Analysis: An interim chair for the Charity Commission - but for how long?

Board member John Wood takes up the role after the departure of Dame Suzi Leather. Stephen Cook and Tim Tonkin look at what this means for the charity regulator

John Wood
John Wood

The announcement last week that John Wood has been appointed as interim chair of the Charity Commission after Dame Suzi Leather's departure confirmed what many in the sector had anticipated - that the Cabinet Office had not succeeded in finding a new chair in time to avoid an interregnum.

Although it has been predictable since the coalition government came to power in 2010 that Leather (pictured below) was not going to continue in the post beyond the end of July, the advertisement for her replacement was not published until two months ago, with a closing date of 29 June and interviews scheduled for July.

The Cabinet Office was unable to say last week whether the interviews had taken place on time: if they did, the announcement of a successor should come shortly. But the new chair may well have to give three months' notice to an existing employer, which makes a start before November unlikely.

The commission last week played down the significance of the interregnum, emphasising that it was for a short period only. Indeed, it remains possible that there will be a replacement in post within weeks rather than months.

But unexpected delays and difficulties in public appointments are not unusual nowadays. The Judicial Appointments Commission was without a chair for six months, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission had an interim chair for two years.

Dame Suzi LeatherPay rates are also considerably less than they used to be - the new chair will get £481 a day rather than Leather's £519 - and ministers increasingly scrutinise candidates put forward by appointments panels for evidence of the private sector experience they regard as vital. Leather recently drew attention to this new emphasis in the job description of her successor issued by the Cabinet Office.

The tardy search for a new chair has disconcerted some experienced charity lawyers, who feel that the commission's recent restructuring and new strategy, combined with morale problems, mean that a quick appointment is imperative.

"They have known that Dame Suzi needed to be replaced for a long time and appear simply not to have dealt with it,"

said one. "It seems extraordinary that they should be in the position of having to make an interim appointment. It's better to avoid an interim because it involves someone who hasn't been through the full selection process."

Wood's appointment might offer some reassurance, however, because he has been a commission board member since 2008 and has taken part in restructuring the regulator and setting its new strategy. Nick Hurd, the civil society minister, has expressed confidence in him.

Until 2007, Wood was a partner and head of trusts and charities at the law firm Herbert Smith, where he is still a part-time consultant on trust matters. The legal directory Chambers describes him as "internationally respected", "technically able, personable and communicative" and an "invaluable sounding board".

He will work an average of two days a week, on top of the four to six days a month he currently serves as one of the two legally qualified board members. The commission says he will receive £350 a day, the same as other board members. Unlike Leather, Wood is not a member of a mainstream political party.

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