MP criticises Downing St ‘mishandling’ as information commissioner appointment delayed

Written by Sam Trendall on 21 July 2021 in News

The role will not be filled until at least September – the month before incumbent Elizabeth Denham departs

Credit: Amtec Photos/CC BY-SA 2.0

Downing Street has been criticised for “mishandling” recruitment of two key tech sector regulatory roles after it emerged that the appointment of a new information commissioner has been further delayed.

The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee was due to put questions to the government’s preferred candidate for the commissioner role in a meeting scheduled for Thursday. But the identity of that candidate is yet to confirmed, meaning the vetting by MPs cannot go ahead.

The delay comes shortly after the government chose to re-run the recruitment process to identify the next chair of Ofcom, the UK's regulator for broadcasting – and now online harms. The relaunch came after prime minister Boris Johnson’s preferred candidate, former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, was rejected by the final interview panel.

Three other candidates were given the green light by the panel, but ministers opted not to appoint any of them.

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Answering a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Chi Onwurah last month, media minister John Whittingdale said: “Under the Governance Code for public appointments, ministers should be presented with a choice of high quality candidates drawn from a strong and diverse field from which to make an appointment. Unfortunately this was not achieved during the campaign to appoint the Chair of Ofcom due to the low number of applications that lacked breadth and diversity."

Following the announcement that the appointment of a new information commissioner would also be delayed, chair of the DCMS committee, and Conservative MP for Solihull, Julian Knight said that “we are disappointed that yet again the government is unable to go ahead with an appointment to a crucial oversight role, the second time in as many months”.

“Both appointments are critical – Ofcom as the future regulator in the draft Online Safety Bill, the ICO with its ongoing responsibilities on data collection, including the high-profile investigation into an alleged data breach that led to the resignation of health secretary Matt Hancock,” he said. “The parliamentary recess means further unnecessary delay, with September the earliest an appointment can be confirmed.”

Knight added: “We understand that despite processes running well, delays centre on Number 10. This mishandling calls into question decision-making at the top of government.”

Incumbent commissioner Elizabeth Denham has already – at the request of DCMS secretary Oliver Dowden – extended her tenure by three months, to allow sufficient time to recruit her successor. Her five-year term at the head of the ICO had been due to conclude in July, but will now run until 31 October.


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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