Whittingdale under fire over NPG intervention

Culture secretary John Whittingdale is under fire over his intervention in the appointment of trustees to the National Portrait Gallery.


A leaked letter reveals that Whittingdale ordered the recruitment process the post to be rerun after five candidates he endorsed did not make it onto the shortlist.

In the letter, Public appointments Commissioner Sir David Normington said that the “political activity” of candidates linked to the Conservatives should not give them “preferential consideration”. Sir David, a former civil servant, was until the end of last month, responsible for ensuring public posts are awarded on merit.

It also emerges that Whittingdale demanded that the chair of the selection panel, Sarah Anderson, be removed,

Of the five candidates endorsed by the Culture secretary for the role three are said to be donors to the Conservative party and another is a former Tory minister.

Sir David said the reason the five did not make the shortlist because the recruitment panel thought there were stronger applicants among the 54 people who applied. He added that Whittingdale risked jeopardising efforts to persuade women to join public boards by raising his complaint about the selection process.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "Any suggestion of political intervention in public appointments is nonsense.

“The process is only being rerun in this case because the department believes the code was breached, leaving no choice but to make a formal complaint to the Commissioner.

The vacancy on the board of the National Portrait Gallery attracted 54 applicants. Other trustees include Andrew Roberts, the historian and Stephan Shakespeare, founder of the YouGov market research firm.

Sir David Normington is an outspoken critic of new proposals that would give ministers a greater say over a wide range of public appointments.

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