Public appointments commissioner Janet Gaymer is to receive new powers to promote diversity after the number of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in senior public roles dropped last year.
Ministers have agreed to broaden her role after the public appointments watchdog's annual report showed decreases in the number of female, disabled people or candidates from an ethnic minority background appointed or reappointed to more than 1,000 public bodies.
The report showed:
A fall in the percentage of female appointees to 32.6% in 2007-08 from 36.2% in 2006-07
A reduction in the number of appointments of those from ethnic minority backgrounds (7.7%) compared with the previous two years (9.2% in 2006-07 and 8.6% in 2005-06)
A fall in appointments of those with disabilities (4.6%) compared with the previous year (6.1%)
A fall in the number of female chairs appointed or reappointed to NHS bodies from 126 in 2006-07 to 17 in 2007-08.
Gaymer said: "There is no disputing the fact that the overall statistics on diversity are disappointing. As commissioner, I do not make these appointments and I know that there is a great deal of work under way. However, it is clear that we need to look very hard at what more can be done to bring a wider range of people into the public appointments process.
"To help address these issues, ministers have agreed to broaden the remit of my role as commissioner to include promoting diversity within the appointment processes for the public appointments that I regulate."
Gaymer said she intended to produce a diversity and talent strategy for public appointments. This would aim to provide practical guidance for government departments to help encourage people of different backgrounds to step forward, she added.