you today. I'm only sorry I'm not here with you in person, which I had hoped to be. I look forward very much to coming—. I always like coming to Cardiff and I was looking forward to today, but I've been knocked back by the tiresome COVID, and I've just got—. I was positive until last night. So, I'm really sorry not to be there in person—[Inaudible.]—
Don't worry. We hope you're feeling better. Many of us have been in the same position—I was about two months ago. I was positive for nearly a fortnight—
I know, it's really tiresome, isn't it?
—and groggy for weeks afterwards. So, we fully understand.
We have a number of questions for you, and I'll invite Members and witnesses to be as succinct as possible, so that we can cover as many issues as we can within the time available. I'll begin the questions, which, to an extent, follow on from your opening comments about visiting here: during your pre-appointment hearing, you told the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that you would,
'go out of London as much as possible—to Wales, first of all'.
So, to what extent have you done this, and how would you describe your engagement with the Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Government?
Well, I've obviously not done it as much as I would wish, because of various factors. I've had another job here, which has taken up much more time than I'd hoped, which is practically finished now—the independent reviewer of Prevent.
I first met First Minister Mark Drakeford and Deputy First Minister Jane Hutt online in my first few weeks in the role, on 11 November. And then I came to Cardiff to meet with the Permanent Secretary, Andrew Goodall, following my compliance visit, on 8 June 2022, and I met with members of the public bodies team too. That was a very helpful day spent in Cardiff—I really enjoyed it a lot. And my office, particularly Gabrielle, who's next to me, has had a lot of day-to-day contact with your officials. That's the way I receive notifications or consultations under the code, and I think it's worked very well—as I say, too much at arm's length, and I have promised that I'm going to do much more to come to Cardiff, and to travel widely around England and Wales, next year. I've just published my annual report, and I've stated that that's my priority. I'm sorry that it hasn't been as much as I would have wished this year, but I promise you I shall come a lot more next year.
We talk about Welsh Government issues all the time, and I'm very glad to say that all the issues and the concerns, if any, are rather minor, because I think your commitment to compliance with the code has been improving under my predecessor, Peter Riddell, and in this last year too. And it's been a great pleasure dealing with all of you, so I thank you for that.
Thank you. Well, following on from that, and your reference to compliance, I'll hand over to my Senedd colleague Mabon ap Gwynfor, who will develop some questions in those areas. So, over to you, Mabon.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. Diolch i chi am ddod yma o'n blaen ni y bore yma. Gaf i wirio bod yr offer cyfieithu yn gweithio?
Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you for being here before us today. Can I just check that the interpretation is working?
Yes, I can hear you loud and clear.
Ardderchog. Diolch. Yn 2021-22, fe ddatganodd dros chwarter y rhai a benodwyd gan Lywodraeth Cymru weithgarwch gwleidyddol sylweddol—y math rydych chi'n ei ddisgrifio fel cynnydd—[Anghlywadwy.]—rhwng 2020 a 2021. Mae hyn yn cymharu â 5.7 y cant i Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol. Ydych chi'n pryderu am hyn, ac a ydy Llywodraeth Cymru'n gwneud popeth o fewn ei gallu o ran tryloywder penodiadau cyhoeddus?
Excellent. Thank you. In 2021-22, over a quarter of those appointed by the Welsh Government declared significant political activity—the type that you describe as an increase—[Inaudible.]— between 2020 and 2021. This compares with 5.7 per cent for the UK Government. Are you concerned about this, and is the Welsh Government doing everything that it can in terms of the transparency of public appointments?
Yes, this is a really important issue, obviously, both in Wales and in the rest of the UK also, in England. Twenty-seven per cent, I think, of Welsh Government appointees and re-appointees declared significant political activity last year. The governance code is absolutely clear that significant political activity, as such, is not a bar to appointment. But everyone must be assessed on merit by a panel, and only go forward if they meet the agreed bar. The code mandates transparency, as you know, and candidates must declare any significant political activity, and their activity must be published upon their appointment.
My annual report, which has just been published, provides further transparency on overall numbers. I think the figures are this: last year, political activity for Welsh Government appointees and re-appointments was 8 per cent; in the year before that, 6.2 per cent. In 2021-22, this relates just to 17 people. You must interpret the data very, very carefully. So, I don't think there is any undue concern about this. Nearly all the appointments of people with some political activity have been announced in the proper fashion, and where there have been slight concerns or issues, we've raised them with the Welsh Government, and the Welsh Government has responded completely properly.
Diolch yn fawr yn iawn am yr ateb yna. Ydych chi'n credu bod y dehongliad a'r diffiniad o weithgarwch gwleidyddol yn gywir o ran ers pryd maen nhw wedi bod yn weithredol yn wleidyddol?
Thank you very much for that answer. Do you think that the interpretation and the definition of political activity is correct in terms of since when they have been politically active?
I'm not quite sure what you mean. The political activity—. I think the important point is that people can have political views and be politically active, which is entirely appropriate in a democracy, but it must all be declared, and the appointments must be made not because of political activity but on merit. But political activity should not in itself discount people.
Can I just bring in Mike Hedges here for a related question before we come back to you, Mabon?
The question I've got is: there are people who have stood for election for political parties some time ago, outside the five years that you go back, yet you don't pick those up, do you? Do you think I'm missing something, or is it up to people like me to identify those who have stood for election? It's a matter of public record; it's not breaking any data protection. They've been on ballot papers, standing at different levels. Do you think that that should be declared, and if not, why?
I'm just consulting with my colleague. Is your question about the way in which candidates declare any past political activity? As I say, we have not come across any concerns other than those that we've raised with the Welsh Government, where any untoward political activity has taken place. As I say, we've been very pleased with the way in which the Welsh Government has handled these matters.
The point I'm making is: there are a number of people who've been candidates at Senedd and parliamentary elections who have then nominally or actually declared ceased activity with that political party, but I think they are still associated with that political party. I mean, is it up to us to identify them or are you going to?
Well, I think—. I will check that answer for you; it's a very important question. If we've fallen down on something, I'll put it right. I mean, I think the code defines activity over five years, and that's the crucial time limit, I think.
But I appreciate your question. Do, if there's anything, either in your question or anybody else's, that you feel I haven't answered satisfactorily, please send me a note and I'll do so in writing as soon as possible.
Thank you for that. Can I bring in Natasha Asghar, please?
Thank you so much, Chair. Mr Shawcross, is there any potential for this five-year limit to be extended further back? Going on what my colleague Mike Hedges has mentioned, a person's political affiliation could be something like mine, where I stood in a political seat 15 years ago, and then I stood for a few elections, had a gap for many years and then came back into it. If it were someone like me, I wouldn't have made that five-year threshold if I were going for a Government job. So, I'm just asking: is there any potential, perhaps, going forward, to extend that five years to, potentially, any political affiliation an individual may have had going forward? Because there is often chatter—and not particularly within any political party, but within lots of them—that sometimes cronyism takes place when it comes to hiring people in high-position jobs. So, just to avoid that, is that something that you're looking into or potentially could look into going forward?
Well, the code is written not by me. It's not my code; it's the Government's code, and the code was written with five years in line, by the Government, and it is there: five years. If people think it should be extended further back, that's something that obviously can be debated, but it's not in my gift, I'm afraid.
Okay. Thank you. Mabon. Mabon ap Gwynfor, could you come back on, please?
Diolch yn fawr iawn i Mr Shawcross am yr ateb yna. Os caf fi fynd ymlaen i gwestiwn arall: mae'n ymddangos bod Llywodraeth Cymru wedi defnyddio darpariaethau eithrio i benodi heb gystadleuaeth fwy o weithiau yn 2021-22 na—
Thank you very much, Mr Shawcross, for that answer. If I could go on to another question: it appears that Welsh Government has used exemption partnerships to appoint without considering in 2021-22—
I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand that question. Could you repeat that? I apologise.
Ie, mi wnaf i ailddarllen o ichi fan hyn: mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi defnyddio'r darpariaethau sydd ganddyn nhw i eithrio i benodi heb gystadleuaeth fwy o weithiau yn 2021-22 nag yn y flwyddyn flaenorol, 2020-21. Eisiau eich barn chi ar hynny, os gwelwch yn dda.
Yes, I will re-read the question for you here: the Welsh Government appears to have used the exemption provisions to appoint without competition more times in 2021-22 than in the previous year, 2020-21. I would like your view on that, please.
Okay. Well, much of the casework I considered from the Welsh Government is very similar to that coming out of Whitehall generally. Sometimes, appointees resign at short notice, they get sick, or boards get disestablished. The governance code gives Ministers practical options to get boards quorate and able to develop their functions, which is important. The code also allows for interim appointments when a competition isn't possible or can't be moved forward. I've not been minded to raise serious objections to Welsh Ministers' use of exceptional provisions, but I do note that the volume of casework from the Welsh Government where my view is sought for exceptions under the code is out of proportion to the number of public bodies in Wales. I have raised this point with the Permanent Secretary in my meeting with him in June. I think better management of competitions would reduce the number of some of these exceptional arrangements. That's why I have suggested always that better forward planning would be very helpful. And, the relationship between sponsor teams and the central public bodies unit needs to work better. So, I see your concerns, and I hope that these suggestions that I have made to the Government will help.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Fe ddywedodd eich swyddfa chi, yn ystod 2019-20 a 2020-21, fod Llywodraeth Cymru wedi defnyddio darpariaethau eithriadol yn y cod llywodraethu ar benodiadau cyhoeddus yn amlach nag adrannau Whitehall. Pam fod hynny'n wir, ac ydy hynny wedi parhau yn 2021-22?
Thank you very much. Your office said that in 2019-20 and 2020-21 the Welsh Government had used the exemption provisions in the governance code for public appointments more often than Whitehall departments. Why was that the case, and has this continued in 2021-22?
Well, what I said just a few minutes ago, I think, is that the issue here is a lack of forward planning and a need to do that more carefully and in a more timely manner. When I've spoken about these things to Welsh Government officials, they've been perfectly receptive to the concerns and agreed that they will try and adjust their planning procedures accordingly.
Felly, dydych chi ddim yn meddwl—. Nid y ffaith bod yna unrhyw beth maleisus ar y gweill yn y fan yma, ac nid trio cuddio unrhyw beth mae rhywun. Rydych chi'n meddwl mai diffyg trefn ac anhrefn ydy—[Anghlywadwy.]
So, you don't think—. It's not the fact that there's a malicious thing here; no-one is trying to hide anything. It's a lack of organisation, perhaps.
Yes. I've not seen anything—. 'Malicious' is a very strong word, which I'm glad to say I've never had to use in terms of the Welsh Government.
Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi. Roedd un achos o dorri'r cod llywodraethu gan Lywodraeth Cymru yn 2020-21 yn ymwneud ag ailbenodi heb gynnal arfarniad o berfformiad, a oedd yn achos difrifol o dorri'r cod, yn ôl eich swyddfa. Adroddodd eich swyddfa am achos o dorri'r cod mewn modd tebyg yn 2019-20, ac rydych chi hefyd wedi nodi achos arall o dorri'r cod o'r math yma yn 2021-22. Beth mae hyn yn ei ddweud wrthym ni am y prosesau sydd wedi'u rhoi ar waith gan Lywodraeth Cymru i liniaru achosion pellach o dorri, yn dilyn canfyddiadau eich swyddfa chi?
Thank you very much. One case of a breach by the Welsh Government of the governance code in 2020-21 related to a reappointment without conducting a performance appraisal, which your office described as a serious breach. Your office reported a similar breach in 2019-20, and you've also identified another breach of that nature in 2021-22. What does this say to us about the processes implemented by the Welsh Government to mitigate further breaches following your office's findings?
Well, you're completely right to raise that question, and I have already, as you said, raised it with the Welsh Government. The first two serious breaches in 2021 were around, first of all, publishing the political activity of an appointee, and secondly a reappointment being made without a satisfactory performance appraisal. On the first, political activity must not, as I said before, be a reason for an appointment, but it should not be a bar to an appointment either. The code states that transparency is absolutely required. I understand that the Welsh Government is now implementing a new publication system for their appointments, which will help announcements become more consistent, which I greatly welcome.
On the second breach, this was a strange case where the member was not routinely appraised as it was thought that they were going to step down. After I discovered this breach, I was given assurances that the Welsh Government undertook a performance appraisal of the member immediately. My annual report for this year detailed a similar kind of breach where the Welsh Government was unable to find evidence of a performance appraisal being carried out and they immediately acted to rectify the error. I think breaches like this are as much about better governance in public bodies as they are about the appointments process. I hope that's a satisfactory answer.
Given the seniority of the positions we're talking about here, firstly, what is your view on, or do you have any requirements relating to, who should conduct a performance appraisal of such senior persons to ensure objectivity and impartiality? And secondly, how, if at all, do you factor in the situation where a performance appraisal is only supposed to be an event within a performance management system that's ongoing throughout a year—so, it's a snapshot in time summarising what should already be known and subject to discussion between appraiser and appraisee? I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on that.
Was that a question to me? I'm sorry—
Yes, it was—sorry. The first point was, given the seniority of positions involved, who should be carrying out the performance appraisal. And secondly, a performance appraisal is only supposed to be an event, a snapshot, within a performance management process, so what consideration beyond the snapshot—the once-a-year appraisal—do you give to the need for an effective performance management structure in place to ensure an ongoing dialogue throughout the year?
We do have an ongoing dialogue throughout the year with the Welsh Government and it's been very effective, I think, and very helpful. Concerns that I have raised have always been answered properly. But I think one must remember that the code doesn't state who does appraisals and who should do them. That's, I think, an important issue.
I was referring to a dialogue between appraiser and appraisee within a performance management system within which a performance appraisal is only meant to be a once-a-year snapshot of an ongoing dialogue.
I think if I'm right, and you understand this clearly I know, that's not within my remit. It's for public bodies themselves—each of them—to decide. The code doesn't state who does appraisals, as I said, and I think what you're suggesting would be me acting beyond my authority.
Okay. Thank you. And what do you think we should do to prevent further breaches?
I think every Government department, wherever it is, needs to keep a very firm eye on all these matters, and if there are any concerns, they should act accordingly on them. Either they could bring them to my attention or I may sometimes bring them to the Welsh Government's attention. But constant vigilance is needed. That is, I think, the answer to that. And as I say, the numbers of breaches are not disgraceful in any way. They are something that we all have to keep a close eye on, and I do. Whenever I've had any concerns, I've brought them immediately to the attention of the Welsh Government. And as I said, all the concerns I've had have been worked out.
Thank you. Obviously, we're thinking about—. We're a parliamentary committee and we have a role to scrutinise the Welsh Government in this context, so it's something that we've made a note of perhaps for our ongoing engagement with them. I've got sitting next to me the Auditor General for Wales who, no doubt, has also made a mental note regarding this. Mabon, back to you.
Mae gennym ni nifer o gomisiynwyr, ac, wrth gwrs, wrth benodi'r comisiynwyr yna, mae yna broses drwyadl yn mynd rhagddi er mwyn cael rhestr fer cyn cyrraedd y person terfynol. Ydych chi'n credu y dylai fod gan y Prif Weinidog unrhyw rôl uniongyrchol yn y broses yna o ddewis a dethol y rhestr fer?
We have a number of commissioners with roles of that kind and, of course, in appointing those commissioners, there is a thorough process in order to get a shortlist before reaching the final candidate. Do you think that the First Minister should have a direct role in that process of selecting the shortlist?
I think it goes back to the code always—all such questions, and understandably so. It gives Ministers the right to be involved in this way and I think the First Minister has that right under the governance code.
Ydych chi'n credu bod hynny'n gywir? Ydych chi'n dweud ei fod o'n sefyllfa iawn bod y Prif Weinidog yn medru cael dweud uniongyrchol mewn penodiadau mor bwysig?
Do you think that that's right? Do you think that it is right for the First Minister to have a direct say in such important appointments?
Well, again, it goes back to the code, which is not of my making. Ministers have a right to be involved in this under the code, and I think if you have serious concerns about that, it should be brought up at another level, perhaps with the First Minister himself.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Yn olaf, yn ei adroddiad ar y gwrandawiad cyn penodi ar gyfer swydd Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau'r Dyfodol Cymru, fe ddywedodd Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol y Senedd bod yr ymarfer wedi codi cwestiynau ehangach ynghylch tryloywder ac effeithiolrwydd y trefniadau presennol ar gyfer gwaith craffu cyn penodi. Beth yw'ch barn chi am hynny?
Thank you very much. Finally, in its report on the pre-appointment hearing for the post of future generations commissioner, the Equality and Social Justice Committee in the Senedd said that the practice had raised broader questions in terms of the transparency and effectiveness of the current arrangements for pre-appointment scrutiny. What's your opinion on that?
Details on how pre-appointment scrutiny is conducted and any powers that the committees have over an appointment is a matter between Parliament and the Executive, I think. Decisions about which roles are subject to scrutiny is also a matter between Parliament and the Executive, and I think that that usually is what happens—I hope so. There should be a list agreed between the Executive and Parliament about which roles are subject to scrutiny. That way, both sides would be clear or are clear about what is expected. And then, any candidates know that this is part of the process from the outset. That would be helpful if—[Inaudible.]
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Dwi yn ymwybodol bod amser yn mynd rhagddom ni, felly mi wnaf i ddirwyn i ben yn y fan yna, a rhoi'r llawr i chi.
Thank you, Chair. I do know that time is getting on, so I'll end there, and pass over to you.
Thank you. Just one final bit on this section, if I may: why do you state in your letter that too few competitions meet the ambition to conclude appointment processes within three months, as outlined in the governance code?
That's one of my greatest concerns—not just with regard to the Welsh Government, but throughout the country. I think that delays in the appointments process are very, very harmful to the whole system of public appointments. They discourage candidates from coming forward, because if they have no idea how long the process is going to take, obviously, it makes it very difficult for them to know whether they can apply, whether their own lives and their other commitments allow them to apply for this new job. Candidate care is one of the things that I've been talking about most this year, and will continue to talk about next year, and try and make sure that Governments meet as close to the three months ambition as possible.
In fact, in my recent audit of Welsh Government competitions in March 2022, I found that the Welsh Government competitions actually moved faster than competitions in Whitehall departments, and the majority of Welsh Government competitions do make the ambition of completing within three months. I think Welsh Government should be praised for that. Candidate care, as I say, is really important, and I think that speedy competitions is one of the best ways that we can encourage candidates to come forward and treat them with respect. I commend the Welsh Government for the fact that's it's been faster than I think any other part of the United Kingdom; certainly the Government in Whitehall.
Thank you. I think Mike Hedges has some questions.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I've got two questions now and I've got a couple of other questions that I hope to raise following Natasha Asghar's questions. The first one is: in your covering letter to the committee, you say the Welsh Government must be relentless in its commitment to diversity, as outlined in its diversity strategy published in early 2020. How would you assess the Welsh Government’s progress to date in delivering its ambitions through
The Welsh Government's diversity and inclusion strategy, as you just noted, was launched in January 2020, then COVID came along, which obviously had a knock-on effect on the Welsh Government's implementation, as it did on almost everything else in the country. I understand that the public bodies team had a staff move to support the COVID response, and diversity and inclusion strategy staff moved to help respond to COVID. That had an effect, and the momentum was damaged by this. When I met with Andrew Goodall in June, I heard from him renewed enthusiasm to get the strategy going again, and I heard about the new talent development programme. The Welsh Government have also appointed a new cohort of senior and diverse independent panel members. I'm less clear about the progress of other specific actions in the strategy, and I would encourage the committee to press the Welsh Government for responses on these. I hope that's some help.
That's very helpful. I think that gives us some certainty that, when we raise it with the Welsh Government, it's not just us raising it. We can quote you on what you've just said.
And just one other question on that. You said about COVID, which has caused problems right the way across. Should we be expecting an improvement when we look at next year and the year after's numbers?
I hope there's going to be an improvement all across the country in terms of the damaging effects of COVID. I hope those will get less and less, and I certainly hope that's true in Wales as well as elsewhere. We shall have to see, and I shall keep a close eye on it, as no doubt you will, as well.
What's your view on the role of the Welsh Government public bodies unit in the development and delivery of a ministerially approved diversity and inclusion strategy and action plan for public appointments?
Sorry—that got a bit garbled. Could you repeat that question?
What are your views on the role of the Welsh Government's public bodies unit in the development and delivery of a ministerially approved diversity and inclusion strategy and action plan for public appointments?
I think I've probably already answered that question as best as I can. I look forward to all Governments and departments throughout the country being able to overcome the very harmful effects of COVID, and to carry on as before. As I said, I'm very pleased that the Welsh Government, despite COVID, has managed to meet the three-month commitment and ambition more effectively than anywhere else in the country. So, I think that's something we should be grateful for.
Thank you very much, and I think we'll pass that on to them as well.
Good. Thank you.
Thank you. Natasha Asghar, I think you have some questions, and then I'll bring Mike Hedges back in, as he indicated, after those.
Thank you so much, Chair. Mr Shawcross, I'd just like to ask, in your pre-appointment hearing, you suggested that the description of diversity needs to be widened to include socioeconomic considerations. How have you actually taken this forward, and what engagement have you had with the Welsh Government specifically on this issue?
As I said at the start of this fascinating and very valuable conversation, I need to do much more, and I will continue to do much more in the next year. I've been detained in London by other commitments, but I want to travel out to the country, particularly to Wales and to the north-west and to the north-east to take these things forward. I've often said, I think, and I repeat, that diversity is really absolutely crucial in public appointments, as with everything else—it's part of the law. I honour that, or I wish to honour that, and I also want to explore with people the ways in which maybe diversity could be extended. I'd like to see much younger people applying for appointments throughout the country. I'd like people who have been in practical jobs to consider that public appointments might be a very important and interesting career for them. I want people to think that public appointments are for them. I'm going to travel and see various—. I'd like to go to universities. I'd like to go to places of work. I'd like to go to chambers of commerce. I'd like to talk the whole idea of public appointments up, saying, 'This is a wonderful way to increase and improve your own life experiences, and at the same time to do something for your country', which I think a lot of people love to be able to do. I want to make people realise that it is within much wider reach than perhaps people would have thought in the past. It's not easy, but I promise you I shall devote as much time as possible to that in the next 12 months.
I wish you all the very best in that mission, Mr Shawcross, for sure. I understand that this year has been difficult, and I understand the struggles of being able to get around and meet all the individuals, groups and organisations that you just stated, but I just wanted to know, have you given any thought about the board remuneration? Has there been any correspondence, any conversations, or are you planning to have any conversations with the Welsh Government going forward in relation to the review? Because the Welsh Government's diversity and inclusion strategy for public appointments stated it was in the process of conducting a review for board remuneration. Is that a conversation that's been had, or is it due to be had?
It's due to be had, I think, is the quick answer to that. I've not had any conversations, and I haven't heard enough about the Welsh Government's work in the area and I'd certainly encourage them to get started. My predecessor Peter Riddell's thematic review called on the Government to look at remuneration and to see how it might need to change to open up appointments to more people. My office has shared data on remuneration from that thematic review with Whitehall departments who want to do their own benchmarking, and we'd do that with the Welsh Government as well. I think research from Scotland suggests that policies on expenses and allowances do have an impact on people's ability to contribute to a public body, and we need to look at that seriously. It's obviously a very important question, and I'm very glad you've raised it.
Thank you so much, Mr Shawcross. Chair, that's my questioning done, but I know my colleague Mike Hedges wanted to ask something in relation to this topic as well.
The question I've got, and you may not collect this data, but, from my experience of people who've been appointed, they're more likely to live in the greater Cardiff area and they're more likely to be owner-occupiers. Are you looking at diversity in terms of both geography within Wales and in housing tenure? Housing tenure is often the best way of identifying wealth. About 40 per cent of the population, or more, in Wales live in rented accommodation of one kind of another. I would be amazed if that made up 40 per cent of appointments, and Cardiff has only about 10 per cent of the population of Wales; I'd be amazed if that was the number that was coming from Cardiff.
Well, I think that, just as Cardiff is the most dominant area in public competitions, as is the south-east in England to the rest of England, that is something that I have wanted to look at and will look at very seriously. As I said a few minutes ago, I want to travel outside of London and outside of Cardiff to other or more remote areas of both countries, and it is really very important. As for the questions that are asked, the questions about housing and everything, those are not set by me, by my office—they're Government questions. It's something that I certainly will discuss with the relevant departments of the Cabinet Office and elsewhere in the next year, and I'm glad for the question, but it is not at the moment my responsibility. However, it is my responsibility, I feel, to widen as far as possible the concept of diversity, and certainly make sure that much more diverse categories of people, if you like, do understand that public appointments can be and should be open to them. That's quite a big change, but it's something that I think is really, really important. And diversity of thought is something that's very often mentioned to me in this context. That's a really tricky one, and I'd very much welcome—not now, necessarily, but over the next few weeks—any of your thoughts about that from your committee.
Thank you very much.
Can I just, again, develop that? Given that candidates for appointments would initially have to meet the job description, the person specification, on an equal basis, irrespective of background, how would you factor in the points you're now making to ensure that that equality is maintained and that then any hidden discrimination is squeezed out of the system so that the best candidate comes forward who represents the wider society?
It's jolly difficult. It's a Government-run competition, one must remember. I'm not—. I'm trying to improve it, but the Government sets the terms of all these public appointments. But I bear in mind what you've just said, I've noted it, and I will make sure that, in my outreach, both in Wales and the United Kingdom generally, I will do everything I can to make sure that those considerations are borne very closely in mind.
Thank you. Also, I'll just slip in a question I think regarding comments or evidence in your submission that appeared to show a declining proportion of appointments going to candidates from the private sector. I wonder if you can comment on the reasons for that, if you're aware of any trends, or whether it was just a blip in a particular year.
I think it may just have been a blip. I haven't certainly seen any trends on that, but I'll look at it more closely now that you've raised it again. Thank you.
Thank you. I'd be grateful if—. Would you be able to feed back to us when you have looked at that further?
Of course, of course. It would be a pleasure. It's always a pleasure to talk to your committee, as it is indeed to other Welsh organisations in Cardiff and across Wales.
Thanks. We hope this will be the beginning of a long and fruitful association with you.
Me too. Those are very kind words. I'm most grateful.
Yes indeed. Moving on now to data reporting, if I may, one of your predecessor's priorities for you as successor was to press for improvements on data reporting to underpin work being carried out by both UK and Welsh Governments to increase diversity of public appointments. What action have you taken to bring this forward?
Well, you're quite right to mention the importance of data. Data is still being imputed manually, and the risks of human error are high as a result—not necessarily catastrophically high, but it's something one must be aware of. And as a result, a lot of work goes on between my office, the Welsh Government and the Cabinet Office to assure that the data being put into the system is accurate. It's a very inefficient and time-consuming system at the moment. Whitehall is planning to introduce a new appointments application system very soon whereby applicants will put in their data themselves and it will be safely and securely collected. This, I hope, would reduce the risk of error hugely, and would allow applicants to review, to look at and review, as often as they wish, their own data.
I report on diversity in public appointments across both Whitehall and the Welsh Government. There is a risk that we have a two-tier system developing in the data report and that the Welsh Government data might become comparatively less robust, and I think the Welsh Government is aware of that risk, and it's something that we shall be looking at together. I think the Welsh Government diversity strategy is committed to improving data collection, and I think we've got to get on with that, all of us, really, rather than get left behind.
Thank you. I'm pleased to hear you say you have had engagement with the Welsh Government on this. At this stage, can you tell us what actions the Welsh Government should take to address these challenges, or is that, again, still work in progress?
I think, probably, it's fair to say it's work in progress, but it's something I shall try and ensure that progress is made on, and I'm sure you will be following up with the Welsh Government also.
Thank you. I'm sure we will. And again, we'd be grateful if, in our future discussions, you could update us in that area.
In your annual report for 2021-22, you encouraged the Welsh Government to implement a similar online data collection system to that introduced by the UK Government. How do you believe this would drive improvement, and has the Welsh Government been persuaded by your argument?
I think I would just be able to repeat what I said just now, that the ambition is to make sure that the data collection is more robust and more accurate, and the Welsh Government has committed itself to doing that, just as the UK Government has done, and it's something that I will be following up, obviously, to make sure that those commitments and promises are met. And I've got no reason to suppose that they won't be on behalf of the Welsh Government. But I promise you I shall be talking to them and raising the question, and all the other questions that you have thoughtfully brought up this morning, as often and as firmly as is necessary.
Members, do any of you have any further questions? Not that I can see. Perhaps I can conclude with a question from myself, then. Given that your role covers a wide range of appointments across a diversity of organisations, do you believe the approach to each, regardless of size and scope, should be the same, or is there greater prioritisation for certain bodies over others?
Well, I think I have to be aware—I should be aware, as I'm sure you are—that all public appointments are very, very important. It's very important that all public appointments are being made transparently, fairly, on merit, and that the governance code is followed in every particular. Obviously, there are some appointments that carry greater public weight than others, and the significant, the most important appointments, of course, are those that require a senior independent member of the panels that make the appointment, the SIPMs—they're crucial. And so my need to invigilate, if that's the right word, or to oversee appointments panels where there is a SIPM is obviously more important than others—even more important. But it's very important that, across the board, I think, I'm able to show that appointments are being carried out fairly and transparently, thus increasing public confidence in the whole process. It's a really important part of our democracy that these appointments are made, whether they're small or large, to the utmost standards of propriety and openness, and everyone should be able to think, 'Gosh, I could apply for that job if I wanted to.' It's very important that they be seen to be open and fair, and that everyone has confidence in them. So, that's my ambition, as I'm sure it is yours, too.
Thank you. What freedom do you believe the Welsh Government has to widen its monitoring of diversity during appointments?
It's an important question. I think you're probably better able to answer that than I am. It's a Welsh Government question, really, isn't it? As I've said to you, my co-operation with the Welsh Government has been very helpful, and I've enjoyed it and I've not found any sense of times when the Welsh Government has been deliberately trying to frustrate any of my concerns or my enquiries. So, I'm grateful to them for that, as I am to you.
Thank you. As you appreciate, as a Public Accounts and Administration Committee our scope isn't to find fault, but rather to identify what's working well, what needs to change, and then make recommendations for improvement, but—
—thanks for your comments. We did miss a question earlier, which I'll come back to. In your annual report for 2021-22 you stated that your office is investigating a complaint about the appointment of a chair of a public body in Wales, which was viewed as not complying with the governance code. What are you able to tell us about this, and, without prejudicing the outcome, have you identified any lessons for the Welsh Government as a result of your work on this so far, as well as from your investigation of complaints about the appointments made by other bodies?
Well, obviously, you will understand, I know, that I can't comment on that particular inquiry because it's ongoing. All I can say is that I've been pursuing it very carefully with the Welsh Government, and, as soon as we reach any conclusion, I will of course make sure that my office or I myself send you a copy of whatever findings we make. It's important, and the Welsh Government and I are working closely on it together.
And in terms of lessons learned from your wider investigation of complaints about appointments with wider public bodies, can you share any of those with us?
Well, all I can share—. Again, I don't want to be evasive, but I think that the lesson I've learnt throughout this first year of being in this really important job, which is a huge honour for me to undertake, to be asked to undertake, is that transparency, transparency, transparency is the crucial thing, and fairness is absolutely critical, and confidence in the population that jobs are appointed and given on merit, merit, merit. Those are the crucial things, and I think that everybody I've dealt with in the Welsh Government understands that also. I'm sorry if that seems vague, but I think those commitments are really what matter—commitments to those standards, because it's the standards that I'm trying to help see are met on every occasion, and that everybody can be proud of Government appointments, and no-one needs to fear that it's a fix. It's not, and I think we have a process that we have good reason to be proud of, but we always have to be vigilant and concerned, both committees like yours, and in my job as well, that those standards are always being met.
Okay, well, diolch yn fawr, thank you very much for your time with us today and answering our questions. A transcript of today's meeting will be published in draft form and sent to you for you to check for accuracy before being published in its final version. So, it just falls to me to say Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda, which means merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Merry Christmas and happy new year to you all too, and thank you for the privilege of appearing before you today.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42.
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42.
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Okay, well I propose that, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix), the committee resolves to meet in private for items 6 and 7 of today's meeting. Are all Members content? I note that all Members are content. I'd be grateful if we could go into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:50.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:50.