PracticeAuditThe corridors of power…

The corridors of power...

Have we Nolan'd ourselves out of securing the best people for top jobs in the public sector?

Have the procedures for appointment to public bodies become so bureaucratic, intrusive and intolerant of ‘politics’ that badly needed talent is not being recognised?

Probably yes, but after Mandelson, Vaz, Mittal and its other scandals, you won’t hear Labour admitting it. The role of non execs in the private sector is being scrutinised. And the public and voluntary sectors. But in the public sector there is the added complication of political affiliation. Should we expect, say, all members of the myriad committees under the DTI’s flag to be political eunuchs?

The public at large is suspicious of politics and politicians. The Wicks committee, successor to Nolan, has followed suit. This past week it has placed adverts which could be read as an open invitation to dish the dirt on MPs – it is asking whether arrangements for monitoring MPs’ interests are adequate.

The logic of the Wicks committee is that politics is original sin. Against this background we have had the Warner affair. Norman Warner, former social services director and former adviser to Jack Straw at the Home Office, has been vetoed as nominee for chairman of the Audit Commission, the health and local authorities finance watchdog.

The job is in the gift of beleaguered Stephen Byers at transport, local government and regions and it seems he has bowed to pressure from interests fearful that Warner would be seen as one of ‘Tony’s cronies’ and a political plant.

But what is wrong with being politically partisan – provided there are procedures for accountability and recall? Warner has fallen foul of this aversion to party politics.

This is dangerous. In a democratic society political parties are the only way of translating interests into viable government. Belonging to them is not ignoble but a part of the business of securing decisions. Tony Blair should wind up Wicks and say as much.David Walker writes for The Guardian

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