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PUBLIC APPOINTMENTS SYSTEM PLAN

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A five point plan for an open, independent, and accountable public appointments system has been set out. ...
A five point plan for an open, independent, and accountable public appointments system has been set out.

Giving evidence to the local government committee, deputy minister for finance and public services Peter Peacock outlined a number of measures which aim to increase parliamentary involvement and ensure independent scrutiny of the public appointments system.

The five-point plan would:

* Give the Scottish parliament a role in interviewing and recommending the proposed Scottish public appointments commissioner

* Establish a 'whistle blowing' procedure which would allow the commissioner to report a minister to parliament who seriously contravenes the public appointments system

* Give parliament the key role in the scrutiny of the commissioner's Annual Report;

* Put a duty on ministers to inform parliamentary committees of vacancies (including providing advert/job description/person specification/nomination forms)

* Put a duty on ministers to inform parliamentary committees of outcomes (including a minister's statement on who/why and the validation by the independent assessor)

Mr Peacock said:

'The executive is committed to delivering the highest possible standards in public life in Scotland. We have already taken significant steps forward in extending openness and accountability in public life. These proposals will give Scotland an independent, accountable and open public appointments system - far more open that in the rest of the UK.

'As the first minister said in November last year, we want to be open and transparent in all that we do - these proposals do that. We want to enhance rather than avoid parliamentary scrutiny - these proposals do that. And welcome participation from those with something to give - these proposals do that.

'We want to create a public appointments system in Scotland which is the envy of the rest of the world.'

The first minister Jack McConnell said:

'I have repeatedly said that this executive will be open and transparent in all that we do.

'Under these proposals ministers will never again be able to make appointments outwith the agreed procedures without first answering to parliament.

'All future appointments will follow procedures to the highest possible standards of openness and accountability.'

The executive has already taken step forwards in extending openness and accountability in public life by adopting the 'Nolan' rules which represented a seismic shift in the way ministers make appointments. Other initiatives which build on the Nolan principles include the Ethical Standards in Public Life Act; the Ombudsman Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill.

If an independent assessor judges the commissioner's Code of Practice is being breached at any point during the appointments process, the Commissioner will be informed. This includes circumstances where ministers wish to appoint candidates who are judged as not suitable by the interview panel. In these circumstances, the Commissioner would have discretion about how to proceed. The options would include the power to inform the parliamentary appointments committee, for them to decide how to deal with the issue. The commissioner would have power at this stage to require a halt to the particular appointment until the committee had considered the matter. That committee could then call the minister before it. In normal circumstances, it is envisaged that the commissioner's first step would be to attempt to resolve the issue with the relevant minister.

These proposals will be put out to public consultation in February as part of the proposed Public Bodies Bill.

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