Former Labour culture secretary James Purnell has been named as the BBC’s new director of radio and education.

He takes over the radio brief from Helen Boaden, who will retire in March after 34 years at the corporation.

Purnell joined the BBC as director of strategy in 2013, and his promotion comes soon after he helped negotiate a new BBC charter with the government.

Purnell’s new role seems him take charge of radio, arts, music, learning and children’s.

The promotion also signals that Purnell is a strong successor candidate to current director general Lord Hall.

Lord Hall said: “I’ve talked a lot about a BBC that’s more digital, more open and more global than ever. And, with the Charter now all but done, I need the right top team in place, with the right responsibilities, to deliver just that.

“There are three big challenges. First of all, how do we best compete in a world full of ideas? I want to connect great thinkers inside and outside the organisation; to partner more closely with other great institutions. Secondly, how we connect with young audiences. They’re digital; they’re demanding in the very best sense of the word and we need to do more to engage them. And finally, there’s so much more to offer globally in music, arts, speech radio – things our country excels in. Our role, reflecting the UK to the world, has never been more important. BBC Radio is the best there is and I know it can speak – and sing – even more loudly the world over.

“I want real ambition: a powerhouse for radio – and our education mission around the world. I know we’ve got the people, programmes and ideas to do just that.

Purnell said: “I grew up loving the BBC, so it’s been a privilege to work here, fighting for a licence fee increase in the 1990s and now working on Charter Review.

“I’m delighted to have been asked to lead the new division, Radio and Education, bringing together Arts, Music and Network Radio with Children’s and Learning. We’re the best public service broadcaster in the world in all these areas. They’re unique, but face common challenges – from reaching younger audiences to workings in partnership.

“We’ve got a singular advantage in all our areas: we either have or could get global rights. I want us to use this advantage to think about how we could take on the world for the benefit of our audiences and for Britain.”

Helen Boaden said: “I love the BBC and it has been the privilege of my life to serve our audiences for 34 years. But now is the right time to leave. With a new Charter to implement, Tony Hall needs a top team committed to the long haul. By contrast, I am keen to embrace a different life and put my energy, skills and experience into other things I care about. I am delighted to have been invited to take up a Harvard Fellowship in the Spring.
 

Staff Reporter

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