Frustration that there is still ‘no update’ on appointing a Charity Commission chair

11 Feb 2022 News

Charity leaders have urged the government to prioritise recruiting a new chair for the Charity Commission, with little progress in the eight weeks since Martin Thomas resigned.

When asked for an update this week, a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesperson said: “There's no update at this stage. We'll be in touch when there is an update in due course.”

This means the charity regulator will have been without a permanent chair for a year, prompting further concerns about the relationship between the sector and government. 

Last December, before he was due to take up the role, Thomas pulled out of the role after it emerged that he had not disclosed details of an issue at Women for Women International, where he was chair until last spring. 

DCMS could now appoint another candidate who was interviewed last autumn and deemed “appointable”, or it could re-run the whole process. 

Ian Karet, who has been interim chair since Baroness Stowell left a year ago, had his term extended until 26 June. This means the government has a little over four months to re-run the process. 

Karet is dedicating one and half days a week, whereas a permanent chair would be expected to spend two days a week on Commission business.

In January officials said that advice on the options is with ministers. Nadine Dorries, culture secretary, has been in Dubai this week, where she delivered a speech to mark UK National Day. 

‘Timelines are the minimum we deserve’

Charity leaders have now urged DCMS to hurry up and explain how it intends to proceed. 

Jay Kennedy, director of policy at the Directory of Social Change, said: “It’s been refreshing to have an interim chair in Ian Karet who just gets on with the job without constantly creating headlines, but the permanent post has now been vacant for an entire year. 

“Charities, the Charity Commission’s staff, and the public deserve at a minimum to know what the process and timelines will be to find a permanent replacement, and how much longer this is expected to take.” 

An NCVO spokesperson said that finalising the process “should be an urgent priority”. 

They also emphasised: “This is a crucial appointment for charities. To have credibility and trust, the process needs to be fully re-run, based on the principles we've previously outlined with ACEVO.” 

But NCVO added that it is “continuing to engage with DCMS and No.10 on the challenges and opportunities facing charities” such as the levelling up agenda, and: “In these areas, we're pleased to be seeing positive and genuine engagement from officials and ministers.” 

Commission chair role is vital 

Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank NPC explained that the role was crucial to supporting the sector. 

He said: “Many will worry that this new delay suggests that the government doesn’t highly value our sector. After all this is not the first time we’ve had to wait. At the last reshuffle it took over three weeks to appoint a new minister for civil society, and even then the role was tagged onto something else.

“But if that’s true then there are two sides to it. If we aspire to be treated as an equal partner of government we must show we’re willing and prove what we bring. Partly this means getting better at evaluating impact so we can properly evidence how our sector transforms lives and society for the better.

“We need a shift in how both government and charities see each other. Such change demands leadership, which is why who chairs the regulator matters. We need a candidate who knows the sector and how to regulate, and wants to help make it stronger.”

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