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DCMS committee rejects Baroness Stowell as next Charity Commission Chair

Melanie May | 21 February 2018 | News

MPs have rejected Baroness Stowell as the next Chair of the Charity Commission following yesterday’s pre-appointment hearing.
In the hearing, Baroness Stowell said she had applied for the role because she wanted the opportunity to represent public interest in an ‘incredibly important’ sector. More specifically, with falling public trust in sector, she felt her experience in political and corporate world was very relevant and would make her a strong candidate. However, she agreed that she had ‘limited experience’ of the sector.
Following the hearing, Damian Collins, MP, Chair of the DCMS Committee wrote to the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock MP, stating that the Committee could not support the Government’s nomination.
The Committee was unanimous in this decision, which was based on four factors: experience, neutrality, the recruitment process itself, and performance. In the Committee’s view, Baroness Stowell lacks sufficient charity sector experience, while her political past raises concerns, and they felt she failed to withstand the scrutiny of the hearing.
In the letter, Collins states that, during the hearing:

“Baroness Stowell was unable to demonstrate to the Committee any real insight, knowledge or vision for the charities sector.”

And that:


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“Members asked fair questions that gave the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate her knowledge, skills and experience. Indeed, several Members made proactive efforts to tease out relevant examples of her interest in, and vision for, the sector, and were disappointed to receive answers that were often lacking in detail or relevance.”

The letter also states that the Committee is particularly concerned with how the recruitment process has been handled, saying:

“The process has lacked transparency and has been protracted. While we have been told that two other candidates were deemed appointable, we have not been given their names (despite Committee staff seeking this information.) We would like to request this information again: ie. the names of the other appointable candidates, and why Baroness Stowell was chosen over them?”

Concerns over Baroness Stowell’s suitability had also been raised by those in the charity sector. Prior to the hearing, Collins received an open letter from Andrew Hind CB, Chief Executive, Charity Commission 2004-10. In it, Hind said:

“The need for the charity regulator to be independent from both Government and party politics is surely self-evident.
“Why then is the Government’s preferred candidate to be the next Chair of the Charity Commission a former Conservative Leader of the House of Lords, with little direct experience of either charities or regulation? Her fit with the published person specification is poor.”

ACEVO, Bond, NAVCA, CFG and DSC also submitted a joint letter regarding the appointment process of the Chair of the Charity Commission. In it, the organisations’ Chief Executives raised concerns about the process for selecting the preferred candidate. The letter asks committee members what steps they will take to ensure that the process is in line with the governance code on public appointments, and expresses concern over Baroness Stowell’s close links with the Conservative Party.
Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, said:

“We would like to emphasise that our concerns about this appointment are not personal and we will work constructively with whichever candidate holds the post of chair of the Charity Commission.
“However, an effective Charity Commission is essential to the ability of charities to deliver their work for the benefit of the public. To be effective, it must equally have the trust and confidence of the public, the state and the sector it regulates. It is therefore only right that we seek further information and assurance about our concerns.”

The Committee’s full report and reasoning are to follow and the letter asks Hancock to take its considerations into account.