Julia Unwin, who was on appointments panel for the next chair of the Charity Commission, has described Baroness Stowell as “the outstanding candidate on the day”, after MPs and sector leaders criticised the process.
Unwin is currently leading the Independent Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society, and was previously chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust.
Yesterday the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee grilled Stowell during a pre-appointment hearing, before writing to the culture secretary Matt Hancock to say that it could not support the appointment.
Hancock has offered Stowell his full backing, but some in the sector are calling for a review.
Unwin: ‘Process rigorous and fair’
This afternoon Unwin tweeted that: “I hope that I am know for my integrity. As one of one of the independents on the panel appointing the chair of the Charity Commission, I believe the process was both rigorous and fair.
“Tina Stowell was the outstanding candidate on the day – and we were unanimous in our recommendation.”
Andrew Purkis, a former Charity Commission board member and commentator on the sector, pressed her on Stowell’s understanding of the sector, and she said: “She demonstrated that she met the job spec at the interview. I’m deeply nervous politicians overturning a good process.
“I would not have taken part if I hadn’t been satisfied it was proper.”
I hope that I'm known for my integrity. As one of independents on the panel appointing the Chair of the Charity Commission, I believe the process was both rigorous and fair. Tina Stowell was the outstanding candidate on the day - and we were unanimous in our recommendation.— Julia Unwin (@juliaunwin) February 21, 2018
Responding directly to claims by Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission and currently a director and executive editor at Civil Society Media, that there had been another candidate with no political connections who had been "favoured" by the panel, Unwin said that was not the case.
"That is not what happened. The panel put forward Tina Stowell as their recommended candidate. And that decision was unanimous," she tweeted.
Yes. That is not what happened. The panel put forward Tina Stowell as their recommended candidate. And that decision was unanimous.— Julia Unwin (@juliaunwin) February 21, 2018
Acevo letter to Hancock
Meanwhile, the chief executives of Acevo, the Charity Finance Group, Navca, the Directory of Social Change and Childern England have sent a letter to Hancock reiterating its concerns.
They said that If the appointment goes ahead, “we question how the Commission can be fully accountable to Parliament”, adding that the Commission’s independence “risks being significantly undermined”.
NCVO has not signed the letter, and earlier today its chief executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, said: “I am looking forward to working with Baroness Stowell. I think she will bring fresh ideas to the role, and her emphasis on the importance of working in partnership with the sector at her pre-appointment hearing yesterday was welcome.”
Labour requests review
The Labour shadow minister for civil society, Steve Reed, has also written a letter to the Commissioner for Public Appointments to calling for an inquiry into the appointment.
Reed said: “I am writing to express serious concern regarding the appointment process.”
He asked the Commission for Public Appointments to say whether it was consulted before the announcement and if it is confident that in this case the principles of public appointments have been met.
“The appointment of a regulator’s chair without the backing of Parliament is incredibly damaging to public trust in the sector,” he said. “It is vital that this appointment is carefully scrutinised so that the public have full confidence in the Charity Commission.”