Tories accused of picking politically partisan shortlist for new BBC Trust chairman

 

Media Editor

Interviews to find the successor to Lord Patten as chair of the BBC Trust begin on Thursday amid deep concerns as to how the process is being conducted by the Government.

The former Conservative MP Lord Coe, who was said to have been Downing Street’s favoured candidate for the role, has ruled himself out of the race but the remaining shortlist is understood to be dominated by Tory supporters and business figures. The Chancellor George Osborne is said to be showing a close interest in the appointment.

Among those believed to be on a list of four or five names is Baroness Patience Wheatcroft, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and a Conservative peer, and Baroness Sarah Hogg, who was head of John Major’s policy unit when he was Prime Minister/ Baroness Hogg is the wife of former Tory minister Viscount Hailsham, and sits in the House of Lords as a crossbencher. Also said to be on the short list is Martyn Rose, Chairman of the English National Opera and the chair of David Cameron’s Big Society Network.

Nick Prettejohn, a City grandee and existing trustee of the BBC Trust, is also listed. Mr Prettejohn, a former head of Lloyd’s of London and an Oxford contemporary of William Hague’s, was a trustee of the Royal Opera House when it was run by Tony Hall, current BBC Director General.

“I have no confidence in the way the Government has run this process from the start,” said Ben Bradshaw MP, a former Labour Culture Secretary. The Government’s lack of transparency on the future of the BBC suggested “it has a hidden agenda to dismantle the BBC if the Tories win the next election”, he said.

Sebastian Coe has pulled out of the race (PA) Sebastian Coe has pulled out of the race (PA)
John Leech MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on media, said he was unhappy with the lack of information on how the final list of candidates had been drawn up for the £110,000-a-year part time role. “I do think there are some questions to be asked about the shortlisting process and how it’s determined who is an acceptable candidate and who is not.”

Mr Leech is a member of the Commons committee on Culture, Media and Sport, before which the successful candidate must appear for “preappointment scrutiny”. Another member of that committee, Labour MP Jim Sheridan, expressed concern at the lack of political diversity in the field.

He said: “I don’t think that’s good for the BBC which is supposed to be non-partisan. There has to be total transparency.”

Lord Coe was described as a “first-rate choice” for the BBC Trust role by London Mayor Boris Johnson, but the former Olympics supremo has said he wants “to concentrate” on seeking election as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

The BBC Trust interview process is set to take place over two days and will be overseen by a panel led by the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, the former BBC and ITV executive Carolyn Fairbairn and Lord Kakkar, a professor of surgery and crossbench peer.

Dame Marjorie Scardino, formerly chief executive of publisher Pearson, has also been linked with the BBC Trust role. Diane Coyle, Lord Patten’s deputy and the acting chair of the BBC Trust, applied for the job permanently but was not shortlisted. Last year Mr Osborne headhunted Canadian Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England, snubbing the deputy governor and hot favourite for the job Paul Tucker.

The DCMS said that the final candidates would be interviewed and would meet the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid before the Government made its final choice. Lord Patten’s successor should be in place by November or December. “We have set out the process and we are not going to give a running commentary on it,” said a spokesperson.

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