Profile: Michael Hastings, BBC - Hastings to put CSR in the frame for BBC

Former head of PA will bring his range of social experience to the new role

Next January, in a small office next to Broadcasting House, Michael Hastings will sit down and start co-ordinating the BBC's corporate social responsibility activities. And there are a lot of them: in addition to Children in Need, Comic Relief, local radio fundraising and individual staff initiatives, Hastings' new unit will take in the BBC's commercial concerns and the World Service.

As head of CSR, his remit will also cover the corporation's environmental audit, energy saving and responsible procurement activities, as well as the six BBC Open Centres across the country which help people develop media and internet skills. Director-general Greg Dyke will chair a CSR forum twice a year with key stakeholders.

'The unit will be a single hub for information and advice, delivering on a strategy agreed by everyone,' explains Hastings. 'It will make the most of what people already do, it will be the CSR framework for the BBC.

Managerially, you don't have to put everyone in the same place, you can have "virtual" teams, but Greg has put the emphasis on "one BBC", not a series of disparate elements. By 2004 we will have the first BBC CSR composite report. We will set hard targets,' he adds.

2005 has been designated European Year of CSR which, coupled with the BBC's need to be ready for Charter renewal in 2006, has led to a renewed emphasis on the discipline. 'We will be able to deliver on public and political expectations of the BBC where they impinge on CSR,' he predicts.

'The BBC is a valued, recognised, respected brand. It's an institution, not just a broadcaster. It's part of the fabric of the nation. The licence fee generates good money: the question is whether we are just an engine that takes money and makes money, or are we a good corporate citizen?'

So far, so Corporation-speak. But Hastings is not a BBC lifer. His broadcast experience started in 1988 when Bruce Gyngell, the late boss of the now-defunct TV-AM, hired Hastings to make a series on school absenteeism.

He became education correspondent, moving to political correspondent on the station's successor, GMTV.

However, to make sense of his appointment to a major CSR post, you have to look at this former teacher's extra-curricular interests - as commissioner at the Commission for Racial Equality, adviser to the Thatcher government on building bridges within inner cities hit by race riots, as well as chairman of charitable outfits such as Crime Concern and ChildNet. He also helped his wife set up special needs education for local children in Peckham, south London, and was recently awarded a CBE for his work on crime reduction.

His activities have not always met with such gratitude. In January, The Guardian alleged that Hastings used a journalist press pass to enter the members' lobby, in order to gain access to MPs for lobbying, rather than journalistic, purposes. There was some media interest, questions from the serjeant at arms - who is responsible for security issues in Parliament - and Michael Fabricant MP raised a point of order about the allocation of passes. Hastings says it was a case of 'mistaken identity' - not a view shared either by Fabricant or by the serjeant at arms office, which confirms that Hastings voluntarily surrendered his lobby pass, which allows access to the members' lobby. It was replaced with a press pass, which does not. All parties stress that the matter is closed.

Hastings' pursuit of the BBC's interests has led to another complaint, this time of 'impertinence' from Labour MP Gerald Kaufman. The chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee took umbrage at what he called an 'offensive' letter from Hastings, suggesting that the BBC had been too heavily scrutinised. Hastings smiles at the memory. 'Gerald Kaufman has positioned himself as a constructive critic of the BBC,' is all he will say.

Tim Clement-Jones, the Liberal Democrat peer and DLA Upstream lobbyist who recommended Hastings as his successor in the role of chairman of Crime Concern, has no doubts about him: 'Michael is not an easy man to define in many ways because he is very non-judgmental, yet holds very strong views. The new job will be ideal for him: he has a strong social conscience and is a highly ethical man.'

Hastings himself is more blunt: 'If we do it wrong, we'll be rightly fingered as ignorant, arrogant and careless.'

So what should the CSR community make of this man who has impeccable credentials and is not afraid to mix it a bit? Clement-Jones has another go at explaining Hastings' appeal. 'He is not your classic executive material,' he says.

It is not meant as an insult.

HIGHLIGHTS

1991: Chief political correspondent, GMTV

1995: Deputy head of PA, BBC

1996: Head of PA, BBC

2003: Head of CSR, BBC

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