A group of charity leaders and a former chief executive of the Charity Commission have called on the government not to politicise the appointment of the regulator’s next chair.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is in the process of selecting a chair for the Charity Commission, with new culture secretary Nadine Dorries having the final say on the appointment.
Her predecessor Oliver Dowden, at the time still culture secretary, last month wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper in which he said the government wanted to “rebalance” charities away from what he called “a worrying trend in some charities that appear to have been hijacked by a vocal minority seeking to burnish their woke credentials”.
He went on to say that the new Charity Commission chair would be chosen on their ability to “rebalance” charities away from that agenda.
The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit organisation that uses the law to protect the interests of the public, has already written to Dorries calling for her to distance herself from Dowden’s comments, issue fresh instructions to the interview panel and promise to make an appointment on “proper criteria”.
It also wants Dorries to pause the selection and appointment process and “take appropriate steps to ensure that the selection and appointment is conducted on the basis of merit… and without the attempt to exert illegitimate control on the exercise of the new chair’s functions”.
The organisation said it would sue if Dorries did not comply.
It said the approach outlined by Dowden not only breached the Governance Code on Public Appointments but was unlawful under the Charities Act 2011, which says the regulator should not be “subject to the direction or control of any Minister of the Crown or of another government department”.
An online petition started by the Good Law Project has been backed by a group of charity leaders and Andrew Hind, who was chief executive of the Charity Commission between 2004 and 2010.
The petition, which has been signed by more than 3,500 people, urges Dorries to “ensure the appointment process for a new chair of the Charity Commission is not politicised”.
It says: “Charities exist for the important purpose of serving the public good, a fixed test set out in statute, which differs from the political agenda of the government of the day. Reflecting this reality, legislation is explicit that it should not be influenced by the secretary of state.
“We believe Mr Dowden’s comments showed his ambition to direct and control the work of the Charity Commission to achieve political ends.”
Other signatories include Polly Neate, chief executive of the homelessness charity Shelter; John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace; Stephanie Draper, chief executive of the NGO umbrella body Bond; Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change; Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation; and Janet Thorne, chief executive of Reach Volunteering.