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Call to action, Guest blog, Post-event round up

Lord Holmes review into opening up public appointments to disabled people [2018] and progress report [2020]

Christopher Holmes, Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE

On 3 December 2020, exactly two years after my Review on opening up public appointments to disabled people was published, Business Disability Forum provided support for an online event to launch a Progress Report, in which I have tracked the implementation of Government commitments made following my original Review.

Speakers at the event were the Secretary of State for DCMS, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer of Business Disability Forum, Peter Riddell, the Commissioner for Public Appointments and Helen Dolphin MBE who spoke of her experiences as a disabled person applying for public appointments.

Chris: “This is about talent pure and simple; talent in its most bright, brilliant, beautiful and diverse forms. Still today, talent is everywhere; talent is everywhere and opportunity isn’t! I hope that from today, from the Progress Report, we can all work together and play our part to ensure that when we all come together in 12 months, we will see significant, material change in our public appointments landscape. Not just in terms of disabled people and disabled appointees, but in term of that sheer rich beauty,  the diversity that makes up great Britain.” (48 seconds)

Every year, the government makes around 1,000 public appointments to the boards of over 500 public bodies which between them spend over £200 billion of public money. These bodies play an important role in all our lives in many different ways and across sectors from healthcare to education, criminal justice to trade, energy, security and defence.

Despite making up 18% of the working age population at the time the review was published, just 3% of public appointees were disabled people. My original review looked at why so few disabled people were represented on these boards and thanks to detailed evidence submitted by Business Disability Forum and others, made recommendations that set out practical achievable steps to address this shocking gap.

Recommendations and Progress

 I made 29 specific recommendations in my original review connected to:

  • data collection and transparency (diversity monitoring form improvements, mandatory reporting, a central public appointments application portal, target setting)
  • attracting and nurturing talent (showcasing role models, mentoring schemes, disability networks, pro-active recruitment and guidance for executive search agencies)
  • application packs and job descriptions (accessibility and openness standards, pilot innovative and flexible recruitment processes, use of Disability Confident guaranteed interview)
  • interviews and beyond (pilot innovative assessment processes, guidance on best practice for adjustments, disability training).

Business Disability Forum assisted the government in the drafting of a positive-language, standardised Diversity Monitoring Form that has been shared with all government departments for use in their public appointments recruitment. The Progress Report notes this development but found few of the other recommendations had been achieved and I call on the government to act now to implement all commitments laid out in their own Diversity Action Plan.

In the Progress Report I reiterate my recommendation from the Review that Business Disability Forum’s ‘Charter for Disability Smart Recruitment Service Providers’ be considered a useful resource (page21). I hope BDF’s membership and stakeholders appreciate what a rich and valuable source of best practice BDF provides and I’m grateful that that expertise has been shared with myself during this process and with the Cabinet Office Public Appointments team.

Diane: “One of the key things that we also say is that getting it right for disabled people actually means getting it right for everyone and also that a whole organisational approach is needed. So getting it right around public appointments isn’t just the domain of the person who is doing the recruiting, it has actually got to be supported by an organisation wide infrastructure.  Whether that is the IT, it that inclusive and accessible? Whether there is communication support? We have Zoe providing BSL (British Sign Language) for us today and that whole thing about remembering inclusion. And that inclusion is not just a choice but it is fundamental in participation and it also sends out a very strong message, positively or negatively, for who we value and how we value them.” (47 seconds)

What next?

I firmly believe that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. Both the 2018 review and the 2020 progress report are intended to assist in resolving that injustice. Positive change requires leadership, culture and innovation and I am convinced that substantial, sustainable change is possible but now it is time for meaningful action to be taken. Covid-19 has caused untold devastation and my heart goes out to all affected by this terrible virus yet amidst the havoc it has wreaked we have witnessed a move to remote working and schooling on a previously unimaginable scale. Organisations and individuals have adapted to the use of video conferencing at a pace and scale that demonstrates just how possible flexible workplace adjustments can be and this gives me hope for the future.

About Christopher Holmes, Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE:




Lord Holmes is Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer winning a total of nine golds, five silvers and one bronze. He is a passionate advocate for the potential of technology and the benefits of diversity and inclusion. In Parliament Lord Holmes has been a member of Select Committees on Democracy and Digital Technologies, Intergenerational Fairness, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Skills, Social Mobility and Financial Exclusion.

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