Croynism row as PM's ex-campaign chief gets £60k, two-days-a-week job

Croynism row as Gavin Williamson hands Boris Johnson’s former campaign chief Lord Wharton a £60,000-a-year, two-days-a-week job as chairman of the Office for Students

  • Lord Wharton of Yarm appointed as chairman of the Office for Students (OfS) 
  • The previously independent post has £60,000 salary for two-day working week
  • Former MP for Stockton South ran Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2019

Boris Johnson was at the centre of another cronyism row today after a Tory peer who led his leadership election campaign was appointed to lead England’s independent higher education regulator.

Lord Wharton of Yarm was appointed as chairman of the Office for Students (OfS) on a £60,000 salary for a two-day week by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

The former MP for Stockton South, 36, ran Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2019, working alongside Mr Williamson to install him in Downing Street in place of Theresa May. 

Labour today demanded an investigation into the appointment after Lord Wharton suggested he could retain his party’s whip in the House of Lords if confirmed in the supposedly impartial post.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: ‘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.

Lord Wharton of Yarm was appointed as chairman of the Office for Students (OfS) on a £60,000 salary for a two-day week by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson .

The former MP for Stockton South, 36, ran Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2019, working alongside Mr Williamson to install him in Downing Street in place of Theresa May .

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: ‘It seems to me that Baron Wharton has none of the statutory qualifications for this post’

‘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.’

Ms Green added: ‘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 a letter to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Ms Green questions whether it would be appropriate for Lord Wharton to resign the whip ‘with immediate effect’ upon starting the post.

Last week, Lord Wharton told the education select committee that he recognised the ‘crucial importance’ of the universities’ watchdog being independent and added he would ‘uphold that’.

When asked whether he would retain the Conservative whip, Lord Wharton said he has had a discussion with the whips in the Lords and they said they would give him ‘more latitude’ and they would understand that he may need to vote against some of the Government’s proposals.

James Wharton was the Conservative MP for Stockton South from 2010 to 2017 and he served as a parliamentary under-secretary of state for international development during this period.

Before becoming an MP, he studied law at Durham University where he was the race awareness officer. He then trained to be a solicitor with a regional firm in north-east England after he graduated.

Lord Wharton was interviewed for the OfS role by an all-Tory panel that included Tory peer Baroness Wyld, former Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw and Nick Timothy, who advised Theresa May as prime minister.

In correspondence with Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, Peter Riddell, the commissioner for public appointments, said he had expressed concern about the interview panel’s ‘overall balance in terms of experience and political activity’.

But Mr Riddell said he was ‘satisfied’ that the panel questioned the six candidates ‘consistently and with reference to the criteria for the role’.

Lord Wharton, who is succeeding Sir Michael Barber in the role, will start as chairman of the OfS at the beginning of April.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves attacked a lack of oversight of how eye-watering amounts of taxpayers cash has been spent.

A Government spokesman 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.’

It is the latest cronyism row to engulf the Government.

On Monday Labour tore into the Government over Covid contracts worth £2billion it said have been handed to firms run by friends or donors to the Conservative party.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves attacked a lack of oversight of how eye-watering amounts of taxpayers cash has been spent.

She also called for the cash to be clawed back by the Government if the contracts have failed to be delivered fully, and outline proposals to boost transparency for outsourcing and the tendering process.

Last November saw the National Audit Office (NAO), the public spending watchdog, publish a scathing report which criticised the way normal standards of transparency had been set aside.

In a speech broadcast online Ms Reeves accused the Government of overseeing an ‘an unseemly gold rush’ of PPE contracts last year and a ‘VIP fast lane with even less scrutiny’ for firms to gain other deals.

She said: ‘This crisis has been an opportunity for the friends of the Tory Party to profit.

‘There is no respect for public money which needs to be used for the public good. We are all paying a high price for their mismanagement and waste.

This current Tory Party is rife with conflicts of interest. It’s all cheques and no balances.’   

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