Who monitors external appointments to government departmental boards?

Stephen Crone 

Non-executive directors (NEDs) have been a feature of departmental boards since the formative stages of their development in the early 1990s. Employed by Conservative and Labour governments alike, the directors are seen by many as a complementary addition to the machinery of Whitehall – valuable for the experience and ‘outsider’ perspective that they are deemed to bring to their respective departments.

So far, the Coalition government does not appear to have deviated markedly from this view. In fact, it has already announced its intention to ‘beef up’ the role of non-executives by insisting that departmental boards should henceforth consist equally of ministers, senior civil servants and non-executives; by designating new, ‘lead’ non-executives; and by investing non-executives with the power to recommend the removal of their department’s permanent secretary. Continue reading

The EU Bill is flawed, but could it open up other options for democratic reform?

Guest author: Dr Mike Gordon, University of Liverpool

Referendums have become an increasingly important part of the process of constitutional change in the UK.  In a constitution historically unreceptive to such devices, referendums have been used to gauge the public’s appetite for continuing membership of the EEC, devolution, changes to the structure of regional and local government, and now, electoral reform.

The European Union Bill presently before Parliament purports to use referendums in a different way.  If enacted, the EU Bill would make referendums a necessary part of the future legislative process for the authorisation of further transfers of power or competence from the UK to the EU.  A referendum would not be required in relation to every prospective transfer, but the breadth of situations in which recourse to the electorate would be necessary is striking, ranging from a decision to adopt the euro, to an attempt to remove the UK’s veto in an array of specified areas. Continue reading

It does matter who provides public services, especially when things go wrong

Andrew Blick, 13th June 2011

Recent coverage of the evidence of mistreatment of patients with learning disabilities at the Winterbourne View residential hospital in Bristol raises an important question. Is the level of democratic accountability for public services the same, regardless of the status of the organisations specifically involved?

The case involves publicly-funded services being delivered by private-sector providers. Such specifics have seemingly not impacted upon expectations about accountability. Politicians, regulators and charities are variously demanding and promising remedy in the same way they would were there no private-sector involvement. Continue reading

Police, politics and the media – the risks of elected police commissioners

Andrew Blick

Recently I blogged on this site on the subject of elected police commissioners, being introduced by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Billwhich is now passing through its final parliamentary stages before receiving Royal Assent.

I noted the concerns raised by the House of Lords Constitution Committeethat there was a risk of ‘politicising operational decision-making’ by the police and that the principle of ‘accountability…to the law, and not to government’ might be undermined.

Revelations associated with the phone-hacking scandal make the arguments for reconsideration of this policy even more powerful. Continue reading