MPs reject Government’s ‘unimaginative’ choice for Charity Commission chairman

MPs have rejected the Government’s top candidate to be the Charity Commission chairman, criticising him as an “archetypal and unimaginative choice”.

Orlando Fraser, a barrister who served on the regulator’s board between 2013 and 2017, was named as the preferred candidate after Martin Thomas pulled out of the running in December.

Mr Thomas had faced allegations of inappropriate conduct after it emerged that he was the subject of three complaints while chairman of the charity Women for Women International.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee said that although it recognised Mr Fraser’s potential to do the job and had no concerns about him as an individual, he represented “yet another archetypal and unimaginative choice” from a limited shortlist.

The committee on Thursday published its recommendations following a pre-appointment hearing with Mr Fraser last week.

MPs said the process should have been re-run rather than returning to the shortlist from which Mr Thomas was selected, highlighting that the eight-strong list contained only one woman and one candidate from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background.

Department ‘did not learn from mistakes’

“We have no grounds for concern about Mr Fraser as an individual,” the report said. “However, we do have serious concerns about the process that led to Mr Fraser’s selection.

“Like a number of recent public appointments by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the process for appointing the new chairman of the Charity Commission had been drawn out and subject to allegations of political interference.

“We are surprised that, even after the resignation of Martin Thomas, the department did not learn from its mistakes and re-run the application.”

The report said Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, had expressed disappointment that the original process lacked diversity among shortlisted candidates.

“Despite these protestations, the resulting candidate, while likely competent, represents yet another archetypal and unimaginative choice from this limited shortlist,” it added.

“We see this as demonstrative of the department’s lack of care, attention, and commitment to quality in this important public appointment. As a result, we recognise Mr Fraser’s potential to do the job but do not formally endorse his selection as chair of the Charity Commission.”

It is unusual for select committees to reject candidates – but it does not stop the Government from appointing its preferred candidate, as happened in 2018 when the committee claimed Baroness Stowell did not have the relevant experience.

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