Nadine Dorries, culture secretary, has named Orlando Fraser as the government's preferred candidate to be the next chair of the Charity Commission.
Martin Thomas resigned from the role before he even started, after it emerged that he had not told the interview panel of an issue at a charity he had previously chaired.
Fraser was on the Commission's board between 2013 and 2017, when William Shawcross, who is now the public appointments commissioner, was chair of the Charity Commission.
During his spell on the board, Fraser was one of its two legal members. He also chaired the governance and remuneration committee as well as the policy and guidance committee.
Fraser has had a long-standing involvement in the charity sector, having taken part in an aid convoy to Bosnia in 1992.
Since then, he has been part of the management committee for a women’s refuge and edited sections of Centre of Social Justice reports called “Breakdown Britain” and “Breakthrough Britain”.
In 2017 he supported the Rugby Portobello Trust charity through the 2017 Grenfell tragedy. He has also served on NCVO’s advisory council.
‘We take the Commission’s independence just as seriously as we take the sector’s independence’
Fraser was part of the Commission’s board when it faced harsh criticism over an apparent lack of skills and diversity, with charities questioning the high number of links between board members and right-wing think tanks.
At the time Fraser defended the regulator. In an interview with Civil Society News, he said: “I have never seen us kowtow to government. We take the Commission’s independence just as seriously as we take the sector’s independence. They’re both vital to the wellbeing of charities.”
He also said that he had found the experience of being involved with the Commission “hugely enjoyable”.
Fraser will now appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for a pre-appointment hearing.
He has not declared any recent political activity, however he was a Conservative Party candidate at the 2005 election, and later acted as an adviser to the Conservative Party on voluntary sector issues, which was declared when he was appointed to the Commission's board.
The rules covering public appointments state that only activity from the last five years needs to be declared.
Charities raise concerns
ACEVO and NCVO issued a joint joint statement about the announcement expressing disappointment about how the process was conducted.
The two organisations have previously set out what they would like to see in the next chair.
Sarah Vibert, CEO at NCVO, said: “As a former board member of the Charity Commission and through his voluntary sector experience, including as a former member of our advisory council, Orlando Fraser will bring significant experience of both charities and regulation.
“There will understandably be concern about his links with party politics, even though he has not been politically active recently. With ACEVO, we set out the importance of having a politically independent chair, and are disappointed that the government has not taken this opportunity to appoint a person with full political independence.This should be an area of scrutiny during the pre-appointment hearing.
“If he is appointed we look forward to engaging with Mr Fraser and continuing the positive working relationship with the Charity Commission that we have built during the pandemic. We hope he will set out how he will maintain his independence from government, and ensure the Commission focuses on being an effective, impartial regulator.”
Vicky Browning, CEO at ACEVO added: “After 12 months without a permanent chair of the Charity Commission, we welcome the announcement of Orlando Fraser as the new preferred candidate. We look forward to understanding more about his knowledge of regulation and the charity sector at his pre-appointment scrutiny hearing.
“We are disappointed that the appointment process was not rerun in full before Mr Fraser was announced as preferred candidate. Transparent and robust recruitment is vital in ensuring trust in the regulator. Given the challenges of the previous recruitment process, this approach would have allowed the new chair a fresh start, and an opportunity to rebuild a strong relationship with the sector as well as address issues around the diversity of the shortlist and new due diligence commitments.
“Strong, proportionate and enabling regulation is in the interests of charities, and we want to see the new chair of the Commission succeed. We look forward to working with Mr Fraser if his appointment is confirmed to ensure the Charity Commission supports good practice across the sector, and hope that he will engage constructively with those discussions.”
Dan Corry, chief executive at NPC, said: “This is a vitally important role and we look forward to hearing more from Orlando Fraser on how he wants to approach it. The Charity Commission could be an important driver of impact across the sector, by making better use of its data and toughening up reporting requirements. Such change demands leadership, which is why finding the right person to chair the regulator really matters.”