Government adviser is new BBC chairman

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Gavyn Davies, economist and adviser to the Labour government, was today confirmed as the new chairman of the BBC.

Mr Davies, aged 50, will succeed Sir Christopher Bland who is standing down after becominng chairman of British Telecom five months ago.

Mr Davies and broadcaster David Dimbleby are understood to have been the leading candidates in a shortlist of six who were interviewed.

The chairman heads the Board Of Governors at the corporation – who represent the public interest – and works closely with director general Greg Dyke to lead the organisation.

Mr Davies, a friend of Chancellor Gordon Brown, became vice–chairman of the BBC at the start of this year and is a managing director of investment bank Goldman Sachs International.

He chaired the independent review into the future funding of the BBC in 1999 and he quickly emerged as a frontrunner when Sir Christopher's departure was announced.

The Conservative Party has already been critical in anticipation of him gaining the post.

He was a member of the policy unit at 10 Downing Street during the Labour administration from 1974 to 1979 and is a Labour party member.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell welcomed the appointment, which she insisted was

free from political bias. "I am delighted that, for the first time, the Government has run an independent and open selection process to appoint the chairman of the BBC," Ms Jowell said.

"The selection panel made a recommendation to me and I am happy to support their recommendation of Gavyn Davies for the post of chairman of the BBC board of governors.

"We will now begin the process of recruiting a new vice chairman, using the same independent procedures.

"Advertisements will be placed at the end of the month and I hope an announcement will be made within three months."

Downing Street sought to defend the appointment of Mr Davies – whose wife Sue

Nye works in Chancellor Gordon Brown's office – from charges of political

cronyism.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that ministers had played no part in the selection process.

"It would be strange for the Government to overrule an independent committee. The committee considered all aspects of this appointment and believed that he was the best candidate."

Mr Davies is resigning his position at Goldman Sachs in order to take up his four day–a–week post at the BBC, although he was currently negotiating with the firm about carrying on with some kind of part–time consultancy work.

Conservative Central Office dismissed claims that the selection panel was

independent as "an insult to people's intelligence".

Shadow culture secretary Tim Yeo said the appointment called into question the BBC's political impartiality.

As director general Greg Dyke was also known as a Labour supporter – the post of vice chairman must go to someone with clear Tory sympathies, he said.

"Never before has the chairman and the director general of the BBC been prominent supporters of the same party," Mr Yeo said.

"Although I have no objection to Gavyn Davies as an individual the fact that both the director general and chairman of the BBC are overt supporters of the same political party is a break with all previous precedents and will make life difficult for the BBC itself.

"The only way for the BBC to salvage their reputation for political impartiality would be for them to appoint an identifiable Conservative vice–chairman."

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HSA1241 19 Sep 13:53 5 MEDIA BBC Substitute

No details were given of the membership of the four–strong selection panel which

was chosen by civil servants at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman hinted that the appointment of the new vice–chairman – which will be made in the same way – may go to a Conservative in order to allay accusations of political bias.

"The selection panel will no doubt want to consider that all aspects of the role and constitution of the Board of Governors," the spokesman said.

Among those tipped for the job is Baroness Hogg, the former head of the 10 Downing Street policy unit under John Major and the wife of the Tory ex–Cabinet minister Douglas Hogg.

Senior Labour Party sources also sought to deflect criticism of Mr Davies's appointment, pointing out that he had been considered sufficiently impartial to serve as one of the Treasury's "seven wise men" under the Conservatives.

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