NLCF Chair appointment process under review amid alleged government interference

National Lottery Community Fund
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An investigation has been launched into last year’s National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF) Chair appointment process, as reported by The Times.

In February 2021, Blondel Cluff was appointed as Chair of the NLCF by the Conservative Party Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden, who was Culture Secretary at the time.

However, William Shawcross, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, is now leading a review into the appointment process after the emergence of leaked emails which suggest the Tory party interfered to secure it for a donor.

It has been suggested that Tory officials sought to “rebalance” the leadership of public institutions by encouraging donors to apply for key roles.

In this instance, officials allegedly lobbied for the appointment of telecommunications millionaire Mohamed Amersi while soliciting donations from him and seeking the renewal of his subscription to the leader’s group.

Ultimately, Amersi missed out on the NLCF position, but an investigation is taking place to determine whether the process was “open and fair” and complied with government rules.

The current system allows ministers to recommend candidates at the outset of an appointment process, before applications are opened up to the wider public. However, political activity, including party donations, must be declared by candidates.

An ‘advisory panel’ then refers a list of approved applicants to the relevant minister, who makes the final decision.

“While political activity is not a bar to appointment, it cannot be a reason for an appointment,” Shawcross wrote to Angela Rayner, Labour Deputy Leader, in February.

“The public appointments process must be transparent and based on merit. The role of the commissioner is to oversee the public appointments process and ensure fairness to all candidates.

“I intend to review this competition to assure myself and the public that the process was run in compliance with the [code].”

Shawcross has written to the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport, which oversees the lottery fund, demanding access to relevant documents.

The UK government has denied any wrongdoing, claiming the appointment was “made in line with the process and principles set out in the Governance Code on Public Appointments”.