Urgent action should be taken by the Scottish Government to remove any unjustifiable age barriers to public sector board membership, according to a report published today by the Public Audit Committee.
The Public Audit committee’s report sets out its findings in relation to an Auditor General of Scotland (AGS) report. The committee comments on three broad issues: the accountability of boards, the appointments process for board members and risk and transparency in board operation.
The AGS reported that application numbers for each round of public appointments had halved between 2004 and 2009. The committee was therefore particularly concerned to learn that upper age limits still exist for membership of some boards (such as college boards). This barrier has resulted in the loss of existing valuable board members and has prevented those over a certain age, who may possess beneficial skills and experience, from applying.
Committee Convener Hugh Henry MSP said:
“Boards are crucial to ensuring good governance of public bodies and it is essential to attract board members who, between them, have a broad range of skills and experience.”
“Given that numbers of applications for board membership are falling, we were concerned to learn that current legislation means that valued members of some boards, such as college boards, are compelled to stand down once they reach a certain age. We recommend that the Scottish Government takes urgent action to address these unjustifiable age barriers.”
The committee also asked the Scottish Government to provide information on how it is supporting boards to focus on risk management, performance and financial information.
The committee report made further recommendations including:
- the Scottish Government investigates the falling numbers of applications for board membership and takes action to reverse this trend.
- the presumption of boards should be to meet in public and the Scottish Government should review and update its guidance to boards on this matter.
- the Scottish Government should clarify the lines of accountability between Scottish Funding Council and Scotland’s colleges.
The public sector in Scotland is composed of over 200 organisations serving five million people. There are different types of public body in Scotland including NHS bodies, non-departmental public bodies (NDPDs), non-ministerial departments, executive agencies, colleges and Scottish Water.