Umbrella bodies call for recruitment process for Charity Commission chair to be restarted

Charity umbrella bodies have called for the appointment process for a new Charity Commission chair to be restarted after the shock resignation of Martin Thomas.

Thomas quit on Friday just a week after being confirmed in post after claims of misconduct emerged when he was chair of the charity Women for Women International.

The Good Law Project said Thomas had been the subject of three formal complaints at Women for Women International, which supports female survivors of war.

Although two had been rejected and the third only partly upheld, the charity had decided to ask Thomas to step down, but he resigned before it was able to do so.

The charity had made a serious incident report to the Charity Commission over the matter.

Responding to Thomas’ resignation, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations said it was shocked to hear the news and said it was right that he should withdraw from the role, which he was due to take up on 27 December.

“We are surprised that such behaviour, including that disclosed to the Charity Commission, did not prevent him from applying for the role,” the NCVO said.

“That this did not come to light through the recruitment process raises serious questions about the due diligence undertaken, particularly in light of a serious incident report having been submitted to the commission.”

The membership body said the reports “risk undermining the important work of the commission and its role in regulating charities across the country”.

It said the “entire recruitment process should now be re-run”.

The NCVO said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport should not simply go back to the shortlist drawn up by the advisory board that assessed the applications.

All seven of the shortlisted candidates, including Thomas, were deemed to have been appointable by the advisory board, according to the House of Commons select committee that conducted a pre-appointment hearing with Thomas.

“The DCMS select committee rightly noted the lack of diversity in applications,” said the NCVO. “This requires proactive work to encourage and support applications from a wider pool of people.”

The charity leaders body Acevo said it was “extremely concerned to hear about the allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour made against Martin Thomas”.

It said: “While it is appropriate that he has now withdrawn from the role, we are concerned that there seems to have been a lack of due diligence in the process.

“We are surprised that his appointment was allowed to proceed despite a serious incident report being submitted to the Charity Commission.

“Along with the wider charity sector, we have called for more transparency and accountability on appointments.

“The priority now must be for the appointment process to be restarted and conducted in a way that is transparent.”

The Good Law Project has already launched legal proceedings against the government because it said there had been ministerial interference in the Charity Commission appointment.

The group is seeking a court order telling the ministers to re-run the process “without political direction from government” after comments made in a newspaper column by the former culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

Dowden cited “a worrying trend in some charities that appear to have been hijacked by a vocal minority seeking to burnish their woke credentials”, and that charities were “hunting for divisions in a way that serves neither their benefactors nor the country”.

He said: “The public’s trust depends on charities remaining true to their founding missions. The recruitment of a new chair of the Charity Commission provides an opportunity for this refocus and resetting of the balance.”

The Governance Code on Public Appointments, which the government uses to recruit to positions including the Charity Commission chair, does not set out what should happen if a leading candidate immediately withdraws from the recruitment process.

A DCMS spokesperson declined to comment further to the statement the department put out on Friday, which said the government would “take steps to appoint a new Charity Commission chair and will provide an update in due course”.

The position has been occupied on an interim basis by existing commission board member Ian Karet since Baroness Stowell stepped down in February.

She had signalled her intention to leave the role in October 2020.

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