Working to make government more effective


Reforming public appointments

How the new prime minister can make public appointments faster and fairer, by reforming an often chaotic public appointments process.

Competition and Markets Authority website

This report argues that high-profile leaks and disputes over appointments to Ofcom, the Charity Commission and the Office for Students have been corrosive for the public appointments system. It calls on the new prime minister to address issues with delays, attracting talent and politicisation within a system which saw 1,439 regulated appointments and reappointments in 2020/21.

Drawing on around 30 conversations and a private roundtable with people working in the system, the paper finds that the level of interest in appointments from No.10 has been much higher since Boris Johnson became prime minister, that appointments processes often start too late and take too long, and that as a result, public bodies struggle to fill key positions in a timely way. The number of exceptional appointments made without a competition rose from just over 20 in 2017 to over 50 in 2021, with data published this January showing that 16 public bodies including Ofcom, the Regulator of Social Housing, the Economic and Social Research Council and HS2 Ltd were all without permanent chairs.

In response, the report proposes reforms that would both address the controversies that hit the headlines and improve the day-to-day processes for recruiting high quality leaders for our national institutions.

The IfG report recommends that government should:

  • regulate all ministerial appointments and publicly explain any exceptions, such as short term unpaid roles
  • limit ministerial decision-making to the start and end of an appointment process
  • subject appointments to roles that scrutinise the actions of politicians to a veto from the relevant House of Commons select committee
  • remove ministers’ ability to appoint a candidate judged unappointable by an assessment panel
  • collect and publish data on the causes of delays to enable those responsible to be held to account
  • appoint a chief talent officer, within the Cabinet Office, to ensure the best candidates are identified.
Institute for Government

Related content

07 NOV 2023 Insight paper

Public appointments in 2023

There has been some promising progress in improving the public appointments system, but it remains vulnerable to abuse.