Committee rejects choice for Charity Commission chair over ‘slapdash’ process

31 Mar 2022 News

MPs have rejected the government’s preferred candidate to be the next Charity Commission chair over a “slapdash and unimaginative approach” to the recruitment process. 

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said that although they had no concerns about Orlando Fraser as a person, they could not formally endorse him because of concerns about the appointments process. 

The report, Another pre-appointment hearing for Chair of the Charity Commission, says: “Regarding this candidate, we recognise that Orlando Fraser has qualifications and experience that could make him suitable for this role. During the hearing he responded reasonably well to our concerns about his ability to remain independent and demonstrated his respect for the charity sector. We have no grounds for concern about Mr Fraser as an individual.”

However, the committee said the department should have re-run the process following Martin Thomas’ withdrawal.  

Julian Knight, Conservative chair of the committee, said: “The fiasco of four months ago should have jolted the department into widening out its search for the very best person to oversee an organisation that is so vital in ensuring people can support charities with confidence. 

“By failing to re-run the process and falling back on a shortlist which would seem to be so lacking in diversity, ministers have sadly squandered their second chance.” 

‘Slapdash and unimaginative approach’

There were 37 candidates, with 36 completing the diversity monitoring form. Nine candidates identified as female, six as BAME and one said they had a disability. 

Of the eight candidates invited to interview, one was a woman, one from a BAME background and none declared disability. 

Knight added: “While we recognise Mr Fraser’s potential to do the job, such a slapdash and unimaginative approach to his recruitment means we cannot formally endorse his appointment.

“This should act as a warning to the government. Unless it changes tack, trust in the process will continue to be damaged and we risk missing out on getting the most qualified people from all backgrounds for these very important jobs.”

Ministers do not have to follow the advice of the committee. Previously when the committee rejected Baroness Stowell the government went ahead with the appointment. 

At the pre-appointment hearing Fraser said that if the committee rejected him he would read the reasons and withdraw if he felt it would be impossible to do the job. 

DCMS will respond 'in due course' 

A DCMS spokesperson said: “As recently noted by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the appointment process for Charity Commission Chair was run in line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. 

“The DCMS Select Committee rightly recognises Orlando Fraser's suitability for the role and we will now consider its report in full and respond in due course.”

NCVO: Parliament needs to be central to the process

NCVO urged the government to reflect before proceeding with the appointment. 

Alex Farrow, head of networks and influencing at NCVO, said: “We have argued for a long time that parliament needs to be central to the process of appointing the chair of the Charity Commission. The government should carefully consider the implications of continuing to appoint a candidate who does not have the backing of parliament.

“We agree that Orlando Fraser has the experience and understanding of the sector required to do the job, and we were pleased that he stressed the importance of the independence of the Commission to the committee.

“We believe it was a mistake not to rerun the appointment process. This would have provided confidence in the process and enabled a more diverse and representative shortlist to have been developed.”

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