Watchdog prevented ministers flouting neutrality code in hiring for top jobs including BBC chair

Interventions were made in the hiring of new heads of the BBC and BFI

Lamiat Sabin
Monday 08 November 2021 00:51
Comments
<p>Panellists recommending the new BBC chair included a Tory parliamentary candidate who had donated £50,000 to the party</p>

Panellists recommending the new BBC chair included a Tory parliamentary candidate who had donated £50,000 to the party

Ministers were advised by a watchdog to remove some interview panellists for top jobs at the BBC and the British Film Institute (BFI) because they were “not sufficiently independent.”

The commissioner for public appointments also stepped in to change the panel recruiting a chair for the new university regulator, Office for Students.

The interventions were revealed in a Freedom of Information request by The Guardian.

Peter Riddell, whose term as commisioner ended last month, advised ministers that being “sufficiently independent” means to “not be politically active, to be independent of the department and of the body concerned, and to be familiar with senior recruitment and the public appointments principles”.

Ministers followed his advice and appointed panellists that the watchdog judged appropriate.

There are no rules preventing ministers from appointing political donors or allies to roles leading public bodies, but the panels selecting candidates for the positions have to include a non-political senior independent panel member (SIPM).

A panel recommending the new chair of the BBC included Catherine Baxendale, who was shortlisted to be a Tory parliamentary candidate in 2017 and donated £50,000 to the party when David Cameron was PM.

Richard Sharp – a former adviser to chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has donated more than £400,000 to the Tories – was eventually appointed to the role.

Conservative peer and donor James Wharton, a former Tory MP, was selected to oversee the Office for Students (OfS).

Mr Riddell told The Guardian that the original panel of five assembled by the Department for Education for the OfS job included three that had “clear” links to the Conservative Party and “no one with recent higher education student experience."

The eventual panel included Theresa May’s ex-chief of staff Nick Timothy, former Tory MP Eric Ollerenshaw, and Tory peer Laura Wyld.

Vue cinemas founder Tim Richards, who has not declared any work or donations for a political party, was selected to lead the BFI.

A government spokesperson told The Independent: “The commissioner found no breaches of the code in the cases highlighted; he was properly consulted by ministers as required.

“Public appointments are made in line with the Governance Code for Public Appointments. There is no automatic presumption of reappointment and ministers may decide to make a reappointment, or launch a campaign to attract fresh talent.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in