William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, has defended the make-up of and lack of diversity in the commission’s board after the appointment of three new members.
Appearing before the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities during its final oral evidence session yesterday, Shawcross acknowledged that experience of the charity sector was an important quality for members of the commission board and said he believed all members had served as trustees.
He rejected an assertion by the Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock that the board was "a fairly right-wing, upper middle class, white, middle-aged group of people from the south east of England" as "grossly unfair" and said it was "not an accurate picture of how the organisation was run".
In a heated exchange, Foulkes pointed out that none of the members of the board were under 50, from the north of England or from black or minority ethnic communities.
Shawcross, who sat on the four-strong selection panel for the latest appointments, said: "Unfortunately, when we advertised on this occasion there were not very many ethnic applicants and we chose the best people who came to us."
But he said the panel "would have loved" a new appointee from the BAME community and had tried "very hard" to get one.
"As you know these balances are difficult to achieve everywhere, even in parliament," he said.
Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, who gave evidence later in the afternoon, agreed, saying government had "a big job to do" to increase diversity in public appointments.
"I think the important thing is to get the pool of applicants for the post enlarged so there’s a wider pool to draw from," he said, adding that the pool of applicants was a "big limitation in terms of the people that are appointed, not just at the Charity Commission".
Shawcross said he was not sure if any of the board members had links with the Henry Jackson Society, the right-wing think tank of which he was a council member before taking up the role of commission chair. He said they might attend meetings or those of think tanks of different political persuasions.
He told the committee that bureaucracy, the change of Prime Minister and the move of the Office for Civil Society from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had been behind the delay in appointing and announcing the new board members, which occurred two months later than originally planned.
The committee asked about the commission’s budget, which has fallen by £8m since 2010 and will be frozen at £20.3m until 2020. The Charity Commission has lost about 10 per cent of its staff in the year to 31 March. Shawcross told the commission further staffing cuts were expected.
"We will have to lose 10 or 12 staff posts in the next year, and that’s a really difficult issue for us," he said.
Shawcross has previously called for the sector to begin funding the regulator, and at the most recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering, in November, said he believed the sector would eventually have to take over its funding completely.
But Wilson told the committee this would not be the case.
"I don’t think there’s any suggestion that government will step out completely from funding the commission," he said, added that it would be wise to consider all options.
The committee is due to publish its report on sustainability and governance in the sector in March.