Concerns raised over government’s preferred candidate for Charity Commission chair

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has named a former Conservative Party candidate as the government’s preferred choice to chair the Charity Commission, sparking concern among charity leaders around his political independence.

Orlando Fraser, who unsuccessfully stood for the Conservative Party in North Devon in the 2005 general election, losing to the Liberal Democrats, has been selected by the government to chair the regulator.

“There will understandably be concern about his links with party politics, even though he has not been politically active recently", said NCVO chief executive Sarah Vibert.

She adds that charity sector leaders are “disappointed that the government has not taken this opportunity to appoint a person with full political independence”.

Fraser is also a former board member at the regulator, serving from 2013 to 2017 and has chaired its governance and remuneration as well as its policy and guidance committees.

Sector bodies had hoped the appointment process of the next chair would be rerun, following a scandal involving the previous preferred candidate, Martin Thomas.

Thomas had been forced to stand down in 2021 just days before taking office after it emerged he had been under investigation at a charity he chaired.

A re-run of the process would also help ensure the shortlist of candidates is diverse, said ACEVO.

“We are disappointed that the appointment process was not rerun in full before Mr Fraser was announced as preferred candidate,” added ACEVO chief executive Vicky Browning.

“Transparent and robust recruitment is vital in ensuring trust in the regulator.

“Given the challenges of the previous process, this would have allowed the new chair a fresh start as well as addressing issues around the diversity of the shortlist.

“Strong, proportionate and enabling regulation is in the interests of charities, and we want to see the new Charity Commission chair succeed. We look forward to working with Mr Fraser if his appointment is confirmed to ensure the Commission supports good practice across the sector.”

This is not the first-time charity sector leaders have raised concerns around the political independence of the government’s choice of Charity Commission chair.

Previous political independence concerns

The previous postholder Baroness Stowell is a former Conservative Party minister.

Before Fraser’s appointment to the £62,500 a year role is confirmed he will appear before MPs sitting on the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which had objected to Stowell’s appointment.

Fraser, who has been a commercial barrister for 30 years, said: “As I know from experience, the Charity Commission is a much-respected independent regulator, supervising world-class charities. I am honoured to be offered the responsibility of chairing it going forward.

He has also served on the NCVO’s advisory council and on the management committee of a London refuge for victims of domestic abuse.

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