Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has accused London mayor Boris Johnson of breaching public appointment rules, after he tried to appoint a close ally to a top job at Arts Council England.
Johnson recommended former Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley for the role of chair of Arts Council England, London, despite the fact that a shortlisting panel judged her as insufficiently qualified.
Liz Forgan, ACE chair and a member of the shortlisting panel, said Wadley was “manifestly less qualified” than the other three candidates chosen by the panel.
In a letter to Mick Elliot, director of culture at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Forgan wrote: “My conclusion is that the mayor’s intended appointment is based on reasons other than selection of the best candidate.”
The appointment has since been blocked by Bradshaw. A spokesperson for the DCMS said: “The secretary of state has been advised the appointment process was in clear contravention of the Nolan principles [which prevents political interference in the public appointment process] and that panel members were deeply unhappy that due process was had not been followed.
“On that basis, the secretary of state could not accept the mayor’s recommendation.”
However, a spokesman for Johnson said Bradshaw’s decision was “an outrageous, politically motivated attempt to prevent Veronica Wadley being considered for an important post for which she is highly qualified.”
The spokesman said Wadley was shortlisted because Johnson had refused to consider an all-male shortlist that excluded “one of the most successful women in British journalism” who had proved her commitment to the capital.
“Under Veronica Wadley’s stewardship the Evening Standard won a string of awards for its arts and culture coverage and she chaired the theatre and film awards for many years,” the spokesman added.
The spokesman could not confirm whether the appointment would go ahead with one of the other shortlisted candidates.
Meanwhile, Conservative shadow arts minister Ed Vaizey told The Stage: “This is an outrageous political intervention by Ben Bradshaw.
“It is quite clear that the chair of the Arts Council England, London is the Mayor’s appointment. Veronica Wadley is highly qualified, and Bradshaw has simply stepped in for political reasons. He has brought himself and his office into disrepute.”
An ACE representative said the organisation could not comment as the appointment process was ongoing.
“Liz Forgan is dismayed at the way in which details of an incomplete process appear to have been leaked. It is not proper procedure and is grossly unfair on all those involved,” she added.