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BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten is standing down with immediate effect on health grounds following major heart surgery. Vice Chairman Diane Coyle will take over as Acting Chairman until a successor is appointed.
Patten, who took up the post in May 2011 and had been meant to serve until April 2015, said that on the advice of his doctors, and having consulted his family and friends, he had concluded that he could not continue to work at the same full pace as he had done to date, and that he should reduce the range of roles he undertook.
“On this basis I have decided with great regret to step down from much the most demanding of my roles – that of Chairman of the BBC Trust. This is a position that requires and has received from me 100 per cent commitment, and has been my priority at all times. It would not be fair to my family to continue as before; and equally it would not be fair to the BBC and those it serves not to be able to give that commitment which the role demands. I have to begin by taking a six week break from any work at all,” he stated.
“So I am writing today to the Secretary of State to submit my resignation with immediate effect. It falls to the Government to identify a successor. In the meantime, Diane Coyle, as Vice Chairman of the Trust, will serve as Acting Chair as specified in the Charter, and will continue with her colleagues vigorously to pursue the Trust’s agenda to serve the interests of licence fee payers. In doing so, the Trust will enjoy the support and benefit from the skill and experience of Tony Hall, who has made such an outstanding start in his first year as Director-General and who has appointed such an excellent team to help him,” he continued.
He said it had been a privilege to have served as Chairman of the BBC Trust. “Like the NHS, the BBC is a huge national asset which is part of the everyday fabric of our lives. It is not perfect – what institution is? It always needs to challenge itself to improve. But it is a precious and wonderful thing, a hugely positive influence which benefits greatly from the creativity and dedication of its staff. I have had no reason to doubt that the leaders of all main political parties support the role it plays at the centre of our public realm. Most important of all, the British public enormously value the strength of its output, its independence and the contribution it makes every day to the quality of our lives,” he said.
“When in due course the future of the BBC is subject to further discussion at Charter Review time, I hope to say more on the issue. For the time being, however, I shall be making no further statement whatsoever about the BBC or my period as Chairman of the BBC Trust,” he concluded.
Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, in a letter, said: “Over the last three years under your Chairmanship you have steered the Trust successfully through some great moments for the BBC including coverage of the Olympics and continuing to deliver high quality original programming that is exported around the world. You have also embraced the challenges that have confronted the BBC, putting in place improvements to governance and building a stronger executive team helping the BBC to move forward with confidence. Throughout you have shown an unfettered personal commitment to securing the best outcome for the public. I wish to thank you for all that you have done for the BBC and wish you all the best for the future.”
The Culture Department said an announcement would be made in due course about the appointment process for a successor.
Already strongly tipped for the role is former Sony Chairman Sir Howard Stringer, himself a one-time candidate for the post of Director General of the BBC in 2004. He was appointed as a BBC non-executive director in December. Others rumoured to be in the frame include Dame Marjorie Scardino, the former chief executive of Pearson; Channel 4’s chairman, Lord Burns; Sir Richard Lambert, the former head of the CBI and a former editor of the Financial Times; and Lord Myners, the former City minister who recently resigned hid board role at the Co-operative Group.
Coyle is the wife of BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, and was formerly the Economics Editor of The Independent and an advisor to the Treasury. Another strong potential candidate is Dame Patricia Hodgson, current Chairman of Ofcom, who was appointed for a three-year term from April 2014. She was Director of Policy and Planning at the BBC from 1993 to 2000, where she was responsible for Charter and licence renegotiations and for project managing the BBC’s switch to digital. From 2000 to the end of 2003, she was Chief Executive of the Independent Television Commission.