BBC Scotland executives have performed a U-turn and agreed to appear before the Scottish Parliament, where they will be quizzed about cuts being made to the corporation north of the Border.
The Scotsman can reveal that leading BBC figures will face questioning from MSPs on Holyrood’s culture committee.
The volte-face follows fury last month that top brass declined an invitation to talk to MSPs about proposals to shed up to 120 jobs by 2017 as part of a drive to cut its budget by 16 per cent. The planned job losses equate to nearly 10 per cent of BBC Scotland’s staff.
A freeze in the licence fee has resulted in a need to reduce BBC budgets by £700 million over the remainder of the current licence fee period to 2017.
After the BBC’s failure to turn up at the committee earlier this year, MSPs wrote to the BBC chairman, Lord Patten, and acting director-general Tim Davie demanding corporation bosses in Scotland come to Holyrood.
The culture committee is preparing a report on Scottish broadcasting.
Yesterday, a statement from the BBC disclosed that executives will attend a meeting of the committee on 22 January. The BBC insisted it would not discuss industrial relations, but MSPs made it clear the executives would be asked about the forthcoming cutbacks.
The BBC statement said executives “will attend a committee meeting in January – however, this will not be to discuss industrial relations matters. The committee has told us it is preparing a report on ‘the substantive issues of future programming capacity at major events at BBC Scotland’ and we will contribute to that discussion”.
MSPs pointed out that any cuts could have an impact on the BBC’s ability to cover major events.
Stewart Maxwell, the SNP MSP and committee convener, said: “I am sure that I can speak for the whole committee when I say that we are delighted that the BBC has finally decided to attend the committee. The BBC should never have refused in the first place and there was widespread anger and disappointment that they did so.”
Conservative MSP Liz Smith, said: “It was very regrettable that they did not appear before the committee. They have to be an accountable organisation.”
A third committee member, Liam McArthur, of the Lib Dems, added: “This is a U-turn, and quite why they put themselves in this position is beyond understanding.”
At a previous evidence session, union representatives complained that cuts and plummeting staff morale could threaten coverage of the independence referendum in 2014.
Former Radio Scotland producer Peter Murray branded the BBC “irresponsible” over cutbacks.