BBC Trust Chairman and Oxford University Chancellor Lord Chris Patten has been accused of being “distracted from serving licence-payers properly” in a letter from the BBC Radio Forum.
The letter, sent to culture secretary Sajid Javid, urges that the “grave failings” by the BBC under Patten are not repeated, asking that the appointment of his successor, due to begin work in May 2015, be “as transparent as possible so that the best candidate for the job is picked.”
The BBC Radio Forum, a national message board for licence fee payers, represents 4,000 supporters who include BBC radio producers, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and MediaWatch-UK. The letter was written on behalf of “thousands of listeners who have petitioned the BBC about various management failures in recent years.”
According to the letter, Patten has “proved himself to be a particularly poor BBC Trust chairman in terms of his main duty, which is representing the interests of licence fee-payers.
“He has been a dreadful advertisement for the BBC due to his astonishingly patronising approach to anyone who has ever questioned him on any matter relating to the BBC.”
Patten’s tenure as BBC Trust Chair has been frequently characterised, to borrow the words of Peter Oborne, by a “lack of grip” and an “evasion of responsibility”.
In particular, the letter referred to his role in the controversy surrounding the Pollard Report which looked into the Jimmy Savile affair in 2012. Patten refused to allow the report to be changed, even though Nick Pollard, who chaired the £3m inquiry, admitted its exclusion was “a mistake”.
However, in the letter, BBC Radio Forum spokesperson Tamsin Vincent suggested that the failures of his tenure were down to “outside interests” which have “distracted Lord Patten from serving licence payers properly.”
Alongside his unpaid position as Chancellor of Oxford University, a role he has held since 2003, Patten also has five other paid jobs.
The Forum’s letter asked that the government do “all that [they] can to insist that Lord Patten’s successor is required to do the job on a full-time basis. Lord Patten claims to devote ‘3 to 4 days per week’ to the BBC, for which he is paid £110,000.”
However, Oxford students have been quick to defend the time commitments of their Chancellor. Recognising Patten as a “very eminent figure in British public life who masterminded John Major’s 1992 election campaign”, first year Jesus historian Joel Nelson told Cherwell: “I find it unsurprising that a man as distinguished as Chris Patten should be extremely busy.
“Harold Macmillan was Oxford chancellor, and he must have had the same, if not more on his plate than Patten.” Exeter’s Phil Bell also claims to having “spoken to him once at a barbecue” and says “he was very friendly”, evidence that the Chancellor still makes time for social occasions. Both Patten and the BBC Trust refused to comment on the letter.