Janet Finch, the government’s top candidate for heading the UK Statistics Authority, has withdrawn her application following a hearing by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee.
In a statement withdrawing her application on 5 July, Finch said that it had become clear that the MPs on the committee disagreed with her view on “how the independence of the chair should be exercised”.
During a committee hearing with Finch on 28 June, the committee’s chairman, Bernard Jenkin, wrapped up the session by signalling the committee’s disapproval of Finch:
“I have to ask you the absolute shocker of a question, which is that, if this committee were to recommend against your appointment, it is in fact still the Government’s prerogative to appoint you anyway. Would you accept the appointment on that basis?” he asked.
Finch declined to answer the question.
MPs were unimpressed with several of Finch’s statements during the hearing. Topics discussed included issues such as the independence of the chair and the government’s handing of statistical data.
Asked whether she thought the authority’s previous chairman was “too much of an insider”, Finch said she that wasn’t the case.
“I beg to differ. I have seen only comments that have praised his independence and the independence that the Authority has established for itself,” she said.
Similarly, when asked in what circumstances Finch would “intervene with ministers”, she replied that she wouldn’t always be keen to take on that role.
“You cannot necessarily say that every time there is a slightly misleading comment from a government department it is appropriate to object to a minister,” she said.
The MPs also raised concerns that the government might “spin stories” by misusing or misunderstanding the statistics it published.
Finch, however, said she did not think that “worrying about spinning stories is a major part of what the Authority does”.
According to The Guardian, the committee is now urgently calling on the Cabinet Office to revamp its selection process to encourage more independent candidates to apply for the post.
“I know for a fact that at least two people who would have been suitable candidates did not apply when they saw the line-up of the panel,” Jenkins told the newspaper.
“Whatever the reality, there was a perception it was the regulated choosing the regulator. There has got to be a different selection process. I hope the panel will be less permanent-secretary-heavy.”