Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus a Gweinyddiaeth Gyhoeddus
Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee03/05/2023
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Mabon ap Gwynfor MS|
|Mark Isherwood MS|
|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|
|Dave Thomas||Archwilio Cymru|
|Dr Rosetta Plummer||Tyst|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Lisa Hatcher||Dirprwy Glerc|
|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 09:24.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:24.
Bore da, croeso—good morning and welcome to this morning's meeting of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee in the Senedd. We've not received any apologies for absence, although Rhianon Passmore hasn't been able to join us yet and will be joining us later. Do Members have any declarations of registrable interests they wish to declare? Thank you. I'll just remind the public: Members do declare their interests on the publicly accessible register on the Senedd website.
So, if we can move to papers to note, and our first item is a letter from the Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Government to myself as Chair—from Dr Andrew Goodall—following up on issues arising from the scrutiny of the Welsh Government's annual report and accounts for 2021-22. The Permanent Secretary's letter provides responses to questions not reached during our meeting on 2 March and provides updates on certain follow-up actions, as requested in the committee's letter of 21 March. Whilst the Permanent Secretary's letter addresses a number of our queries, there does remain outstanding information in relation to ex gratia payments made by the Welsh Government and in relation to clawing back moneys paid to businesses. In particular, the letter fails to clarify whether the Welsh Government made any other ex gratia payments, both below and above the £300,000 threshold for reporting individual cases in the accounts, from budgets other than that for economy in 2021-22 and all budgets in other financial years.
So, could I—? Well, I do—I invite Members, if you wish to comment on the letter we received. Do Members have any comments or thoughts? Natasha.
Thank you, Chair. There was just one area that I'd just like to ask about and that's the area where it mentions losses, write-offs and special payments. The question was asked:
'How much has the Welsh Government written-off and reported in its 2021-22 Accounts'?
The response stipulates that it's roughly £9 million. And then also it follows up—because the question that we asked was in relation to how much will it write off in 2022-23. So, it said in the answer that:
'A full impairment review will be carried out in 2022-23 to ascertain the retained value of data and other preparatory work for these schemes.'
When exactly would we be likely to get that figure? That was my question in relation to this. Bearing in mind that the accounts were so delayed previously, I just wanted to know is this going to be another situation where these are delayed in response, or is there something that we can find out sooner—is there a particular deadline to having these figures? That was my question.
Okay. Have you any indication—?
I don't know the answer, Natasha, so I'd suggest you follow that up with Welsh Government.
That's fine. Thank you.
And are Members then, if they have no other points, content to write to the Permanent Secretary to clarify these outstanding issues? I think that's a 'yes'. Thank you very much indeed.
The next item is a letter from the Minister for Finance and Local Government, Rebecca Evans, in response to our report on the Procurement Bill, supplementary legislative consent motions 3, 4 and 5. This provides the Minister's formal response in relation to recommendation 1 of our report on the supplementary legislative consent memoranda laid before the Senedd on 21 March.
So, again, I invite Members to comment on the letter received.
I'm happy to note the letter, Chair.
Thank you. Mike seems to be content.
The letter provides the Minister's formal response in relation to recommendations 1, 2, 3 of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee's report on these legislative consent memoranda laid before—. Sorry. In that case, sorry, we move on to the next item, which is a further letter from the same Minister, providing her formal response in relation to recommendations 1, 2, 3 of the LJC committee's report on the supplementary legislative consent memoranda laid before the Senedd on 14 March.
Again, I invite Members to comment on that letter.
I was happy to note this letter as well, Chair.
Jest i nodi yma, os ydy'r cyfieithu'n gweithio—. Dwi'n hapus i nodi'r peth, ond i'ch hysbysu chi, fel rydych chi'n gwybod, dydw i ddim yn cytuno efo'r broses LJC—nid LJC—sori, y legislative consent memoranda yma; dwi'n meddwl eu bod nhw'n tanseilio datganoli.
Just to note here, if the translation's working—. I'm happy to note this, but I just want to inform you, as you know, that I don't agree with the LJC process—sorry, the legislative consent memoranda process; I think that it undermines devolution.
Okay, I think that's noted. If Members are content therefore to move on to the next item and just note this letter, the next item is a letter from the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, to the Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, Jenny Rathbone, providing an update on the Welsh Government's plans for the proposed addition of new public bodies to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The letter provides an update on the Welsh Government's plans for the proposed addition of said new public bodies to the Act following a consultation in 2022 on a proposal to add new public bodies to section 6 of the Act. The Minister wrote to existing public bodies in January of this year to hear about their experiences of preparing for the well-being duty. This committee has a particular interest in this area, given our predecessor Public Accounts Committee's interest and the recommendations it made in its report 'Delivering for Future Generations: The story so far', published in March 2021, asking the Welsh Government to carry out a review of the public bodies that are subject to the Act. Our predecessor committee also asked that the review should take into account the impact on the implementation of the Act at a national level of including or omitting any particular public body, and acknowledged that the inclusion of any additional public bodies would result in additional reporting, monitoring and auditing requirements that would inevitably have financial and resourcing implications.
Members, it's suggested we may wish to write to the Chair of the ESJ committee, suggesting that, when the Minister confirms the final list of bodies to be added to the well-being of future generations Act, and provides further details on timings, she provides details of any financial and resourcing implications. I invite Members to comment on or otherwise note the letter and let me know whether you are content for us to write to the Minister as proposed—sorry, Chair, not the Minister.
Chair, I'm more than happy for you to write to the Chair and get the clarification as to which bodies are part of it, and I'm more than happy to note the letter as it is at the moment.
Happy, Mike? Great. Thank you very much indeed.
At this point, then, can we take a short break again and go into private session briefly before we have our first public evidence session on public appointments? Thank you.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 09:32 a 09:35.
The meeting adjourned between 09:32 and 09:35.
Bore da a chroeso. Good morning and welcome. We're now returning to public session for this morning's meeting of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee in the Senedd. I welcome participants to the meeting, and the witnesses who are with us, and I thank them for attending. I'd be grateful if the two witnesses could please state your names and roles for the record.
I'm John Gallanders. I was an independent member of the Betsi board up until February. Currently, I'm clerk for a community council, an inspection reviewer for Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, and also a charity trustee. Previously, I was chief officer for AVOW, which is the county voluntary council in Wrexham.
I'm John Cunliffe. I'm also a former independent member of Betsi's board, for seven years. I was the chair of the performance, finance and information governance committee, and, prior to that, the digital and information governance committee. Outside of that role, I have a role with the audit committee for North Wales Police, and I have some business interests as well.
Thank you very much indeed, both. Perhaps I should indicate that I've come across both of you, particularly John Gallanders, professionally through my role as a Member of the Senedd over the years.
As you'd expect, we have a number of questions. I'll ask Members and witnesses to be as succinct as possible to enable us to cover the wide range of issues that this topic has generated. I'll start with the questions, and then these will be taken up by colleagues on the committee.
For the opening questions, we're going straight to a series of questions related to your experience with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Will you provide an overview of the events that led to the recent resignations of the chair, vice-chair and independent members of the board from the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board board?
If I take it first, John, if you don't mind, we were summoned to a meeting with the Minister at the Welsh Government offices at Llandudno Junction, without any prior warning, without any understanding of why we were there, and were put in a position of having to resign or be fired, without any understanding as to why. Despite numerous attempts to try and get an understanding of what evidence the Minister was relying on, nothing was provided. We took a decision to resign collectively, partly to protect other independent members whose employment elsewhere was linked to the fact that they were independent members, and it would have had a detrimental impact on them if we'd refused to resign and she, en masse, removed us.
Thank you. John Gallanders, would you like to add anything?
Yes, if I could just add on that particular point. The call for the meeting came very late on Friday afternoon for a 9:30 in Llandudno. But one of the key issues was that it was clearly not going to be a discussion; it was a presentation from the Minister to say precisely what action was going to occur. I think what is a very important point in the decision around deciding to resign was the fact that it was made absolutely clear that if we didn't resign, we would actually be dismissed. If we were being dismissed, it would mean that we would not be able to take up any public appointments in Wales for a period of two years. Considering that there were three council members, a justice of the peace and other people who have actually got other appointments across Wales, that could have had a significant detrimental effect on them as individuals. So, we were almost, effectively, forced into the corner of actually doing that.
That was presented by the Minister. She then left the meeting to come back 40 minutes later. Six minutes before the Minister arrived, one of the officials came in and actually presented us with a draft of the letter that would have been covering the dismissal points. I think it's fair to say that we were completely wrong-footed as to the purpose of the meeting. We expected some form of discussion around what was going on, as opposed to it ending in a termination of our roles as independent members. If I can just add also, it took no cognisance whatsoever in respect to one independent member who's actually an employee of Betsi. As a consequence, that had employment issues specifically to one of the independent members.
Thank you. You've referred to events from the previous Friday, when you were asked to attend this meeting. What other events, if any, were there leading up to you all being asked to resign, or was this a bolt from the blue? To what extent were the issues raised novel and new to you, or were they issues that, as a board, you were already aware of and engaged with?
I think the key concern for me is that there were issues that were being raised by us as independent members, as a board, but they didn't seem to be directly related to why we were asked to attend that meeting. There had been no prior communication via the Minister or any officials to us as IMs that there was a concern about our performance, individually or as a group. We asked her repeatedly what evidence she was relying on to take the decisions, and she didn't have any evidence to rely on to take those decisions.
I think, in hindsight, I believe that some of this is linked to the exposure of the financial irregularities and other issues of performance that we had been trying to address, but at no point did the Minister talk to us. All she said was that we had failed to take the next step. Well, she wasn't clear about what the next step was and seemed to fail to understand that we have no power to do anything around the issues that had been raised around the performance of the executive team, whereas she did.
Thank you. Mr Gallanders, do you wish to add?
I think one of the issues that has certainly come forward is the complete misunderstanding by Ministers, other MSs and officials with regard to what is the board. We have Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board—so there's a terminology there; we have an intersperse between when a board is being referred to as being just the independent members; we have references that refer to the board as being independent members and the executive; and we have references where the board is referred to as executives only. In that particular context, statements have been made about the removal of the board, when in fact the removal only involved the independent members. And yet that terminology has been used quite often on the floor in the Senedd as being interchangeable. So, for the sake of the committee members, I think there needs to be a clarity that the board is a unitary board, which consists of both independent members and executives.
That was pointed out to the Minister, but that line of the board being removed was repeated both in the Senedd and in the press, and in written responses. I don't know whether it's a deliberate misstating of the position or a failure to understand the complexity, but a key issue of the understanding of the governance of the organisation is that it's a unitary board.
Thank you. If I can invite Mike Hedges to take up the questions.
Thank you. I've just been unmuted. I've got a question in about three parts, so if I start with the first part. I'll make myself able to be seen better. Betsi Cadwaladr has had a troubled history during the 12 years I've been in the Senedd. Were you aware of the level of concern about the board? I know you've said there were things you didn't know, but surely you were aware that Betsi Cadwaladr was not performing very well against any criteria.
If I could come in first on that. That's not the case. Sorry if that was the impression. We were certainly very, very aware of the particular issues, and the independent members had been proactive in the last 18 months to two years in particular by bringing in external expertise—the vascular service, bringing in the royal college for there; the oncology services; and more recently, obviously, the issue with the audit and Audit Wales's report. On the back of that, it was actually the independent members then that brought in Ernst & Young to come and do an independent further in-depth review, and that currently is a report that clearly has not yet been released into the public domain. Your own NHS counter-fraud have actually conducted their review and then come up with no conclusions. As independent members, we were absolutely flabbergasted at that statement of 'no further action' from NHS counter-fraud when items within the Ernst & Young report quite clearly show a range of financial irregularities of a significant amount, not just within Betsi, but potentially reaching into other departments across the NHS in Wales, other health boards, and, in fact, straight into the Welsh Government itself. So, to say that there should be no further action from counter-fraud in itself probably does not meet any kind of public disclosure as far as that type of information is concerned.
Just to add that, for myself, I think, not to misunderstand that there's a focus here on the financial performance, but that wasn't our only area of concern. I think the Ernst & Young report is something that should be released. The counter-fraud investigation and the fact that's not being pursued needs to be examined, because that feels uncomfortable, given what we knew and where we were. But as chair of the finance and performance committee, I was fully aware of the performance issues we had as an organisation, and was continually frustrated by the lack of progress that we could make through the executive team and their management. As a group of IMs, we have no ability to pull the levers and to be able to do things in the organisation. It's a non-executive role. You rely on the executive part of the board to actually make things happen, and time and again it felt like déjà vu, because you could not get progress in terms of performance improvement, whether that be care for patients, which is key as part of the role that the organisation is providing, as well as delivering that within the financial envelope that we have.
Sorry, Chair, could I come back on one particular point in relation to that?
In terms of the timeline on that, I actually wrote to one of the senior civil servants on 15 February—so that was prior to our removal at the end of February—highlighting very specifically two areas of concern: one was around patient safety and the other was specifically around workforce matters. These had actually come up within an investigation report, and my significant concern was that, if an investigator was identifying issues of patient safety, why that information was not being provided to the board, because in any right-minded investigation, if you've got any safeguarding or patient safety issues, surely an investigator should be duty bound to share that information. The response came back, which was basically saying that it's the board's responsibility to take patient safety forward. We all fully understood that, but the fact that we were not being provided with information of that nature, even if it had been divulged in a confidential manner—. Confidentiality, when it comes to patient safety and safeguarding, is something that is put on one side because of the legislation regarding safeguarding. So, I think the fact that information was being held by officials and not being shared by the board, of that level of significance, up until that particular date, shows the kind of concerns that we as individual IMs were showing at the time.
I don't want to step on the toes of people who are going to follow me, so I'll make this absolutely specific. The chief executive controls the agenda of board meetings. Do you have concerns that things, and you talked about some—? Do you have a general concern about things that weren't coming to the board that you felt ought to be?
I think there's a level of detail there. The agenda of the board is controlled by the chair, but it's done in conjunction with the chief executive, who is responsible for the actual performance and delivery of the organisation. But yes, there were concerns that we had, at board and at committee, that we were not getting information, or that we got false assurances, particularly through the committee structure. Topics would come up on a regular basis. Given that I was there seven years, there were things that I was asking about more latterly that I know we'd asked about five years previously, and been given assurance that they'd been dealt with. So, yes, there are issues there that we were not being given the information that we should have been given. One example might be, as John's talked about, the safety issue, but you might talk about never events. The number of times we asked to be informed about never events, to try and drive this culture of 'no surprises', to find that there were never events happening and we weren't told about them, or that the investigations weren't confirmed or completed in a timely manner.
I was a non-executive director of Swansea health board, over 20 years ago now, and there were two things I noticed. One is, if it was difficult, put it towards the end of the agenda, so people had been in a meeting for four hours, and we could skirt over it. And secondly, although the chair is responsible for the agenda, the power really lies with the chief executive, doesn't it, because the chief executive knows what's going on and the chair is dependent on the chief executive for information.
I think I'm going to just come in in respect of that, just partly to pick up on your first point over the agenda setting. Because of the various committees that existed—the audit committee, the performance committee, finance people, et cetera—it was quite often that the sub-committee, driven by the IMs, would ask for specific items then to be referred to the board. So, I wouldn't say that the agenda was totally controlled by the chief executive, because IMs were contributing to ensure that topics that needed further discussion were actually being brought into that broader environment.
Finally from me, and it's something I feel very strongly about, but the vast majority of the people in the Senedd disagree with me: you've been there for several years now, do you think Betsi Cadwaladr can work as a health board?
Yes, but it needs changes. Sorry, I'll pick it up first. There is an issue with sizes and complexity, but if you broke it up, the cost of operating it would significantly increase, and you've got the issues of cross-collaboration between multiple health organisations, which is what the case was 10 or 12 years ago, when Betsi was set up and the other health boards were set up. But the issue at the moment is that the ability of the organisation to run itself is undermined by officials in Welsh Government, because executives don't respond to the board, they respond to Welsh Government more than they do respond to us, as we were, as a unitary board. And the quality of the executives that we had—and it's not painting a brush that says every executive was poor, but there were significant issues with some executives, who did not deliver on promises, and could not deliver on the plans that were put in place, in theory, to meet the strategies that the board had agreed. There's an issue with the quality of the people to deliver things—it would be one of the issues to be able to make it successful.
That's been a problem over many years, hasn't it? You've had lots—. What is it? You've had six chief executives since it was set up.
I don't think—. Some of that's before my time. I've known two substantial chief executives, and three interims—one of the interims being seconded from Welsh Government.
Okay. That's me finished, Chair.
If I could just reference there, on an operational perspective, the new operational plan was actually splitting north Wales into three integrated health communities, based around the three general hospitals and the two county divisions. In principle, from an operational point of view, that would be driving some of the kinds of closer-to-the-ground developments, but, inevitably, they couldn't provide all of the services across three separate regions. So, there would be certain services that would have been provided on a pan-north Wales basis—some of the mental health services, some of the maternity services, et cetera, were being provided on that. And also, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, when it comes to the specialist services, we're so close to the north west, fortunately, in a lot of respects. So, there is a lot of specialist hospital activity over on the Wirral, Liverpool, Manchester, et cetera, because north Wales could never, ever support some of the specialist types of unit that are available there.
Yes, it's an economies of scale issue in terms of the complexity of many medical interventions.
Okay, thank you. Mike Hedges, have you concluded your questions? I'll take that as confirmation. Yes, thank you. If I could just ask one supplementary before I bring in Mabon ap Gwynfor, you referred to, I think, some executive members being effective and some raising concerns amongst the collective independent members. In February last year, after a session with the health board, I wrote on behalf of this committee to the health board with a series of questions, one of which, in fact, had been raised, I think, by Mike Hedges, related to the high number of senior roles still held by people whose names had been raised in a series of reports over the previous decade, including Ockenden, Holden, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales reports, and so on. In the written response we received, which was extensive, the issue we raised was not acknowledged. But without naming people, because clearly that would be inappropriate in this context, nonetheless, is that a concern that, as a board collectively, you were aware of?
I'm struggling to quite understand what you mean, but if you're referring to the fact that there were people there who had been there and been referenced as not performing well through a number of reports—is that the essence of what you're trying to ask us?
Yes. It's where those reports—and I have to be careful what I say—where those reports had raised issues regarding named individuals, or the roles carried out by named individuals. We raised the issue in the letter to the health board last year noting that the senior executive hierarchy was still heavily populated by the same individuals.
Yes. There were issues, and that was a concern for us as independent members—well, for myself, anyway. But as independent members, we had no leverage, no power, to be able to deal with that, because the employment status of executives is managed, ultimately, by the chief executive. And in any circumstance where we were able to change some of the team, if that's a way of putting it, there was always Welsh Government involvement in terms of the process for that. So, in a number of cases, people were seconded elsewhere rather than being exited from the organisation, because that was seen as a more politically appropriate thing to do.
Okay, thank you. In that case, can I hand over to Mabon ap Gwynfor?
Diolch. Dwi'n mynd i ofyn trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Gobeithio bod offer cyfieithu pawb yn gweithio, a gwnaf i jest sicrhau ei fod e'n gweithio ar Zoom.
Gan eich bod chi wedi codi'r cwestiwn reit ar y cychwyn—dwi'n meddwl mai John Gallanders ddaru'i godi o—ynglŷn â'r gwahaniaeth yma rhwng aelodau'r bwrdd ac aelodau gweithredol, gan fod yr archwilydd cyffredinol gennym ni yn y fan yma, ac ar gyfer y record, dwi wedi ei godi o mewn sesiwn gaeedig o'r blaen: fedrwn ni gael eglurhad ynghylch pwy sydd â'r grym i ddiddymu pobl oddi ar y bwrdd? Yn yr achos yma, rydyn ni wedi gweld y Gweinidog yn cael gwared ar aeloldau annibynnol; oes gan y Gweinidog y gallu i dynnu aelodau gweithredol oddi ar y bwrdd?
Thank you. I'm going to be asking my questions through the medium of Welsh. I hope that everyone's translation equipment is working and I'll just ensure that it's working on Zoom.
Given that you've raised the question at the outset—I think it was John Gallanders who raised it—about the difference between board members and executive members, and given that the auditor general is with us this morning, and for the record, I raised this in a closed session previously: could we have an explanation about who has the power to dismiss people from the board? In this case, we've seen a Minister getting rid of independent members. Does the Minister have the ability to dismiss executives from the board?
Just to pick that up first—forgive me, John—just to clarify, executives and independent members are all members of the board. They make up the unitary board. The executives can be removed from the board by the Minister, but they can't be, as I understand it, dismissed as employees. But they can still be removed from the board by the Minister. That was a power she decided not to exercise, and although reports were indicating that the dysfunctionality was with the executive team, she decided to remove the independent members of the board.
Ydy e'n bosib cael cadarnhad o hynny gan yr archwilydd, os gwelwch yn dda?
Is it possible to have confirmation of that from the auditor general, please?
Diolch. I'm not a lawyer, so you may want to take formal legal advice from the Senedd legal service, if you want to explore that in more detail, but my understanding is as is just described. So, the Minister does have a power to remove any member of a health board, including executive members, from the board itself, but, clearly, that's not the same as removing an executive from their substantive role.
Diolch am hynny. Mae hynny'n ddefnyddiol i gael y cadarnhad hynny, a hwyrach y dylid cael cyngor cyfreithiol ar hynny o bosib, os ydy'r Cadeirydd yn teimlo bod angen am hynny, er mwyn cael sicrwydd. Ond, o ran y ddau ŵr bonheddig sydd gennym ni, felly—
Thank you for that. That's useful to have that confirmation, and maybe we should have legal advice on that, if the Chair feels that we need that, in order to have some assurance on that point. But, in terms of the two gentlemen who are with us—
I support that, but, actually, I think I did raise that through you some weeks ago, and we did get advice that corroborated what we've just heard, if I remember correctly.
Dyna fo. Gwych. Ydy'r ddau ŵr bonheddig, felly, yn teimlo bod y broses wedi bod yn un deg? Ac a ydych chi'n teimlo bod y Gweinidog wedi gwneud cam â chleifion y gogledd drwy gymryd yr aelodau annibynnol oddi ar y bwrdd heb weithredu ar yr aelodau gweithredol?
Excellent. Do the two gentlemen feel that the process has been a fair process? And do you feel that the Minister hasn't done right by patients in north Wales by removing the independent members from the board, but not taking action in respect of the executive members?
Absolutely not; it's not been a fair process. The way we were treated as IMs was completely unfair; it did not follow any formal established route for dismissal. We were not given any indication as to what we'd done wrong as individuals. The confirmation of appointment letter when I first started said I would be given the opportunity to discuss with the Minister on a regular basis. It's never been provided. So, there's been no opportunity with the Minister, and there's been no attempt to make any communication with us as IMs as to why she may perceive that we were not performing in the right way, and yet, no action was taken against the executive team. So it doesn't feel like it's been a fair process at all. And the impact of that, therefore, is on the continued performance of the organisation and the patient care that it delivers. Right now, there isn't effective governance of the organisation: the committees are not running, the scrutiny and the questioning isn't happening. So, there's a real loss of that understanding of what's happened, and there's a real loss of organisational memory from the IMs, by taking them out en masse without a clear understanding of what the issues might have been for them.
Can I come in on this, Chair?
I think one of the things to just clarify as well is that independent members are not defined as 'the employees'. That has a very significant impact, because potentially, if we had been employees, the manner in which we were phased on that particular Monday—I think it would be fair to say that the Welsh Government would probably have had 11 constructive unfair dismissal cases lodged against them, because it did not follow any form of due diligence or anything that could potentially be seen to follow the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service code of practice when dealing with employees who may have difficulties or problems. So, I think that is worth pointing out, first of all.
The other point, I think, is in relation to—just picking up on John's final point about the memory. I'm not sure whether Members are fully aware, but our meeting took place on the Monday morning and our IT equipment was terminated within 15 minutes of that meeting ending. We have not had any opportunity whatsoever since then to share any of our knowledge, any of our organisational memory, with anybody at all afterwards; not one single person has approached us to gather that information. Now, as John said, seven years' knowledge—. How on earth can an organisation go forward with the removal of 11 people? The knowledge gap that that actually left was a huge vacuum, which, as a direct consequence, we feel that the current IMs are still operating in a vacuum because they do not know the back stories. And, of course, they're still being provided with the information by the executive members and others within Betsi, who the Minister herself in the Senedd declared shouldn't be there.
Diolch. Gaf i ofyn cwestiwn gwahanol, os gwelwch yn dda? Rydych chi wedi cyfeirio—un ohonoch chi'n sicr wedi cyfeirio—at adroddiad Ernst & Young. Dwi'n cymryd, felly, eich bod chi wedi ei weld o. Dydy o ddim yn gyhoeddus i ni, a dwi'n meddwl y dylem ni fynnu ei fod o'n dod yn gyhoeddus ac ein bod ni'n ei weld o yn y pwyllgor yma—rhywbeth i ni ei gymryd i fyny, os gwelwch yn dda, Gadeirydd. Yn ôl yr hyn dwi wedi ei gael ar ddeall, mae'r adroddiad yn sôn bod yna bres wedi cael ei drosglwyddo o un flwyddyn ariannol i'r llall, sydd ddim yn unol â'r rheolau ariannu ar y pryd. Yn ôl eich dealltwriaeth chi o adroddiad Ernst & Young, ydych chi yn hyderus nad oes yna corporate fraud wedi digwydd yn yr achos yma?
Thank you. Could I ask a different question, if I may? You've referred—or one of you has referred—to the Ernst & Young report. I take it, therefore, that you've seen the report. It hasn't been made public to us, and I think we should insist that it is published and that we do see it in this committee—that's something for us to take up, please, Chair. According to what I understand, the report says that funding was transferred from one financial year to another, which didn't correlate with the financial rules at the time. Now, according to your understanding of the Ernst & Young report, are you confident that there hasn't been a case of corporate fraud in this case?
I haven't seen the report, because it hasn't been published. It was controlled through and commissioned by the audit committee of the board. But I have been briefed to a certain extent. My understanding is that there is potential issue for fraudulent activity, but, without the detail of that and without the counter-fraud investigation, it is difficult to judge how far that goes. I think the implications that John referred to were because there were contractual issues that went outside of Betsi, went into other parts of NHS Wales and maybe had implications or were related to officials that actually now work to the Minister. There are potential implications, I think, that go wider than just Betsi from that Ernst & Young report, but I agree with you that it needs to be published and a more thorough review of its implications needs to take place.
If I can just mention in respect of that, the chair, in communication with the First Minister, made that particularly clear, without, obviously, going into any specific details of the content of that report. But the principles were highlighted in that letter to the First Minister with regard to items that transacted into the whole of the NHS in Wales and were not a Betsi-specific issue.
Diolch. Gan fod yr archwilydd cyffredinol eto gennym ni fan hyn, mae yna awgrym fan hyn fod yna elfennau o adroddiad Ernst & Young yn mynd i gyffwrdd ag elfennau eraill o fewn yr NHS yng Nghymru, a hwyrach yn gorgyffwrdd â gwaith y Llywodraeth: ydych chi wedi gweld yr adroddiad, neu ydych chi'n mynd i fynnu cael copi—fyddwch chi'n derbyn copi o'r adroddiad ar ryw bwynt?
Thank you. Given that the auditor general is with us this morning, there is a suggestion that there are elements of the Ernst & Young report that are going to touch on other elements within the NHS in Wales, and maybe will overlap with the Government's work: have you seen the report, or are you going to insist on receiving a copy of the report at some point?
The report is owned by the board itself, and so publication of it is a matter for the board to decide. It flows from the work that my team did in respect of the audit of accounts last year, so I'm very familiar with the issues that are covered by it, but it examines those in much more granular detail than we had done.
Ocê. Tybed a oes yna ryw ffordd yn gyfreithiol i ni fel pwyllgor fynnu bod y bwrdd yn rhyddhau'r adroddiad yna i ni er mwyn i ni ei weld o, ei astudio o a'i ryddhau o i'r archwilydd cyffredinol, achos mae o'n mynd i fod yn greiddiol i'n dealltwriaeth ni o'r hyn sydd wedi bod yn mynd ymlaen, buaswn i'n ei feddwl. Ydy hynna'n rhywbeth allwn ni ei wneud?
Okay. I wonder whether there is some legal route for us as a committee to insist that the board does publish that report, or release it to us so that we can see it, study it and release it to the auditor general, because it is going to be a core part of our understanding of what's been going on, I would think. Is that something that we could pursue?
We can seek the advice. I completely concur with what you say, but, obviously, there may be legal constraints. So, we can clarify and then pursue in whichever way we can.
Can I just add to that? My understanding was that Audit Wales were in receipt of it, but I agree that it is a board-commissioned report and therefore it would have been a board decision to publish it. But, if we'd still been there as IMs, absolutely, it would have been published.
Can I just come in on one particular legal point on this? That is, up until the point that we were IMs, the director of finance had been suspended, along with two other senior people within the finance department. The reference to publication at the time was that—or my understanding was that—the NHS Counter Fraud Authority said that it shouldn't be published on the basis that there may well be legal action involving some particular employees, and therefore to have released it at that time could have impacted on any legal case. However, since then, obviously, NHS counter-fraud have made their statement that no further action will be taken. The board have issued a statement to say that they're now going to be doing things internally, but, from an external perspective, it just does not stack up to think that you've got the Audit Wales qualified accounts, you've got an Ernst & Young report, you've got various other investigation reports, and yet it's going back to the board, who are people who don't have any background knowledge at all to the detail that would be required to actually analyse some of those things.
I concur. I think, clearly, we could request a document with the names of any employees redacted. Obviously, the reference that you've made to this possibly having wider implications and going beyond the health board certainly would fall within the areas of concern that fall within this committee's remit. So, we will pursue and investigate further and seek what information we're able to access. Mabon, do you have a further question?
Ie. Gaf i ofyn cwestiwn ar drywydd ychydig yn wahanol? Nôl yn—pryd oedd o—Tachwedd 2020, ddaru’r Llywodraeth ddatgan bod y bwrdd iechyd yn dod allan o fesurau arbennig bryd hwnnw. Fel aelodau annibynnol, oeddech chi’n teimlo bod y bwrdd iechyd wedi cymryd y camau angenrheidiol er mwyn cael ei dynnu allan o fesurau arbennig—ei isgyfeirio, fel mae’r term yn cael ei ddefnyddio—neu nad oedden nhw wedi cymryd y camau?
Yes. Could I ask a slightly different question? Back in November 2020, the Government stated that the health board was coming out of special measures at that time. As independent members, did you feel that the health board had taken the necessary steps in order to be taken out of special measures—or to be de-escalated, in the terminology used—or had it not taken those steps?
As IMs, we didn't want to come out of special measures.
That was not our judgment at all. Our understanding—although I understand that the auditor general has since clarified the view in terms of providing advice, but our understanding—was that the triumvirate took advice and made a decision about whether we would stay in or come out of special measures. Personally, I think it was a political decision, but that's a personal view. But, as a group of IMs, I don't think we should have come out of special measures, particularly around mental health services.
Just for the record, I wasn't actually an IM at the time when that actually took place, so I can't make a comment on the view as an IM for that time.
Okay. Thank you.
Diolch. Unwaith eto, mae'n flin gen i i gyfeirio at yr archwilydd cyffredinol, ond gan mai dyma'r cyfle cyntaf ers i ni glywed y datganiadau diweddar, fedrwch chi gadarnhau a wnaethoch chi roi cyngor i'r Llywodraeth i isgyfeirio'r bwrdd iechyd allan o fesurau arbennig bryd hwnnw?
Thank you very much. Once again, I'm sorry to refer to the auditor general, but as this is the first opportunity since we heard the recent statements that were made, could you confirm whether you provided advice to the Government to de-escalate the health board and take it out of special measures at that time?
Diolch. I think the position of myself and Audit Wales is now pretty clear in correspondence that's in the public domain, but I'm very happy to repeat it here. Neither I nor Audit Wales staff advise Ministers on the escalation status of any NHS body. As part of the escalation and intervention framework, my staff contribute to a round-table discussion on the performance of NHS bodies. Informed by that discussion, and entirely separate to that discussion, Welsh Ministers then advise the Minister—Welsh Government officials, forgive me, separately advise the Minister on whether any changes are needed to the status of an NHS body. It is then for the Minister to decide and make that final judgment.
Can I add something to that, please?
Just in terms of that process, it doesn't involve the board; it does not involve the independent members of the board in providing information into that decision discussion forum. And it always happens externally, completely divorced from those people empowered to lead the organisation and take it forward. It's always felt like a gap in the way that that process works.
An important point.
Could I just respond back as well? I think, yes, we've got the issue over how it came out of special measures, but I also think that there are also questions potentially to be asked over how it's now got back into special measures—what was the advice and what was the process that was involved. Having seen a copy of the briefing that was actually given to the Minister, on which that decision was made—and that was a briefing document that is dated 24 February, which was a couple of days, obviously, before our removal—we know for a fact that recruitment of interim IMs was taking place at least five to six weeks before our dismissal. In documents that I've seen, it shows that, actually, the legal advice to actually progress with special measures and the removal of ourselves was not actually signed off until 14 February, and yet the recruitment for IMs was taking place prior to that. So, I think that's one significant one.
One particular item of concern that I have within this document, and it highlights the point that John said previously over executives providing lack of information, there's a section in there, section 31, which is called 'stakeholder concerns', and, within that, it specifically references that the commissioning of plastic surgery from St Helens and Knowsley is about to be escalated to the board to level 4, and that's in relation to significant concerns. As board members, to the best of my knowledge, at no time has any reference from an executive ever been put before the board in relation to that, and yet it's highlighted here, within the Minister's briefing, that that was a significant concern. So, that's just one example of where, as board members, at times, we were being kept in the dark. It also makes reference to the coroner, and John's already referenced around cases and concerns. At times, as board members, we were actually finding out about a coroner's inquiry when we were reading it in the Daily Post or on the BBC website. So, some of the very significant issues that have arisen around patient safety were not being shared to board members.
Thank you. If I recall, some HIW reports were made publicly accessible and then withdrawn very quickly at the coroner's request because of ongoing consideration of some cases of deaths related to what you're discussing. Mabon, if you could just—
Sorry, could I just read one other line out of that document as well? Because I think it is very crucial, and this is section 34:
'Officials therefore consider that it is neither in the interests of the health board nor it is conducive to its good management that the current Board should remain in place.'
The current board—the only people who have actually been removed are the IMs, and yet that advice to the Minister, as I say, dated 24 February, section 34, makes it quite clear that it is the board. Now the interpretation, as we said earlier on, is the board is executives and IMs, so that is an action that's not actually been followed through in relation to the Minister's advice.
I think there's a wider thing—it may be you'll get on to it in your later questions—but these circumstances around the way in which we were removed and the way in which we were employed, for want of a better term, undermine the ability to recruit a more diverse and inclusive board membership, which was the principle of, as I understand it, the generality of this investigation at the moment. How are you going to encourage people to be able to apply for roles, if they feel as if, at any point, there's no certainty in their employment in that role? And I think the way in which we were removed, and the lack of information at times when we were asking for information, just undermines the ability to recruit people, as well as to be able to contribute in a productive manner to get improvement.
Okay, thank you. Time is limited, and we've still got a few questions we'd like to put to you, so I'd be grateful if everyone could be as succinct as possible. Mabon, have you got a further question?
Iawn am y tro, diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd.
Fine for now, thank you very much, Chair.
In which case, I'll bring in Natasha Asghar.
Thank you so much. Gentlemen, I will ask you questions on leadership shortly, but I just wanted to clarify for my own knowledge—Betsi doesn't come under my patch, so you may have to educate me slightly. With regards to your dismissal/resignation options, were you given the grounds for the dismissal option, if that was indeed the case? Did they actually specify at all what the reasons were for your dismissals?
No. Despite multiple requests for reason, rationale, evidence—no. In fact, I've seen some notes that have been produced by the Minister's officials that are obvious in terms of big gaps in the record that was being made and do not record the fact that we asked on multiple occasions what rationale and what evidence were being used for the decision.
Can I just come in on that as well? As an independent member, our appointments are actually made by the Minister, therefore, the relationship should technically be direct to the Minister. I personally have asked, under a subject access request, specifically around anything that refers to me as an individual—around any potential performance failures, or anything like that. I have been provided with nothing whatsoever to me as an individual, and at no time have we actually received any support from the appointments division within the Welsh Government. In fact, most of us probably didn't even know that they existed. So, I think, again, as a fundamental issue—if there is going to be a lead-up to our effective removal, or post that removal—what level of support is provided by Welsh Government to any public appointee in any role in any other division across the whole of Wales?
I understand. John, you mentioned in your previous answer that there was a lack of diversity within the board itself—in the IMs board. So, I just wanted to ask you, if you could just let me know: how many medics, or people with medical experience, were indeed members of the IM board?
I didn't say there wasn't diversity, but I said that if you wanted to encourage better diversity, then—
—there needs to be a more sustainable way of employing people.
In terms of medical knowledge on the board, in terms of IMs, I don't think there was anybody who was a medic. The vice-chair had past experience within the NHS environment and primary care. My background—. My wife was the director of psychology services for Betsi, so I had knowledge, second-hand knowledge, in that sense. I don't think any other IM was a medic. But there was an executive medical director, and the director of transformation was also an ex-GP as well, so there was medical knowledge from that point of view.
Okay, great. Right—
Sorry, just on a personal level, just to reference having been a Healthcare Inspectorate Wales reviewer, certainly pre COVID, I was involved in a significant number of inspections across Wales in various clinical settings.
Thank you so much, gentlemen. Okay, independent members obviously have something of a contradiction in their roles in some ways: they are charged with holding the executive to account, but also they need to work jointly with those executives in ensuring effective leadership and management of the organisation. So, how did you manage these competing demands?
Partly it's through the governance structure that we have, in that the board is a unitary board and, therefore, we work together effectively as a board and make decisions collectively as a board. The holding to account tends to come through the committee structure where membership of committees are IMs, supported by executives and other members of the organisation, and it's the point at which you were able to question and challenge executives on the various aspects of the operation of the board.
From a leadership point of view, then, there were regular development sessions in terms of trying to work together and build relationships. And I think, on an individual basis, we all made the effort to build relationships with the executives that we might have more close associations with—say, from my point of view, the finance or performance side of things, but also, in more general terms, when we did walkabouts and went to visit various parts of the organisation. Plus, we're expected to chair appointment panels for medics, because that seems to be a regulation—that we had to be a chair of those and you always found that you were spending time with various executives and other senior managers within the organisation.
Okay. I just wanted to ask one final sub-question to what I've just already asked. In relation to some of the previous answers, you mentioned that there was a lot of Welsh Government involvement, particularly in the board and making decisions and moving things forward. So, I just wanted to know: would you think, from your experience, having been IMs of a health board, it would have been more beneficial to have had actual medical professionals guiding, advising and supporting as opposed to potentially just having civil servants in place?
I think in respect of that, where we felt that there was a need, particularly in certain clinical areas—so, in vascular, for instance, there has clearly been a massive issue in Betsi for a significant number of years—it was the IMs that then actually brought in the royal college to specifically conduct a review. Exactly the same with some of the other services—the Ockenden and the Holden reviews with regard to mental health, albeit we're going back eight or nine years. So, I think, where there has been that need to have that added independent viewpoint, the independent members have actually acted appropriately by bringing in that level of expertise.
Okay, thank you. Thanks.
I would concur, to an extent. I don't feel we needed any additional medical expertise in terms of the leadership of the organisation, because that's not the role of the independent members. There was sufficient there, or there should have been, given the roles we had through the executive side.
Okay, thank you. Thanks.
Thank you. As you mentioned Ockenden and Holden there, if I recall correctly, part of the concerns raised in those reports related to how concerns raised internally by medical staff, clinical staff, were treated, including those who were ultimately referred to as whistleblowers.
You've already raised concern with us about how much contact you had with and how much support you had from Welsh Government officials during your period as board members. Is there anything else you'd like to add regarding your concerns about the level of support you received in undertaking scrutiny and asking potentially challenging questions of the executive?
From a Welsh Government point of view, there was absolutely no support. In the seven years I was there, there was no contact from anybody within Welsh Government, from the Minister or her officials, in terms of support, encouragement, review, in terms of what I was doing. My performance review was done via the chair, and I took it on myself to make sure I regularly asked the internal audit representatives or Audit Wales representatives to test whether my challenge and questioning and constructive criticism and relationship with the executive was appropriate and at the right level and got regular positive feedback, because, as a chair of committee, I wanted to make sure I was tackling that in an appropriate manner. But from a Welsh Government point of view, nothing.
Yes, I would say exactly the same. It was actually six months in into my appointment before I actually had an induction session arranged by Welsh Government for public appointees. I subsequently then went on a couple of additional training courses. In terms of defining precisely what the role was, and, if you like, the parameters that we should be working within, that type of induction should really, I would suggest to the committee, be within at least a month of somebody being appointed, or even, once appointment is confirmed, prior to actually taking up the specific role, so that there is the generic understanding of the roles that are there and the boundaries.
I mean, when it comes to bringing execs to account, in one particular document I've seen, it makes a reference to one independent member forensically questioning an executive, and that's being taken in a negative light, and yet surely forensically questioning somebody when you've got medical problems in front of you is the manner and the style that you should actually be fulfilling the role as an independent member. So, why that judgment has been taken that that is an inappropriate way to question people—.
And I think the other level is in terms of frustration for the more you started to doubt a report, the more in-depth questioning would actually take place. Some people may see that within a workforce environment as being bullying, but it's the balance between getting to the facts and to the truth versus not having the full information being provided. But that's a fine balance that I would say that all of us as independent members actually developed our own individual skills and particular techniques to do that. On a personal level, if I've known that there was a particular issue that might have been coming up in one of the committee meetings that could have been particularly controversial or difficult for an executive member, I previously have actually contacted them prior to the meeting to give them advance warning of some of the questions that I would have been asking, in order that we actually got answers at the meeting, rather than a question being asked and a response being, 'Oh, we'll take that away and come back to you', because I've always believed, if we're attending meetings, we need the answers in that meeting and not a reference to come back.
Absolutely. I agree with John. You do have those conversations with people so that the governance and the challenge is not just done by ambushing, but, actually, you create transparency for the public by making sure you get appropriate answers within those public forums. But it does feel as if we were removed because we were asking questions and we were trying to get under the skin of the issues, and that, actually, what's been requested now is something that is about not asking questions and hiding the truth.
And could I have a one-word answer to this question? Both of you have held a range of senior appointments in public, third and private sectors throughout your careers. Have you ever seen anything like what you've just described anywhere else?
No, absolutely not.
Thank you. Well, moving on, in the few minutes remaining to us, I'll just ask a limited number of questions about more general aspects relating to public appointments. So, why, initially, did you apply for a public appointment, and how much did you know about the process before making your first application?
Personally, it was an opportunistic application. I'd had 12 months out after a car accident. I was leaving the role that I was in in Cardiff and was looking for other opportunities, and this was suggested to me at the time. And it had a synergy, because I'd seen the difference between healthcare in England and the healthcare in Wales, given that my accident was in England and I was transferred to Wales ultimately through that convalescence and recovery process. So, that's what attracted it to me in the first place.
In my particular case, my role as an independent member comes with a third sector tag on it. So, I was there specifically as a representative from the third sector or, more precisely, somebody with third sector knowledge. My professional background for the last 20 years had been within the third sector. I felt I had the knowledge and the expertise to be involved. I was also part of the Tawel Fan stakeholder group following the two reports. I had insight into a significant number of issues that were going from the mental health side, and also I've had personal involvement in other aspects of health, where I felt I could actually contribute from both personal knowledge and understanding of issues, and also from a professional background as well.
Thank you. What, if any, particular sources of information or organisations that help you better understand the application process and the role you're applying for did you access or were you aware of, and what, if any, specific barriers did you face in acquiring greater knowledge?
I think it almost felt that there weren't any other organisations or other information other than what was provided through the application process. Prior to this being put in front of me, I wasn't really aware of the public appointments process, but it was a nice fit given my career background and the skills that I had. But I wasn't provided with anything else, and I wasn't aware of anything else in terms of information to help in that process.
Similar, really, to John on that particular point, my knowledge, if anything, of the public appointments system came from having discussions with people who were already holding public appointments not just within Betsi, but within other organisations. And having personal knowledge being shared gave me that greater insight into things.
Thank you. What, if any, contact did you have with the Welsh Government's public bodies unit during your application or appointment process, and, if you did have contact with them, how would you rate the effectiveness of the service you received?
Until the briefing from your officials last week, I'd never heard of the public bodies unit. I'd never had any contact.
Thank you. John Gallanders.
Exactly the same. No contact. I presume they might well have been involved in the background in terms of the organisational mechanisms to get the appointments in place. But in terms of any ongoing support—. There was training that was being provided, I'm not too sure whether it came from that particular division or not, but in terms of support, particularly over these last couple of months, absolutely nothing to support us in our role leading to 28 February.
How important do you consider it is for the Welsh Government to increase the diversity of public appointments based on geographic location, and how it might do so?
I think it's important that any board, really, reflects the public geographics and demographics, in particular I think where the recruitment process doesn't work favourably for people who may have particular personal issues and need support in being able to apply for a public appointment. So, there are some issues there over people who need that additional support.
There are also issues with regard to the amount of time commitment. In the case of the IMs, the appointment and the advertisement was based on four days a month. The reality is that it's two, three days a week if you're actually taking up the role in the manner in which you should do. People assume that it's a board meeting once a month or once every two months, but in our particular case, people were taking on roles as chairs, vice-chairs of sub-committees—we were all members of sub-committees—and we were involved in interview panels. We were also, as a corporate entity but as individuals as well, trustees of the NHS charity, all of which is additional time. Quality walkabouts, quality committees—all of these. So, I think there's a real issue over how these positions are actually promoted, because if somebody thinks they're doing four days and they get dispensation from their employment, for instance, to do four days a month, and then they suddenly find that they're into eight days and they're having to take additional time off, et cetera and use holiday time—that in itself will be a detriment to actually recruiting a diverse board.
To pick up on John's final point around the time commitment, it's completely unfair in terms of the way the paperwork is set up when you first apply. For me, it's more like a full-time job. It really undermines anything else that you're trying to do, and it is not remunerated in an appropriate manner for the time commitment that IMs have to contribute.
But to go back to your question about geography of diversity, I think, from an IM's point of view, the IMs are tending to be from the region in which the health board is serving. I think there's an issue with the executive team. There have been issues where they're not resident and are therefore not users of the service that they're leading, and that might be something that needs to be addressed. But if, by geography, you're also talking socioeconomic issues as well, I think that goes to sustainability in terms of the employment—in inverted commas—of IMs in that you can't expect somebody to take on a role that says it's four days a month if they're trying to do another job at the same time, and then their commitment is more like the whole month or four days a week. There needs to be clarity of the employment status to be able to encourage people to apply.
Thank you very much indeed. We've run out of time. In 30 seconds, do either of you have any final comments you would like to make that you haven't had the opportunity to share with us yet?
I think, if I could just come in on one, and that is obviously replacements for ourselves. I think there are key issues over—. I believe there are only four independent members at the moment; we had 11. We all struggled in terms of time commitment. John has referred already to the fact that all the sub-committees now appear to be stopped, because there's certainly nothing being listened to on the Betsi side, so therefore the level of scrutiny, potentially, is going to be significantly less than what it was when we were in position. So, I think there are some real issues there.
And just on the broader context of public appointees as a whole, I believe the last review took place in 2008 with regard to appointments, remuneration, all the aspects of our terms and conditions, et cetera. But more fundamentally, I think there needs to be—I've got to be careful what I say—there needs to be an increase in the respect level between officials, Ministers and anybody else concerned with public appointments. Independent members are appointed to fulfil a role, and if they go beyond that particular role by looking at things that stray beyond the remit of the particular appointee, they should not then be penalised.
And the whole issue over the removal of independent members—I'm sure you've all appreciated from our comments this morning—that really does need to be looked at. Because we are aware, all of us who've got friends who are independent members in other boards, they're wondering when their turn may come, what will be the criteria on which they will be removed. And particularly because there's a significant number of overspends across a number of health boards, they feel that they might actually be penalised in the same way as we have. So, there needs to be something done by Welsh Government to stabilise the views at the moment or you will find that you're going to be losing a lot of IMs, and I believe the recruitment process for IMs, or the interims, started with 11 people and actually only ended up with four people being prepared to take up that role. So, there are some real issues around that particular aspect of appointments, going forward.
I'd agree with John in terms of that review of remuneration, which took—the last one in 2008 is a key one. The aim is to recruit experienced and skilled people from as diverse a background as possible, but you're not going to be able to do that if you're not remunerating those experienced people properly, particularly for the time commitment, and the time commitment needs to be clear in terms of what is expected of people.
I think there's an issue in terms of the way the NHS in Wales is run. It is too close to Government, and I think that's something that should be addressed, to take out the politics from it, because it does feel—. You referred to the taking out of special measures previously—that, for me, is an example of where the running of the NHS in Wales should be separated from the way the politics work in Wales. And I think if you want to increase diversity, you need to have clearer sustainability and recognise the employment status, rather than this fallacy of 'we're not employees', to be able to recruit people from a more appropriate, or fully representational background of the population that's in north Wales.
Okay, thank you. Well, that bring us to the end of our questions with you for this morning, so thanks, both, to John Gallanders and John Cunliffe, for participating today and answering our questions. A transcript of today's meeting will be published in draft form and sent to you for checking for accuracy before we publish the final version. So, thank you again. Can we go into private session for a short break and we'll recommence at 10:55? Thank you very much indeed.
Okay. Thanks for the opportunity.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:44 a 10:57.
The meeting adjourned between 10:44 and 10:57.
Bore da. Good morning. Welcome to two new witnesses to this session of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee. Again, in terms of broader housekeeping, please note that headsets are available in the room for translation and sound amplification—translation on channel 1, and amplification on channel 0. Please ensure that electronic devices are switched to silent, and note that, in the event of an emergency, an alarm will sound and ushers will direct everyone to the nearest safe exit and assembly point. Could I please ask the two participants, the two attendees, to state your names and roles for the record?
Bore da. Dr Rosie Plummer. Roles: independent witness, because I'm on a number of public boards.
Shereen Williams. I'm chief executive of the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales. I've previously held a number of public appointments for Welsh Government.
Thank you very much indeed to both of you. As you'd expect, we have a number of questions we'd like to ask both of you. We'd therefore be grateful if both Members and yourselves could be as succinct as possible in answering those, so that we can cover as wide a range of the issues that we'd like to raise accordingly. So, if I can begin, and then my colleagues will take up the questioning. So, quite a straightforward opening question: why did you apply for a public appointment, or public appointments, and how much did you know about the process before making your first application?
My first public appointment was many years ago, on the All Wales Convention. I have a general interest in democracy and Welsh politics, and when the announcement was made that the convention was going to be set up, I followed that to the point where applications were being invited for open competition. The process was quite lengthy, in terms of filling out the application form, waiting to be informed about the interview, and then waiting for the outcomes of the interview. Since then—. At that point in time was when I realised there was such a thing as public appointments, and I then actively looked online and kept myself informed of the public appointments available through the Welsh Government website.
In my case, it started a long time ago, when I was on a mentoring scheme run by Janet Gaymer, who was the Commissioner for Public Appointments at Whitehall. She took a particular interest in women in science, engineering and technology, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting—public appointments. They need more women. I’ll think about that.’ And that started me thinking about public appointments, and, as the opportunity presented itself, when it fitted into my career and we moved to Wales, I then applied. I think my first Welsh Government public appointment was Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority board, and since then I’m on Natural Resources Wales’s board, Welsh Government senior independent panel member for public appointments, and, obviously, school governorships et cetera. But I think that was my first set of encounters with the public appointments unit, certainly.
Thank you. What if any particular sources of information or organisations helped you better understand the application process and the role you were applying for? Were there any specific barriers you faced in acquiring greater knowledge?
Okay. Carry on.
I think it's really important for people to note that there is art to applying for public appointments, as there is for public sector jobs. That's something I learnt through applying for various roles in the public sector. There is a form of words you need to be using to be able to get shortlisted. I personally feel that that's actually a barrier. I had someone who was mentoring me who supported me through that process because they knew how to go about doing that. I know there are people—. As a community activist, I know that there are people that I work with and that I support who don't have those mentorship arrangements in place, and who would apply for a public appointment or job role in the public sector not realising there is an art to it. So, I think, for me, that is one of the biggest barriers. If you want a more diverse set of applicants, for people to get through the process, then the application process needs to take into account different levels of understanding of the public appointments application process, interviews, as well as what they can contribute to the discussions. Because not everyone's going to be able to come in with board-level experience or leadership experience of public sector bodies.
I totally agree with that. I think the sources of information—I’m a read-a-lot geek and research geek, so I would certainly read all the details that were in the advert for appointment, but it’s all the subtleties that you don’t know, as Shereen said. It’s understanding the particular nuance and lingo, being able to match the eight criteria being sought by the committee in your STAR examples on a less than one-and-a-half side or two-side application. The demands in doing that, the nuances—. There are training courses offered. I certainly participated, as I ground my teeth, having failed in other appointments, but the kind of level of support and the level of encouragement and the people you know—. As a board member now in various public bodies I’m never called upon to offer intelligence or advice or opportunity, and the public appointments unit could use us as board members. It could be part of our appointment. Not everybody’s fit for it or has time, but, actually, make better use of your existing board members to communicate to others.
Okay. Well, you just mentioned the Welsh Government's public bodies unit. What, if any, contact did you have with that unit during your application and appointment process? And if you did, how would you rate its effectiveness?
Very little, apart from the formalities of the electronic process. I found them, I have to say, slow in response, lacking in strategic and process preparedness. Obviously, since becoming a Welsh Government independent panel member, I have a better contact, but actually still remarkably little, whereas my NRW appointment was handled via a recruitment agency, and the customer care that is given to all those candidates, successful and unsuccessful, is superb.
I'll come at this with two different hats. One was when I first applied for the convention role, and that was when the public bodies unit was known as the public appointments unit, and there was quite a bit of hand-holding and support then, and I think that's more to do with the member of staff who was in that role, because that member of staff is now working for my sponsor division in Welsh Government, who supports the commission, and he's brilliant. And I think it's to do with individuals, rather than the actual unit.
My experience—as a public body needing public appointments to be made to my commission, the experience hasn't been particularly positive. It's been quite slow moving, which is frustrating, because, when I've got commissioners' terms expiring, and I'm thinking, 'Come on, we've got to get a recruitment out, we've got to get the ads approved et cetera'—. The commission, LDBCW, actually pays for advertising for these roles, because there's a very limited amount of advertising, of promotion, that takes place from the public bodies unit. We use our budget from Welsh Government to advertise in various websites—Women on Boards et cetera. That's what we do. So, the experience has been quite a slow one.
Thank you. We'll hand over to Natasha Asghar.
Welcome, ladies. My question is going to be around recruitment processes and feedback. So, the Wales Centre for Public Policy recommended that recruitment processes for public appointments should focus more on the candidates' aspirations and vision for the role, rather than their experience and educational background. So, what are your thoughts on this, and what difference would this change in approach have made for yourselves when you were making your applications?
I think, from my perspective, a board should have—. You know, have you had experience of now working to a board? It should have a mix of people with specific skill sets, and also lived experience. I think the challenge you have with public appointments right now is that you want lived experience as well as all those skill sets, and it's very hard to find it. So, just speaking from a person of colour, as a woman in leadership, it's 2023 and I'm the only woman of colour leading a Welsh Government sponsored body. There are very few women like myself in leadership positions in Welsh public bodies, and you're asking that group of people to then apply for public appointments. We don't have the time. So, either you adjust your criteria to say, 'Actually, we want people who have very specific lived experiences,' and say, 'Your application process or your criteria will be held up differently when we do the sifting, because we want you as a person. It's fine; we can support you with the leadership experience, with dealing with board papers et cetera', and I think that would have probably made a difference, because, right now, Welsh Government have run some sessions on recruitment and applications in community groups. Is that really your target audience for applications and board members? Because those people are then applying, not getting through the sift, and then they are put off, because then they see, 'Oh, it's the same group of people being appointed', who don't look like them, who they don't identify with, and they say, 'What's the point of applying?' Maybe five years down the road, they'd be great applicants, they'd be ideal for positions on public appointments, but they won't apply, because they'll remember, 'Five years ago, you ran a workshop with me, you told me that you were looking for people who had my lived experience. I apply, and I fall short.'
So, where should their targets be—you know, specifically? Where should we specifically target?
I think you need to look at your criteria for your recruitment first. Once you say, 'Actually, we're looking for this specific criteria', then we go out, not just go out and run lots of workshops and, 'Here, here's how you apply for a board appointment', and then you publish your criteria then, and most people can't tick those boxes.
Okay. So, if I have a magic wand, wave it around, change the criteria for it today, where should I target?
I think you should target with the lived experience element. I think you—
Where? Where in society should I go?
Well, Welsh Government actually funds a Equal Power Equal Voice mentoring programme. You've got some really amazing people who are currently being mentored through that programme. I'm thinking those are the future public appointees; in fact, they could be current public appointees, if you made it a bit easier for them to get on to those appointments.
And also I think public bodies should be asked, should be made, to host taster sessions for potential applicants. We've made that offer as a commission, to invite those who are interested in applying to come and spend time with us; that offer hasn't been taken up by officials.
And I would echo that. I know there were sort of mentoring type hand-holding schemes tried in a very unstructured, one-off manner in various organisations—for example, across the national parks. But then, because as Shereen says, those who participate don't have enough of a hand-holding, you need mentoring, you need a ladder, to create a ladder, for those who have the relevant motivation and potential skills. But then it's got to come right the way through the recruitment process, so that they're not just then dismissed at the board recruitment level because they cannot fully tick, to the best ability, all the criteria. So, you've got to balance those two and you've got to nurture people in quite a long and steady and structured way. And I think it's surprising that we don't have that. And it's also surprising, just looking back at the previous question briefly, that we don't seem to have, or the public bodies unit doesn't appear to have, a plan of those public appointments coming to the end, and getting a timely process through to appointment so that you're actually beginning to have those conversations. It's very frustrating when you get, as with NRW, gaps in governance or insufficient time to properly on-board and induct people to hefty responsibilities when you've got a big change in the board component or proportion.
Thank you so much.
I'll just bring in Mabon—[Inaudible.]
Dwi am siarad yn Gymraeg, â gwirio ei fod o'n gweithio—.
I'm going to speak in Welsh—is it working okay?
Yes, thank you.
Jest dilyn un pwynt, ddaru chi, Shereen, yn dweud rŵan, roeddech chi'n dweud mai chi ydy'r only woman of colour sydd mewn rôl gyffelyb. Pam rydym ni yng Nghymru yn 2023, fel rydych chi'n ei ddweud—pam rydym ni mewn sefyllfa fel yna, ydych chi'n ei feddwl? Beth ydy gwraidd hynny? Oes yna fias yn bodoli yn y system apwyntio?
Just to follow up one point, you, Shereen, mentioned, you said that you are the only women of colour in a similar role. Why are we in Wales, in 2023, as you say—why are we in such a situation, do you think? What's the root of that? Is there bias existing in the appointments system?
In that capacity, leading a public body, I'm not sure what the problem is. Two years ago, in 2019, there was a public services summit in Swansea and Dame Louise Casey actually called it out. I knew her from previous things that I'd done and she said, 'How is it, in 2019, you've only got one person of colour in the room who's a public sector leader?' And I think it's either that people who look like myself don't see the public body or public body leadership as something they can aspire to or have a sense of belonging—. I've had to deal with comments being made on me being a diversity appointment. I've got a thick skin, so I really don't care and I'm confident in my capabilities to lead a public body, but not many people can sit there and have accusations of being a diversity appointment made towards them. Systems and recruitment can—. You recruit in your image sometimes and, even until today, when I've gone to some local authorities to talk about reviews et cetera, the assumption is always that I'm the admin. And that is the Wales we live in, that I live in and that people who look like me live in. Sorry for bringing the tone down like that, but that is the reality.
And I don't think we do enough to support that pipeline, whether it be from school governorship—. Look at school governorship in Wales and how incredibly, resiliently white that is. And it's a perfect potential pathway, but there's no support for schools, there's no encouragement—in fact there's nothing—to facilitate their ability to recruit good governors—wow—and yet what an important role and what a good pathway to public service and familiarisation. And the environmental sector, of course, is enduringly, particularly white.
Thank you. Sorry, Natasha.
Mike Hedges has a supplementary as well. We will come back to you, Natasha.
I would also say that, if we did a map of Wales and where people came from, we'd have big black blobs in some of the most affluent parts of Wales and we'd have huge deserts where the less affluent parts of Wales are. We did a map of justices of the peace in Swansea some time ago and there were huge areas of 8,000 to 14,000 adults who did not have one JP living in the area. So, I think there is a problem and you won't be able to answer this, but I'll ask it rhetorically: isn't that a problem, that people appoint people like them? And is it not a problem that those of us who used to live—? I used to live in social housing—those of us living in social housing are less likely to be told about it, less likely to become involved and less likely to be appointed.
I certainly don't disagree with that analysis that, actually, there are lots of reasons why we don't get a good spread of appointments, particularly across the social and geographic landscape, as it were. And it's interesting to look at some of the think pieces that have been done, for example in Australia, on whether there are potentials for recruitment of people with board capability but then a random allocation to boards, so that's interesting. I think the pathways and the pipelines that we create are—in response to the previous question—really important. That is emphasised by seeing people like you and having the sense that you can belong and that you can make a difference. If you're only ever going to be a token, then you're seen to be speaking for women or for neurodiverse or disabled people in their entirety. We have to get that wider spread in order to begin to furnish that pipeline. Again, in Norway, where my daughter is, they mandated, legally, 30 per cent of women on commercial company boards—a very Marmite decision. Was that the right thing to do or wasn't it? However, it did increase the representation. Once you get 30 per cent, all the research shows that you have a critical mass to be able to influence a board. If you're only an individual token, you don't influence. So, this is a slightly orthogonal answer to your question, but I think it brings in some points of interest.
Can I just add to that in terms of what Mike said about JPs? Ten years ago, I was asked to apply to be a JP, and I refused to on the basis that I was working in local authority, I was one of very few women of colour in that space, and I said, 'I spend all day with people who don't look like me. Why would I want to apply for something, to be in that space, when I'm free?' So, I didn't. And then I got more involved around race relations and around representation and I understood the importance of representation. When I was asked again a few years ago, I said, 'All right, I'll give it a think,'. And I went to do a—you know, you're supposed to go and sit in court and watch proceedings for a day, and there was an Asian woman on the bench. I can't remember what case was being dealt with that day, but all I could remember was seeing her on that bench and she is the reason why I applied to become a JP. That was the reason, because I thought, 'Somebody is already there. I don't have to be the first one. I don't have to have the awkwardness or difficulty in having those conversations'.
And what was said about people from working class communities being represented in positions of leadership or in public appointments, it is spot on. Many years ago, when I first moved to Wales, the place that my husband and I could afford to live in was a working class neighbourhood in Newport. We still live there. I refuse to move, because that's my community. When I tell people, 'This is where I live in Newport', they go like, 'Really?' I'm like, 'Yes', and I say it's a wonderful space to live in, because I know my neighbours, we help each other, and it's got a sense of community. These are the people who we want making decisions about public bodies, criminal justice—those are the people who need to be supported through the process. And it's about people like myself or other people from the community going out into schools, speaking to children, 'Have you thought about when you become 18 you could apply to become a JP? You could go work in the public sector, apply for a job at the council—it's not that scary. You don't have to come from a specific background to work in those places. You will see people like yourselves'. But I think more prominence needs to be given to people who look like them and people they can identify with.
Can I just make one other point there in relation to that distribution of socioeconomic geographies, as it were? The remuneration—not per se, but if you're wanting to enable people who are struggling in their financial backgrounds to be able to be on public bodies, you've got to be realistic and honest about the time commitment and the time that is going to be involved, and I noted you had that from your previous participants. But also, if you're an employed person, because you will not be an employee on a public board, you are forfeiting pension contribution and all sorts of other work rights. So, actually, it's a double whammy—why would you do it?
If I may just intercede as well, my own GP is a British-Asian woman. She's brilliant. But that's not the point.
I recently attended an Equal Power Equal Voice workshop in north Wales, and the mentees themselves identified with all sorts of intersectional issues—neurodiversity, physical disability, sexuality and so on. They had encountered barriers, consequently, up to this point. But when you think about the Equality Act 2010, there's a duty on recruiters, for example, in this context, to adjust their own communication processes in order to remove the barriers that people might encounter. Is there here a failure, perhaps to understand legal obligations, quite apart from the moral ones?
Well, I certainly think the way in which interviews—. From the very get-go, everything about recruitment needs to be absolutely pucker, and the way in which you ask the questions. Do we do enough training for board members, or for those involved in recruitment? I don't think we do, and I don't think we keep it updated. And I certainly don't think we focus it towards that breadth of diversity. So, recently in NRW, with the neurodiversity group, we've been having a discussion about how we better interview, for example. And I don't think that that's something that the public bodies unit has really caught onto, as a 'for instance'.
Thank you. Back to you, you're very patient.
No, that's okay. The Wales Centre for Public Policy recommended that, instead of having CVs going forward when it comes to applications, it might be worthwhile for the candidates to actually write small biographies about themselves. Firstly—first part of the question—do you think that that would be a beneficial way of going forward when it comes to having recruitment processes done, and, perhaps, revolutionary, rather than the standard CVs? And, secondly, how do you think it would have made life different for you when you were applying for your positions?
Do you want to take that?
Actually, when the researcher contacted me, one thing I suggested was, I said 'Look, the children's commissioner recently recruited, I think, for panel members, young people panel members, and she allowed them to submit videos of themselves'. Some people are much better at expressing themselves verbally than they are writing a document, or filling out questions about 'What would you do in this situation?' That could be a different—. It's about thinking about different ways of recruitment and giving people options, and saying 'If you feel this is a better option for you, use this'. But also, training the recruitment panel to be more accepting of those differences. And like Dr Plummer was saying around recruitment and asking questions, asking questions to people who are neurodivergent—are our panels trained to manage that process?
When I applied for my public appointments, it was quite a long time ago, and I think, yes, that would have helped, because I could have told you about the community stuff that I was involved in, away from the politics element, or away from the leadership stuff, and, actually, 'This is what I organised in my community'. And, maybe, then, the recruiter could see, 'Actually, there's some potential there on engagement. She'll tick the engagement box; she'll help us with engagement and bring new ideas to the table'.
I'm very happy—absolutely—with broadening the way in which candidates can present themselves, and I think there are a lot of interesting aspects we could look at there. What it really requires too is that the systems, the digital systems that are used, whatever they may be, are much more user-friendly and flexible. The fact that you cannot readily download or upload your CV or your details—whatever you put in—and instead, you've got to re-do it from ground zero each time, is deeply frustrating in this digital age.
Okay. Thank you so much, Chair.
Thank you. Can I bring in Mike Hedges?
[Inaudible.] The problem with being online is that you never know if you're muted or not muted. I think that point you said was very helpful. I suffer from a disadvantage—you've probably noticed already that I speak with a Swansea working-class accent; in fact, somebody once suggested that if I went to elocution lessons, it would do me a lot of good. Isn't there a danger that, when people do anything, we are judged on how we sound, not what we have to say?
I would hasten to say that I think we have overcome that significantly. Newsreaders now—there was a time when everybody spoke with a London accent or a BBC accent; I really don't think that is the case now. I think panels are much broader in their ability to recognise talent, whatever its tone, but that isn't to say that we haven't got a long way to go.
I agree. I speak with a weird Singaporean-Newport accent. But I think panels are looking for specific forms of words when you're interviewing, so certain things can be ticked off rather than actually the accent. It's about saying 'Oh, this is the right combination of words, can we tick this off?' So, I think that's where the challenge is; it's the panel that needs a training refresh, looking at new ways of recruitment.
I agree with that. I think you're absolutely right when you said that we have people who speak in different accents, but when you have people speaking in different accents—. I mean, you have Huw Edwards on the news, he speaks with a Welsh accent, but he speaks with an incredibly posh Welsh accent, entirely different to mine.
I didn't know you wanted to be a newsreader, Mike. [Laughter.] I'm sure we'd support you. Please continue with the questions.
I suspect that those with accents from different areas of Wales would feel exactly the same. I'm sure Mabon would tell us. [Laughter.]
So, Mike, do you have further questions?
Yes. Your experience of the interview. Did it appear fair to you? It's very difficult to ask that question to people who've already been appointed. In their view, it might well have appeared fair. Did you, perhaps, find that you were having any preconceived ideas, or an unwillingness to listen and just a ticking off of key words? I know that that's been mentioned a couple of times up until now. But I just wanted to go a bit further on that.
I have to say, I have applied unsuccessfully for a range of appointments too. Did they feel fair? They felt challenging, but I think that's the same of almost any interview. I think we're not good at communicating to candidates that, actually, to have got to interview is often phenomenal anyway. And we will often find ourselves with more talent than we are able to use, and it's a question of selecting people for the particular requirements of the particular board or body that we're selecting for. I don't think we do enough to continue to encourage those people to apply again, to really believe so that, actually, they're not just put off. Because there will be failures along the way.
When you weren't appointed, what did they tell you? Did they just say, 'Sorry, you weren't appointed', or the classic, 'You were very good in interview, but, unfortunately, we had better candidates, so therefore we're not appointing you', or did they explain that they needed to fill certain skilled gaps and that—?
No. Sorry. I think that's a really good question. I think one of my frustrations is that they never say, 'Actually, you were above the line'. You were deemed appointable. I would want to know either I was or I wasn't. What have I done, because I think the treatment tended, in the past, not to have been good. I actually exchanged with the public bodies unit and specifically suggested a rephrase of the letters that I saw going out to some candidates recently. To give them credit, they took that onboard straight away. So, yes, we can improve the tone of language and the way we handle candidates.
And just finally on that. Do they highlight what you've done well? 'Thank you for coming for your interview. Your knowledge and experience on accountancy and finance was very good, but we were desperately short of people with experience in personnel matters, and therefore we were unable to appoint you on this occasion, but do not be put off from applying again'.
No, I've never received that in terms of feedback, nor have we given that in the written feedback. However, there is an opportunity to ask for feedback that now is explicit. And the feedback then does give you that information. Now, is that the best way? Is it the clunkiest way? Should there be, perhaps, more immediate, as you say, more customised feedback? If you've got a great many applicants, I'm not sure whether that would be effective. You've always got this third monkey—am I saying something that's defensible on the basis of the criteria? So, there's always that being terribly careful about what you say and how you say it. All the letters would probably have to go through legal then. Sorry.
Okay, thank you.
I think feedback should be part of your, 'Sorry, you were good, but not good enough' letter, because some people struggle to say, 'Actually, yes, I'd like feedback' and then wait for the phone call, make an arrangement, because 'I can only speak to you next week at 14:00, but no later than 14:30'. You don't have to give detailed feedback, but some form of feedback, whether it's a short paragraph or a couple of lines, because there would have been an official in that room capturing the discussions of the panel. They could draft those couple of lines to be included and say, 'If you want more detailed feedback, please do get in touch and we can offer that to you as well'. And I think that should be—. We should be proactive, because what we want people to do is say, 'You were really good, but it was just that there were a few more better candidates on this occasion. However, make sure you apply again in the future, because the next one could be yours'.
You would certainly get that with a headhunter, because, of course, you get that individual customer care.
Can I just say that—and this is the last thing I'm going to say—surely one of the things you want to be telling people is, 'Please apply again'? I've had this problem with dealing with the lottery, where some people among my poorest communities in my constituency were rejected once and just said, 'Well, they don't like us, they're not going to give us any money, let's just not bother again.'
That was one of the points I added into the letter to give emphasis to, so I totally agree.
I know you've already mentioned this, but if you want people to apply again, you don't want them to start from scratch. So, your system should actually have some pre-contained information that you've submitted from your first application that you can just lift or, you know, it's just there, ready for you to submit again, not start from scratch. There's this assumption, 'Oh, the deadline's tomorrow, I'll put in a couple of hours of work tonight to fill out the form.' No—people actually think about whether they want to do it, and—. When I applied for the magistracy, somebody had told me that it would take you days and days and days of your time to apply for that. Now, any time I speak to someone who wants to think about becoming a JP, I say, 'Look, make sure you give yourself enough time to fill out that form. It's almost seven pages, you've got to think about all this criteria and write a paragraph about each criteria. Give yourself time.' Nobody tells you these things; you need to know somebody who's already in the system or part of the process.
The application process is very intensive and long, and so that of itself presents a barrier, as we've discussed, and then the lack of transferability of that endless information. In fact, there's some endless information that you put in the Welsh Government system that I know is never used.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mike. Natasha, I'll bring you back in.
I know Mike has touched upon feedback. I want to go back—I think you've answered the question, anyway, that I was going to ask you, regardless. But I just wanted to speak to you about—. I know you mentioned previously that it would be really good and worth while to have different forms of application, video applications—100 per cent. We've all watched Legally Blonde, we all know video applications can get you far in life—fantastic. I believe also very much in meritocracy as well; the best person should have the job—male, female, whatever diverse background you're from. But when it comes down to it, by having these video applications, biographies, for example, although they're great and they're revolutionary—and from having seen the previous members who we've met today, and yourselves—you can't deny there is a lot of paperwork, there is a lot of reading, and there's a lot of writing that comes in with your job and with your role. So, what's the best way to strike that balance so we get the best candidate from those diverse backgrounds, but that they're able to meet the criteria of the job, not just a tick-box exercise that we've got a diverse candidate in the role? What would you say to that?
I would say 'yes', and actually, that responsibility falls down to the public body, not the public bodies unit, not the Welsh Government; it's actually to people like myself, who run public bodies, to make sure I support my commissioners, and if that means I've got to adjust the style of paperwork—. For example, one thing we do is we give all our commissioners a Surface Pro, so they can log in anywhere, wherever they need to, so that means accessibility issues are dealt with from the start. If they need special software, reading software, et cetera, we would get it for them, and that is something the Welsh Government has power over. You can direct your public bodies to be doing those things, how you're supporting the induction process, how you're explaining things to them. That can be done, and it'll be the best candidates who get those roles and get through the door, but we need to be supporting them, people like myself and my team, and other colleagues in the public bodies world.
Do you think the Welsh Government is doing enough to support you right now?
My sponsor division is fantastic.
Okay. And we remain silent on the rest of it. Understood. Okay. Dr Rosetta, what do you think?
I think it so much depends on the particular body that individual is being pointed to. Yes, most boards have a great deal of written matter to be absorbed. However, again, boards are changing the style in which they present items to their boards, and that isn't always about volume of paperwork. So again, we're looking at different skill sets and the ability to absorb information in different formats—that might be numerate, it might be visual, it might be landscape scale. But again, by having a better strategic planning pattern of when board appointments are needed, and ensuring that each body has got sufficient, proper induction time, from the time of the appointment—. And by the way, timelines are put into adverts, but only the timeline to the interview, not the timeline to the ministerial decision, which can be tooth-pullingly slow. And I'm sorry, but it cannot be rocket science to be able to get a Minister to make a decision within a boundary of 'n' weeks. I think that there are a lot of different angles to that. I think it's good for support of board members, by the body concerned, and also for the expectations of the Welsh Government in how boards are treated and how they're capitalised on. Otherwise, we will never get a range of skills, and we will never be able to get that talent of youth or diversity that we need on boards, to give us better judgment.
Fantastic. Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you. Mike, do you have a question on pre-appointment hearings?
No. We've got a lot to cover, Chair—let's move on.
Okay. Thank you. I'm going to bring in Mabon ap Gwynfor.
Diolch. Difyr iawn. Diolch am eich cyfraniad, a diolch am ddod yma. Dwi'n siŵr eich bod chi'n cytuno ei bod hi'n amserol iawn ein bod ni'n cael y drafodaeth yma, yn enwedig yn sgil hanes Richard Sharp efo'r BBC. Un o'r cyhuddiadau ynghylch apwyntiad Richard Sharp ydy ei fod o'n adnabod y person cywir yn y lle cywir. Mae yna gyhuddiad yn aml iawn mewn sesiynau apwyntio o beth fyddai rhywun yn ei alw yn cronyism—eu bod nhw'n perthyn i'r blaid gywir, neu'n perthyn i'r clwb cywir. O'ch profiad chi, ydych chi wedi dod ar draws elfennau o 'cronyistiaeth' yn y broses apwyntio yn fan hyn—bod rhywun yn gorfod adnabod y person cywir er mwyn cael swydd gyhoeddus?
Thank you. Very interesting. Thank you for your contribution, and thank you for being here. I'm sure that you agree that it's very timely that we're having this discussion, especially considering the history of Richard Sharp with the BBC. One of the accusations about that appointment of Richard Sharp is that he knew the right person in the right place. There is often an accusation in appointment sessions of what one would call cronyism—belonging to the right party, or the right club. From your experience, have you come across elements of cronyism in the appointment process here—that someone has to know the right person in order to get a public job?
Shall I take that?
You take it, yes.