Shadow charities minister urges fresh scrutiny of Stowell appointment

Steve Reed has called on the Commissioner for Public Appointments to look into the government's insistence on giving the chair of the Charity Commission to Baroness Stowell

Steve Reed
Steve Reed

Steve Reed, the shadow minister for civil society, has called on the Commissioner for Public Appointments to scrutinise the appointment of Baroness Stowell as the next chair of the Charity Commission.

Matt Hancock, the culture secretary, said today that the government would appoint Stowell to the position even though a cross-party committee of MPs had concluded unanimously that she should not be given the role, citing concerns about her political neutrality and lack of charity sector experience.

Reed has written to Peter Riddell, who is responsible for ensuring that ministerial appointments are correctly made, to express serious concern about the process and to ask him to conduct an inquiry.

Reed’s letter asks Riddell if he is confident that the public appointments principles were correctly followed in relation to Stowell’s appointment and whether he was consulted before her announcement as the government’s preferred candidate, as per the Governance Code for Public Appointments.

"The appointment of a regulator’s chair without the backing of parliament is incredibly damaging to public trust in the sector," writes Reed. "It is vital that this appointment is carefully scrutinised so that the public have full confidence in the Charity Commission."

Sector criticises decision to appoint Stowell

Most charity sector umbrella bodies also strongly criticised the appointment of Stowell.

The charity chief executives body Acevo, the local infrastructure body Navca, the NGO membership body Bond, the Charity Finance Group and the training and publishing charity the Directory of Social Change said they planned to write to Hancock today to call for a meeting with him to express their concerns about the appointment.

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the DSC, said on Twitter that the decision "jeopardises every future directive, inquiry, guidance, advice and direction" issued by the Charity Commission.

"Its integrity, independence, authority and credibility will be viewed with suspicion by the sector, by the media, by parliament and ultimately by the public," she said.

Andrew Purkis, a former Charity Commission board member, said on Twitter that Stowell’s appointment would be "an outrageous decision, very damaging to the Charity Commission and to the sector".

He said: "Sadly, Stowell's credibility would be holed below waterline even before started."

Andrew Hind, a former chief executive of the Charity Commission who wrote to the DCMS select committee before its hearing with Stowell to express his concerns over her possible appointment, said on Twitter that Stowell was an honourable person and it was "inconceivable that she can still think it’s in the Charity Commission’s best interests for her to continue with her candidacy".

Andrew O’Brien, director of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said the decision to appoint Stowell would affect public confidence in the commission.

"The Charity Commission is supposed to be accountable to parliament, not to ministers," he said. "The parliamentary committee responsible for overseeing the commission has rejected the choice of chair. How can the commission be considered accountable to parliament if the wishes of parliament are ignored?

"This raises significant concerns about the independence of the commission, which our research indicates is critical to public confidence in it."

But Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said he was looking forward to working with Stowell.

"I think she will bring fresh ideas to the role, and her emphasis on the importance of working in partnership with the sector at her pre-appointment hearing yesterday was welcome," he said.

"While I believe that on this occasion we have ended up with a good appointee, there are evidently still significant problems with the appointment process for this role. We have previously raised this matter and continue to believe improvements should be made.

"The commission and the sector have a number of tough challenges ahead and we should all now be thinking about how we work together to tackle them."

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