Profile: Paula Sussex

The new Charity Commission chief is known to have a sharp mind and a sense of humour, but is something of an unknown quantity in the sector, writes Sam Burne James

Sussex has spent several years working on the fringes of government at Atos and CGI
Sussex has spent several years working on the fringes of government at Atos and CGI

The Charity Commission's announcement of Paula Sussex as its new chief executive will have drawn blank looks in many charities. Sussex, who starts work in her new post on 30 June, when she leaves a senior position with the consulting and outsourcing firm CGI UK, has little experience in the sector. This is in stark contrast to her predecessors: the incumbent Sam Younger and, before him, Andrew Hind, the commission's first-ever chief executive, had both been round the charity sector block a couple of times and had both worked for the BBC. Younger's prior role as the founding chair of the Electoral Commission, another regulator with a budget similar in size to that of the Charity Commission, would also have stood him in good stead with his interview panel.

Sussex's dearth of charity experience has already been questioned - although her two previous employers were both private sector firms that worked extensively with the public sector.

She joined the IT consultancy Logica in 2012, prior to its acquisition by Canadian group CGI, and is currently charged with winning and delivering contracts from public sector clients including the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department of Health. Among her clients in the eight years she spent earlier at outsourcing firm Atos was the Ministry of Justice.

The nature of firms such as CGI, with no consumer brand and minimal public profile, means that information about who Sussex is and what she does, and specific clues as to why she was hired, are relatively scarce. The Charity Commission's press team says it will not put Sussex forward for interview until she starts. Third Sector made the same request to CGI, but it was forwarded to the commission. A LinkedIn message sent to Sussex herself went unanswered.

We know that Sussex served six years as a trustee of the homelessness charity Crisis, resigning in 2010. In a short statement, Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy said that Sussex "remains one of our loyal supporters" and expressed her pleasure at the commission appointing "someone who understands the importance of campaigning in the charity sector" - a nod, perhaps, to the thorny new challenge for charities of living with the lobbying act.

We also know that, before working for Atos, Sussex had four years with KPMG Consulting, two with the power generating and distribution firm Energy Group and seven working between the UK and Hong Kong for Coopers & Lybrand, which later became PwC. The commission noted when announcing her appointment that Sussex is qualified as a barrister, but omitted to mention that she has never practised.

Perhaps the biggest available insight on Sussex is a YouTube video of her speaking at a Chartered Management Institute conference in 2012. It reveals a sharp intellect and a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour; she refers to public sector outsourcing as a "dreadful world" going through "a shit time, if you'll pardon the French".

She has also crossed swords with Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and public spending enforcer, who also happens to speak for the commission in parliament. In the video she describes him wryly as "demanding money with menaces". It remains to be seen how well the weapons Sussex has accumulated operating on the fringes of government will transfer to her new role.

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