Andrew Hind, the first chief executive of the Charity Commission, has warned that the regulator's reputation is being “seriously damaged” by the board appointments process, and called for sweeping reform to the system.
Hind, who was chief executive of Commission between 2004 and 2010 and is a director and executive editor of Civil Society Media, criticised the recruitment process for the Commission chair and called for a consultation on NCVO’s proposals to reform the process, in an article for Civil Society News today.
The government recently announced that a Conservative peer, Baroness Stowell, is its preferred choice to be the Commission’s next chair. She is expected to be confirmed following a pre-appointment hearing at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
Stowell was one of three individuals shortlisted through an appointments process chaired by a civil servant, but the final decision on her appointment came from the Prime Minister. Hind said several sources had told him that Stowell had not been the favoured candidate for the job before her appointment was referred to Number Ten.
He said he understands that the appointments panel had identified another candidate “with significant regulatory experience and impressive charity leadership credentials” had been one of the three candidates put forward to Number Ten, but after a “long delay” Stowell was chosen.
Stowell is the third successive candidate with strong political affiliations. The previous appointment, William Shawcross, was criticised for his links to the Conservatives, while his predecessor was criticised for being a Labour member. But Hind said the latest decision “takes the politicisation of the Charity Commission’s board to a whole new level”.
Stowell, who was leader of the House of Lords under David Cameron, has said that if she is appointed she will resign her Conservative Party membership and sit in the House of Lords as an independent peer.
Charity Commission board appointments are made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and are overseen by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
Political activity is not a barrier to public appointments, such as the chair of the Commission, but must be declared on applications.
Last week questions about the process were raised in Parliament, and Tracey Crouch, the minister for civil society, said the correct process had been followed and that all “public appointments are made on merit, following a fair, open, and transparent competition”.
‘Whole new level of politicisation’
“Slowly but surely, over a series of four appointments, we have moved from the chair of the Charity Commission being selected on merit, to a situation in 2018 where the job appears to be little more than a party political appointment in the gift of the Prime Minister,” Hind said today.
“Politics had won the day.”
He urged MPs at the pre-appointment hearing to ask “tough questions” about why “Baroness Stowell is a better person for the job than the non-politically aligned and highly experienced candidate favoured by the panel”.
‘We need a public consultation’
Hind called for a public consultation on implementing NCVO’s 2015 proposals to reform the process for the next time.
NCVO has called for Parliament to be given a greater role in the process, including the ability for Parliament to effectively veto candidates.
“The constitutional changes of 2006 have had the unintended consequence of politicising the role of Charity Commission chair,” he said. “Both the public and the 168,000 charities regulated by the Commission deserve better.”
Hind concluded that: “We urgently need a public consultation about how to implement NCVO’s proposals for taking the appointment process for the Commission’s chair out of the party-political arena.
“Only in this way can full confidence in the Charity Commission’s political impartiality be restored.”
22 February 2018
Editor's note: Since this story was published, Julia Unwin, who was an independent member of the appointments committee has said that Stowell was an "outstanding candidate" and that she was the only candidate put forward by the panel.