The BBC has confirmed this morning that James Purnell will add radio to his list of responsibilities, when the current director of radio retires.

Helen Boaden will leave the corporation in March, after 34 years at the BBC.

Director General, Tony Hall announced that Purnell’s role will now encompass radio, arts, music, learning and Children’s as he becomes Director, Radio & Education.

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“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,” said the former Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde.

“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.”

Purnell was interviewed for the post this week and will remain on his existing salary. The BBC said that bringing together the divisions would enable it to deliver “further savings, to focus on content.”

A director of radio will be recruited, to work within his team.

“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,” explained Lord Hall.

“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.”

Boaden will continue to lead the radio teams until the new division starts at the end of October. She will then remain responsible for myBBC, the BBC’s major digital project, as well as leading on BBC’s contribution to Hull City of Culture.

“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,” she said.

“I am very fortunate to have done some wonderfully challenging and fascinating jobs throughout my long career. The last few years running BBC Radio, with all its creativity, innovation and sheer fun, have been especially productive and happy. I am very proud that my final job at the BBC has been Director of the Radio division.

“I may be leaving but I shall always root for the BBC and its amazing teams who provide the very best education, information and entertainment, as well as useful and inventive technology. The BBC is extraordinary. We are blessed to have it as a unique part of our national life and we should never take it for granted.”