Lord Wharton of Yarm

Labour's @KateGreenSU calls for investigation following appointment of James Wharton, who was @BorisJohnson's previous campaign manager to Chair @OfficeStudents 

Lord Wharton was appointed as chair of the @OfficeStudents (OfS) on 8th Feb.

Michael Barber 100x100Commenting on the appointment, Sir Michael Barber, the outgoing chair of the OfS, said:

'I congratulate Lord Wharton on his appointment as my successor. I look forward to working with him over the coming weeks to help him prepare to take on the role, building on the achievements that we have made in the first three years of the Office for Students.'

Lord Wharton begins his term in April 2021.

Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, has written to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to call for an investigation into the appointment of the Prime Minister’s former campaign manager, the Conservative Peer James Wharton, as Chair of the Office for Students.

In the letter, Green writes: “It seems to me that Baron Wharton has none of the statutory qualifications for this post, and both the higher education sector and the wider public will be deeply concerned that this is simply another example of cronyism ... This will only be made worse by Baron Wharton’s decision to keep the Conservative whip, bringing into question his ability to make independent decisions.”

The Shadow Education Secretary adds: “At a time when it is vitally important for the public to have confidence in government appointments, it is extremely disappointing that they continue to appoint those with close ties to the Conservative Party to public jobs without the necessary experience or credentials.”

A Government spokesperson said:

The Chair of the OfS is a public appointment, made by ministers in line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments, which sets out the principles of public appointments.

The appointment has been regulated by the Independent Commissioner for Public Appointments who plays a vital role in ensuring the process is open and fair.

The Government response continues, by saying unfounded suggestions that the appointment was not made in line with standard guidelines for such appointments are categorically untrue.

Lord Wharton’s appointment was made by Ministers in line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments and regulated by the Independent Commissioner for Public Appointments.

To suggest otherwise is a wilful distortion of the facts.

Full text of the letter from Kate Green to Simon Case

Dear Simon,

I am writing to you following the appointment of the Prime Minister’s former campaign manager, the Conservative Peer James Wharton, Baron Warton of Yarn, as Chair of the Office for Students (“OfS”), the independent regulator for the higher education sector.

It seems to me that Baron Wharton has none of the statutory qualifications for this post, and both the higher education sector and the wider public will be deeply concerned that this is simply another example of cronyism, which undermines trust in public life at a time when it is needed most. This will only be made worse by Baron Wharton’s decision to keep the Conservative whip, bringing into question his ability to make independent decisions.

At a time when it is vitally important for the public to have confidence in government appointments, it is extremely disappointing that they continue to appoint those with close ties to the Conservative party to public jobs without the necessary experience or credentials.

In this case, it is particularly alarming that this appointment is being made during a pandemic in which students have been forgotten by this Government and are being denied a full university experience, yet Baron Wharton admits he has no direct experience in higher education. 

Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson must be up front about how this role was appointed and what measures have been put in place to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest.

I have a number of questions therefore that I hope you will be able to investigate.

In particular, you will be aware that the Higher Education and Research Act sets out clear criteria that should be considered when appointing members of the OfS, including the chair. In what ways does Baron Wharton meet these criteria?

What experience does he have of either promoting the interests of students, providing higher education, or employing the graduates of higher education courses in a range of disciplines? More generally, what experience does he have of a broad range of higher education? 

What experience does he have of promoting choices for consumers and service users in other sectors, other than encouraging a choice of candidates for the position of Leader of the Conservative Party?

What experience does he have of creating, implementing, or managing a regulatory system in any sector or industry? 

What experience does he have of managing the financial affairs of an organisation? 

Is continuing to take the Conservative whip while in post consistent with the seven principles of public life, particularly his ability to make objective decisions? 

Would it not be appropriate for Mr Wharton to resign the whip with immediate effect upon starting the post?

I look forward to your urgent response

Yours sincerely,

Kate Green

Shadow Education Secretary

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