UK Politics

MPs' doubts over choice of Peter Riddell for public appointments role

Peter Riddell
Image caption Peter Riddell was head of the Institute for Government

The government's decision to put a former journalist in charge of ensuring major public jobs are handed out on merit has been criticised by MPs.

The Commons Public Administration Committee said it was concerned Peter Riddell, formerly of the Times, had the right experience for the job.

It also fears he may not get the powers he needs to prevent cronyism.

The man he replaces as commissioner for public appointments, Sir David Normington, welcomed him to the role.

"I know Peter to be a person of integrity and independence who will want to ensure that public appointments are made on merit," said the former top civil servant.

But he added: "I fear he may have his work cut out."

'Personal patronage'

Sir David told The Financial Times government ministers, including David Cameron, had been pushing for Conservative donors and ex-MPs to be given key jobs at the head of public sector organisations since the general election.

And he warned that plans to change the way public appointments, such as directors of the Bank of England or the board of regulators like Ofcom, are made could see "a return to the days of political and personal patronage".

Mr Riddell, a former head of the Institute for Government think tank, was last month quizzed about his suitability for his new role by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

In a report, the committee said it endorsed his appointment, but added that "this endorsement is not unqualified", saying it planned to be a "critical friend" to the new commissioner.

Committee chairman, Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, said: "While there was no formal objection recorded to his appointment, some members of PACAC expressed their concern that Mr Riddell lacks experience of working in a large organisation, or in a regulated environment, or in making or supervising major appointments."

These concerns were "amplified" by plans to reduce the powers of the commissioner to directly influence recruitment decisions, added Mr Jenkin.

The Public Accounts Committee said it was concerned planned changes to the system, proposed by the businessman Sir Gerry Grimstone, would lead to the "politicization" of major public appointments.

The Grimstone proposals would allow ministers to choose a candidate who the interview panel had deemed "below the line of appointability", although the decision would have to be justified publicly, or ditch the formal recruitment process altogether to secure a specific candidate.

The government says the planned changes will increase transparency and accountability and will include strong safeguards.

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