The commissioner for public appointments is looking into the recruitment process for the chair of the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF), amid allegations that the Conservative Party intervened in the process.
The Times reported that leaked emails suggested that the Conservative Party Headquarters (CCHQ) sought to encourage more donors to apply for roles.
Officials wanted Mohamed Amersi, a millionaire who has donated £525,000 to the Conservative Party since 2018, to be considered for the role, The Times reported. The paper understands that one of the officials wrote: “[I] know you work with the public appointments team. Can we see that he is at least considered for the role. He would be terrific.”
Amersi reached the final round of the recruitment process before Blondel Cluff was appointed. Cluff is an academic and lawyer who is married to Algy Cluff, who was editor of the Spectator when Boris Johnson wrote for the paper.
William Shawcross, the commissioner for public appointments, has now said he will look into the process. In a letter to Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, who had raised concerns, he said it is his responsibility to “ensure fairness to all candidates”.
He added that he intends “to review this competition to assure myself and the public that the process was run in compliance with the government’s Governance Code for Public Appointments.”
Political affiliations, including donations to political parties, must be declared by candidates during a public appointments process.
Shawcross wrote: “While political activity is not a bar to appointment, it cannot be a reason for an appointment. The public appointments process must be transparent and based on merit.”
In another letter responding to Rayner and Labour MP Annelise Dodds, Shawcross wrote: “The code states that ministers can suggest candidates at the outset of an appointment process. Ministers may also provide their views to the advisory assessment panel on candidates at all stages of a competition.
“Significant political activity - including donations to political parties - should be declared by candidates. All candidates must then go through a fair and open process and the names of all those found to be appointable against the published criteria for the role, go forward to ministers to make a choice. Significant political activity must be published upon appointment.”
A spokesperson from NLCF said: “The investigation is regarding a government appointment process and as such is not an issue on which we can comment.”
A government spokesperson said: “This appointment was made in line with the process and principles set out in the Governance Code on Public Appointments.”
They added: “The most recent figures from the Commissioner for Public Appointments show that just 2% of all appointments and reappointments in the last year declared significant political activity relating to the Conservative Party. This is just 32 out of 1,538 appointments.”