Former Tory candidate named new choice for Charity Commission chair after resignation 'shambles'

Government's previous pick quit days after being appointed when conduct issues emerged
Photo: GOV.UK

By Tevye Markson

10 Mar 2022

A former would-be Conservative MP has been named the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s preferred candidate to become the Charity Commission chair after the previous choice resigned within days when conduct issues emerged.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries has put forward Orlando Fraser, an ex-Conservative parliamentary candidate who once labelled women from Devon as "notoriously hideous", for the charity regulator position.

He will now appear before MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for pre-appointment scrutiny.

If approved, Fraser will serve three years in the £62,500-per-year role, which is for two-and-a-half days per week.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said that the appointment process had become a “total shambles”.

“Nadine Dorries has appointed another Conservative supporter,” Powell said. “The chair of the Charity Commission is an important post, and the public must have confidence that this role is independent, not party political, and that there is no conflict of interest in investigations the commission carries out.

"This is another case of the Tories looking after their own. The Conservative record of cronyism in public appointments stinks.”

The department’s latest choice has been a commercial barrister for nearly 30 years and previously served on the board of the Charity Commission from 2013 to 2017, where he acted as one of two statutory legal members and chaired the Governance and Remuneration Committee as well as the Policy and Guidance Committee.

Fraser has also worked with the voluntary sector since 1992, including taking an aid convoy to Bosnia to help its Muslim population, chairing the management committee of a West London refuge for women victims of domestic abuse, and supporting the Rugby Portobello Trust charity after the 2017 Grenfell tragedy.

“As I know from experience, the Charity Commission is a much-respected independent regulator, supervising world-class charities,” Fraser said.

“I am honoured to be offered the responsibility of chairing it going forward.”

Fraser was a Tory candidate for North Devon in the 2005 general election.

Two years before, he was overheard at a society lunch in Florida discussing marriage prospects in the constituency and saying that the local women were “all notoriously hideous”.

Fraser later distanced himself from the comments, telling the North Devon Journal, he had been “repeating a comment which some old buffer had made to me about not getting married down in Devon”. He added: “The girls I have met down there are really cute. It is a silly subject and I was careless. There is no way that I would say something like that.”

'Shambles' appointment and resignation

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

One included a 2018 incident when he mistakenly sent a photograph of himself taken in a Victoria’s Secret store to a junior female employee of the charity. He resigned from Women for Women last year following a different investigation.

After it emerged that DCMS has a policy of not seeking references for shortlisted candidates, permanent secretary Sarah Healey admitted the department should have checked with the Charity Commission itself to see whether there were records of issues flagged with any charities that shortlisted candidates were involved with.

She pledged to learn from other departments but rejected the suggestion that there should be a cross-government policy on references for public appointments.

Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee chair Julian Knight described the appointment and resignation of Thomas as Charity Commission chair as a “shambles” and used the same term to describe DCMS’s wider handling of big appointments.

But the commissioner for public appointments, William Shawcross, who is investigating Thomas’s appointment, absolved DCMS of blame and said the department had performed “extremely well” in his office’s annual audit.

Ian Karet has stayed on as interim chair while the appointment process for a permanent chair takes place.

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