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Dame Suzi Leather questions changes in her successor's job description

By Tim Tonkin, Third Sector Online, 4 July 2012

Dame Suzi Leather

Dame Suzi Leather

The chair of the Charity Commission, due to leave at the end of this month, tells MPs it is already committed to acting independently and impartially

The outgoing chair of the Charity Commission, Dame Suzi Leather, has questioned the need for a new clause in the job description of her successor saying the person concerned must ensure the commission regulates independently and impartially.

At a hearing of the Public Administration Select Committee yesterday, she drew MPs' attention to the new clause, which says the appointee would be responsible for "regulating independently and impartially, ensuring that the regulatory requirements are proportionate to the risks".

Leather said she endorsed the emphasis on independent and impartial regulation, but felt that it was already "well expressed" in the commission’s risk framework. Asked by the committee chair, Bernard Jenkin MP, if she would have acted differently if the new clause had been in her job description, she said she would not.

Leather, a Labour Party member, was asked by MPs about accusations from some quarters that there had been political bias in the commission’s guidance about how fee-charging charities, including independent schools, should demonstrate that they provide public benefit. She said this was a slur on the independence of the commission.

She also told the committee that the person specification for her successor made no reference to a knowledge or experience of the public sector, but instead called for "an established reputation, experience or knowledge from one or more of the private, charity or not-for-profit sectors".

She said she felt it was vital that whoever succeeded her as chair of the commission had a real understanding of and commitment to the voluntary or charity sectors. "I would say that if you had experience only of the private sector, you might have rather little understanding of the charitable sector," she said.

"One of the things you might want to test was a real understanding and perhaps commitment to the values of the charity sector and particularly this notion that actually most of the charity sector is not the big household names, it’s the very small local organisations.

"I think there is a real danger that, because of changes that are happening in commissioning, we have a society of the big rather than a big society."

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