The Guardian reports that the vetting process by which Toby Young was appointed to the board of the new higher education regulator was flawed and rife with political interference, according to the results of an investigation by an official watchdog.
The commissioner for public appointments’ report castigates the Department for Education (DfE) and regulator the Office for Students (OfS) for failing to delve into Young’s controversial writings and social media postings, and uncovers a high degree of direct meddling by ministers in Young’s appointment and No 10 Downing Street in other nominations.
The commissioner concludes that the OfS’s board appointments, including Young, showed a “clear disparity” in the treatment of different candidates, and that parts of the process “had serious shortcomings in terms of the fairness and transparency aspects” under the code governing public appointments.
The report reveals Jo Johnson, who was then the universities minister, contacted Young about applying for the post and that his nomination was later queried by Justine Greening, the education secretary at the time.
Young’s inclusion on the board immediately attracted sustained public controversy, with critics highlighting Young’s Twitter account, containing salacious and crude comments about women, and Young’s writing in support of what he dubbed “progressive eugenics”. Eight days later Young announced he would withdraw.
The commissioner found that while the DfE said it conducted online vetting of the candidates, “by its own admission, it did not delve back extensively into social media so it was not aware of the tweets by Mr Young”. The report adds: “However, the social media activity of the initially preferred candidate for the student experience role was extensively examined.”
“Mr Young’s reputation as a controversialist, in itself hardly a secret, should have prompted further probing to examine whether what he had said and done might conflict with his public responsibilities and standards expected on the OfS board” the report states.
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