NCVO: Give parliament powers in Charity Commission chair appointment

The appointment of the chair of the Charity Commission should be subject to greater parliamentary scrutiny, a new paper from NCVO recommends.

The paper (PDF, 200KB) follows concerns that successive chairs of the Commission have been subject to accusations of political bias in their work, following the 2006 reforms which revamped the Commission's governance.

Prior to 2006, the Commission was governed by a small board of lawyers and civil servants. Reforms in the Charities Act 2006 to open up the board have had the effect of increasing the risk of accusations that appointments to the board are open to political patronage by ministers, NCVO has warned.

The paper reviews the governance and appointment structures of a number of comparable bodies and makes suggestions for discussion.

The paper argues that strengthening the role of parliament in the process of appointing the chair would help combat impressions that the appointment has been used for party political purposes.

For example, a joint parliamentary committee of both houses, chaired by a crossbench peer, could be given responsibility for pre-appointment scrutiny. The inclusion of peers would reduce the risk of party politics coming into play.

A more far-reaching suggestion, drawing on work on sensitive public appointments by the Institute for Government (1), would be to make the chair's position one that parliament has an effective power of veto over.

The paper also suggests making the chair's term of office non-renewable.

The review considers other legal structures for the Commission than its current non-ministerial department status, but rejects them in view of their various side effects.

NCVO announced its plan to examine the Commission's governance structures in October. The paper has been peer-reviewed by a House of Commons Library constitutional expert.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:

'Quite a few criticisms of the actions of both the current and previous Charity Commission chairs are overblown. But nevertheless, there is a problem with perceptions of the Commission's independence from ministers.

'The Commission is too important to risk being seen as a site of political patronage. We should have a sensible debate about how to avoid this. Our paper outlines a number of constructive proposals which we believe would enhance both the Commission's actual and its perceived independence from government.

'The paper is intended to prompt discussion and we would be grateful for views from the sector and others with an interest in the issues raised.'

Notes

See press release for summary: Institute calls for effective parliamentary veto over 'A-List' of 25 top public appointments

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