Appointments process for Charity Commission board members 'broken', says Acevo

The charity leaders body has criticised the government's handling of the appointment of three new members to the regulator's board

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The charity leaders group Acevo has described the Charity Commission's governance and board appointments process as "broken" and "opaque" after the announcement of three new commission board members yesterday.

The publishing and training charity the Directory of Social Change has also expressed concern about the lack of anyone with experience as a charity chief executive on the eight-member board.

But Acevo and the DSC were also among the charity sector groups to welcome new appointees Laurie Benson, Paul Martin and Catherine Quinn to their roles.

Asheem Singh, interim chief executive of Acevo, said he was still "concerned at the lack of transparency and the inadequate process" that had resulted in their appointments.

The commission board is appointed by the Office for Civil Society, not the regulator itself.

The new appointees, who took up their roles on 14 November, were originally due to be announced at the end of the summer, according to the recruitment notice published by the OCS in May.

Singh said: "Not only are these appointments two and a half months late, the process of appointment was opaque and undemocratic.

"Not a single board member has the deep and cross-cutting experience of charity governance and regulation experienced by those on the front line."

He said this would fuel "existing concerns" about the commission’s lack of gravitas and knowledge of the sector it regulates.

"It is no fault of the individuals in question that the Charity Commission’s governance and system of appointments is broken," he said. Singh urged the government to fix the problem if it wanted to reset its relationship with the voluntary sector.

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the DSC, said the new board members "seem like talented people" and welcomed the fact that Benson and Quinn had experience as trustees.

But she said: "It’s a pity that there is now no one on the commission board who has actually run a charity full-time, so we are concerned that the commission board lacks that perspective."

She said it was ironic that the commission’s guidelines for trustee boards called for charities to include beneficiary representation, but no charities would be represented on its own.

"This is an opportunity to move the board into a more strategic space," she said.

"The commission has made a series of regulatory mistakes recently because board members have not deferred to staff expertise and have been overly involved in operational matters. 

"What charity trustees urgently need is for the board to support them."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who in April called for an overhaul of the appointments process of Charity Commission board members, pointed in a statement yesterday to the new board members’ decades of experience at senior levels in complex organisations.

He said: "Our hope is that they will contribute to the commission’s operational improvement programme, while ensuring that it acts in an independent and politically neutral manner."

Rosamund McCarthy, a partner at the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, welcomed Quinn’s experience as trustee of the Royal British Legion.

"Having someone on the board who has experience of being a trustee at a large charity means they will understand the complexities, challenges and the unique nature of trusteeship, and how precious it is," she said.

"And they will understand how important it is to maintain trust and confidence but also to not scare people off."

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