Blair accused of cronyism over public posts

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Tony Blair was accused yesterday of presiding over a "culture of cronyism" after reports that ministers have defied the rules on public appointments.

Tony Blair was accused yesterday of presiding over a "culture of cronyism" after reports that ministers have defied the rules on public appointments.

Dame Rennie Fritchie, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, revealed that four ministries have refused to obey the rules on appointments to public posts, drawn up to avoid the jobs being awarded to political allies of ministers.

In the departments - The Department for Education and Skills; the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; and the Department for Transport - shortlists for jobs were shown privately to ministers, which could "lead to influencing or alteration taking place".

In one ministry a name was removed from a list of candidates for a public appointment because a minister felt he could not work with the person. In another case a minister was asked to personally select the shortlist of candidates.

Dame Rennie said: "I was concerned that the unrecorded involvement of a minister at such a late stage in the appointments process could be interpreted as political interference."

The commissioner, who revealed the problems in her annual report, said she "had been under pressure for some months" to drop her objections.

Under the rules for quango posts, shortlists must be drawn up without interference from ministers, although ministers are allowed to comment on or interview shortlisted candidates.

Last October Dame Rennie discovered that ministers were playing a far wider role in the selection process. She wrote to permanent secretaries in all four departments, telling them the practice "is not part of the process and should cease". She said she was "saddened" that they had refused to comply.

Dame Rennie has no formal powers of sanction against the offending ministries because the government refused a request from MPs to give her more powers.

But at a press conference, she said: "I have to stand up for this as a matter of public confidence. I am concerned this is not open and transparent and would not command public confidence."

Yesterday Dr Tony Wright, the Labour chairman of the Commons Public Appointments Select Committee, said he was disturbed by the revelations. He would be investigating the matter and would call Dame Rennie to give evidence about the ministries' non-compliance.

"This report is very distressing," he said. "The Nolan rules are central to confidence in public life."

Comments