Exclusive: Only one BAME candidate may have ever been shortlisted to chair Charity Commission

Only one candidate from a Black or minority ethnic background (BAME) has been shortlisted over the last four years to chair the Charity Commission, official figures show.

But this lack of diversity may stretch back to the creation of the role 16 years ago, as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, (DCMS) has admitted the government does not retain information on the first selection processes, carried out in 2006 when Suzi Leather was appointed, or in 2012 when William Shawcross took over the role.

According to available records for the last four years no candidate with a disability has been shortlisted and there have only been three female candidates interviewed.

In 2018 the field of applicants featured two women, including Baroness Stowell, who was selected to the role. No BAME or disabled applicants were interviewed for the post.

Among the eight applicants selected for interview in 2021 just one is female, one from a BAME background and none had a declared disability.

This shortlist was effectively used for two appointments processes. The first resulted in the failed selection of Martin Thomas, who had to resign days before taking up the post after it emerged that he had been the subject of misconduct complaints at a charity he chaired.

The same set of candidates was used again, despite concerns from MPs and charity leaders over a lack of diversity, to select Orlando Fraser. He took up the post earlier this year amid further concerns, over his impartiality having stood for the Conservative Party as a candidate in the 2005 general election.

The information around the candidates has emerged from a Freedom of Information Act request made by campaign group Operation Transparency, which is hosted by the charity Money4YOU and is calling for more transparency in the sector around diversity reporting. Signatories include Charity So White, New Philanthropy Capital and the Charity Aid Foundation.

This FOI Act request also asks how many women from BAME backgrounds had been shortlisted for the role since 2006. However, the DCMS has declined to answer this question on data protection grounds.

“Given the small pool of applicants, we believe that any further detail on applicants' protected characteristics could lead to them potentially being identified,” said the DCMS’s response.

Operation Transparency lead campaigner Jay Richardson said: “Racism and discrimination undermine public trust in charities. At a critical time in our recovery from Covid and with more and more people needing help, we need leadership, vision, and cohesion from the non-profit sector.

“People expect high standards from UK charities, and charities themselves expect evidence-based and timely action from regulators.

“That is not happening right now. The news that DCMS has repeatedly ignored stakeholders’ concerns over the lack of diversity in public appointments is part of a litany of failures to protect people in working in the charity sector and accessing charitable services from discrimination.”

The campaign group is also calling for the Charity Commission to add diversity data to the charities’ register.

“We will continue to engage with the Charity Commission for as long as it takes to get these concerns not just heard, but acted on,” he added.

According to the DCMS, in 2021/22 more than four in ten (43%) of all appointments and reappointments to public bodies were made to women and 21% were made to people from a minority ethnic background. In both cases this is a 5% increase on the previous year. Also, 6% of appointments and reappointments were made to people with a disability, the same as the previous year.

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