Former commission chair criticises government delays in appointing a successor

William Shawcross, who chaired the regulator between 2012 and 2018, has since become the Commissioner for Public Appointments

William Shawcross
William Shawcross

A former chair of the Charity Commission has criticised the government for lacking urgency in appointing one of his successors.

William Shawcross, who was chair of the regulator between October 2012 and January 2018 but is now the Commissioner for Public Appointments, made the comments in his report into the failed appointment of Martin Thomas as chair of the Charity Commission.

Thomas withdrew from the post before he even took it up last year after it emerged he had been the subject of complaints when he was chair of the charity Women for Women International.

Shawcross’ report concluded that although the appointment process run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was “not perfect”, it was fair and did not breach the government’s Governance Code on Public Appointments.

But the report also urged ministers and officials to speed up the appointments procedure, saying it was unclear why this particular appointment had suffered such “long delays”.

The commission has not had a permanent chair for more than a year and Baroness Stowell announced her intention to leave the role in October 2020.

The DCMS did not name Thomas as its choice to succeed her until December 2021, and the process then stalled again when he swiftly resigned.

The report said: “Sometimes delays cannot be avoided, and the commissioner understands extra time may be required where, for example, there is a change of minister part way through a competition as happened in this case.

“However, in this competition there were delays that are much less understandable.

“The commissioner urges DCMS and all departments to plan their competitions well in advance, and ministers to treat decisions in these cases not only with importance but with urgency.”

In relation to Thomas’ decision to withdraw from the job, the report said: “Following this incident, the commissioner suggests that appointing departments should reconsider how to best manage the pre-employment checks which can be lengthy.

“Departments should consider when it is most appropriate to announce their preferred candidates, and should discuss with select committees how they are managing these checks in relation to the committee’s pre-appointment scrutiny.”

In a letter to the committee, Thomas said that he had “never intentionally bullied anyone” but apologised for “an error of judgement on a technical omission” in failing to disclose the issue.

Shawcross, also a former chair of the commission, was himself criticised after appearing to absolve the government of blame over the affair while addressing the DCMS Select Committee in January, even though he had not read the paperwork on the case at that stage.

Shawcross subsequently insisted that he was referring to DCMS’ overall performance in public appointments and rejected calls that he had prejudged the inquiry.

The DCMS has since named the barrister Orlando Fraser, a former Charity Commission board member and Conservative Party parliamentary candidate, as its latest preferred candidate for the position.

Fraser will appear before the DCMS select committee in the near future, to answer questions from MPs before his likely confirmation in the role.

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