Sir Michael Lyons to step down as BBC chairman in May

Sir Michael Lyons is to step down as chairman of the BBC Trust next year after claiming the role has become too demanding of his time.

Lyons today informed the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt that he had decided not to seek reappointment following conclusion of his single four-year term of office next May.

In his letter to Hunt, Lyons said that for all the positive aspects associated with leading the BBC he had to acknowledge that being chairman had “been far more demanding than the nominal three to four days a week in the job specification”.

Lyons said one of the compelling aspects of working at the BBC was that it could become “an all-consuming part of one’s life” but he believed the workload had now “reached a point where I am increasingly concerned that it is crowding out other appointments to which I remain committed and other activity that I wish to undertake”.

He added: “So balancing all the factors I have on reflection concluded that my preference would be to limit my appointment to a single term and not seek reappointment from next May.

“I raise this now both to set a clear context for our forthcoming discussions on policy issues and to leave you enough time to find a successor.”

Lyons said he had reached the decision not to seek a second term after a period of reflection over the summer months.

In his letter, Lyons noted how it was not normal practice to make correspondence between the BBC chairman and the secretary of state public but he had chosen to because of the “public interest in this matter and in the interests of openness and transparency”.

Lyons, a former chief executive of Birmingham City Council, was appointed to succeed Michael Grade in April, 2007, when he left to retake the helm at ITV as executive chairman.

At the time of his appointment Lyons held a public policy professorship at Birmingham University after completing a three-year review into changes in the council tax system.

The first big move of the trust under Lyons in 2007 was an inquiry into top presenters’ pay and to green light director general Mark Thompson’s six year plan for the future of the corporation which expected around 2,000 job losses.

Lyons drew the ire of publishers in October, 2008 by suggesting the regional press had “nothing like the strength” it enjoyed 15 years ago.

His comments were seen by many as an indication that the Trust was likely to approve highly-controversial proposals by the BBC executive to create a network of 65 local video websites – a proposal that has faced criticism from the regional newspaper industry which feared it could disfigure their commercial interests.

In a surprise move the trust then rejected the proposal with Lyons saying he “personally hoped” that the scrapping of the BBC’s online local video initiative would “sustain and improve” the regional press.

The BBC Trust has come under pressure from the new culture secretary who while in opposition vowed to scrap the BBC Trust. Hunt later rowed back from this but forced the BBC into greater transparency by allowing the National Audit Office to look into the running of the organisation.

The outgoing chairman today defended his position against detractors who saw his role as a compromise, part-cheerleader and part-regulator, saying he had helped make the 2007 Charter a reality.

“For all the continuing debate, I am clear that this model is robust, workable and effective,” he said.

“I am proud of what we have achieved in safeguarding the BBC’s independence against significant challenge, and bringing the interests of audiences in all their diversity to the centre of the BBC’s thinking.

“We have worked to shape BBC services in a way which maximises public value and secures the highest editorial standards, at the same time seeking to ensure that the BBC operates within clear boundaries and cooperates effectively with others.

“We have taken openness and transparency to a new level. Most important of all, under the trust’s guardianship – and with the leadership of the director general and his team – the quality and public service focus of the BBC’s output has improved and the public’s affection for the BBC has strengthened.

“Much of course remains to be done, but I think that this represents good progress and a strong foundation on which to build.”

Hunt responded to the publication of the letter sent to him by Lyons by thanking him for the all work he has done during his term as chair of the BBC Trust and wishing him luck for the future.

“I am grateful that he has let us know of his intentions in good time so we can begin the process of finding a replacement as soon as possible,” Hunt added.

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