Sir Gus O'Donnell 'consulted over recruitment of new director general at Office of Third Sector'

Cabinet secretary advised against long-term appointment so close to a general election, says senior political source

The decision to make a short-term appointment to the job of director general of the Office of the Third Sector was taken on the advice of Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary and head of the home civil service, according to a senior political source.

O'Donnell's view was that it would be unwise to make a longer-term appointment so close to a general election, the source said, given that the person recruited might have to work with ministers from a party other than the one in power at the time of the appointment.

It was announced last week that career civil servant Rolande Anderson had been appointed to the job on a 12-month loan from the Office for National Statistics.

The post was not advertised and she was the only interviewee, according to a spokesman for the OTS last week. Anderson has not worked in the voluntary sector, although one colleague said that she was "driven by a strong social purpose and a strong voluntary ethic".

As head of the home civil service, O'Donnell advises when necessary on the appointment of senior civil servants. The source said he was consulted about the situation after Campbell Robb, who leaves the job this month to become chief executive of Shelter, handed in his notice.

Before his appointment three years ago, Robb had worked at sector umbrella body the NCVO for eight years, first as head of campaigns and then as director of public policy.

Another factor in the decision to make a short-term appointment might have been concern that uncertainty about the future of the OTS would deter suitable candidates. Although both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to keeping it, some sector observers think it could be moved from the Cabinet Office to another department, such as Communities and Local Government.

Asked about the involvement of O'Donnell, an OTS spokesman said: "We do not comment on individual appointments."

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