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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
New culture secretary's top tasks
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

James Purnell has been named the new culture secretary in Gordon Brown's first Cabinet - and it is as if he has hardly been away.

Culture Secretary James Purnell
James Purnell was an adviser to Tony Blair before becoming an MP
Until May last year, he was minister for media and tourism in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

He introduced new tax breaks for the film industry and handled the tricky subject of licensing reform, steering legislation through the House of Commons to permit round-the-clock drinking.

Then he was switched to pensions reform, as a result of which he has just been named Which? Consumer Champion of the Year, further confirming his reputation as a rising star.

Now he is back in the area he knows best.

Before becoming an MP in 2001, Mr Purnell worked as Tony Blair's special adviser on culture, media, sport and the knowledge economy.

For two years before that, from 1995 to 1997, he worked for John Birt as the BBC's head of corporate planning.

Britain really has got talent - everyone should have the chance to develop their passions and hone their skill
James Purnell
"I couldn't be happier to be coming back to DCMS" he said.

"It's full of dedicated enthusiastic people doing some of the most noble work government can do.

"Britain has always been characterised by its art and sport, its music and its literature. We lead the world in the fullness of culture and the creativity of our people."

Having acknowledged the higher arts, he also gave a nod to popular culture with a reference to a recent hit ITV show.

"Britain really has got talent," he said. "Everyone should have the chance to develop their passions and hone their skill. Fulfilling that right is my job, and I can't wait to get started."

Digital TV mascot "Digit Al" in front of Whitehaven harbour
The digital TV switchover will begin in Cumbria in October
So what is top of his in tray? One issue - the one which arguably he knows best - has already been resolved.

The BBC's charter and licence fee have been settled and its new chairman appointed. It is now for the corporation, not the government, to decide how the money will be allocated.

But one major broadcasting issue still looms large. Digital switchover - strictly speaking, the analogue TV switch-off - starts this autumn in Whitehaven in Cumbria.

It is the biggest household conversion project since the switch to North Sea gas and plenty of pitfalls await.

Before then, Mr Purnell faces several other important issues.

The first is the government's casino plans, which lie in tatters after the House of Lords voted to reject Manchester as the location of Britain's first "super-casino".

Manchester's planned super-casino, as seen in an artist's impression
Manchester's planned super-casino, as seen in an artist's impression
The new culture secretary may have to go back to the drawing board, and the two original front-runners - Blackpool and the O2, on the former site of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich - are waiting eagerly to see what the government decides.

A linked issue is gambling. The new Gambling Act, imposing a mixture of relaxations and restrictions, must be implemented in September, and that could reignite lots of controversy.

Then there's the next National Lottery licence, which is due to be awarded in August.

Camelot remains the hot favourite, with just one challenger - the Indian lottery operator Sugal and Damani.

But remember the chaos last time, when the National Lottery Commission decided neither bid was fit to win? And remember just how much money the Lottery has got to raise to pay for the 2012 Olympics? Plenty of potential pitfalls there.

Ah yes, the Olympics. Purnell's predecessor and former boss Tessa Jowell has been made the minister for the Olympics, taking charge of the organisation for 2012.

Cultural Olympiad

She will chair the Olympic Delivery Authority and be based in the Cabinet Office, reporting directly to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

But Mr Purnell will be responsible for the Cultural Olympiad - which runs alongside the main event.

He also has to ensure that UK sportsmen and women perform to their utmost in 2012, and that there is an Olympic sporting legacy. Plenty of room for confusion there.

As the minister in charge of the Lottery, he must also face the rows over whether or not the arts, heritage and other existing beneficiaries are going to suffer because of the diversion of funds to the Olympics.

An area of Buckingham Palace in need of repair
Mr Purnell may have to find funds for Buckingham Palace repairs
But the big arts row is likely to be over the government's spending review this autumn.

The major arts organisations, museums and galleries have already been warned to expect a tightening of belts.

The perennial squeals have begun. They are likely to argue that it is very well for Mr Purnell to say the UK "leads the world in the fullness of culture and the creativity of our people" provided he puts his money where his mouth is.

And the new culture secretary now finds Buckingham Palace joining the battle for funds.

It turns out that bits of the Palace walls are falling off, narrowly missing the royal cars and causing major health and safety issues.

A senior royal aide said he understood the government's difficulties in providing funds for repairs, as money was tight and the Department for Culture, Media and Sports also had the 2012 Olympics to contend with.

But it is another rather worrying issue in the Purnell in tray.

Did someone call it the Ministry of Fun?


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