Sir Michael Lyons pledged to deliver “absolute independence and impartiality” as he was named chairman of the BBC Trust on Thursday, dismissing claims that he was too close to Gordon Brown.
“It’s certainly true he’s asked me to do three jobs, all of them difficult. I think that’s really where it begins and ends,” Sir Michael told a press conference. “I don’t think anybody needs to be afear’d of my appointment.”
His comments came amid Conservative Party accusations that the appointment of the former Labour councillor, who has just completed a review of local government funding for the chancellor, had been “sneaked out” when Parliament is in recess.
“Today we have a situation where important appointments - increasingly dominated by Labour supporters - are made without any form of public scrutiny, said Hugo Swire, the Conservatives’ media spokesman.
“People are entitled to ask on what criteria Sir Michael Lyons – someone with close links to the Labour Party and Gordon Brown in particular – was selected for this role,” he added, suggesting such appointments should be subject to a confirmation hearing before a Parliamentary committee in future.
“I believe I’m going to be an excellent chairman of the Trust,” Sir Michael said, adding that he would “never lose sight of the public’s core expectations of editorial independence and quality programmes across television, radio and the internet which inform, educate and entertain.”
He cautioned that it was “inevitable” that the Trust, which replaced the broadcaster’s board of governors in January, would sometimes disappoint BBC executives, the commercial sector or both, but said it would always be transparent and justify its decisions with clear explanations.
Sir Michael said he would bring “experience and enthusiasm” from his earlier career as acting chairman of the Audit Committee, professor of public policy at Birmingham University and chief executive of local authorities in Birmingham, Nottinghamshire and Wolverhampton.
He ducked questions about the licence fee settlement in January, which left the BBC £2bn short of its funding plans for the next six years, saying: “I don’t have to have a view on that because it’s history.”
However, he said the Trust’s decisions over how the £3bn a year licence fee should be spent would be informed by the results of its first major survey of public opinion about the BBC’s priorities.
Mark Thompson, the BBC director general who is expected to present the executive’s proposals “before the summer”, noted Sir Michael’s “formidable reputation in public sector reform and modernisation.”
”We spoke yesterday and I believe he will be a true champion for all licence payers across the UK,” he said. Sir Michael lent his support to the BBC’s plans to move thousands of jobs out of London to a new media centre in Salford, Manchester.
”Sir Michael Lyons is experienced and talented,” said Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who praised his “distinguished track record in local government and a wide range of other sectors.”