Editorial: Politics and life after Leather

The job description for the next chair of the Charity Commission suggests the role is being downgraded, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

When the advertisement was published recently for candidates to replace Dame Suzi Leather as chair of the Charity Commission, the first thing to emerge was that the rate of pay was lower and the job would be two days rather than three. The pay cut was par for the course in public sector appointments nowadays, and Leather says the commission is "content" about the lost day.

It now comes to light that there are significant differences between her job description and that of her successor. She told the Public Administration Select Committee last week that the new description no longer included leading the board in directing the commission's strategic policy and plans, ensuring it realises its contribution to legislative reform or advising the Cabinet Office on the appointment of board members. This looks like a downgrading of the job, and appears not to square completely with the description of it by Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, who told Third Sector recently that it was "a demanding brief in which leadership is important".

The 'person specification' in the advert also includes a stipulation that was not there before - that the appointee should ensure the commission regulates independently and impartially. The commission is already required and committed to do that, and Leather says that in her experience that is what it has always done. Her critics, of course, have accused her of political bias because of her Labour Party membership. The question now is whether the criticism has been taken at face value and the changes made to guard against anything similar in future - even though Conservative ministers will make the new appointment.

Either way, politics again overshadow the commission's considerable achievements under Leather's watch. She says neither she nor her critics would have behaved differently if she had resigned her party membership, and that public office and mainstream political party membership should not be incompatible. That's right in principle, but unfortunately, in the particular circumstances of her case, the principle came under extreme pressure.

- Read our interview with Dame Suzi Leather

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