Disability charity criticised for appointing chief executive who praised Ukip

Katie Ghose was named chief of Kids in September, but a service user has written to the charity urging it to reconsider the appointment

Katie Ghose (Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Katie Ghose (Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

A leading disability charity for children has defended appointing a chief executive who previously made supportive comments about the UK Independence Party.

Former barrister Katie Ghose became chief executive of Kids, which employs about 250 staff, in September.

But Rodney Francisco, whose autistic nine-year-old daughter attends the Lady Allen Adventure Playground, for which Kids provides services on behalf of Wandsworth Borough Council in south London, has written to Stephen Unwin, the chair of the charity, urging it to reconsider Ghose's appointment.

The charity said she was not a Ukip supporter and was strongly opposed to racism, intolerance and extremism of all kinds.

Ghose stepped down as chief executive of Women's Aid in February after footage emerged of her giving a speech in which she praised Ukip's "passion for a new way of doing politics" and referred to Douglas Carswell, then a Ukip MP, as "an outstanding MP".

Women's Aid did not say why Ghose, who was chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society when she made the comments, departed.

But her views sparked criticism from black, Asian and minority ethnic women’s groups and by a former Women’s Aid trustee.

Francisco told Third Sector he represented 23 parents of service users from diverse backgrounds and it was incompatible for them to work with a charity led by a chief executive who had shown support for a right-wing party.

Ghose, he said, should resign and the charity should address questions about whether the appointment process considered her comments about Ukip.

In his correspondence with Unwin, seen by Third Sector, Francisco said it "beggared belief" that the charity had appointed someone with such "overt and enthusiastic support" for Ukip.

"Who was responsible for the lack of due diligence in assessment of her suitability in the appointment of this position, especially in light of the circumstances that led to her departure from Women's Aid?" he asked.

Unwin's reply described Ghose as "an experienced charity leader, and we’re delighted to have her as our new chief executive".

He said: "We worked with a first-class executive search agency, interviews were thorough and wide-ranging, including meetings with staff and beneficiaries, as well as with an appointments committee from the board and an external adviser.

"We are entirely satisfied with the process and outcome of the recruitment process and won’t be undertaking any further discussions on this matter."

Francisco told Third Sector: "If Mr Unwin is insistent on maintaining that due diligence is not a matter for discussion, then Katie Ghose should be asked to resign because it leaves the reasonable assumption that these aspects of her suitability were not discussed prior to her appointment."

Kids, which provides a range of support services to disabled children, had an income of £10.1m in its latest accounts, for the year ending 7 November 2019.

A statement from Unwin said Ghose was an outstanding chief executive who was passionately opposed to racism, intolerance and extremism of all kinds.

She has never been a member of Ukip or a supporter of its aims, he said.

"During 27 years in the non-profit sector, but especially at the Electoral Reform Society, Katie Ghose has worked to influence members from all political parties, including attending their party meetings and conferences," said Unwin.

"Following an exhaustive recruitment process, which included a panel discussion with young service users, we were delighted to appoint her and know that she will bring her great personal strengths and professional capacity to Kids," he said.

"It is very disappointing that one parent has chosen to make uninformed comments about Katie’s appointment, but this shouldn’t detract from the warm welcome she has received across the charity from staff, supporters and disabled children, young people and their families."

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