BBC: ‘Further debate on governance required’
May 13, 2016
By Colin Mann
In its initial response to the Government White Paper on the BBC, the Corporation’s senior executive and Trust Chair have suggested that further discussion should take place on issues of its governance.
It says that the White Paper affirms the importance of the BBC to the public and to the creative industries. It is a White Paper that will provide the BBC with long-term stability and a strong foundation for the BBC to continue to inform, educate and entertain the entire British public.
It will allow the BBC to be more open, more creative and more distinctive than ever – a beacon of quality, and a standard-bearer of British values, admired the world over.
According to the BBC, the announcement and White Paper published by the Government means that:
- There will be an 11-year charter to take debates about the BBC out of the election cycle.
- The licence fee is also now secure for the next 11 years. As per normal, there will be a funding review at the mid-term. There will also be a health check focusing on the new governance and regulatory reforms that will not look at the BBC’s purposes, mission, or licence fee model.
- The funding agreement we made with the Government last year is confirmed. The BBC will take on responsibility for TV licences for the over 75s, in exchange for modernisation of the licence fee to close the iPlayer loophole this autumn, an increase in the licence fee linked to inflation, and no new top-slicing. With the extra £85 million per year for the World Service, the BBC’s funding settlement is comparable to other public sector bodies – where funding has not been protected.
- The BBC’s reform programme is endorsed, so it can press ahead with plans to create BBC Studios as a commercial subsidiary and allowing the BBC, for the first time, to make programmes for others.
- Importantly, the White Paper has not argued that the BBC should reduce its scale or scope, or that we should sell commercial assets. This will ensure that the BBC is able to make fantastic programmes for the British public. It also acknowledges the BBC’s significant progress on improving efficiency.
Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, said the White Paper delivered a mandate for the strong, creative BBC the public believe in. “A BBC that will be good for the creative industries – and most importantly of all, for Britain. There has been a big debate about the future of the BBC. Searching questions have been asked about its role and its place in the UK. That’s right and healthy, and I welcome that debate.”
“At the end, we have an 11-year Charter, a licence fee guaranteed for 11 years, and an endorsement of the scale and scope of what the BBC does today. The White Paper reaffirms our mission to inform, educate and entertain all audiences on television, on radio and online,” he noted.
According to Hall, there are some areas where the BBC will continue to talk to the Government to address any remaining issues. These are:
- The White Paper calls for the NAO to be the BBC’s auditor. The NAO is already able to conduct value-for-money studies, and any further expansion of their role must include an explicit exclusion for editorial decision-making; and nor is it appropriate for the NAO to assess the value for money of the BBC’s commercial subsidiaries, as they do not spend any public money.
- On governance, the White Paper means that for the first time the BBC will be externally regulated by Ofcom but with a unitary board. This is the most significant reform in the BBC’s history. We think that is the right thing to do. Our view of how the new board is appointed to run the BBC differs from that held in government.
“We have an honest disagreement with the Government on this,” admitted Hall. “I do not believe that the appointments proposals for the new unitary board are yet right. We will continue to make the case to government. It is vital for the future of the BBC that its independence is fully preserved.”
“While there are many things we strongly back and endorse in the White Paper, the current proposals for the unitary board require further consideration. In terms of the process, we think the chairman and deputy chairman should be appointed by the Government through an independent public appointments process. After that, we want a board that is the right size, with the right balance of skills and the right talents, appointed in the right way.”
Rona Fairhead, Chairman of BBC Trust, said: “We recognise that the Government has moved, but we need to debate these issues to ensure the arrangements for the board achieve the correct balance of independence, public oversight and operational effectiveness. We believe there is more than enough time to get this right, and we will continue to discuss this with the Government.”
The White Paper confirmed that Fairhead would continue as Chair of the BBC through to the end of the current term (October 2018). “I am delighted to have been asked to continue as BBC Chairman and to lead the first BBC board – it is a real privilege,” she declared. “The BBC is one of the UK’s great institutions, respected and admired around the world and a positive force in the UK’s vibrant creative economy. I am absolutely committed, on behalf of the public, to ensure that the BBC continues to produce the highest quality programmes and remains a place where creativity flourishes and independence is protected and treasured. This at a time while establishing a new governance structure. I will be working closely with Ofcom and the Director General to achieve this in the coming months.”
“We have had a constructive engagement with Government but we will continue to work on some outstanding areas of concern to ensure that the independence of the BBC is assured.”