Government warned about appointing a Charity Commission chair that does not have backing of MPs

The government should “carefully consider the implications” of appointing a candidate for next chair of the Charity Commission who does not have the backing of parliament, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has warned. 

MPs on the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today rejected Orlando Fraser as the government’s preferred candidate for the role. 

The committee said that although it recognised Fraser’s potential to do the job and had no concerns about him as an individual, MPs were disappointed that he represented “yet another archetypal and unimaginative choice” from a limited shortlist. 

It is unusual for select committees to reject candidates but the government can decide to appoint the person anyway, as in 2018 when the DCMS committee unanimously disagreed with the choice of Baroness Stowell as chair of the Charity Commission. 

Alex Farrow, head of networks and influencing at the NCVO, said: “We have argued for a long time that parliament needs to be central to the process of appointing the chair of the Charity Commission.

“The government should carefully consider the implications of continuing to appoint a candidate who does not have the backing of parliament.”

Farrow said the NCVO agreed that Fraser had the necessary experience and understanding of the sector to do the job but said it was a mistake not to rerun the appointment process after Martin Thomas pulled out last year. 

“This would have provided confidence in the process and enabled a more diverse and representative shortlist to have been developed,” said Farrow. 

Leah Davis, head of policy and external affairs at the think tank NPC, said: “We need a chair of the Charity Commission who can support and drive the sector to be even more impactful for the communities and people that they serve, especially as we face an impending cost of living crisis. 

“If the charity sector and public share the committee’s lack of confidence in the process, it will undermine any chair’s ability to lead the regulator at a time when charities will be especially needed by the most disadvantaged people across the country.”

Fraser told MPs at the pre-appointment hearing that if he was rejected he would read the reasons, consult Nadine Dorries, who as culture secretary is responsible for the appointment, "and if I felt that it made it impossible for me to do the job, I would withdraw". 

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said: “As recently noted by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the appointment process for Charity Commission chair was run in line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. 

"The DCMS Select Committee rightly recognises Orlando Fraser's suitability for the role and we will now consider its report in full and respond in due course."

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