Thursday 26 November 2020
Legal challenge over COVID-19 appointments
Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street
The FDA has given evidence as part of a legal challenge submitted to the high court regarding high-profile government appointments being made without an open and fair selection process.
The claim has been lodged by the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust alongside the not-for-profit Good Law Project. It deals specifically with the appointments of Baroness Harding as head of the NHS Test and Trace programme, Kate Bingham as chair of the UK vaccine taskforce, and Mike Coupe as director of COVID-19 testing.
In his evidence, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman argues that while “the roles at the heart of this claim have not been designated as civil service roles… it is just as important for these appointments to be made in an open and fair way”.
“The principle of open and fair selection is understood across the civil service from the most junior appointments to the most senior,” Penman explains. “This simple but effective principle, that candidates are recruited solely on merit, is critical in ensuring the effectiveness of public services and protects the civil service from cronyism and corruption. It ensures that from local job centres to ministerial private offices, civil servants are recruited for what they can do, not who they know or what they believe.”
The FDA General Secretary’s evidence adds that the integrity of recruitment on merit is not simply about getting “the best person available to fill a role” but also ensuring the civil service and the public “have confidence in the person appointed”, which becomes “all the more critical for roles that carry significant responsibility and/or have public visibility”.
Announcing that it had filed for judicial review, The Good Law Project argued that closed recruitment “particularly discriminates against Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, and disabled people”. This was reinforced by Runnymede director Halima Begum, who warned that “when employers do not advertise, this can function as indirect discrimination, in particular on the grounds of race and disability”.
Penman supported this view, saying: “Open and fair selection is critical to delivering a truly representative and diverse workforce. Recruiting on merit, through open and fair selection which is free from bias or discrimination, is essential to deliver a truly representative workforce.”