News Column

Osborne adviser tipped for top BBC job after Coe says no

July 30, 2014

Mark Sweney



A City grandee who helped advise the chancellor, George Osborne, on the restructuring of banking regulation has emerged as a leading contender to head the BBC after the favourite, Lord Coe, unexpectedly pulled out of the race.

Nick Prettejohn, who was recently appointed chairman of pensions and investment firm Scottish Widows, is understood to be one of four or five candidates set to be interviewed later this week to take over from Lord Patten as chairman of the BBC Trust.

Prettejohn previously ran the UK division of insurer Prudential, before becoming one of a group of City advisers to Osborne both before and after the 2010 general election. He became a trustee of the BBC last December.

Coe, the preferred candidate of Osborne and David Cameron, has suddenly dropped out of the running, voicing concern about the time commitment required for the high-profile pounds 110,000 role on top of his existing responsibilities and future ambitions.

Coe had previously been such a fancied contender that London mayor Boris Johnson called him a "first rate choice" for the role, while the BBC'sRobert Peston blogged that Coe was a "virtual shoo-in".

Coe, the former Olympic gold medal winner and chairman of the London 2012 organising committee, also wants to fulfil his long-held ambition to be president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), a position that falls due next year.

Coe said of the BBC job: "On reflection, I haven't the capacity and I now want to concentrate on my current commitments and the IAAF election. As everyone knows, athletics is in my DNA."

The BBC Trust position was initially advertised as a three- to four-day-a-week role. However, the government later said it would consider candidates with less time available, a move viewed by observers as an attempt to ensure Coe could apply.

Coe is thought to have discussed whether it was feasible for him to spend as little as a day or a day and a half a week on the BBC Trust chair role, leaving the reins largely in the hands of Lord Hall, the BBC's experienced director-general.

A spokeswoman for Coe said: "Lord Coe did put his name forward on the proviso he wanted to consider if he had the capacity to do the role and if it was something that he wanted to take on."

It is understood that the recruitment process has, unusually, seen the chancellor heavily involved. Osborne is understood to have focused the shortlist on candidates with strong City and big company experience.

But another top flight candidate who will not be taking part in the final interviews is Dame Marjorie Scardino, the former chief executive of Pearson, the parent company of the Financial Times.

Scardino, 67, was widely considered to be one of the best-qualified candidates. Her eligibility had been enhanced by reports that Cameron and Osborne have been keen to appoint the first woman to chair the BBC Trust.

However Scardino, who recently joined the board of Twitter as its first female director, cited a busy work schedule for choosing not to pursue the BBC job.

"It would be a joy to work with Tony Hall and all the people [at the BBC] to help protect and expand its future," she said. "Unfortunately for me (though probably no loss for the BBC), I have a number of commitments that would make it impossible to give the position the attention it demands, so I asked the search team not to consider me.

"I would not be so presumptuous as to think they would have chosen me anyway, but I didn't want to waste their time."

According to one source, the shortlist also includes a recent former senior government or civil service official.

Potential female contenders include Lady Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer and former editor of the European edition of the Wall Street Journal; Lady Hogg, a crossbencher who was once John Major'sDowning Street policy chief and is a former BBC governor; and Suzanna Taverne, a BBC Trustee with a strong background in finance, who has also held senior executive positions at Pearson and the British Museum.

After a round of interviews, all the "appointable" candidates will then meet the culture secretary, Sajid Javid, who is also a former Treasury minister, and an ally of Osborne's. Javid will then choose a preferred candidate who will appear before the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee headed by the Tory MP John Whittingdale.

Nick Prettejohn

is understood to

be one of four or five candidates set

to be interviewed to take over

from Lord Patten

Captions:

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watch the athletics with Sebastian Coe at the Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow Photograph: David Davies/PA


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Source: Guardian (UK)


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