Vacancies on NHS trusts and quangos should be filled by head-hunting rather than by advertising, the Nolan inquiry into standards in public life heard yesterday.
The inquiry was taking evidence from Dixons' chairman, Stanley Kalms, who sits on the board of a NHS trust and chairs the Funding Agency for schools that distributes £2bn a year to grant-maintained schools.
Mr Kalms' view was contrary to the Government's, which unveiled plans two days ago to throw open NHS trust posts to advertising. The Health Secretary, Virginia Bottomley, said she wanted more competition, to restore public confidence in the trusts. But Mr Kalms said such bodies would be less efficient if there was positive discrimination aimed at attracting local people or ethnic minorities.
Some committee members were taken aback by the stance of Mr Kalms, a keen Conservative and one of the most senior businessmen to have given evidence. Mr Kalms saidhe had not minded being interviewed by a minister and senior civil servants for the jobs, but he would not have replied to an advert. He had told people who "walked the corridors" he could contribute to education issues. He was then interviewed for the funding agency post.
The Dixons chief conceded there was a role for advertising, but added: "I believe such bodies would be less efficient if membership was subject to positive discrimination." Appointments "should be based on personal qualities, which means by necessity a strong element of head-hunting. I would go for quality rather than representation - it doesn't matter if people live locally."
NHS trusts needed people like him to make them work more efficiently, he said. "I think my type of person is very useful in the context of a hospital. I am not a poodle. We are thorns, the little pea in the shoe or under the mattress. We don't accept everything that comes down from head office - we argue more than if we were purely bureaucrats."
Santha Rasaiah, of the Guild of Editors that represents local press, told the committee her group had long campaigned for NHS trust meetings to be open to the public far more frequently than once a year.
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