Review suggests change to appointment process for Charity Commission chair

The appointment of the chair of the Charity Commission should be subject to greater parliamentary scrutiny, an NCVO review of the regulator’s governance structure has recommended.

A discussion paper published today argues that giving parliament a greater role in the appointment process would help dampen perceptions of political bias in the selection of the regulator’s chair.

NCVO’s review also studied alternatives to the commission’s current legal structure as a non-ministerial department, but concluded the benefits of changing the structure did not justify such a major constitutional change.

NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington said quite a few criticisms of the actions of current and previous Charity Commission chairs are overblown, but “nevertheless, there is a problem with perceptions of the commission's independence from ministers”.

Potential changes to the selection process covered by the paper include giving responsibility for pre-appointment scrutiny to a joint parliamentary committee of both houses, chaired by a crossbench peer. The paper argues inclusion of peers would reduce the risk of party politics coming into play.

The House of Commons could be given formal control of the appointment process, the paper suggests, similar to the model used for the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office.

Drawing on previous work by the Institute for Government, the paper also raises making the position subject to parliamentary veto at the pre-appointment hearing.

A more minor change could require unanimous approval by the Public Administration Select Committee after the pre-appointment hearing.

The chair's term of office could be made non-renewable and fixed, the paper suggests, or reappointment could be made subject to a parliamentary hearing similar to the pre-appointment hearing.

Sir Stuart said the commission is too important to risk being seen as “a site of political patronage”.

“We should have a sensible debate about how to avoid this. Our paper outlines a number of constructive proposals which we believe would enhance both the commission's actual and its perceived independence from government.”

NCVO is seeking stakeholder’s views on the potential changes. Access the paper here.

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