Journalist and writer named as preferred candidate for Charity Commission chair

William Shawcross

Journalist and writer named as preferred candidate for Charity Commission chair

Governance | Niki May Young | 29 Aug 2012

Journalist and writer William Shawcross has been named by the Cabinet Office as the preferred candidate to lead the Charity Commission board as chairman.

Francis Maude, who as minister for civil society is responsible for appointments to the Charity Commission board, has now requested a pre-appointment hearing by the Public Administration Select Committee to review his decision. This will be held on 5 September and its report presented to the government which will make a final decision on Shawcross's appointment.

Shawcross's journalism career spans five decades and he remains a contibutor in the national and international media. He has written for the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Washington Post, the Sydney Morning Herald and Newsweek among other well-known publications throughout the years.

He is also author of a number of non-fiction books ranging from biographies of public figures (Queen Elizabeth: the official biography of the Queen Mother, Rupert Murdoch: Ringmaster of the information circus), to investigative analyses of political matters (Deliver Us From Evil: Warlords and peacekeepers in a world of endless conflict).

Shawcross is no stranger to the charity sector. He is  chairman of refugee charity Response and former chair of freedom of expression charity group Article 19 as well as having sat on the board of the International Crisis Group. He was also an adviser to the High Commissioner for Refugees between 1995 and 2000, and a member of council of the Disasters Emergency Committee from 1997 - 2000.

His selection as preferred candidate for the role of chairman of the Charity Commission follows a competitive process undertaken by a selection panel chaired by Mark Addison, independent public appointments assessor for the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Other members of the panel are Lynne Berry, trustee of the newly-formed Canal and River Trust and former WRVS chief executive; Sue Grey, head of propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office, and Lord Bew, a crossbench peer and academic.

Life after Leather

If confirmed Shawcross's term will last three years before he will then be considered for a second term. He will be paid £50,000 per annum and will work two days a week, a reduction from the working hours and salary of former chair Dame Suzi Leather who worked three days per week on a salary of between £80,000 and £85,000. 

John Wood, trustee of the Charity Commission since 2008, has been keeping the seat warm as interim chairman since the departure of Leather on 31 July. Leather had been chair since taking over from Geraldine Peacock in 2006.

Following her departure, Leather had warned that the personal specifications for her replacement may not be up to scratch. She raised concerns of its focus on private and charity sectors, rather than the public sector. At a public administration select committee (PASC) meeting where she gave evidence to MPs on her perceived future challenges for the Charity Commission, she said:

“The person specification asks for an established reputation, experience or knowledge from one or more of the private, charity or not-for-profit sectors. It misses out the public sector.

“Someone with experience in the private sector could have very little understanding of the charity sector. You’ll need someone who understands the charity sector and gets that it is not just big, household names, but small, local charities.”

But sector umbrella body the National Council of Voluntary Organisations welcomed the news. Its head of policy and research Karl Wilding said to "We are pleased to see a candidate with clear voluntary sector credentials being considered. At a time where regulatory issues are under the spotlight, it’s important the Commission has a strong chair with a clear vision of what’s needed, ensuring that the high levels of trust and confidence in the sector remain."


Sam Younger, chief executive of the Charity Commission, will be delivering a special lunchtime address at the Charity Finance Summit on 15 Oct. More details at




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