On Board - A guide for Board Members of Public Bodies in Scotland (April 2015)

This Guide provides much of the basic information that a Board Member will need to understand their role as a member of the Board of a public body in Scotland.

Role of the Board as an Employer

In most cases the Board is the employer of the individuals who work for the public body, although the management of staff, apart from the Chief Executive (whose performance is appraised by the Chair), is a matter for the executive.

The Board should be satisfied that the public body is meeting its moral and legal obligations to its employees and that the senior management team is fulfilling its obligations in this regard.

The Board is usually responsible for the recruitment of the Chief Executive and, in some cases, other senior staff. If you take part in a recruitment exercise, you will need to be familiar with employment legislation and any codes of best practice in relation to equal opportunities issues. You should receive training in recruitment and selection before serving in that capacity.


This includes ensuring that the body:

  • Has policies and procedures that comply with employment law;
  • Avoids discrimination of any kind against current or potential employees and has policies to guarantee equal opportunities and value diversity;
  • Has in place agreed terms and conditions of employment which should reflect the general standards set out in the Model Code for Staff;
  • Has in place clear policies and strategies relating to staff;
  • Complies with all health and safety requirements.


The Scottish Government expects all public bodies to champion diversity and mainstream equal opportunities in their work. The Board should give specific consideration to the impact on equality of opportunity when developing policies and making decisions. The Board should also look at how information can be presented to different groups in formats that best suit their needs and find ways of consulting effectively with people with different needs and backgrounds.

Scottish Ministers particularly welcome applications for public appointments from groups that are under-represented on Scotland's public bodies, with the aim of ensuring that Boards of public bodies are broadly reflective of the wider Scottish population with a 50:50 gender split by 2020. Public bodies are expected to take positive action to support and enable greater diversity of Ministerial appointments, through:

  • taking an active role in succession planning, and providing advice to Ministers about the Board's membership needs, both for new and re-appointments;
  • ensuring that suggested criteria for the selection of new Board members meet the needs of the body, are unbiased and are not unnecessarily restrictive;
  • taking action both during and between Board member recruitment exercises to attract the broadest range of candidates to the work of the Board;
  • providing mentoring, shadowing and training opportunities for potential Board members; and
  • considering the role of nominations committees.

The Board of a public body should consider ways to attract new employees from a range of groups and perhaps set targets for increasing the number of women, disabled people and people from minority ethnic groups in the workforce to reflect the diversity of the Scottish population.

The Scottish Government's work on: increasing diversity in leadership across the public, private and third sectors; diversity in Ministerial public appointments; and diversity in the Scottish Government's own leadership, is overseen by the Public Boards and Corporate Diversity Board.


Equality and fairness are at the heart of the Scottish Government's ambition for a socially just and inclusive Scotland. They are central to its purpose, outcomes and approach to public service reform.

The public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010 came into force in April 2011 - this is often referred to as the general duty. Scottish public authorities must have 'due regard' to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. Scottish Ministers made regulations in May 2012 placing specific duties on Scottish public authorities, as defined in the regulations, to enable the better performance of the public sector equality duty. These are also known as the Scottish Specific Duties.

Public bodies should ensure that they operate in a way which promotes equality of opportunity and all policies must meet the requirements of equality legislation.

Human Rights

Under the Human Rights Act 1998, it is unlawful for a public body to act in a way that is incompatible with a right under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Board should seek assurances from the Chief Executive that the policies and procedures in place within the public body are compatible with Convention rights. The Board should also be committed to protecting the privacy of individuals in relation to how personal information is used as required by the Data Protection Act 1998.


Email: Gordon Quinn

Back to top