Lord Patten ‘kicks backsides’ and orders BBC bosses to Holyrood

Lord Patten wrote to MSPs after they accused the BBC of being 'disrespectful' Picture: AP
Lord Patten wrote to MSPs after they accused the BBC of being 'disrespectful' Picture: AP
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THE chairman of the BBC Trust intervened to ensure senior executives agreed to appear before a Holyrood inquiry, after they originally refused to do so.

Lord Patten spoke to leading figures in the BBC after MSPs wrote to him saying corporation bosses had refused on two occasions to appear before them.

Holyrood’s culture committee is looking at controversial changes to broadcasting north of the Border. Senior figures, including BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie, head of news and current affairs John Boothman and head of 2014 Commonwealth Games coverage Bruce Malcolm, are due to appear at the committee today.

But there was fury last year after BBC Scotland’s 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 one in ten of its staff.

Committee convener Stewart Maxwell said the BBC’s failure to provide oral evidence on the impact of cutbacks was “disrespectful” to Holyrood.

Lord Patten has now disclosed that he spoke to senior colleagues and that executives are now “very willing” to appear before MSPs.

He said: “While it follows that the BBC is not answerable to parliament at UK or devolved level, it is nevertheless right that executive staff should, where appropriate, be open to attend such fora to answer questions and hear views.

“The committee, in its most recent communication, has now informed the BBC that it is preparing a ‘report on the substantive issues of future programming capacity at major events at BBC Scotland’.

“Although clearly the constraints I have referred to remain, the BBC executive tell me that they are very willing, in these new circumstances, to send representatives of senior management to the committee.”

Lord Patten’s intervention comes amid a row over cuts, with former BBC Scotland journalists warning they are causing “real damage” to news and current affairs coverage.

Mr Maxwell, an SNP MSP, said: “There are a lot of questions to be answered about job cuts and of course the ability of BBC Scotland to cover current affairs and cultural matters if the cuts are implemented. But we should not have been in a situation where we had to write to Lord Patten and for it to take three requests to get senior executives to appear before the committee.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay, the deputy convener of the committee, said: “These people are paid by the public purse and parliament has every right to call them to give evidence.

“It is clear that following the committee’s unanimous demand for them to return that the chair of the BBC has kicked a few backsides – it should never have come to this.”

The BBC insisted executives had been in regular contact with MSPs about the corporation’s plans for coverage of major events. A spokesman said: “The BBC has provided a significant amount of documentation to the Scottish Parliament and has produced evidence in person on the issue of the savings programme on several occasions.”