William Shawcross confirmed as next Charity Commission chair

The writer and broadcaster was backed by the Public Administration Select Committee by a majority vote of four to three

William Shawcross
William Shawcross

The writer and broadcaster William Shawcross has been confirmed as the next chair of the Charity Commission, the Cabinet Office has announced.

A statement from the department said that the Public Administration Select Committee was "satisfied that he has both the professional skills and independence necessary to fulfil this role successfully".

Shawcross had been selected by Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, as his preferred candidate for the role, and appeared before the PASC earlier this week to assess his suitability.

Committee members voted by a majority of four to three in favour of him being appointed, but the MPs that voted against his appointment expressed strong concerns over his political impartiality.

Greg Mulholland, a Liberal Democrat MP and member of the committee, said yesterday that Shawcross had in his writings "publicly espoused not only a clear party political preference, to the Conservative Party, but has also been quite disdainful of other political parties".

This would make it "difficult or impossible for him to command the necessary confidence of the many people in the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties who work with and for charities", said Mulholland.

In a statement, Maude said he was pleased to announce the appointment. "William has long been involved in the charity sector, particularly in human rights and international aid," he said.

"His writings have helped shape the debate on the accountability of humanitarian organisations. He brings strong leadership skills, broad knowledge and experience of the sector, and intellectual ability to the Charity Commission, which acts as the independent and impartial regulator of the charity sector."

A letter from Maude to Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, putting Shawcross forward as the Cabinet Office’s preferred candidate, says there was a disappointing lack of diversity among only 26 people who that applied. The letter was published with a report from the committee yesterday following  its pre-appointment hearing with Shawcross on Wednesday.

Maude’s letter says: "The field contained some very credible candidates, with a range of relevant skills and experience from the private sector, public sector and civil society, but it was disappointing in terms of its diversity.

"The reduction in the time commitment for the role from three to two days per week, which the Charity Commission itself recommended, and the degree of controversy and media interest that have become associated with the role are factors that may have had a bearing on this."

The PASC report concludes: "We are satisfied that Mr Shawcross has both the professional competences and personal independence necessary to fulfil this role."

Shawcross, who will take up the new role on 1 October, said it was a "huge privilege and honour" to be selected to take up the position."Our charitable sector is one of the great strengths of this country, and I am excited about the challenge that lies ahead," he said.

The appointment is for an initial three years, with the possibility of a second term. Shawcross will be paid £50,000 a year for working two days a week.

Members of the PASC have continued to talk about the selection. Labour MP Paul Flynn told Third Sector that he was not satisfied with Shawcross’s impartiality.

"We wanted someone who could present themselves as robustly independent," he said. "He has been involved in politics on the conservative side and is also the son of a Cabinet minister who went to Eton.

"The sector wanted reassurance that it would not be a government stooge making decisions. It was a lack of independence that was the problem."

But Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP and committee member, said he supported Shawcross’s appointment. He said Shawcross was a "breath of fresh air" and had "excellent qualifications to run the Charity Commission".

Elphicke also said criticisms by committee members about political views Shawcross had previously expressed were "ridiculous".

"I do not see that as relevant to his work at the Charity Commission," said Elphicke. "I think it is a ridiculous position to take that because he supported the war in Iraq he should not be allowed to become chair.

"The Charity Commission chair is an important role, not something to play sixth-form politics with, which is what they are clearly trying to do."

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