Boris Johnson’s government accused of ‘mishandling’ appointment of data chief due to investigate scandals around Matt Hancock’s sacking

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson. Toby Melville – WPA Pool / Getty Images
  • MPs overseeing the appointment of a key official accused the government of botching the process.
  • The chair of the DCMS committee said inaction means a long delay to getting a new Information Commissioner.
  • The official would be in charge of probing events around the sacking of Matt Hancock.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of botching the appointment of the next UK data regulator, a person whose work would include investigating its own scandals.

The head of a Parliamentary committee accused Downing Street of failing to name a candidate to be the new UK Information Commissioner, causing a months-long delay.

Julian Knight, the Conservative backbench MP who chairs the committee, noted that the Information Commissioner’s Office is in charge of two separate investigations linked to the sacked former Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The first is how security footage of him kissing an aide came to be made public, the second on the use of private emails to conduct government business at his department.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee was due to hear from the Government’s candidate on Wednesday, but Knight said there is still no candidate.

The role of Information Commissioner is still being advertised on the Public Appointments website, suggesting that the process remains in an early stage.

In a statement, Knight said: “We are disappointed that yet again the Government is unable to go ahead with an appointment to a crucial oversight role, the second time in as many months.

“This time, Ministers have failed to provide a preferred candidate to become the next Information Commissioner. This comes after a decision to re-run the appointments process for the next Chair of Ofcom.”

He noted that the commissioner would be in charge of “the high-profile investigation into an alleged data breach that led to the resignation of Health Secretary Matt Hancock.”

Knight said that the upcoming recess in parliament means that the appointment now can’t take place before September.

“We understand that, despite processes running well, delays centre on Number 10. This mishandling calls into question decision-making at the top of Government,” he said.

Downing Street referred Insider’s questions to the DCMS.

A DCMS spokesperson told Insider: “We are progressing through the process for this important role in the proper way and will announce our preferred candidate for the role soon.”

The Information Commissioner leads the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an independent authority which regulates the use of data in the UK.

The current Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, was due to depart in July 2021. In January she agreed to have her role extended to the end of October.

The select committee’s role is to produce a report on whether they recommend the government’s candidate, though it is not able to block an appointment it disagrees with.