MSPs call for BBC Scotland to be given more budget control

Picture: John DevlinPicture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin
BBC Scotland should be given power over commissioning programmes and budgets in a bid to tackle fears the broadcaster has a 'London bias', a Holyrood committee has said.

Members of Holyrood’s Education and Culture Committee argued “substantial change” is needed in the process.

With the Scottish Parliament given a formal role in the BBC’s charter renewal process for the first time, the committee has been examining its operations.

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

The committee report said the broadcaster “does not produce accounts for BBC Scotland”, making it “impossible to associate spending with the delivery of the BBC’s services in Scotland”.

MSPs asked the BBC to provide detailed information on its spending in Scotland and said while the corporation “gave some insight into the figures”, this was “not sufficiently detailed to allow effective scrutiny”.

Their report recommended the BBC “must provide detailed financial information about its operations and spending in Scotland so that the Scottish Parliament can hold the corporation to account”.

It claimed the current quota system for the proportion of programmes produced outside of London “is inadequate in its current form”, describing it as “an artificial mechanism that has not done enough to encourage a sustainable broadcasting and production sector in Scotland”.

It said the “lift and shift” of programmes - where productions such as Waterloo Road have been moved to Scotland - had resulted in serious allegations “that the BBC’s commissioning practice has operated to subvert the spirit of the quota, which can mean the quota spend does not benefit Scotland”.

MSPs said this gave them “serious cause for concern”.

They said: “We expect a greater degree of decentralisation of and accountability for commissioning and accompanying budgets across the nations and regions to rebalance the concern the BBC has a London bias.

“This should lead to improvements in the way the BBC portrays Scotland and the diversity of Scottish culture and identity.

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“It should also benefit the creative industries in Scotland by attracting, developing and retaining talent, thus helping the sector become strong, sustainable and competitive. It is not enough just to improve access to commissioners.”

Federal structure

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has called for the BBC to adopt a federal structure but the committee said implementing its suggestions would “not necessarily” require this.

They stressed the changes they want to see “but would require greater decentralisation of decision making, commissioning and accompanying budgets”.

They said: “We consider that a proportionate amount of BBC spending should be guaranteed to directly benefit the creative industries in Scotland.

“To enable this to happen, we consider that responsibility for an element of the network content spend should be decentralised to BBC Scotland.

“We believe BBC Scotland is best-placed to make judgements on how to assist the creative industries in Scotland.”

Committee convener Stewart Maxwell said: “Our committee wants the BBC to be relevant to the people of Scotland and the charter renewal is an opportunity to ensure Scotland’s voice is heard.”

Ms Hyslop said the report “adds considerable weight to the growing consensus for substantial change to the way the BBC operates in Scotland”.

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She stated: “The committee’s call for decentralisation of BBC commissioning and budget decisions is consistent with our vision for the future of public service broadcasting in Scotland.”

A BBC Scotland spokesman said: “We welcome the committee’s contribution to the debate on the future of the BBC - particularly its continuing support for the independence of the BBC, its recognition of our significant contribution to the creative economy and its support for extending the next Charter period, which we’ve also argued should be longer than 10 years so that it’s not affected by electoral cycles. We also note the report’s recognition of the significant financial challenges we face.

“We’ve already announced ongoing reviews on commissioning and news provision, and we have also said we want to better represent and portray Scottish audiences across all BBC services.

“As we said in our evidence, we believe the BBC’s decisions about its Scottish services should be made in Scotland. We look forward to further discussions with the Scottish Parliament and other partners through the Charter process, as agreed in our Memorandum of Understanding.”