The new faces on the Charity Commission's board

Andy Ricketts looks at the backgrounds of the three board members whose appointment has caused concern in the sector

Catherine Quinn and Laurie Benson
Catherine Quinn and Laurie Benson

When the government announced the names of the three new board members at the Charity Commission at the end of November, it's fair to say that most people in the sector will have been unfamiliar with them. The charity leaders group Acevo even went so far as to say that their appointments left the regulator with no one on the board who had "a deep, cross-cutting experience of charity governance and regulation experienced by those on the front line".

The commission board members were selected by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and are Laurie Benson, chief executive of the media consultancy firm Upnexxt, Paul Martin, a security adviser, and Catherine Quinn, chief operating officer and associate dean at Oxford University's Said Business School.

The government's original advertisement said it wanted someone with knowledge of or experience in law enforcement or national security, a criterion met by Martin, and someone with a detailed knowledge of charities, "including an understanding of the charity sector's role in building a bigger, stronger society", a role filled by Quinn.

The government also wanted an additional board member with digital expertise and an "understanding of major IT-enabled change", for which Benson has been employed.

All three have been appointed for three years and will be paid £350 a day for approximately 18 days a year. None was available for interview.

Sector history

Of the three, Quinn's name is the most likely to be known by people in the sector: she was head of grants management at the Wellcome Trust between 2007 and 2011. She is a trustee of the Royal British Legion and a non-executive director of the National Memorial Arboretum, the UK's centre of remembrance, which is near Alrewas in Staffordshire.

Quinn, 58, has been at the Said Business School since 2013 and spent two years as chief executive of the legal institution Middle Temple after leaving the Wellcome Trust. Before that, she spent seven years as director of research at the University of Oxford, during which she completed an MBA at Said.

Benson, 56, from the US, has previously worked in the publishing industry, holding senior management roles at Time magazine and Bloomberg before establishing Upnexxt in 2013. According to her LinkedIn page, she has been a trustee of the Royal Air Force Museum since May and is a non-executive director of the clinical decision support firm the Medical Algorithms Company. She has a track record of working in the digital space, having been a member of the launch teams in the 1990s for the TV and digital content company Oxygen Media and the US-based Home and Garden Television.

Background in security

Martin, who is a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies and a distinguished research fellow at Imperial College London, was director of security for parliament between 2013 and 2016. His LinkedIn page says he worked for the UK government for 27 years as a "national security practitioner" in a variety of senior roles, including at the London 2012 Olympics, before taking up the role in parliament.

He is named on several media websites as having worked at MI5 during that time and The Guardian reported in 2000 that he had been appointed as director of communications at the Cabinet Office, having spent four years as head of public affairs at the security service.

Few details about Martin can be found online - perhaps not surprising given the sensitive nature of his work - but he is believed to be in his late 50s and was appointed CBE for services to defence at the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2013.

Before working for the government, Martin was an academic in the field of behavioural science at Cambridge and Stanford universities.

A spokesman for the commission said none of the trio had any declared political activity and none of them knew each other or any other board member before their appointment.

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