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When it comes to the Prime Minister’s allies, there’s a pattern emerging in Downing Street. When Boris Johnson doesn’t like the outcome of an official process, he tries to rip up the rules and start again.
We saw it with the Owen Paterson scandal and we’re seeing it again now with the rigged appointment process for the new Chair of media regulator Ofcom.
Paul Dacre is the former editor of the Daily Mail of 26 years, and Johnson’s preferred candidate for the top job at Ofcom. He’s in a bit of a pickle though, given that an interview panel deemed Mr Dacre “not appointable” just a few months ago.
But that’s not stopping ministers, who are now shamelessly pushing to appoint Mr Dacre by adjusting the requirements of the role and re-running the recruitment process with a different interview panel. The ad for the role now includes an amended person specification, from which the requirement for the Chair to work “collegiately” has been removed.
Dacre is being allowed to reapply, even in the face of calls for him to be banned from doing so by a number of Conservative MPs.
It all beggars belief. And unsurprisingly, we think this brazen string-pulling is unlawful.
Lawyers acting for Good Law Project have today written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, stating that this “second competition raises very serious concerns, in particular as to whether it has been held, and designed, in order to favour Mr Dacre’s candidacy”.
Although the Secretary of State is responsible for the appointment of Ofcom’s Chair, Ofcom should be independent of both the Government and the services it regulates. The appointment process must follow the rules of the Governance Code for Public Appointments: whoever is hired should be selected on merit, through an open and fair process.
The Governance Code for Public Appointments does allow for Ministers to appoint someone who is not deemed “appointable” by the Assessment Panel. But there are safeguards built into the Governance Code: they must first consult the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and they are required to explain their reasons and justify their decision publicly.
The reason why Ofcom must remain independent of Government is the same reason the media must remain independent of Government: neither can do their job if they are in the Government’s pocket.
We’re asking the Secretary of State to explain why the competition for Chair is being rerun and why Mr Dacre is being allowed to reapply.
We want proper answers from the Government. If we don’t get them, we expect to take legal action.
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