BBC welcomes Holyrood plan but warns of impact of budget cuts

Picture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
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The BBC has issued a cautious welcome to the Scottish Government’s “vision” for the corporation to operate under a new decentralised structure that transfers commissioning, editorial and budget decisions directly to Scotland – but pointed to 20 per cent budget cuts already earmarked at the organisation.

Plans for the future of a decentralisatised BBC and publicly-funded, public service broadcasting in Scotland have been laid out by the Scottish Government.

Its policy report calls for more “representative content” for Scottish audiences and builds on the view of Holyrood’s education and culture committee, which just days ago said that BBC Scotland should be given power over commissioning programmes and budgets, warning of a “London bias” towards broadcasting.

The measure could be implemented either through the current BBC Charter renewal process, or separately, the government said.

A separate six o’clock news programme covering the world from a Scottish perspective has also been highlighted as a key policy proposal.
“In Scotland where there is devolved control of health and education policies, and elements of taxation it is critical that editorial control for coverage of these issues at a national and UK level is exercised in Scotland to maintain the BBC’s reputation for high-quality and accurate coverage,” said the report, adding that “a more comprehensive approach to news with a greater voice for Scottish journalists on Scottish issues” and “international stories for the Scottish network cannot now be resisted”.

The vision has been welcomed by the Scottish Greens who have long stated they believe a “double lock” of Holyrood and Westminster oversight would provide security against any future cuts to the broadcaster.

Zara Kitson, culture spokeswoman for the Scottish Greens, said: “The editorial independence of the BBC is paramount but the current lack of accountability to the Scottish Parliament must be corrected.

“By making the BBC accountable to both Holyrood and Westminster we can ensure proper scrutiny from a Scottish perspective, and ­encourage more programme making that reflects the journey that Scotland is on.”

The BBC receives about 
£3.7 billion every year from the TV licence fee, with approximately £323 million collected in Scotland.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said that with full control of the money raised in Scotland through the licence fee, BBC Scotland could deliver up to an additional £100m of investment in Scotland’s creative sector over the course of a year, which she said would support an extra 1,500 jobs and contribute up to an additional £60m to Scotland’s economy.

However, a spokesman for the BBC said the corporation “welcomed” the debate, but pointed to budget cuts.

He said: “Audiences across Scotland get excellent value from the BBC, and are some of the highest users of our services. We welcome the Scottish Government’s contribution to the Charter Review debate and look forward to further discussions with them about how to provide the best possible service to Scottish licence fee payers.

“However, as the report notes, the financial constraints on the BBC will see the corporation having to make close to 20 per cent savings over the next few years.”

Ms Hyslop said that a new charter would “more accurately reflect Scottish issues and interests”.

She said: “The vision I have set out today is founded on a recognition of the immense value of a public service broadcaster,” she said.

“The BBC is one of the most important and influential cultural, social, economic and democratic institutions in our country, but audience satisfaction ratings show Scots do not feel the corporation fully represents their views and ­interests.

“The changes we are seeking will address this fundamental issue, empowering the BBC to deliver better outcomes both for the people of Scotland, and across the whole of the UK.”

She said: “It could also deliver a significant economic boost to Scotland.”

The report asked that the BBC provide the same levels of in-house programming to BBC Alba as it does to Welsh language channel S4C. The BBC supplies 520 hours to S4C with a value of £20m, compared to 230 to BBC Alba, valued at £5m.

The report welcomed the recent appointment of a head of news in Scotland at the BBC, but added that there needs to be a “more fundamental consideration” of how it ensures that national news is able to cover stories from within Scotland.

A federalised BBC with a semi-autonomous Scottish board should be created to hold BBC Scotland to account and should itself be accountable to the Scottish Parliament, it said. It also wants more support for Scottish independent producers to take their content to the global market.