Introducing the new BBC Chairman David Clementi

Introducing the new BBC Chairman David Clementi

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Roger Bolton profiles the BBC’s new Chairman, David Clementi, who arrives at the corporation in testing times

David Clementi is the first Chairman of a single, unitary BBC Board, his appointment confirmed by Parliament and the Sovereign.

He is now Mr BBC and the Director-General works directly to him.

From now on, there is no debate about who runs the corporation, no discussion about whether the governors or the Trust are more powerful than the Executive.

There is only one Board and he runs it. Indeed, he designed it. So he can hardly blame anyone else if it goes wrong. And, of course, things often go wrong.

In many ways, Sir David is well ­qualified for the job of which he is the architect.

He is rich and, according to a friend, “has never had to worry about money”.

That will help, as his £100,000 salary, for what is intended to be a full-time job, might put off potential candidates less financially fortunate than himself.

Presumably, he will give up his current roles as chairman of both World First, a currency exchange firm, and King’s Cross Central, the company overseeing development of the land around the London station.

He is relatively old: he is 68 this month. He is, therefore, unlikely to be looking for another job following this one.

This could make him more independent (although a peerage would be a nice reward for being a successful BBC chairman).

Clementi certainly knows about money. He has been, among other things, Chairman of Virgin Money, Chairman of the Prudential, a Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and Vice-Chairman of Kleinwort Benson.

He advised Margaret Thatcher on the privatisation of another great British organisation, BT.

He is, in other words, the epitome of the City grandee.

Clementi knows about regulation as well, having undertaken a wide-ranging independent review of the regulation of legal services in England and Wales in 2003.

City colleagues, such as Lord Myners, have called him “an inspired choice” and “very wise and sensible”, “a man of high integrity”.

He certainly feels at home in the establishment.

Clementi’s grandfather was Governor of Hong Kong, and his father was an air vice-marshal.

He was educated at Winchester and Oxford and then qualified as a chartered accountant.

He has been Warden of Winchester College and Master of the Mercers’ Company.

The panel that appointed him was chaired by an ex-head of defence procurement and included a former private secretary to the Queen and a permanent secretary of the DCMS. One might be tempted to say that the Establishment has got its man.

Clearly, if you think the most important thing about the person running one of the greatest broadcasting organisations in the world should not be tainted by any experience of broadcasting, David Clementi is the ideal choice.

However the job of the BBC is not to make a profit, but to produce brilliant public service programmes. Its job is to reflect the complex and varied cultures of the UK.

Its job, more necessary than ever in these divided times, is to speak truth to power.

The BBC should, on occasions, embarrass and anger governments. Is Sir David up for that?

Does the new Chairman know how to create the best conditions for creative talent? Will he encourage those who have an appetite for making trouble?

Is he ready for the full fury of the Brexit debate as we move towards withdrawal, or the Trumpian blasts that blowing across the Atlantic?

Who wants a well-run, efficient organisation that makes dull programmes and safe journalism?

Perhaps certain members of the Establishment do, but not the licence-fee payers who are the BBC’s shareholders.

The BBC should, on occasions, embarrass and anger governments. Is Sir David up for that?

By the way, does the new Chairman have any ideas about how to make the corporation properly accountable to those who pay for it, as well as to those who regulate it?

Clementi’s in-tray is full to overflowing. He has to form an effective relation­ship with the BBC’s new regulator, Ofcom. He has to select the other new members of the unitary Board.

There are, at present, four seats set aside for members of the executive. The DG, Tony Hall, and his deputy, Anne Bulford, get two of them.

Presumably, James Harding, director of news, gets the third.

That seems to leave a choice between director of content Charlotte Moore and director of radio and education James Purnell for the fourth.

And Clementi has to make this decision with a view to developing potential successors to Tony Hall as DG.

In that case, Purnell’s political past as a Labour culture secretary will, presumably, count against him.

Another pressing problem is how the BBC can cut around 25% – according to some estimates – off its spending over the next few years. It seems certain that more services will have to go; salami slicing will not be enough.

Clementi arrives just as BBC Studios prepares to begin operating as a commercial division. In one of its final acts, the Trust recently gave the go-ahead to the revamped BBC Studios, but the trade unions are going to ballot their members about strike action.

Some independent producers think that the only way Studios can cut its cost base is by making more staff redundant, changing employment practices for the worse and issuing far more short-term contracts.

In other words, greater casualisation and a widening of the gap between pay levels at the BBC. This is unlikely to enhance staff morale.

If Studios is to make a profit, surely it will have to concentrate on popular formats, returning series and shows that have foreign sales potential. The purely public service programmes that only the BBC can provide will have to be subsidised in some way.

So much now depends on brilliant commissioners with a passion for their subject matter and the confidence to fight their corner. Does the new Board know what is needed to find, enthuse and empower them?

Clementi, like most politicians in Westminster, knows about The Great British Bake Off and The Today Programme – but how much else?

The lifestyles of such public figures leave them little time for watching or listening.

But he appears to be an exception, having recently told the Commons that he is an avid TV watcher, and that his “specialist subject is BBC One and BBC Two between 8:00pm and 11:00pm”.

Clementi does have interests beyond his professional world. For example, he is a keen yachtsman and seems passionate about sport.

The new Chairman will be on a steep learning curve and will have to take some crucial decisions very early in his tenure.

We must all wish him luck and hope that he goes a little, but not too, native.

At the very least, he should be prepared to lose some friends in the Government and the Establishment.

He ought to find that being Chairman of the BBC is a lonely job.

Roger Bolton is a former BBC and ITV executive, and independent producer.