Controversial Appointment for Head of UK Charity Regulator Causes Sector Rift
26 February 2018 at 4:01 pm
A rift has opened in the UK charity sector after the country’s culture secretary dismissed concerns over the government’s pick for the new head of the national charity regulator and looks set to push ahead with the appointment regardless of opposition.
Last month, Conservative Party peer Baroness Tina Stowell was nominated as the government’s preferred choice to become the new chair of the Charity Commission, which oversees and regulates all registered charities in England and Wales.
Matt Hancock, the recently appointed secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, welcomed the announcement in a tweet, saying he was “delighted” to nominate Stowell to succeed William Shawcross, whose five-year term finished on Friday.
“She is widely respected and will do a brilliant job working with Britain’s inspirational charities,” Hancock said.
However Stowell has since been unanimously rejected by cross-party members of the culture, media and sport select committee, coming under fire for her lack of “experience, insight, knowledge and vision”.
MPs told Hancock they “cannot support” the appointment of Stowell, who was formerly the Leader of the House of Lords, and they raised concerns that candidates had not been drawn from a diverse enough talent pool.
In a letter to Hancock, DCMS Committee chair Damian Collins said opposing the recommendation was “not a decision taken lightly”, but that Stowell had “little more than six months of negligible charity sector experience, and a complete lack of experience of working for a regulatory body”.
He also raised concerns about her “political past”.
“The candidate was a longstanding government minister less than two years ago,” Collins said.
“The fact that Baroness Stowell had a political career is not itself a bar, and the candidate has publicly committed to giving up the Conservative whip upon appointment.
“However, her political past is a source of concern for the committee and those within the charity sector.”
It marks the first time the committee has not supported the government’s candidate.
However, in spite of the concerns the government has indicated it will push ahead with the appointment.
Hancock released a statement insisting Stowell was “not only the best candidate for the job, but also the right candidate”.
“I’m sure Tina Stowell will be a brilliant chair of the Charity Commission,” he said.
“This is a crucial time for the commission and the sector.”
His latest comments have sparked a call for more information on the appointment process.
In a subsequent letter to Hancock, Collins said he was disappointed the concerns raised by the committee on the suitability of Stowell as chair of the commission “were dismissed so swiftly”.
He called on 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.
After receiving Hancock’s response, the committee said it will issue a full report on its reservations about Stowell’s suitability for the role.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport must wait for a final report from the select committee.
However the committee does not have a power of veto, meaning ministers may proceed with the appointment despite its objections.