Smith seeks spin guru to fight criticism

David Lister@davidlister1
Thursday 11 June 1998 23:02

A NEW SPIN doctor is to take over at the strongly criticised Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Yesterday, two leading arts figures rushed to the defence of Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, following damning criticisms by a Commons select committee.

The film producer Lord Puttnam and theatre director Sir Peter Hall praised Mr Smith and accused the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the Culture Select Committee, of leading a witch-hunt.

Mr Smith is attempting to improve his image by appointing a new director of strategy. Paul Bolt, 44, head of the department's broadcasting policy division, will head a new directorate of strategy and communications.

Mr Bolt spent 17 years at the Home Office before joining the department. Mr Smith's current head of information, Andrew Marre, is leaving. His new role has not been announced.

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee accused Mr Smith of spending too much time on "glamorous and trivial matters" such as Britpop and not enough generating income from tourism. The report also said he was not tough enough in negotiations with the Treasury, and his department had still not "boxed its weight".

The cross-party committee of MPs derided the department's "Beefeaters to Britpop" image and said Mr Smith must make it his "highest priority" to start advancing its interests in the Cabinet.

Yesterday, Sir Peter Hall, who has attacked Mr Smith in the past for failing to win enough cash for the arts, said the report was an example of "tabloid hysteria - a sort of McCarthyism".

Lord Puttnam said the committee had been given a chance to give a considered view and offer sensible advice. He went on: "That opportunity has been blown because the entire report seems to have been played to the worst end of the press, to attract headlines."

He added: "We have got a very engaged minister. He is scrapping in all the areas that are crucial to us and this type of report does not help. It actually damages us."

Mr Kaufman is away and was not available for comment.His committee's criticisms of senior management at the Royal Opera House last year triggered the resignations of the chairman and chief executive.

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