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The BBC has confirmed that former Labour culture secretary James Purnell will become its director of radio. Helen Boaden, has confirmed that she is set to retire, has worked at the BBC for 34 years.
Purnell’s role will put him take charge of radio, education, arts, music, learning and children’s departments, meaning he becomes a leading internal candidate to take over from director general Lord Hall when he stands down in the next two or three years.
“I grew up loving the BBC, so it’s been a privilege to work here, fighting for a licence fee increase in the 1990s and now working on charter review,” said Purnell. “I’m delighted to have been asked to lead the new division. We’ve got a singular advantage in all our areas: we either have or could get global rights. I want us to use this advantage to think about how we could take on the world for the benefit of our audiences and for Britain.”
Some Tories including John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, and Damian Collins, a member of the culture select committee, argue that his appointment could jeopardise the BBC’s impartiality.
“I’ve talked a lot about a BBC that’s more digital, more open and more global than ever,” said Hall. “And, with the [royal] charter now all but done, I need the right top team in place, with the right responsibilities, to deliver just that. “I want real ambition: a powerhouse for radio – and our education mission around the world. I know we’ve got the people, programmes and ideas to do just that.”
Purnell joined the BBC as director of strategy in 2013. His promotion to director of radio is seen by some as a reward for his part in negotiating a new favourable royal charter with the government.
The BBC is to look to appoint an experienced radio executive under Purnell to run the operation day-to-day to make up for his lack of hands-on experience.