DCMS pledges to improve vetting following Charity Commission recruitment failures

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) officials appearing before MPs have admitted they could have done more to scrutinise the failed appointment of Martin Thomas as chair of the Charity Commission.

Improvements are set to include contacting the Charity Commission for information concerning charities linked to shortlisted candidates.

The government’s preferred candidate Thomas resigned late last year, just days before he was due to take up the post after it emerged he had been the subject of misconduct claims at a charity he had chaired.

Contacting the regulator is likely to have alerted recruiters to the claims concerning Thomas.

The charity, Women for Women International UK, has revealed that it had not been contacted by recruiters. It had also previously informed the Charity Commission about the allegations.

Appearing at a House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, DCMS permanent secretary Sarah Healey admitted that “it is not departmental policy with public appointments to take references”.

She also said that increasingly references are not seen as an “important part of the recruitment process in the private sector”.

However, she did concede improvements can be made to the recruitment process, following the failed appointment of Thomas.

Healey said: “We could have gone to the Charity Commission and asked them for any information related to the charities that the shortlisted charities were associated with in any form. We could have let candidates know that we were going to do that.

“And while that has not up until now been a formal part of the DCMS process with regards to appointments to the Charity Commission, we do think it should be part of that process in future.”

Committee chair Julian Knight MP asked Healey if the DCMS will “retrospectively” look at Charity Commission appointments.

But Healey said the DCMS will not apply the vetting processes rule change to previous appointments.

Commissioner for Public Appointments William Shawcross also appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week.

He was criticised by MPs for appearing to prejudge his own investigation into failures around Thomas’ appointment.

He told MPs that the DCMS was “not to blame” for the failures, leading Knight to accuse him of “speaking ahead of your own inquiry”.

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