Tory donor part of panel to assess Charity Commission chair applicants 

18 Mar 2021 News

A philanthropist and entrepreneur, who has donated over £200,000 to the Conservative Party, is part of panel involved in recruiting the next Charity Commission chair.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) advertised for a new chair of the Charity Commission last week

An assessment panel will review applications and conduct interviews before making a recommendation about who should be appointed to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden. 

The assessment panel comprises: 

•    Polly Payne and Ruth Hannant, director general for culture, sport and civil society at DCMS (job-share).
•    Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle, senior independent panel member.
•    John Booth, independent member.
•    Mike Ashley, other member.

Those involved in public appointments must declare any political activity, which Booth has done. His entry states that he has “made a recordable donation to a political party”. 

The Electoral Commission’s register shows that in 2017 he made five donations to the Conservative Party. This includes one donation of £100,000, two £50,000 donations and two smaller ones. 

Booth is a trustee of the Tate, chair of the Prince’s Trust and involved with several other charities. He is an ambassador for the homelessness charity Depaul International and a Deputy Lieutenant for West Sussex.

His own charity, The John Booth Charitable Foundation, makes grants to arts and heritage charities. The charity holds £22m in investments, which are managed by Cerno Capital Partners LLP, a firm where Booth is a partner. This is all properly disclosed in its accounts. 

He also chairs a number of public and private companies including Maintel plc and is a non-executive director of three investment management businesses and has a range of venture capital interests in e-commerce, media and telecommunications. 

Mike Ashley, a former Commission board member, is described as the “other” member on the panel. He was on the board between 2014 and 2020. Previously he was a partner at KPMG and now holds a number of non-executive roles including at the Cabinet Office and as treasurer of the Scout Association. 

Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle, the senior independent member of the panel, is a lobbyist, charity trustee, and public official. She has been the Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast since 2014, and is a member of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. 

Appointment process

The process launched last week, and the deadline to apply for the role is 9 April. Final interviews are expected to take place the week commencing 31 May. 

Candidates are told that the role requires two and half days a week and they will be paid £62,500 per annum for a term of up to three years. 

The successful candidate is expected to be “an accessible and engaging ambassador for the organisation, and have the ability to influence high level stakeholders within government and Parliament, the media, the charity sector and the business world”, the person specification says. 

It adds that they should have “a commitment to the charity sector’s effective, independent, proportionate, and impartial regulation” and “a strong commitment to ensuring charities remain focused on delivering their core charitable purposes”.

The job advert also says: “Given the need for the Charity Commission to be, and to be seen to be, impartial and independent in its regulation of charities, engagement in significant political activity (holding office, public speaking, making a recordable donation or candidature for election) is likely to prove a significant conflict of interest for candidates applying for this role.” 

Once the assessment panel has made a recommendation Dowden formally names a candidate. The candidate would then be required to attend a pre-appointment hearing at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee before the appointment is confirmed. 

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