Patten poised for BBC Trust role

Andrew Woodcock,Pa
Sunday 20 February 2011 09:22 GMT

Former Conservative chairman Lord Patten looks set to be confirmed as the new head of the BBC's governing body.

It is understood that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has recommended the Oxford University chancellor and former governor of Hong Kong to David Cameron as the successor to Sir Michael Lyons when he steps down in May.

Mr Cameron is thought likely to give the green light to his appointment within days, though sources close to the Prime Minister this evening declined to comment.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) refused to confirm or deny what it termed "speculation" that Lord Patten had been chosen as Mr Hunt's preferred candidate.

"The appointment process for the chair of the BBC Trust is ongoing. We will not comment on speculation at this stage," said a DCMS spokesman.

"We expect to be in a position to announce the preferred candidate in late February or early March. The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will hold a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing with the preferred candidate on March 10."

Lord Patten of Barnes, 66, served as environment secretary in Margaret Thatcher's administration and was Tory chairman under John Major, before going on to oversee the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule as governor.

He served as a member of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004 and has been chancellor of the University of Oxford since 2003.

Seen as being on the left of the Conservative Party, he has not played a frontline role in UK politics for some years and it is likely that he would be widely regarded as sufficiently independent to take the sensitive role of BBC Trust chair.

The BBC Trust operates as the voice of the licence fee-payer, setting BBC strategy and top-level budgets and appointing the director-general. It plays no part in the day-to-day production of programmes, but oversees standards and hears appeals over complaints to the broadcaster.

A key issue for the new chairman will be the ongoing row over senior salaries at the publicly-funded broadcaster.

Sir Michael Lyons replaced Michael Grade as Trust chairman in 2007 and announced last year that he will not seek a second four-year term in May.

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