Shadow minister queries delay in appointing permanent Charity Commission chair

It is a year since Baroness Stowell announced her intention to step down from the position

Rachael Maskell MP
Rachael Maskell MP

Rachael Maskell, the shadow charities minister, has questioned why there has been a delay in the government appointing a new permanent chair of the Charity Commission.

The Labour and Co-operative MP for York Central asked culture secretary Nadine Dorries about the delay in a written parliamentary question at the end of last week.

Baroness Stowell, the previous chair of the Charity Commission, said in October last year that she would not seek a second three-year term and left the role in February.

Ian Karet was named interim chair until the end of August, but that arrangement was extended until the end of the year.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was supposed to provide a response to Maskell's question by yesterday, according to the parliamentary website, but she is still waiting for an answer.

A DCMS spokesperson said it would respond to the question “in due course”.

On Monday, Maskell followed up her query with two additional written questions to the DCMS about the timescale for appointing a new chair and what steps the department was taking to ensure the chair’s independence.

Nigel Huddleston, the sport and tourism minister, who had the charities brief added to his responsibilities earlier this month, said in response to both questions: “The process of appointing a new chair is being run in line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments.

“One of the essential criteria in the person specification for the role, which will be tested in interviews, is a commitment to the charity sector’s effective, independent, proportionate and impartial regulation.”

He said candidates would also be required to attend a pre-appointment hearing in front of the DCMS Select Committee.

Stowell was unanimously rejected as the government’s preferred candidate by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2018 because of concerns including a perceived lack of charity sector experience and fears about her political neutrality.

But Matt Hancock, the culture secretary at the time, appointed her anyway, saying she was "not only the best candidate for the job, but also the right candidate”.

In September, the commissioner for public appointments complained to the government about the length of time it was taking to fill top roles, including the chair of the Charity Commission.

Earlier this month, a group of charity leaders and a former chief executive of the Charity Commission urged the government not to politicise the appointment of the regulator’s next chair.

The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit organisation that uses the law to protect the interests of the public, wrote to Dorries in September calling for her to pause the selection and appointment process and “take appropriate steps to ensure that the selection and appointment is conducted on the basis of merit… and without the attempt to exert illegitimate control on the exercise of the new chair’s functions”.

The organisation said it would sue if Dorries did not comply.

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