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Sketch: The Charity Commission survives fierce MP scrutiny

Sketch: The Charity Commission survives fierce MP scrutiny
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Sketch: The Charity Commission survives fierce MP scrutiny

Governance | Vibeka Mair | 11 Dec 2009

The Charity Commission faced "quango queen" jibes, public benefit and the usual scrutiny on spending at its annual fine-tooth-combing from the Public Accounts Select Committee.

It started off fairly civil – the Commission defended its charity compliance record, warned that further funding cuts would adversely affect its provision of free advice for charities and admitted that having four offices across the country didn’t make sense.

"Have you ever had a proper job?"

But the real wrath, clearly directed at Charity Commission Chair Dame Suzi Leather, came from Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger:

“Is anyone on the Charity Commission board from industry?” he boomed at Dame Suzi and Commission chief executive, Andrew Hind. “The board is full of quango queens, like you. Two are from the BBC, one an NHS Trust. You only have four lawyers. On reading the ‘obituaries’ of your board members I found no one from business.” 

Dame Suzi Leather stood her ground: “One-third of the board had a non-public sector background,” she asserted.

“Why is there no-one on the board from Shell?” demanded Liddell-Grainger.

“I don’t appoint the board,” responded Leather.

“Well is it a good idea?”

“I am delighted with the board I have,” said Leather.

“Have you ever had a proper job?”  Liddell-Grainger snidely retorted.

Chairman of the committee Tony Wright rightly stepped in and admonished Liddell-Grainger, as Hind leapt to Leather’s defence:

“I’d appreciate some elements of formality,” he said.

The session continued with the usual rehashing of public benefit and MPs' individual concerns about charities in their constituencies.

Commission guidance on political campaigning

The Charity Commission announced it would publish guidance on political campaigning before next year’s general election and promised to check why Eton and Winchester College were exempt charities after Labour MP Paul Flynn asked whether old Etonians in the Cabinet had some influence.

It all ended with an attack on the Daily Mail and a heartfelt apology from chairman Tony Wright for the “vigorous session”.

“It was a vigorous session,” he told the witnesses, “but it’s what you expect. Ian (Liddell-Grainger) was extremely unpleasant and very personal. You understand he’s a public school boy. He wants favourable reference in the Daily Mail.

“The Daily Mail specialises in attacking in the most offensive way. That’s what they are paid to do. They get a perverse pleasure in attacking people who can’t answer back.

“We value your meeting with us, the way you account to us and we wish you well.”

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