Tory favourites blocked from BBC selection panel

Tory favourites for high profile BBC jobs were blocked from being put forward for interviews by a watchdog who intervened in the recruitment process, it has emerged. 

The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (Ocpa) asked government ministers to replace panellists listed for interview for high-profile jobs because they were "not sufficiently independent", according to a Freedom of Information request by The Guardian.

Peter Riddell was the commissioner for public appointments until last month, and took action on the interview panels before appointments were made in January and February. 

Ministers complied with the watchdog’s recommendations and changed their recommended appointees in all cases.

While the individuals removed from the process have not been named, last October Mr Riddell tweeted that had challenged choices of interviewees. 

He wrote: "I have had to push back on appointment of three senior independent panel members. 

"Need to be independent of the party. Also appointment of allies to panels. 

"Concerned people aren’t just satisfied with having the final choice, also tilting the process." 

The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments also blocked appointments to the boards for the British Film Institute and Office for Students for not being "sufficiently independent".

Mr Riddell told The Guardian that a panel of five candidates shortlisted by the Department for Education for the Office for Students role included three people "clearly with Tory party links and arguably a fourth had some … Also there was no one with recent higher education student experience".

There are no rules preventing the Government appointing supporters to prominent political roles, however panels selecting such candidates must include non-political "senior independent panel members".

Government accused of trying to ‘rebalance’ leadership

The revelations come as the Government has been accused of trying to “rebalance” the leadership of powerful public bodies.

Last year, the former editor of The Telegraph, Lord Moore of Etchingham, withdrew as a candidate to be the chairman of the BBC when it emerged he was the Government’s first choice for the role.

Since then, former Goldman Sachs banker and ex Royal Academy chair Richard Sharp has been appointed to head the corporation.

However, the Ocpa confirmed it challenged candidates for appointment boards for the BBC and BFI and twice for the Office for Students earlier this year.

Since then, Conservative Peer James Wharton has been appointed to lead the Office for Students and Tim Richards, the founder of Vue Cinemas, to the BFI.

Panel choices ‘not sufficiently independent’

In the instances where the then commissioner, Peter Riddell, intervened OCPA said he deemed the Government’s panel choices “were not sufficiently independent as set out in the [public appointments] code”. OCPA has not named the individuals it objected to.

However, in the case of the selection panel for the Office for Students, members included Theresa May’s former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, former Conservative MP Eric Ollerensaw and Conservative peer Laura Wyld.

Following the revelation, a government spokesman said: “The commissioner found no breaches of the code in the cases highlighted; he was properly consulted by ministers as required.” 

They also pointed out that of the 1,500 people appointed to public bodies last year, only two percent declared significant political links to the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, Mr Riddell, who left the role of commissioner earlier this year, said he felt there had been a marked shift in the current administration to “rebalancing” the leadership of public bodies.

He told the Guardian: “The tempo has stepped up. Under the [Theresa] May government, May was, as you would expect, rather correct and she was concerned with getting good people to do things.

“She was quite robust on that. Clearly things changed two years ago and there was more of a desire to shift the balance.”

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