Labour supporter to chair UK's biggest arts complex

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Indy Politics

One of Labour's biggest business supporters, Clive Hollick, the media tycoon, is to be made chairman of Britain's biggest arts complex.

Lord Hollick will take the helm of London's South Bank Centre, the troubled development on the Thames that includes the Royal Festival Hall and the Hayward Gallery.

The job is unpaid and arguably thankless as the centre has been involved in years of dramatic attempts at redevelopment that have been repeatedly stalled. The Labour peer and fund-raiser's primary role will be raising the millions necessary to finance the latest plans.

But the choice of a close friend to Labour may hand the Conservatives the opportunity to make fresh claims of government cronyism.

Lord Hollick, the former owner of Express newspapers, has been a major fund-raiser for Labour for years and was made a special adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry after the 1997 general election.

His wife, Sue, chairs London Arts, the grant-giving wing of the Arts Council in the capital and a funder of the South Bank Centre. The appointment raises the peculiar prospect of Lady Hollick being unable to vote on grants to the South Bank because of her "personal interest".

The couple are regularly seen attending arts events in London and Lord Hollick lists theatre and cinema among his interests in Who's Who.

But it will take more than an interest in the arts to sort out the South Bank which has had no chief executive since November and whose critics have been growing in vociferousness.

Roger Wright, the controller of BBC Radio 3, said last year: "The South Bank Centre should be at the heart of our cultural life and yet the talk for the last decade, it seems, has been about what sort of roof it should have and how many Sock Shop and Tie Rack outlets it needs to balance its books."

Karsten Witt, the chief executive whose £200,000 salary made him one of the highest earners in arts administration, left in November, claiming his job as an artistic administrator should no longer exist.

But there was speculation he had fallen out with Elliot Bernerd, the chairman of the board, who had maintained a close interest in the centre even though ill health had hampered his involvement for months.