MPs have rejected the government’s preferred candidate for next chair of the Charity Commission.
The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said that although it recognised Orlando 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.
The committee has today published its recommendations following a pre-appointment hearing with Fraser last week.
It is unusual for select committees to reject candidates but the government can still decide to appoint the person anyway, as in 2018 when the DCMS committee said Baroness Stowell should not be appointed chair of the Charity Commission.
Fraser was chosen as the government’s preferred candidate for the role after Martin Thomas pulled out before even taking up the role in December.
The committee said MPs said the process should have been re-run rather than returning to the shortlist Thomas was selected from, highlighting the fact that the shortlist of eight candidates for the role contained just one woman and one candidate from a BAME background.
“We have no grounds for concern about Mr Fraser as an individual,” the report says.
“However, we do have serious concerns about the process that led to Mr Fraser’s selection.
“Like a number of recent public appointments by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the process for appointing the new chair of the Charity Commission had been drawn out and subject to allegations of political interference.
“We are surprised that even after the resignation of Martin Thomas the department did not learn from its mistakes and re-run the application.”
The report says that Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, had expressed disappointment that the original process lacked diversity among shortlisted candidates.
“Despite these protestations, the resulting candidate, while likely competent, represents yet another archetypal and unimaginative choice from this limited shortlist,” the report says.
“We see this as demonstrative of the department’s lack of care, attention, and commitment to quality in this important public appointment.
“As a result, we recognise Mr Fraser’s potential to do the job but do not formally endorse his selection as chair of the Charity Commission.”
Fraser told MPs at the pre-appointment hearing that if he was rejected by the committee he would read the reasons, consult the secretary of state "and if I felt that it made it impossible for me to do the job, I would withdraw".
The report says the government should look again at the process of pre-appointments to “restore some of the trust and respect for process that seem to have been lost”.
Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS Select Committee and the Conservative MP for Solihull, said: “The fiasco of four months ago should have jolted the department into widening out its search for the very best person to oversee an organisation that is so vital in ensuring people can support charities with confidence.
“By failing to re-run the process and falling back on a shortlist which would seem to be so lacking in diversity, ministers have sadly squandered their second chance.
“While we recognise Mr Fraser’s potential to do the job, such a slapdash and unimaginative approach to his recruitment means we cannot formally endorse his appointment.
“This should act as a warning to the government. Unless it changes tack, trust in the process will continue to be damaged and we risk missing out on getting the most qualified people from all backgrounds for these very important jobs.”
During the pre-appointment hearing last week, John Nicolson, the SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, said the interview was pointless because everybody knew the government would give Fraser the job regardless of what conclusion the committee reached.
The committee concluded that Fraser, a barrister who served on the regulator’s board between 2013 and 2017, had qualifications and experience that could make him suitable for the role.
“During the hearing he responded reasonably well to our concerns about his ability to remain independent and demonstrated his respect for the charity sector,” the report says.