The culture secretary has told MPs that “from where I’m sitting” there was no preferred candidate for Charity Commission chair.
Nadine Dorries, the MP for Mid Bedfordshire, made the remark during her first appearance in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the House of Commons earlier today.
As the Office for Civil Society is part of the DCMS, Dorries has responsibility for “signing off” on the next chair of the commission.
She pledged to “hit ground running” when appointed to head the department in September but when asked by MPs today when the new chair would be announced she said: “It will be very soon.
“I don't have a preferred candidate but the process will be able to give us an answer as to who will be the new chair of the Charity Commission soon.
“But again it's an ongoing process and I’m afraid one I can't discuss.”
Dorries was asked if the candidate had withdrawn because it was previously indicated that the process had been completed in October.
“There is no preferred candidate from where I'm sitting and from my perspective and my office, but what I will say is it's an ongoing process,” she said.
Dorries then appeared to take a swipe at the media after being pressed on the issue as the announcement was “reported quite wildly”.
“With the greatest of respect I can't correct every misreporting that comes out about the department, there is certainly no preferred candidate from my perspective,” added Dorries.
Her position appeared to contradict that of charities minister Nigel Huddleston, after he responded to a written question last month from Rachael Maskell, the shadow charities minister.
Maskell asked why there had been a delay in the government appointing a new chair of the commission.
In response, Huddleston said: “Interviews for this role were rescheduled but have now taken place, and the preferred candidate will be announced in due course.
“They will be expected to attend a pre-appointment hearing in front of the DCMS Select Committee.
“Further updates on the progress of the campaign will be made public in due course.”
Dorries was also asked if she agreed with her predecessor’s suggestion that the appointment should “refocus” the commission’s remit.
This was dismissed by one sector body as “hollow, culture war nonsense”.
Dorries said she could not think of any “particular instructions” that would result in an attack on the “woke agenda”.
She said the process was being done in line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments.
Dorries said she was not part of the process but it was her job to “sign them off” after being asked to confirm she would not seek to influence any appointments or check the political credentials of a candidate.
Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS Select Committee, asked Sarah Healey, the department’s permanent secretary, to clarify why the committee had been asked to “hold a date” by officials for the 9 December in light of Dorries remarks.
Healey said the process was ongoing but it had given the committee a date the department expected to meet.
Speaking in parliament last week, Maskell called for the application process for the next commission chair to be restarted with “all political interests” removed.