Sector reacts to Charity Commission preferred candidate decision

Voluntary sector leaders have warned the government to ensure its preferred candidate to chair the Charity Commission supports charities “to retain their independence in the face of divisive public debate”.

Acevo is among charity sector organisations to react to the announcement this week that financial sector veteran Martin Thomas is ministers' preferred candidate to chair the regulator.

The appointment of Thomas, who also sits on the boards of a number of charities, is to undergo scrutiny by MPs, and has been marred in controversy amid concerns that the government is looking to politicise the role and pursue an ‘anti-woke’ agenda.

Thomas is set to take up his new role at the end of the month, replacing interim chair Ian Karet.

In a statement Acevo said: “The pre-appointment scrutiny hearing presents an opportunity to understand Mr Thomas’ position on several issues in more detail.

“We look forward to hearing how he will ensure the regulator supports charities to retain their independence in the face of divisive public debate, which is sometimes split along party lines.

“We would also like to understand his vision for the regulator, and how he intends to work alongside the sector to deliver the enabling, proportionate and transparent regulation that will support its vital role in helping communities build back better from Covid-19.”

Acevo added that it was encouraged that a candidate had been selected with experience of the charity sector and did not have “declared party-political activity”.

The last permanent chair Baroness Stowell was a former Conservative minister and had been appointed despite concerns from MPs around her suitability for the role.

Thomas is to step down from his charity board posts ahead of his appointment. This includes roles chairing NHS Resolution and Downside Up, a charity that supports families raising children with Down syndroime in Russia.

His other charity roles include chair of trustees at Forward Arts Foundation, which promotes poetry. He has also previously chaired Women for Women International UK, which supports female survivors of war.

'Lack of political affiliation' welcomed

Meanwhile, NCVO said Thomas will bring a “breadth of experience” to the role and also welcomed his lack political affiliation.

It said that the regulator needs “strong, independent leadership and we hope this reflects a recognition from the government that political appointments to this role have caused concern”.

Others in the sector to comment include Yorkshire Wildlife Trust trustee Nick Perks who said that appointing a candidate with “meaningful trustee experience and political neutrality” looks to be “a decent selection outcome”.

The Social Founders Network welcomed Thomas' "experience of chairing a breadth of small and medium-sized charities".

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