Dame Susan Catherine Leather, DBE, DL (born 5 April 1956 ), best known as Suzi Leather, was chair of the Charity Commission from 1 August 2006  to 31 July 2012. She was replaced by William Shawcross. Previously she was chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. She was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in January 2006.
She was educated at St Mary's, Calne, Tavistock School, and Exeter University where she received a BA degree with honours in Politics in 1977, followed by a BPhil degree in social work. She then took an MA degree in European politics in 1978 from Leicester University.
From 1979-84, she was a senior research officer for Consumers in Europe. From 1984-86 she was a trainee probation officer. From 1988-97 she was a freelance consumer consultant. From 1997-2001, she was chair of Exeter and District NHS trust. From 2000-02, she was first deputy chair of the Food Standards Agency. From March 2002-July 2006, she was chair of Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Joined the board of United Kingdom Accreditation Service in 2006 alongside her colleague Professor Michael Mainelli (a political recommendation from the Downing Street office of then Prime Minister Tony Blair) to improve their quality standards regulation. From May 2005-July 2006, she was chair of the School Food Trust. She gave up the HFEA and School Food Trust positions for the Charity Commission position. She saw her qualification for that position as coming from her experience as a regulator rather than expertise with charities: “My main contact [with charities] has been through volunteering – I have no experience personally of working for charities. I don’t think I had a very well developed sense of what the Charities Bill was going to do, so I can't describe myself as a charities expert in any sense”, and therefore spent her early months in the post absorbing information about the sector.
Having held 30 public sector posts over 15 years, Leather was dubbed the "quango queen" in the popular press. In April 2013, she took the position of the independent Chair of the Plymouth Fairness Commission, an unpaid role examing fairness issues in the Westcountry city.
As Chair of Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Leather was praised for her hard work and transformative effect on the body. Guardian journalist Sarah Boseley wrote: “Nobody disputes that Leather has turned the HFEA around through her intelligence, commitment and personality.” The Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK said she put patients at the heart of the HFEA, while others said she improved its professionalism and its service as a regulatory advisor.
The key achievement of Leather’s six years as Chair of the Charity Commission, some argue, is in the public benefit guidance. Leather herself agrees that this was a success despite the controversy from right wing sources, saying: "To the average member of the public, to have all our guidance upheld in the Upper Tribunal except the requirement in it for a reasonableness test was not a bad result.”Others say the key achievement was in the way the commission carries out its basic regulatory work, with processes becoming more efficient, the website upgraded, guidance made clearer and engagement with the sector and partner agencies improved, all done in a time where resources were declining.
Leather's public appointments have led some commentators to question the motives of those who appointed her, as they were not elected posts. The Adam Smith Institute accused her of pursuing a "political agenda" on private education on behalf of politicians who lacked the "moral courage" to tackle the issue themselves.
During her tenure at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Leather faced opposition for stating that a child's absolute need for a father figure was "anachronistic" and out of step with "changes in society". Jack O'Sullivan, of the campaign group Fathers Direct which campaigns for the rights of fathers, said that "while discrimination against single and lesbian women was wrong, the benefits of a father figure were proven by scientific studies".
The Charities Act 2006 added to the traditional list of "charitable purposes" for which charities can be established (the prevention or relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and so forth) a requirement that their activities should be carried on "for the public benefit"; and it required the Charities Commission to determine how it would be established that the public benefit was being served. In pursuance of this requirement, in 2009 Leather instigated an investigation into private schools in order to determine whether non-profit education providers should continue to be accorded charitable status automatically. She has stated that she cannot "see why charitable status was always merited". Specifically, it was decided that, while providing education is a charitable purpose, doing so only in exchange for an economic fee does not meet the requirement that the purpose is carried on for public rather than private benefit. A fee-paying school could nonetheless deserve charitable status, for example if it offered bursaries, or provided teaching or coaching children from surrounding schools, or otherwise contributed. In July 2009, five private schools in the North West of England had been investigated and it was concluded that two of the five gave insufficient benefit to the public and had therefore failed the proposed test. These school would lose their charitable status in a year’s time "unless they gave out more bursaries", but these schools were allowed to keep their charitable status in 2010 after re-addressing their public benefit. The Independent Schools Council successfully challenged the controversial "public benefit" test, at a tribunal hearing which cost the Commission £185,000 in legal costs. Leather later expressed regret over the focus on bursaries, but said that most of the guidance had been upheld. The Commission was accused of exceeding its powers under the Charities Act 2006, and of drafting the "public benefit" test under Labour instructions.
Public sector salary
In 2010 a list released by the Cabinet Office in a drive for greater transparency in public life revealed the salaries of 156 "quango" bosses, including Leather's remuneration package of £104,999 a year for a 3 day week as head of the Charity Commission.
- "The Guardian profile: Suzi Leather" (Sarah Boseley, Guardian, Friday 12 May 2006)
- Dame Suzi Leather to chair the Charity Commission (PublicTechnology.net, 20 June 2006)
- Tim Ross (17 May 2012). "'Quango queen' accused of running class war on private schools steps down". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
- New Charity Commission boss breaks with 'quango queen' predecessor who was slammed for using organisation for political purposes (Glen Owen, Mail Online, Sunday 2 June 2013)
- Times Online business report
- "School Junk Food Ban" (Sean Poulter, "Daily Mail",3 March 2006)
- "Quango queen takes on the public schools. Profile: Suzi Leather". Daily Telegraph. 2 November 2007.
- IVF 'father figure' law attacked, BBC, 21 January 2004
- Charities Act (2006), Office of Public Sector Information
- Simon Heffer, 15 July 2009. "There's a class war to be fought over the future of private schools", Daily Telegraph
- Highfield Priory Public Benefit
- S.Anselms Charitable Status Confirmed
- Vibeka Mair (2012-07-06). "Sketch: Dame Suzi's farewell to Parliament". Civil Society. Archived from the original on 2012-07-06.
- "Charity Commission is government stooge", letter to The Times
- "Quango high earners revealed by the Cabinet Office" (Cabinet Office 1st July 2010)
- "Quango chiefs' salaries revealed" (BBC News 2nd July 2010)
- The Commissioners and Executive Directors (Charity Commission)
- "Quango queen takes on the public schools" (The Daily Telegraph)
- Suzi Leather's bio at The Times Online
|Non-profit organization positions|
|Chair of the Charity Commission