Scottish independence: BBC pledge £5m despite cuts

BBC Scotland is to spend £5 million on a new range of TV and radio programmes geared to the run-up to the independence referendum and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Fiona Hyslop: Questions over how new funds will affect cuts. Picture: Julie BullFiona Hyslop: Questions over how new funds will affect cuts. Picture: Julie Bull
Fiona Hyslop: Questions over how new funds will affect cuts. Picture: Julie Bull

The new director-general of the BBC, Tony Hall, and the director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, said savings from a recent cost-cutting exercise, including redundancies, had helped to free up the funds for the new investment package.

The move follows concerns that plans for up to 120 job cuts at the broadcaster by 2017 – about one in ten of the workforce – will impact on its ability to cover major events in Scotland.

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MSPs have criticised BBC Scotland chiefs for withholding information about the cuts, aimed at saving £16.1m, and yesterday culture secretary Fiona Hyslop warned she would be seeking more details about what the announcement will mean for the cutbacks currently under way.

The funds will cover a range of new documentaries, a series of debates across the length and breadth of Scotland and the creation of a new referendum unit, as well as the appointment of a referendum editor.

Yesterday, the BBC said the new investment will be in addition to BBC Scotland’s existing commitments to news and 
current affairs.

Announcing the investment, Mr MacQuarrie claimed the BBC will lead the way in reporting and reflecting an event of great significance in Scotland and beyond: “The referendum is of huge significance and this additional investment will ensure audiences here get the comprehensive output they expect.”

Director-general Mr Hall added that the new investment recognised that 2014 was of immense importance for audiences: “Both the referendum and the Commonwealth Games will be two of the most important events to happen in Scotland in many years and we know there will be huge interest in them from audiences across the UK, and indeed around the world.

“I want the BBC to be able to reflect, analyse and discuss them in as much detail as possible, and this additional funding will allow us to do just that.”

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The BBC said the extra investment in referendum programming in Scotland had been made possible by savings achieved across the organisation through the “Delivering Quality First” initiative, which resulted in redundancies across BBC Scotland.

The new money will be used to fund a wide range of coverage across radio, TV and online.

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Last night, the National Union of Journalists said that while they welcomed the new funds they wished to see a breakdown to ensure that it was all being spent in Scotland – as new money for the Commonwealth Games was also going to BBC 
Salford, the corporation’s new centre for sports coverage.

Paul Holleran of NUJ Scotland said if the money had been available a year ago it could have prevented recent redundancies and the current ill will between staff and management.

He said: “We could have done this in a far more constructive way instead of the conflict we have had.”