MPs urged to question Charity Commission chair appointee on political links

MPs are being urged to scrutinise the political affiliation and past charity regulation record of Orlando Fraser, the government’s preferred candidate to chair the Charity Commission.

Former Conservative Party general election candidate Fraser was selected earlier this month by the DCMS to take on the role.

His appointment is to be scrutinised by members of the DCMS Select Committee and the Directory of Social Change is urging MPs to ensure they effectively investigate Fraser’s “long standing links to the Conservative Party”.

This is especially vital given the political links of the last permanent Commission chair, former Conservative minister Baroness Stowell, said the DSC.

The DSC also wants MPs to question Fraser about his role in the regulator’s “flawed” guidance around the 2016 EU referendum, which it says “was so poor it had to be withdrawn and reissued”.

This was drafted when Fraser was a senior legal board member at the Commission.

His previous four year stint at the regulator ended in 2017 and further concerns about Fraser are also raised by the DSC about his time at the Commission

This includes his involvement in “the regulator’s attempt to fetter the discretion of the trustees of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust” which had provided funding to non-charity advocacy group CAGE.

“The Commission's actions were legally challenged, and it subsequently backed down following the threat of judicial review,” states DSC chief executive Debra Allcock Tyler in a letter to DCMS Select Committee chair Julian Knight.

“Mr Fraser, although not an elected politician, has a decade's-long association with the Conservative party, including as a candidate for Parliament,” her letter states.

“Choosing another chair with such obvious political links risks distracting from the job at hand and makes maintaining objectivity and independence that much more difficult.

“We would ask: what actions Mr Fraser intends to take to reassure the sector and the Committee of his political independence; how he will ensure that decisions taken in his role as Chair are non-partisan; how he will ensure that his political affiliations do not influence his leadership of the Commission and engagement with the charity sector?"

Her letter adds: “We note that Mr Fraser has obvious relevant experience both of charity regulation, the law, and as a trustee, but these are aspects of his track record that we think the Committee could usefully include in its scrutiny session.”

Selection process concerns

Earlier this month NCVO chief executive Sarah Vibert and ACEVO chief executive Vicky Browning also raised concerns about Fraser’s selection.

This included criticism of the selection process, which they had wanted to see completely re-run after the previous preferred candidate Martin Thomas was forced to resign days before taking office. He stepped down after it emerged he was under investigation at a charity he chaired.

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