The new woman in BBC’s hotseat

Rona Fairhead, newly appointed Chairman of the BBC Trust
Rona Fairhead, newly appointed Chairman of the BBC Trust
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The new chairman of the BBC Trust started work today telling corporation staff their bosses understood the “need to operate efficiently”.

Rona Fairhead has taken over from former cabinet minister Lord Patten who stood down in May.

In an email to BBC staff, she said she had spent time with director-general Tony Hall and other senior executives in recent weeks.

She said: “They are under no illusions about the challenging environment; the changing viewing patterns, the explosion of choice and the rapid changes in technologies and markets. They understand that they need to operate efficiently and to rectify some of the high profile issues of the past, while building this compelling future.”

The BBC was heavily criticised over excessive payouts given to senior staff including £470,000 to former director-general George Entwistle after only 54 days in the job and £680,000 to former chief operating officer Caroline Thomson.

Deputy director general Mark Byford departed the BBC with a total payout of £949,000.

The former chief executive of the Financial Times group also said she would “defend vigorously the BBC’s independence while holding it accountable to its audience”.

She will have to deal with pressure to scrap its traditional funding method - the licence fee - which has been much criticised by politicians, performers and former corporation staff in the run-up to the renewal of its charter, which expires in 2016.

In May, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said “everything” would be looked at, including licence fees and governance structures, when negotiations get under way.

Senior Tories have previously called the compulsory annual charge made to viewers - currently frozen at £145.50 a year - out of date and warned it faces the axe but BBC executives insist a subscription system could end up costing more money.

The renewal negotiations will take place on the back of a torrid few years that have seen the corporation lambasted for its handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal, executive pay-offs and a Newsnight investigation that led to the late Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse.