MPs reject Baroness Stowell as next Charity Commission chair

Members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee have voted against the government's preferred candidate

Baroness Stowell
Baroness Stowell

The government’s preferred candidate for the role of chair of the Charity Commission has been rejected unanimously by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

Conservative peer Baroness Stowell attended a pre-appointment hearing in parliament on Tuesday, but the committee said it was "unanimous" in its view that Stowell should not be appointed.

It is the first time a DCMS committee has not supported a government candidate. However, the government could ignore its recommendation and still appoint Stowell to the role. 

The committee said in a letter to Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, that it could not support Stowell’s appointment because of her lack of charity sector experience, concerns about her political neutrality, a lack of transparency in the recruitment process and because she failed to stand up to scrutiny when questioned by the committee.

The letter said Stowell had "little more than six months of negligible charity sector experience and a complete lack of experience of working for a regulatory body". It said that Stowell was also unable to demonstrate "any real insight, knowledge or vision for the charities sector".

It added that her "political past is a source of concern for the committee and those within the charity sector".

The letter quoted the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which said in its written evidence to the committee that "perceived independence – being seen to be independent – is just as important as actual independence".

The committee said in the letter that the recruitment process had lacked transparency and it had warned the DCMS against drawing candidates "from a narrow group of establishment figures".

The letter said that Stowell had failed to demonstrate her interest in charities or her vision for the sector during the pre-appointment hearing. The committee said her answers were "often lacking in detail or relevance".

On Monday, Andrew Hind, a former chief executive of the Charity Commission, had questioned whether it was in the public interest for a Conservative peer to be appointed as the next chair of the regulator. Acevo, the Directory of Social Change, Bond, Navca and the Charity Finance Group also wrote a joint letter to the committee to express concerns about the recruitment process.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said in a statement that the body had specific concerns about Stowell’s perceived political neutrality and the transparency of the appointment process.

"These concerns were shared by many in the sector, including my counterparts at the DSC, Bond, Navca and the CFG, with whom I wrote to the committee to seek information and assurance," said Browning. "I am reassured that in reviewing the appointment of the preferred candidate for the Charity Commission chair the DCMS committee took into consideration our concerns."

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