Design experience trumps political clout as former Design Council head beats former culture secretary Chris Smith

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has ended months of speculation by naming former Design Council head John Sorrell as the new chairman of CABE.

The designer and entrepreneur saw off his main competitor, former culture secretary Chris Smith, and takes over from interim chairman Paul Finch next week.

Sir Stuart Lipton, CABE’s first chairman, resigned in June over a perceived conflict of interest between his work with the commission and his chairmanship of developer Stanhope.

Many had expected Smith’s political clout and cabinet experience to land him the job, but Sorrell insisted that his experience at the publicly funded Design Council, which he chaired between 1994 and 2000, made him a good choice to run CABE.

He said: “I am not an architect, a planner or a developer but I’ve spent my whole life in design. I’ve got experience of the way all the design disciplines work.”

Sorrell added that his time at the Design Council had showed him the importance of liaising with top government officials in order to secure funding. CABE will find out next week how much money it is to get from the DCMS.

Sorrell refused to get drawn into either the controversy over Lipton’s departure or whether CABE had addressed its problems over conflict of interest. He said: “The review [into CABE’s effectiveness] has reinforced what a good job CABE is doing. Ninety per cent of stakeholders are satisfied.”

A DCMS insider said that Smith and Sorrell had been selected as appropriate for the job, but that the final decision had come from culture secretary Tessa Jowell.

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts welcomed the appointment. He said: “Lipton is a hard act to follow, but I know Sorrell from the Design Council and he has a strong reputation.”

The rise and rise of John Sorrell

1945 Born, 28 February
1976 Co-founds Newton and Sorrell, which grows to become one of Europe's leading identity and design businesses
1994-2000 Chair, UK Design Council
1996 Awarded a CBE
1997 Newton and Sorrell merges with Interbrand to create Interbrand Newton and Sorrell
2000 Sorrell resigns chairmanship of Interbrand Newton and Sorrell
2000 Sets up the Sorrell Foundation to inspire creativity in young people and help designers to improve Britain's schools and health services
2002 Becomes fellow of the RIBA