S4C: 'UK government doesn't understand its importance'

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

image copyrightS4C
image captionA new chairman has not been appointed for S4C, despite the previous post holder leaving in September

Delaying the appointment of a new S4C chairman has been a "basic mistake", a former incumbent of the role has said.

The UK government had planned to announce an appointment in the autumn.

But one has still not been announced with a spokesman saying the decision will be made in "due course".

John Walter Jones, S4C chairman from 2006 until 2010, said the UK government's department for culture "does not understand the importance of S4C in Wales".

It is believed the two candidates being considered are former Ofcom Wales director Rhodri Williams and Coleg Cambria chief executive David Jones.

"They've known since the middle of the year. The post was advertised then," said Mr Jones.

"Six months to appoint one person?

"I don't know how many appointments they make in a year, but they should know when and what the timetable should be - and then they should follow it."

Recruitment began in June for a replacement for Huw Jones ahead of his departure in September after eight years.

The job advert specified that it expected the successful candidate to begin in the autumn.

image captionHuw Jones stood down from the role as chairman in September

The S4C chairman receives a salary of £40,000 for the equivalent of two days' work a week.

Among their commitments they must chair monthly board meetings, attend public meetings and industry events.

John Walter Jones, who preceded Huw Jones in the job, said: "Any organisation without a leader is at a disadvantage."

He added: "The effect of that is that you leave a body like S4C, a public body that spends public money, without a permanent leader, without a captain at the helm.

"And that to me is a fundamental mistake.

"What if something happens politically? What if there was a change in policy, where the new government is in question?

"Who, then, is going to argue with a new government on behalf of the channel?"

Since Huw Jones stepped down, S4C board member Hugh Hesketh Evans has been acting as chairman until a permanent replacement is appointed.

image copyrightUWTSD
image captionS4C's new headquarters in Carmarthen opened last year

The process to find a new chairman began in June when the UK government advertised the post, with applications closing on 17 July.

In August an assessment panel carried out a "sift" of applications, and three people were interviewed in mid-September.

A source familiar with the process said David Jones and Rhodri Williams were considered "appointable" by the panel.

Their names were passed for consideration to the culture secretary, Nicky Morgan, the source said.

As part of the process, the successful candidate must appear before a joint meeting of the Welsh affairs select committee and the digital, culture, media and sport select committee for a pre-appointment hearing.

'To the wire'

S4C said it was a matter for the UK government, and reiterated that Hugh Hesketh Evans was chairing the board on an interim basis.

According to John Walter Jones the forthcoming general election underlines the need for there to have been greater planning around appointing a new chairman.

"Gatland is leaving Wales today after the game they lost this morning, and there will be a successor to him announced and in office," he said.

"It's the same everywhere.

"I'm surprised that DCMS has allowed this appointment to go to the wire without an announcement. Especially under the current political circumstances."

A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: "This is an important decision for S4C and the people of Wales, so it is only right that we take the time to make the best appointment possible.

"We have made sure that S4C has an interim chair in place since 1 October so that it can continue to operate effectively, and we will announce the new chair in due course."

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