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Public appointments explained

A public appointment is an appointment to the board of a public body. These are bodies set up by government ministers, but are not part of a government department.

What is a public body?

There are around 80 public bodies sponsored by Northern Ireland government departments. They play a real part in shaping and influencing policy and decision-making locally. Some provide advice to government ministers while others deliver a range of public services.

Public bodies operate independently of ministers, although ministers remain ultimately responsible for them. Some are also known as non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

Most public bodies are led by boards comprising non-executive chairs and members appointed by ministers. These are considered public appointments.

Becoming a public appointee

The most important part of taking up a public appointment is being prepared to give your time, skills, knowledge, and commitment. Some appointments require specialist knowledge and expertise, but many don’t. Most appointments are part time and need around two to three days per month, plus time to read papers and prepare for meetings. A public appointment gives you the chance to:

  • give something back, contribute your expertise for the benefit of the community and help influence decisions that affect everyone's lives
  • meet people from all walks of life who also want to make a difference
  • develop your career, gain board experience and extend your skills
  • return from a career break or maternity leave

Some appointments are paid and expenses like travel are usually reimbursed.

Diversity

The diversity of boards of public bodies needs to be improved and so applications from women, people with minority ethnic backgrounds and people with disabilities are particularly welcomed.

Experience gained from political work can be valid for a role, but political affiliation or activity will not affect your chances. The successful candidates will be asked to complete a political activity form. This is for monitoring purposes only and does not play any part in your selection.

A very small number of bodies need political balance and this is normally done by asking political parties to nominate candidates for the appointments.

Your skills

Public appointments cover a wide range of responsibilities. In general, the following are likely to be important:

  • commitment to devote the necessary time to prepare and to participate actively in the work of the body
  • courage to ask questions that no one else has asked or query why a certain approach is being recommended
  • common sense to be able to assess the impact of decisions on all sections of the community and bring an independent view to the debate
  • communication skills with the ability to listen and to express your views; to negotiate and influence and to deal with all groups, including specialists and experts
  • clarity to assess a situation quickly, accurately and even-handedly; to think strategically and to see the wider picture

This experience could be demonstrated in your career or in a variety of other ways, such as voluntary work. Perhaps you have been a school governor, a member of a housing trust, a chamber of commerce member, or been involved in a pressure group. You will be asked to complete an application form. For more information about the types of questions you may be asked, use the link below:

The appointment process

The way that the best candidate is chosen depends on the post. A major appointment, attracting many candidates, may have a more complicated process than a specialist post on a smaller, advisory body. However, in general:

  • all appointments are made on merit, based on your talents and skills
  • an independent assessor will be involved throughout
  • the criteria for the post (the skills and qualities necessary) will be made clear to you - either in the original advertisement or in an information pack
  • you will be asked to complete an application form to show how your skills and qualities suit the post you are applying for
  • your application will be assessed - this may involve a formal ‘sift’ and then an interview
  • the minister will make the final selection from those recommended by the interview panel
  • the successful candidate will be sent a letter of appointment and all other applicants informed

Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland

The Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland (CPANI) regulates, monitors and reports on public appointments procedures. More information about the role of the Commissioner is available on the CPANI website. This includes a 'code of practice', which specifies that appointments should be made based on merit and that care must be taken, at every stage, not to discriminate on any grounds.

More useful links