The government has announced that its preferred candidate to be the next chair of the Charity Commission is Baroness Stowell, currently a Conservative peer.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston was Leader of the House of Lords and the Lord Privy Seal until July 2016. Her entry on the register of members interests at the House of Lords says she is a trustee of Crimestoppers and of an education charity the Transformation Trust.
If appointed she will resign her party membership and the Conservative whip in the House of Lords and become an independent peer.
She will need to attend a pre-appointment hearing at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which will then produce a report saying whether or not it backs the appointment. The government can chose to overrule the committee.
A pre-appointment hearing will take place on 20 February.
Shawcross to remain in post for three weeks
William Shawcross has been chair of the Commission for the past five and half years and was expected to complete his term next week, but will now continue until the 23 February.
The Department for Digital, Culture Media, and Sport began the process of recruiting a new chair in August. The assessment panel was chaired by Sue Owen, permanent secretary at DCMS. It also included Julia Unwin, chair of the Independent Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society, and Alan Downey, a former KPMG partner and head of public sector practice – who carried out an independent review of the Commission’s governance in 2015.
Former charities minister, Rob Wilson, is rumoured to have been among the six candidates who were interviewed for the role at the end of last year.
Karen Bradley, then Culture Secretary, had to write to the DCMS committee to rescheduled a hearing that was booked in December because the government had not decided who to appoint to the role.
NCVO has previously called for reform of the process, and published a series of recommendations to make the process non-political.
About the new chair
Tina Stowell became a peer in 2011. She was Leader of the House of Lords and the Lord Privy Seal until July 2016.
As a junior minister she led on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act through the House of Lords in 2013 before being promoted to Minister for Communities and received awards from Spectator, Stonewall and PinkNews.
She was promoted to Leader of the House of Lords and the Lord Privy Seal in 2014 and re-appointed to the same Cabinet post after the 2015 General Election.
"Before joining the House of Lords Tina Stowell’s career over the previous 25 years crisscrossed government, politics and the media," the government said in a statement. "Until September 2010, she was the BBC’s Head of Corporate Affairs. Prior to this, she spent a short spell working for Granada Media, and for David Frost at Paradine, his own independent television and film production company.
"She was a civil servant for ten years, working at the Ministry of Defence in London, the British Embassy in Washington and 10 Downing Street from 1991 to 1996. She left the Civil Service at the age of 28 and was awarded the MBE in the 1996 Queen’s Birthday Honours List."
This afternoon she tweeted that she was "delighted".
... it will be a great honour to play my part in protecting and promoting the public interest in our hugely important charity sector, which many people rely on, does so much good and helps define who we are.— Tina Stowell (@tinastowell) January 26, 2018
Charity sector reaction
Peter Kellner, chair of NCVO, said: "I would like to warmly welcome the announcement of Baroness Stowell as preferred candidate for chair of the Charity Commission.
"I am confident she will prove to be an excellent choice. Her many years of experience in high-profile public bodies, including the BBC Trust, itself a regulator, should stand her in very good stead in both this regard and in the role more widely.
"We have often expressed concern that both of the Commission's previous chairs have left themselves too open to potentially damaging accusations of party political bias. Baroness Stowell’s intention to resign her party whip and membership if appointed is therefore especially welcome. It will, I hope, enhance her reputation as determined, independent and pragmatic. I and everyone at NCVO much look forward to working with her."
Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo said: “Baroness Stowell has proved herself to be a champion of social mobility, who encourages ambition and opportunities. She has gleaned a wealth of experience across a number of different areas, including regulatory experience at the BBC Trust.
“However, the chair and board of the Charity Commission must be, and be seen to be, independent from government and party politics. While we appreciate that Baroness Stowell is resigning the Conservative party whip and her party membership, we are disappointed that the sector’s calls for a politically neutral commission chair have not been met.
“To be effective, the Commission must equally have the trust and confidence of the public, the state and the sector it regulates. A critical part of this trust comes from confidence that the Commission is independent of political influence. This independence is core to its ability to properly regulate charities under the law.”
Sir John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: “We congratulate Baroness Stowell on being named the preferred candidate for the position of Charity Commission Chair. We have long been supportive of the vital role the Commission plays in guaranteeing public confidence in charities. Baroness Stowell will bring to the role a wealth of experience in the sector and we at the Charities Aid Foundation look forward to working with her and continuing our strong working relationship with her colleagues at the Commission.”
Lord Adonis, a Labour peer, tweeted that it was "not a good idea".
Not a good idea for a Conservative politician to be Chair of the Charity Commission. The public schools will be delighted. https://t.co/g5xH4IA1MT— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) January 26, 2018
Shadow minister for civil society issued a statement saying it was "hugely disappointing"
He said: “It’s hugely disappointing that a paid-up member of the Conservative Party has been appointed Chair of the Charity Commission. This is supposed to be a politically neutral appointment and it raises fears that she will rubber stamp the government’s ongoing attempts to underfund, undermine and sideline charities.”
“The independence of the charity sector is critical to its success and it’s regulator should be independent as well.
“Instead of appointing Theresa May’s cronies, the government could and should have found someone independent-minded who will stand up for the sector.”
This article has been updated to remove Lord Kakkar, professor of surgery at University College London and chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission, as a member of the appointments panel. Kakkar had been announced as part of the panel but was unavailable during the process.