Scotland’s female elite: our very own queens of the quangos

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Treading the Boards: Part II

Kenneth Roy

In part I of Treading the Boards, we introduced you to the quango kings – Garry Coutts, Willy Roe and Michael Cantlay – who, between them, pocket £200,000 a year in taxpayer-funded fees for the various part-time offices they perform in the service of the Scottish government. We asked whether the talent pool in Scotland is so tiny that Messrs Coutts, Roe and Cantlay must each chair two major public bodies or whether it might be possible to spread it about a little. Today, we introduce you to the female elite: the quango queens.

     The number of women holding public appointments in Scotland is disgracefully low. Research by SR shows that, among the 34 bodies enjoying the status of executive non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), only 83 of the 313 ministerial appointments are of women – 26.5%. The proportion of women chairing these organisations is even worse – 12%.
     Scottish Enterprise, the body charged with the regeneration of our troubled economy, manages without any women on its board. The chair, Crawford Gillies, receives £38,721 a year; 10 other men pick up £12,581 apiece. What is the statement being made here? That women should not trouble their pretty little heads over such important matters as business? Quality Meat Scotland is also a male preserve, perhaps on the understanding that it is a woman’s role merely to cook the stuff. The Scottish Police Services Authority is another all-male club, as is the Water Industry Commission.
     It would be comforting to imagine that, where women are allowed to be involved in the public life of Scotland, they do so on a more equitable basis: that there is no repetition of the inter-connectedness we saw yesterday among the men.
     Unhappily, however, the same trend emerges.


We argue that it would be fairer and healthier for Scottish public life if six women, not two, filled these places.


     Highly placed among our quango queens is Carole Wilkinson, former director of social work in Falkirk, who chairs the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration for an annual fee of £20,122. She retains her place on the board of NHS Education Scotland, which pays £8,008, and is also to be found at board meetings of the Scottish Qualifications Authority for £4,600 a year – a total take-home of £32,730. She is not in the same league as Willy Roe’s 85K, Mike Cantlay’s 59K or Garry Coutts’s 54K – but, then, who is?
     Professor Susan Walker is another member of the female elite. In the last decade she has chalked up board appointments at the North of Scotland Water Authority, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Deer Commission for Scotland. To that impressive portfolio she has added the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the bloated quangocracy where the national axeman, Danny Alexander, was a humble press officer not so long ago.
     Currently she earns £200 a day for three days a month at the national park authority, £271 a day for two days a month at SEPA, and £282 a day for two and a half days a month at Scottish Natural Heritage. All in all, this popular treader of many boards earns £22,164 for 90 days’ work a year. We can only hope all her committees don’t meet on the same day.
     It is worth remarking that, between them, Carole Wilkinson and Susan Walker are members of no fewer than six quangos. We argue that it would be fairer and healthier for Scottish public life if six women, not two, filled these places.
     Ray Macfarlane, a banker, and Ruth Wishart, a journalist, are two more quango queens. Mrs Macfarlane, a former chair of Scottish Screen, is now a member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, for which she receives £212 per day for an unspecified number of days, and serves unpaid on the board of the National Galleries. Ms Wishart, meanwhile, is in the unusual if not unique position of being unremunerated for both her public offices – at the National Galleries, where Mrs Macfarlane is her only female board colleague, and at the hot potato known as Creative Scotland. Although she goes home empty-handed, Ms Wishart has the consolation of being the most influential woman in the Scottish arts (she also chairs the government-backed Dewar arts awards).
     But again – two quangos apiece. Wouldn’t they be just as happy with one, so leaving room for others?
     Another two-board woman is Dr Janet Lowe, a retired college principal, who is paid £6,240 a year for her membership of Skills Development Scotland under the chairmanship of the one and only Willy Roe, and £11,376 a year as a member of the Scottish Funding Council.


‘It’s a real privilege to contribute to Scottish public life through a non-executive appointment,’ enthuses Dr Burley on the website of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, ‘and it’s immensely rewarding.’


     Then there are the Burleys. Mr Burley (Robin) appears today only because of his association with his wife, Lindsay. He is a board member at NHS Lothian, for which he is paid £8,008 a year, but this contribution to the public good is dwarfed by that of his wife. Dr Lindsay Burley. She is chair of NHS Education Scotland (where she regularly bumps into Carole Wilkinson), for which she is paid £24,960 a year. She is also a member of the Scottish Funding Council (where she regularly bumps into Janet Lowe), earning £11,376 from that source – a total of £36,336 a year. ‘It’s a real privilege to contribute to Scottish public life through a non-executive appointment,’ enthuses Dr Burley on the website of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, ‘and it’s immensely rewarding.’
     The Burleys are partners in business, describing themselves as mediation coaches and specialists in conflict resolution. Their client list is an impressive testimony to the need for mediation and conflict resolution in public life – ranging from the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Qualifications Authority to NHS Lothian and NHS National Services. Quite properly, Dr Burley declares in her register of interests at the Scottish Funding Council that her business clients include some in the higher and further education sector.
     Given this labyrinth of criss-crossing affiliations, it is a relief to be able to report that Karen Anderson chairs Architecture and Design Scotland, Jean Couper chairs the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, Jane Irvine chairs the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and Louise Martin chairs sportscotland, all without the distractions of other public offices. If only this were generally true, there would be less risk of potential conflicts of interest arising, and the network of non-executive public appointments in Scotland would feel less like a rather cosy club.

Part III of Treading the Boards tomorrow

Also tomorrow: Garry Coutts responds to SR’s investigation

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Kenneth Roy.

Read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.