Board stiffs: Crit­ics warn many quango di­rec­tors are too stretched and too silent

Di­rec­tors ac­cused of tak­ing on too much and re­fus­ing to rock the boat

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - NEWS - By An­drew Picken APICKEN@SUNDAYPOST.COM

Too many board mem­bers on Scot­land’s quan­gos are un­ac­count­able, over- stretched and re­luc­tant to rock the boat, crit­ics have claimed.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple are em­ployed as part-time di­rec­tors of pub­lic bod­ies, such as health boards or watch­dogs, in charge of spend­ing bil­lions of pounds of tax­pay­ers’ cash.

Many of the non- ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors – dubbed quan­gocrats by crit­ics – are un­elected and ap­pointed to the roles by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

Some of the di­rec­tors, who are paid up to £300 a day for their part-time roles, are in­volved in sev­eral pub­lic or­gan­i­sa­tions at the same time.

There are seven non- ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors in Scot­land who are on three boards of pub­lic bod­ies, and a fur­ther 24 di­rec­tors who are on at least two boards.

This in­cludes for­mer Lib Dem en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Ross Fin­nie, who sits on the board of three pub­lic or­gan­i­sa­tions which sees him bank a to­tal of £ 58,000 a year.

Ali­son Payne, re­search di­rec­tor of the think- tank Re­form Scot­land, said: “The way quan­gos are struc­tured as arm’s-length bod­ies means that their mem­ber­ship and the de­ci­sions they make are not suf­fi­ciently ac­count­able or trans­par­ent to the elec­torate. Gov­ern­ment depart­ments are headed by a min­is­ter who is ac­count­able to the par­lia­ment, and in­de­pen­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions en­ter into trans­par­ent con­tracts with gov­ern­ment to de­liver cer­tain ser­vices.

“Quan­gos’ func­tions should ei­ther be trans­ferred to gov­ern­ment depart­ments, in­de­pen­dent bod­ies or lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.”

One for­mer nonex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of a pub­lic body, who asked not to be named, added: “There is a prob­lem with peo­ple on boards who think they are there to do the bid­ding of the gov­ern­ment min­is­ter who ap­pointed them rather than what is best for the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“It can also be self- polic­ing when it comes to not rock­ing the boat. They know it is a game in some ways and play along with what­ever the sit­ting ad­min­is­tra­tion favours.”

There are cur­rently 120 pub­lic bod­ies un­der Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment con­trol and they have an es­ti­mated col­lec­tive bud­get of more than £14 bil­lion.

Around 680 min­is­te­rial ap­point­ments for 94 of the pub­lic bod­ies are ad­min­is­tered by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment in a process reg­u­lated by the Com­mis­sioner for Eth­i­cal Stan­dards in Pub­lic Life in Scot­land.

The Com­mis­sioner’s 2017 re­port shows that 99 ap­point­ments were made to 36 pub­lic bod­ies last year, fol­low­ing 1,790 ap­pli­ca­tions.

Among the seven non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors who sit on three boards is for­mer Fife Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Ron­nie Hinds. Mr Hinds is a non- ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, chair­man of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Bound­ary Com­mis­sion for Scot­land and deputy chair­man of the Ac­counts Com­mis­sion.

For­mer gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Mr Fin­nie is chair­man of Food Stan­dards Scot­land, vice- chair­man of NHS Greater Glas­gow and Clyde health board and a mem­ber of the Water In­dus­try Com­mis­sion for Scot­land. The roles, ac­cord­ing to his reg­is­ter of in­ter­ests, mean Mr Fin­nie is work­ing full-time as a non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Else­where, Jane Ry­der OBE is chair­woman of His­toric En­vi­ron­ment Scot­land and a board mem­ber of tax body Rev­enue Scot­land, and the Scot­tish Po­lice Au­thor­ity (SPA).

Moi Ali sits on the board of Scot­tish Am­bu­lance Ser­vice and Ed­u­ca­tion Scot­land and quit a sim­i­lar role at the SPA last year as she felt she the then chair­man, An­drew Flana­gan, was try­ing to si­lence her for rais­ing con­cerns about trans­parency at the watch­dog.

She said: “Sit­ting on mul­ti­ple boards can bring ben­e­fits. I was on both the po­lice and am­bu­lance ser­vice boards and was able to bring ex­pe­ri­ence from one blue light or­gan­i­sa­tion to help me make a bet­ter con­tri­bu­tion to the other.

“Equally, it can be a prob­lem if some­one does too many days for a sin­gle or­gan­i­sa­tion, as it may be hard to be truly arm’s length and gen­uinely in­de­pen­dent. There can also be the dan­ger of group think, where you have peo­ple of sim­i­lar back­ground and sim­i­lar ap­proaches.” Last year, spend­ing watch­dog Au­dit Scot­land hit out at an “un­ac­cept­able” se­ries of gov­er­nance fail­ings at the SPA.

A damn­ing re­port hit out at the re­lo­ca­tion ex­penses lav­ished on then deputy chief con­sta­ble Rose Fitz­patrick, but also said the board had failed in its duty to prop­erly ques­tion the pay­ments.

Au­di­tor Gen­eral Caro­line Gard­ner said: “Our au­dit iden­ti­fied a num­ber of in­stances of poor gov­er­nance and poor use of pub­lic money,” be­fore adding that she felt the po­lice watch­dog needed to op­er­ate“more ef­fec­tively and trans­par­ently”.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said the num­ber of di­rec­tors with mul­ti­ple po­si­tions “rep­re­sents a small frac­tion of the 680 pub­lic ap­point­ments ad­min­is­tered – all of which are over­seen by an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sioner.” It added: “Non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors bring ex­pe­ri­ence and skills to sup­port the lead­er­ship, di­rec­tion and guid­ance of Scot­land’s pub­lic bod­ies.”

There can be the dan­ger of group think on boards, where you have peo­ple of sim­i­lar back­grounds and sim­i­lar ap­proaches

–Moi Ali

Moi Ali, for­mer SPA board mem­ber

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