The Charity Commission’s longstanding legal director has been appointed to its board - prompting Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, to say this is "poor governance".
Kenneth Dibble will become the Charity Commission’s legal board member in March. He will stand down from his role as legal adviser and legal director and there will be a gap before taking up the new role.
He has worked at the Commission for nearly 40 years, in a number of senior legal and operational roles. He has been its senior legal adviser for the last 15 years. He is a qualified barrister and holds a master’s degree in Law from University College, London.
Dibble has been appointed for a three-year term and replaces Orlando Fraser. Fraser joined the board in 2013 and in 2016 had his appointment extended until the end of this month.
'Surprised and disappointed'
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said the appointment of a longstanding staff member to the board was a sign of poor governance, and undermines the regulator's authority within the sector.
He said: "We are surprised and disappointed to see that a member of the Charity Commission’s staff - its legal director - has been appointed as the non-executive board member responsible for legal affairs. This is poor governance.
"The Charity Commission is rightly concerned with improving governance standards and procedures in charities. It would frown upon such an appointment in one of the charities it regulates. This appointment does a disservice to the Commission’s authority and credibility as a regulator in matters related to governance."
The Charity Commission has faced criticism over its governance arrangements in the past. Lord Foulkes, a Labour peer, said the board was a "fairly right-wing, upper middle-class, white, middle-aged group of people from the south of England". Other charity workers criticised it for being too involved in day-to-day operations.
NCVO has repeatedly called for reform of the Charity Commission's governance.
However William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, praised the appointment.
He said: “I am delighted that Kenneth will be joining the Commission’s board as legal member next year.
“Kenneth has unparalleled mastery of charity law, a thorough understanding of modern regulation and extensive experience of senior executive leadership. The Commission, and the public, will benefit tremendously from his continued service.
“As my term of office as chairman comes to an end, this appointment adds to my confidence that the organisation will be excellently guided in the future.”
Kenneth Dibble said: “It is an honour to have been appointed to serve on the Charity Commission’s board. Charities, and by extension the Commission as their regulator, play a central role in our society.
“Maintaining the legal integrity of the Commission’s regulatory work is critical, and I look forward to continuing to support that element, and shaping the Commission’s future, in my new role as legal board member."
Chair appointment delayed
DCMS was expected to announce its preferred candidate for chair of the Commission by the end of this year, but was forced to reschedule the pre-appointment hearing with the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee because it had not made its decision. Rob Wilson, former minister for civil society, is believed to be among the candidates for the role.
'Any conflicts will be managed'
The Commission must have two board members with legal expertise, and one of those must have specific knowledge of charity law but should not currently be advising charities, meaning the pool of candidates for the role is relatively small. The regulator said that it had considered how potential conflicts will be managed.
A Commission spokesperson said: “Kenneth will relinquish his executive role in advance of joining the Commission’s board. Going forward, the board as a whole, with the support of the Commission’s corporate office and in line with the Code for board members of public bodies, will carefully manage any potential conflict that may arise from Kenneth’s previous role on the executive. This may include Kenneth recusing himself from discussions on issues in which he was previously closely involved as director of legal services.”
Appointments to the Commission's board are made by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley. The process began in the summer and the appointments panel was chaired by David Rossington, then director of the Office for Civil Society, and included William Shawcross, chair of the Commission and Francesca Quint, a former lawyer at the Charity Commission who writes and lectures on charity law.