‘Commission should stand up for charities,’ says preferred candidate

25 Mar 2022 News

The Charity Commission “should be more prepared to stand up” for organisations when there is unfair media criticism, the person hoping to become chair said yesterday. 

Orlando Fraser, the government’s preferred candidate to become chair of the Commission appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for his pre-appointment hearing yesterday. 

He addressed a raft of issues including his political background, the importance of regulatory independence, his record when he was on the board of the Commission, diversity of the board and asking the Treasury for more funding. 

“I applied because in essence the Commission is an organisation that I hugely admire and I think it’s doing an incredibly important job,” Fraser told the committee. “I believe that I have the right overall mix of ability and experience to do that job.”

Track record at the Commission 

Fraser told MPs that shortly before he joined the board, parliament had criticised the organisation as “not fit for purpose”. But by the time he left in 2017 the National Audit Office had praised its work. 

“We did a good job and I was part of that,” he said. 

Julian Knight, Conservative MP and chair of the committee, questioned Fraser on the collapse of Kids Company, which happened in 2015. 

Initially, Fraser said Kids Company “wasn’t a bad organisation” and that it was trying to do “good, useful things”, but had run a “model that was unsustainable”. He also highlighted the praise from the judge for the charity’s trustees. 

Knight said he was concerned by this response, and Fraser clarified that “it was bad, it wasn’t as bad as we thought at the beginning”. 

In response to questions about the legal case involving the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Cage, while Fraser was a legal board member, he described the situation as a “one-off”. 

He said his preferred course of action would have been a statutory inquiry, but that it was the executive team that had sought the assurances about never funding Cage again, which led to the court case. 

Being fair, balanced and independent

Fraser told MPs that he understood the challenges of satisfying different stakeholders. 

He said he would aim to be “seen to be fair, balanced and independent”.

To regulate the sector, he said: “You need robust regulation to give confidence in the sector for donors and volunteers.”

But the Commission needs to be supportive as well, because most “trustees are doing their best” and it is part of the regulator’s job to “enable them and help them, and stick up for them”. 

Later in the discussion, he expanded on the idea of sticking up for charities, particularly when they face media criticism. 

“We should be prepared to go out there and say they are doing a great job,” he said. “I think we should be more prepared to do that.” 


Fraser said that there were no questions about “woke” charities during the interview. 

Furthermore, he thinks the Commission “wouldn’t be able to enforce this” as the concept is too nebulous. 

However, he said that where a charity is “going beyond their objectives then of course charity law means the Commission is obliged to act”. 

Conservative Party links 

While Fraser said he could not comment on other candidates with links to the Conservative Party he wanted to address his own political activity. 

He stood as a candidate “nearly 20 years ago” and said has moved on since. 

For him, this is “such a long time ago most reasonable people would think that shouldn’t really be a serious barrier”. 

He also took aim at those who have referred to his father being a Conservative, while not mentioning that his grandfather was a prominent Labour figure. 

“I also loved and admired my grandfather,” he said. 

Fraser described the Commission’s independence as “sacrosanct”, and feels that when he was previously on the board he demonstrated the required level of independence. 

At a number of points, he also highlighted that by being a barrister he is experienced in acting independently and standing up to judges on behalf of clients. 

He added that, while he understood the concerns, he thinks the “worries [about him] are overblown”. 

Later he said “impartiality is vital for the job”. And noted examples of people moving between politics and charities who are “capable of leaving previous allegiances behind”.

Fraser believes he is in a different category to Baroness Stowell, the former chair of the Commission. 

“She was a serving political leader in the House of Lords, quite different from my own case,” he said.  

‘I am not friends with the prime minister’ 

Martin Thomas, the first choice to be chair until he withdrew, was described as being friends with Boris Johnson. 

When asked about his relationship with the prime minister, Fraser said: “I wouldn’t normally answer a question on friendships.” 

But in this instance said: “I am not a friend of the prime minister and I have never been a friend of the prime minister.” 
He said he has previously met Johnson in public settings. 

Profusely sorry over past comments 

During his ill-fated election campaign, Fraser made a derogatory comment about Devon women. 

He told MPs he was “profusely sorry” and acknowledged it was wrong to have made the comments, but said he is now “older and wiser and I hope it is not held against me”.  

Money from the Treasury?

One of Fraser’s concerns is about the impact of the cost of living crisis on the sector. 

One thing that could help the regulator to support this sector is having “the best technology”. 

He hopes that the Treasury will be “open to specific plans” when it comes to requests for funding, for example, if there is an increase in a particular area of the Commission’s workload. 

Board diversity 

Labour MP Rupa Huq questioned Fraser about the current lack of diversity on the Commission’s board, with six men as board members, but just three women. 

Fraser said: “Going forward I will very much be trying to make sure it is a more diverse board.” 

He said that there are a number of vacancies coming up, which would offer the chance to take action. 

LGB Alliance 

John Nicolson, SNP MP, raised this issue of the LGB Alliance, which he said has “targeted members of Parliament”. 

In response, Fraser said: “First of all I am so sorry for what has happened to you. I can’t say much more beyond that because the decision is under review by the courts.” 

Fraser also urged Nicolson and others to share concerns and evidence with the Commission. 

Session is “toothless and pointless” 

Nicholson also said the pre-appointment hearing could be described as “toothless” and “pointless” because in the past the minister has overruled the recommendation.

Fraser replied: “It doesn’t feel toothless.” 

He also said it was not pointless from his perspective. 

If the committee rejects him, “I would read the reasons and if I felt it made it impossible for me to do this job I would withdraw.”

He said the discussion with MPs and getting their views on things means there is “stuff that I can go away with” for when he, hopefully, starts the role. 

‘Are there too many charities?’

Knight asked Fraser about the registration process for new charities and if “there too many charities”?

Fraser said that from his experience the Commission’s registration process was robust. 

On the number of charities, he said “there is no limit”.

“It is not really for the Commission to say there are too many or too few,” he added. 

But on a personal level, he said he wouldn’t want to “discourage charitable works”. 

Knight asked about how the Commission could identify potential issues. Fraser said that technology investment, including artificial intelligence, could do more to “spot red flags”. 

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