Martin Thomas confirmed as Charity Commission chair

13 Dec 2021 News

Charity Commission building and logo

Civil Society Media

The government has appointed Martin Thomas as the new chair of the Charity Commission.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) made the announcement on Friday afternoon, shortly after MPs also backed Thomas's appointment.

Thomas said that he would ensure the regulator upheld the Commission's values as an “independent, precise, clear, consistent, calm and just” body.

MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee also backed Thomas last week, saying that he “will bring considerable experience in, and knowledge of, the charity sector to the role”.

Thomas appeared before the committee on Thursday, when he answered questions about the greatest challenges facing the sector and public trust in charities. MPs do not have the power to block the appointment, but they can refuse to back the government’s choice for the role.

Public confidence in charities

Nadine Dorries, the secretary of state at DCMS, said: “I would like to offer a very warm welcome to Martin Thomas, who brings both a broad range of regulatory and charity sector experience to the role of Charity Commission chair.

“I look forward to working with Martin as he takes on this important post, ensuring public confidence in our charities is maintained. I would also like to thank and pay tribute to Ian Karet for all his hard work as interim chair.”

Thomas will start his three-year term on 27 December.

He said: “The Charity Commission is seen as independent, precise, clear, consistent, calm and just. It has true authority and expertise in the areas where it operates. I am very honoured and very proud to have a chance to help it hold fast to these attributes as it enters the next chapter of its history.”

Helen Stephenson, the chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “I am delighted to welcome Martin Thomas to the Charity Commission as our new chair. Martin brings a wealth of experience and my team and I look forward to working with him.”

‘Sound awareness’ of sector

The DCMS committee said last week that Thomas “demonstrated a sound awareness of the challenges facing the sector and the regulator’s role vis-a-vis its wide range of stakeholders. 

“He gave detailed and measured responses, and was not quick to jump to conclusions, which speaks to his ability to withstand scrutiny.

“On the basis of the evidence presented, we approve Martin Thomas’s appointment as chair of the Charity Commission, and wish him well in the role”.

Priorities and politics

Thomas told MPs that he believed the biggest issues facing charities and the regulator were financial recovery after the pandemic, improvements in digital communication, and working with organisations which were not charities but achieved social impact.

He also distanced himself from suggestions by the previous culture minister, Oliver Dowden, that the new chair should commit to ensuring the sector was “rebalanced” away from so-called culture wars.

“I didn’t think that it was necessary”, Thomas said, adding that Dowden’s insistence that charities must focus on their core mission was “true, but it’s also trite”. 

The committee also said it was “regrettable” that the appointment had been “subject to allegations of political interference”.

Diversity concerns

While welcoming Thomas’s own commitment to improving diversity at the regulator and among charity trustees, the committee said the government “should have worked harder to ensure a more diverse pool of candidates applied for the role”. 

Data released by the committee showed that 37 people applied for the role, and that further information was available for 36 of the applicants. This showed that:

  • 25% of the candidates were women
  • 17% of the candidates had a Black and ethnic minority background
  • One candidate declared a disability

Of the eight people called for interview, one was a woman and one came from a Black and ethnic minority background.

Welcome from Civil Society Group

On Friday, Sarah Vibert, the interim chief executive of NCVO, tweeted on behalf of some members of the new Civil Society Group, congratulating Thomas on his appointment.

Vibert said: “It’s welcome that he has set out his commitment to the independence of the role, and demonstrated his understanding of the challenges facing charities. 

“We look forward to working with him in delivering positive change for charities, communities and people we serve.”

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