Ex-BBC chief warns over Scottish Broadcast Service

Lord Birt claims Scots would need to pay a subscription to keep watching the BBC. Picture: Getty
Lord Birt claims Scots would need to pay a subscription to keep watching the BBC. Picture: Getty
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THE former director general of the BBC Lord Birt has warned that a Scottish Broadcast Service in an independent Scotland will have limited resources and be forced to pay the market rate for popular TV shows from the rest of the UK.

Lord Birt has also warned that any Scots who want to continue to watch the BBC would have to pay a subscription fee because the corporation has a duty to its licence payers.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on Scotland, he said: “The new Scottish publicly funded broadcaster — the SBS — would have about a tenth of the BBC’s current budget. Like other countries with populations of about five million, the SBS would tailor its programmes and services to its limited means.”

His speech was aimed at challenging assumptions in the White Paper that television services would continue in an independent Scotland much as they do now.

He warned that the BBC is accountable to its license payers and independent of government which means it would have to “seek the best possible commercial terms for the sale of its programmes in Scotland, not least because of the aforementioned financial impoverishment that it will just have suffered.”

He added: “As for the availability in Scotland of the BBC’s continuing services for the rest of the United Kingdom, there will of course be some transmission spillover at the border, and BBC channels and services will certainly be accessible more widely in Scotland, but encrypted and available only on commercial terms.”

The Scottish Government’s independence white paper says te SBS will receive licence fee revenue from Scotland, which is of the order of £320 million; £13 million from BBC commercial profits; and around £12 million from the Scottish Government for Gaelic broadcasting - a combined total for publicly-funded public service broadcasting in Scotland of £345 million. It adds: “The SBS will start broadcasting when the current BBC charter comes to an end on 31 December 2016.

“On TV, the SBS will begin with a new TV channel and take on the responsibility for BBC Alba. On radio, the SBS will begin with a new radio station in addition to taking on responsibility for Radio Scotland and Radio nan Gàidheal.

“The SBS will also provide online services, including a catch-up player and news website. Over time, the SBS will develop its services to reflect the broad interests and outlook of the people of Scotland.”

But the white paper also claims that existing BBC service “will continue” and the corporation will cooperate with SBS.

It said: “Current programming like EastEnders, Doctor Who, and Strictly Come Dancing and channels like CBeebies, will still be available in Scotland.”