Monday 2 February 2015

Shawcross reappointed - my letter to Jeremy Heywood

Last Thursday morning I was surprised to read of William Shawcross’s reappointment as chair of the Charity Commission, which was announced without prior warning or consultation. His three-year term was to end in October, and the reappointment process would usually begin in a few months’ time.

The Commission is an important public body, and not the Cabinet Office’s personal fiefdom. At a time when it has been under sustained and severe criticism - and when as the National Audit Office acknowledge, they are starting to turn things around - this is not what they need. It will only add fuel to the fire of those who accuse the Commission of being a plaything of government patronage, rather than a forceful, independent regulator.

I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to clarify a number of points about the reappointment process, as was reported by Saturday’s Times.

Here’s a copy of my letter, which is also on the ACEVO website:

29 January 2015

Dear Sir Jeremy,

I am writing to you to express my concern at the process behind today’s appointment of William Shawcross as Chair of the Charity Commission. I would like to seek your assurance that due process has been followed. 

As you know, the position was due for renewal in October 2015. Shawcross’ initial appointment followed a period of advertisement, shortlisting and a pre-appointment hearing from May 2012. I and many of my colleagues in the charity sector, our supporters, donors and beneficiaries are therefore surprised to learn that the appointment has been made already.
The fact that this appointment has taken place less than three months before a general election will serve only to raise those concerns in the mind of the public. They deserve and require assurance as to the absolute propriety of the processes that have been followed to make this appointment. As such I am writing to seek your assurances on the following points of information.
1.    Was recruitment conducted in accordance with the Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies? According to this code, reappointments can only be made once evidence of a satisfactory performance has been made.
2.    Who was on the committee that made the appointment? The previous committee was chaired by Mark Addison, a Public Appointments Assessor representing the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who is independent of the Government. It also included Sue Gray, Head of Propriety and Ethics in the Cabinet Office. Given the public nature of this role a committee for reappointment would have been appropriate.
3.    Were other persons considered by the committee and did they meet the requirements stipulated by equalities legislation and in accordance with suitable non-discrimination policies appropriate to the position?
4.    What representations were sought from Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics Team about the process and what notice was taken by the appointments committee of those representations?
5.    Given the crucial public nature of this role, how will the process behind the appointment and the fact of the appointment itself be disseminated and communicated to the charity sector and the wider public?
The charity sector is vital to the health and wealth of our nation. Charities must be independent and free to speak truth to power and to deliver in the public good. To do both they depend upon the trust and confidence of the public. Trust and confidence are fragile. While trust in charities remains high, it would be unacceptable for questions over the regulator to compromise trust and confidence in the charitable sector.
I look forward to receiving your reply. In the interests of transparency I am placing this letter in the public domain.
Yours ever,

Sir Stephen Bubb

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