University Chancellor calls for radical overhaul of the BBC

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Oxford University Chancellor Lord Patten, who is also Chairman of the BBC Trust, has called for a “radical structural overhaul” of the BBC after the resignation of Director General George Entwistle.

Patten’s statement was made following a recent Newsnight documentary which suggested that a Conservative peer was involved in a child abuse network, after which Entwistle made the decision to resign.  Controversy has surrounded the BBC this autumn following revelations concerning an unaired documentary exposingchild abuse allegations against BBC stalwart Jimmy Savile. 

Lord Patten is also under increasing pressure from MPs and the media to resign from his role as Chairman of the BBC Trust following public anger at the £1.3 million resignation package offered to Mr Entwhistle who lasted only 54 days in the job.

Commenting on the severance agreement a BBC Trust spokesman said, “The BBC reached a consensual termination agreement with George Entwistle last night and agreed to pay him 12 months pay, in lieu of notice. This reflects the fact that he will continue to help on BBC business, most specifically the two ongoing inquiries.” 

Last week, Lord Patten appeared on the Andrew Marr Show to maintain his support of Mr Entwhistle, where he deplored the “awful journalism” that led to the Newsnight scandal. 

Lord Patten continues to resist pressure for him to also leave his post despite MPs calling for his resignation. MP Philip Davies, in a recent TV interview, labelled his position as “just as untenable” as Entwhistle’s and claimed, “the longer he clings on the more damaging it will be for the BBC.” 

Media attention has recently shifted focus onto the ten additional jobs that Lord Patten has on top of his role as Chairman of the BBC Trust, including work as an advisor for BP and energy firm EDF. 

In a blog post for the Spectator, Cherwell editors Grace Goddard and Barbara Speed expressed their concern regarding his many positions, writing, “As students at Oxford University, we are told repeatedly by tutors, proctors, and the Chancellor himself that we’re not allowed to do much outside our degree. We cannot do more than eight hours of paid work a week, and extracurricular activities are monitored carefully by colleges, who can revoke your right to do them at any time.

“Lord Patten has arguably spread himself a bit too thin, taking on another significant appointment at the BBC commanding a salary of £110,000 a year, in addition to holding other remunerated positions listed in the House of Lords’ register of interests.”

In response to Cherwell enquiries about Lord Patten and his involvement in the BBC crisis, a University of Oxford spokesperson said, “Lord Patten’s role as Chancellor of Oxford University is entirely separate from his position as Chairman of the BBC Trust. The Chancellor is usually an eminent public figure elected for life and serves as the titular head of the University, presiding over all major ceremonies. Lord Patten was elected Chancellor in 2003.”

Lord Patten has said he wants to appoint a successor to George Entwistle within a “few weeks” and the vacancy is top of the agenda for the talks at the BBC Trust’s Great Portland Street offices in central London.It is unclear whether further changes to the BBC’s management structure will take place in the coming weeks.

Lord Patten was a Conservative Member of Parliament for Bath between 1979 and 1992. From 1989 he held a position in the Cabinet. His current position at Oxford is part time, and until 2009 he also combined the role with the Chancellorship of Newcastle University. The BBC role, also part time, currently has a salary of £142,800 a year. The Trust Chairman is head of 12 Trustees, who represent the public who pay for the BBC. On the BBC website it is stated that “the Trust makes sure the BBC is run in the public interest and in the interests of licence fee payers.

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