House of Commons Pre-Appointment Hearing
House of Commons
The Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee
Tuesday 17 January 2017
Pre-Appointment Hearing with the Government’s preferred candidate for the role of Chair of the BBC Board
The new Charter and Agreement for the BBC runs for the eleven years from 1 January 2017.
The new governance arrangements for the BBC are very largely those recommended by Sir David Clementi in his report “A Review of the Governance & Regulation of the BBC” first published on 1 March 2016. Thus Sir David has had a huge influence upon the future BBC for which it is proposed that he now take leading responsibility.
The new BBC organisational framework has gained widespread support as being a major improvement upon the immediate previous arrangements. No one other than Sir David is better placed to understand and make the best use of this. We have largely supported the proposals since they were made, subject to the points that follow.
Our key point: The Missing Link
According to the new Charter, the BBC remains ‘accountable to the licence fee payers’. However, neither the Charter nor Agreement set out any mechanism for this accountability. Previously, either the BBC Trust or the BBC’s Governors had accountability to the licence fee payers as one of their responsibilities, albeit that led to complications and conflicts of interest. Under the proposed new arrangements, the unitary board must be totally independent and is responsible for the ‘effective and efficient management of the BBC’. Thus the board cannot also represent the licence fee payers’ interests and nor can any of its individual executive or non-executive directors; neither can Ofcom as the BBC’s regulator. However, both the board and Ofcom are to take account of the licence fee payers in their decision-making.
Our independent Inquiry (http://saveourbbc.net/inquiry/ ) earlier this year, supported academically by Cardiff University, unequivocally concluded that the licence fee payers, audiences and users of BBC services and the public fully expect the BBC to continue to be accountable to them as a major stakeholder. We hasten to acknowledge they are not the sole stakeholder. In this day and age, and as technical and communications methods develop apace, the ways in which this can be achieved increase and improve rapidly.
So who or what in future will be there with the decision-makers of the future BBC to voice and represent the licence fee payers collectively? To whom or to what will the BBC be held to account and ensure open and full account is given?
We are not wedded to any particular mechanism for this; whilst we recommended one possibility in the report of the outcome of our Inquiry we recognise that may not be the right answer. We have called upon the key parties to give this matter further and full consideration before coming forward with an answer.
Therefore, we ask you to ask Sir David:
- Given his report’s findings and recommendation, why did he not include in them a proper mechanism by which the BBC would be responsible to, and held to account by, the licence fee payers?
- Does he now recognise that was a key omission and is ‘The Missing Link”?
- To make a clear statement that the BBC remains ‘accountable to the licence fee payers’ and that he will ensure this is a first principle of his leadership
- And, To state that he and the BBC unitary Board will make it an immediate priority to work, together with the DCMS, Ofcom, and relevant others including us, as necessary, to devise appropriate mechanisms so that the licence fee payers, audiences, service users and public, as major stakeholders, have a real and effective relationship of engagement with the BBC and accountability from it, to be in place by April 2017.
We recognise the limitation on time for speakers in this Hearing, but this is the only occasion you and your House will have to satisfy yourselves that the licence fee payers will not lose their direct influence upon the BBC, which has been a cornerstone of the BBC’s public service ethos since its inception. In 2017 there are many ways in which this can be done, using today’s technology and social media, to modernise this accountability in ways which will enable millions to engage effectively with the BBC to mutual advantage.
Our other key points include:
- We remain very disappointed with the decision on the disclosure of presenters’ pay. We don’t believe this is in the long-term interests of licence fee payers. Limited Transparency is not helpful or enough; simply making the BBC publish what it pays talented employees is insufficient; it will only make sense if other UK broadcasters have to do the same so the licence fee payers see the context and can judge the value they get; the BBC operates in the mixed economy media market and that’s where it must be judged. What does Sir David think about this?
- Financial audit and full scrutiny by The National Audit Office (NAO), or any auditor, must not impinge in any way upon the necessary confidentiality of personnel and commercially sensitive matters, and nor must Parliamentary scrutiny (of the NAO and BBC) and privilege do so either. The NAO should also be prevented, through an agreed ‘carve out’, from expressing any views on editorial or programme making issues. What does Sir David think about this?
- So called ‘enhancing the distinctiveness of BBC content’ must not be a veiled device to stop the BBC entertaining in equal measure with informing and educating its audiences. Is Sir David equally committed to ensuring that the BBC continues to inform, educate and entertain in equal measures?
- We welcome the recognition by the Government that the editorial independence of the BBC is sacrosanct. How will Sir David protect this?
- We welcome financial stability for the BBC and continuation of its funding by means of the licence fee.
- However, we remain gravely concerned that the licence fee settlement, which was not made in transparent fashion, will lead to more severe cuts to BBC content production and delivery of services. The Culture Secretary and Prime Minister have emphasised the need for transparency and independence and we have called upon them to rerun the licence fee negotiations accordingly to ensure that the BBC has the resources to enable it to deliver the obligations placed upon it by the new Charter and Agreement in a full, cost effective way which will deliver value for money and the outputs to ensure the BBC remains the world class broadcaster we all want it to be.
- The licence fee settlement in future should be an open and transparent process involving some degree of public consultation. The Charter accepts this as a headline principle but offers no detail or substance as to how it will be conducted. How will Sir David ensure future licence fee agreements are undertaken openly, transparently and with all due consultation?
- The BBC is the market maker of UK broadcasting which is founded and based on public service broadcasting (PSB) principles. It is not an intervention. All broadcasters have joined the market knowing it is a mixed economy driven by the PSB ethos. The BBC must be able to continue to operate and compete fairly in this mixed PSB environment and not be restricted in so doing. Hoe will Sir David maintain this?
- We have consistently called for the BBC better to serve all the nations and regions of the UK with greater devolution, whilst not adversely affecting its ability to benefit from economies of scale. It must also improve as swiftly as possible the internal diversity of its people and the external representation in its content and services. How does Sir David intend to ensure that the nations regions and minority communities are fully and properly served by the BBC?
Save Our BBC is the only single issue independent national campaign group for the BBC’s audiences and service users, licence fee payers, voters, the UK public. Our aim is to reflect the popularity of the BBC: 97% of the UK population uses the BBC for an average of just over 18 hours per week; RAJAR, BARB and user data show the large audiences and numbers of users for all BBC programmes, content and services which add up to show the popularity of the BBC as a whole. The audiences and users of the BBC want it to survive and thrive as an independent public service broadcaster which informs, educates and entertains.
We hope you find this helpful. I will watch the Hearing on tv and would be happy to meet or speak to discuss any of this further should you so wish.