'Why did you ignore our views on Stowell?' committee chair asks minister

Damian Collins MP, who chairs the DCMS select committee, has written to culture secretary Matt Hancock, asking him to address the committee's concerns about the likely new chair of the Charity Commission

Damian Collins (Photograph: Shutterstock)
Damian Collins (Photograph: Shutterstock)

Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, has written to the culture secretary to say it is disappointed the government chose to reject its advice on the suitability of Baroness Stowell as chair of the Charity Commission and called for more information on the appointment process.

The cross-party committee of MPs this week took the rare step of unanimously rejecting the Conservative peer Stowell, the government’s preferred candidate to succeed William Shawcross, only for Matt Hancock, the culture secretary, to say he would appoint her anyway.

Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, says in a letter to Hancock on behalf of the committee that it is disappointed the doubts it raised about Stowell’s candidature were dismissed so swiftly.

The committee raised concerns about the recruitment process, Stowell’s lack of relevant experience for the role, her perceived lack of political neutrality and her performance in front of the committee at a hearing in parliament on Tuesday morning.

The letter says Hancock’s response to the committee’s recommendation that Stowell should not be appointed did not address all the concerns raised. It adds: "We would ask that you provide a fuller response that addresses each of our points in writing to the committee."

The letter gives Hancock until noon on Monday to provide answers to questions including whether his department recommended to 10 Downing Street the appointment of any other candidate for the role before Stowell.

Candidates were interviewed for the role in November, but the DCMS committee was told to cancel an earlier pre-appointment hearing with the preferred candidate in December because the government had not decided who to appoint.

The letter asks Hancock to confirm whether any candidates with regulatory and/or charity sector experience were interviewed and, if so, why the preferred candidate was chosen ahead of them.

It also asks him to confirm that the role of the interview panel was to assess which candidates were appointable and not to indicate which one should be appointed.

Julia Unwin, a member of the government-appointed selection panel for the role, said on Twitter yesterday that the panel unanimously decided to recommend Stowell for the position because she was the "outstanding candidate on the day".  

Unwin rejected a claim by Andrew Hind, a former chief executive of the Charity Commission, that the panel had preferred another candidate to Stowell with more regulatory and charity leadership experience.

The committee will issue a full report on its reservations about Stowell’s suitability for the role after receiving Hancock’s response, the letter says.

Stowell is expected to be confirmed in post on Monday. Shawcross’s five-year term will finish tomorrow, 23 February.

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