MPs reject DCMS's 'unimaginative' choice for Charity Commission chair

Select committee says department has failed to learn from its mistakes, after previous pick quit days before starting

By Tevye Markson

01 Apr 2022

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s “unimaginative” choice for the next Charity Commission chair has been rejected by a committee of MPs

Members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said the department showed a “lack of care, attention and commitment to quality” in the process which led to Orlando Fraser being its preferred candidate.

MPs said they had no concerns about the candidate as an individual but serious concerns about the process that led to Fraser’s selection, including the lack of diversity in the shortlist for the role, in a report published yesterday.

Fraser, who stood unsuccessfully for the Conservative Party in the North Devon constituency in the 2005 general election,  once reportedly labelled women from the area as "notoriously hideous".

The committee’s rejection of the DCMS’s choice comes after its previous chosen candidate quit just days before starting the role.

Select committee chair Julian Knight said: “The fiasco of four months ago should have jolted the department into widening out its search for the very best person to oversee an organisation that is so vital in ensuring people can support charities with confidence. By failing to re-run the process and falling back on a shortlist which would seem to be so lacking in diversity, ministers have sadly squandered their second chance.

“While we recognise Mr Fraser’s potential to do the job, such a slapdash and unimaginative approach to his recruitment means we cannot formally endorse his appointment. This should act as a warning to the government. Unless it changes tack, trust in the process will continue to be damaged and we risk missing out on getting the most qualified people from all backgrounds for these very important jobs.”

The shortlist of interviewed candidates included one woman and one candidate from a BAME background. The committee said the “resulting candidate, while likely competent, represents yet another archetypal and unimaginative choice from this limited shortlist”.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries can disregard the committee and appoint Fraser, as the committee holds no veto power. Previous commission chair Tina Stowell was rejected by MPs but took up the job after then culture secretary Matt Hancock approved her nomination.

A DCMS spokesperson said: “As recently noted by the commissioner for public appointments, the appointment process for Charity Commission chair was run in line with the governance code on public appointments.

“The DCMS select committee rightly recognises Orlando Fraser's suitability for the role and we will now consider its report in full and respond in due course.”

Martin Thomas, the last person put forward for the role, had been due to start work as Charity Commission chair on 27 December but stood down before he had formally taken up the post after The Times reported he had faced three formal misconduct complaints during his five years as chair of charity Women For Women International UK.

The department announced Fraser as its preferred choice for the role on March 8 without re-running the appointment process – the committee said this showed the department had “failed to learn from its mistakes”.

MPs suggested that the government should look again at the pre-appointment process to “restore some of the trust and respect for process that seem to have been lost”.

They have also called for powers that were removed from the appointments commissioner after the Grimstone Review of 2016 to be restored and for ministers to show greater discipline in removing themselves from public speculation about candidates before they select a preferred candidate.

Powers which were removed as a result of the Grimstone Review of the public appointments process include the commissioner's power to appoint independent assessors to an interview panel and its role in setting the code against which departments' practice in making public appointments is monitored.

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