Government should consider giving control over the appointment of the chair of the Charity Commission to parliament, making the chair’s term non-renewable and fixed or making changes to the pre-appointment hearing process, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has recommended.
The NCVO today published a discussion paper arising from its review of the commission’s governance arrangements, which was launched in October.
The paper begins: "Perceived independence – being seen to be independent – is just as important as actual independence. It is not necessary to accept that the accusations of political bias levelled against both current and previous commission boards have any merit in order to see that they can be damaging."
The review considers possible alternative legal structures for the commission, which is a non-ministerial department, but rejects these alternatives in view of their various side effects. "None of them would be entirely appropriate for the Charity Commission, and there isn’t a strong enough case to warrant such considerable constitutional change," the paper says.
The paper sets out six proposals specifically aimed at the process of appointing the regulator’s chair, which is currently a ministerial appointment by the Cabinet Office, subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee.
These include giving the House of Commons formal control of the appointment, along the same lines as senior figures at the National Audit Office, and making the chair a non-renewable, fixed five-year term. Other suggestions include requiring the MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee to come to a unanimous decision about that candidate before the appointment is approved, or handing this pre-appointment hearing duty to a new cross-parliamentary committee chaired by a crossbench peer.
In 2012, three of the seven MPs on the PASC that voted on the appointment of William Shawcross, the commission’s current chair, were against him being selected because they said he could not be considered politically impartial.
A spokeswoman for the NCVO said it would now seek feedback from the sector and then look to begin discussions with both the commission and the Cabinet Office in the autumn.
The NCVO launched its review saying it wanted to ensure the regulator could "never again be accused of political bias".
The day after the NCVO announced its governance review, the charity leaders group Acevo announced that it had recently set up a commission on the sector’s regulation by the commission and other regulators, provisionally named the Commission on Regulating a 21st Century Social Sector.
The commission’s report will be published in the first half of June, according to a spokesman for Acevo.
The Charity Commission declined to comment on the NCVO’s report and a spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said the department was unable to comment until after a new government had been formed.