‘A personal view by BBCPA member Hugh Sheppard, who is also a member of the BBCPA committee’.
What next for Charter Renewal?
The good news…
The good news is that the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, chaired by Damian Collins MP, recognised anomalies in the White Paper on the proposed new Royal Charter for the BBC as put to Parliament. The Select Committee proposed a smaller unitary board with a higher proportion of executive members (4) as BBC appointments to direct management of the Corporation.
Secretary of State for DCMS, Karen Brady MP, broadly accepted these changes and revised the new Charter, saying: ‘It gives the BBC a majority of the appointments and parity with government in terms of non-executive members. Given the reduction in size from the Board proposed in the White Paper, I also agree that the post of Deputy Chair should be removed, and a Senior Independent Director should be appointed instead, which should be from the nonexecutive members’.
Is there any precedent to such a role elsewhere? Just possibly. An independent review into the governance and regulation of the BBC was commissioned when John Whittingdale MP was Secretary of State and led by Sir David Clementi, a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. Among more recent appointments, he had been the ‘Senior Independent Director’ of the Royal Opera House until 2014, a period that overlapped with D.G. Tony Hall’s tenure as the CEO.
And the bad …
The bad news is that despite some financial support to the World Service, Government has not relieved the BBC from funding TV licences for the over-75s and that, under pressure from DCMS, the BBC proposes to ensure that 60% of radio programmes are outsourced by 2022. For further information see:
Nor has Government come to the aid of the BBC in safeguarding licence fee income from those who watch BBC TV via iPlayer technology and the internet instead of taking the services as broadcast. Despite John Whittingdale packing his 8-person advisory group on the new Charter with tcchnology-oriented members, including Ashley Highfield, former BBC Head of New Media & Technology, the BBC is going back to using detector vans to catch defaulters. Will that work? Surely the element of ‘Big Brother’ does nothing for the good name of the BBC.
Maybe the man who brought ‘Big Brother’ to Britain, Peter Bazalgette, is one of those in the frame to chair the new unitary board. Having denied the prospect of translating the BBC Trust’s Rona Fairhead into the post without competition, perhaps Government hopes to hand the BBC to someone from the Corporation’s competitors and critics. Or will good sense prevail, so that public service broadcasting in Britain retains its hard-won integrity? We ought to know soon, as the final Charter is due to go to the Privy Council before coming into force on 1st January, with a transition period until 3rd April 2017.
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Click on this link to see Peter Preston’s article in the Guardian which adds more substance to the important matter of who will run the BBC:
On the 13th September 2016, BBC Trust Chair, Rona Fairhead, confirmed a leak to the Financial Times that the government had withdrawn a letter of appointment as the first Chair of the new unitary BBC Board. This had been the intention of the previous Prime Minister David Cameron, to take effect from January 1st 2017. In a Sunday Times preview, the headline was “BBC will be ruled by No10 appointees.”
On the 15th September the new Government under Theresa May announced the new Draft BBC Royal Charter. And now we know that Rona Fairhead was given advance notice that the rules were to be changed and had been urged by the new Prime Minister to apply for the job as a candidate in open competition, which she declined.
So what can the BBC expect now? A BBC Board led by an imaginative champion of public service broadcasting, or being at the mercy of a private sector entrepreneur to whom the concept of public service is anathema?
Announcing the Draft Royal Charter, Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley MP, latterly of the Home Office and the Treasury, told Parliament:
Well, up to a point, Minister. While overt Government control over the new unitary board as proposed by Ms. Bradley’s predecessor, John Whittingdale MP, may have been a step too far on the path for turning the BBC from public broadcaster to state broadcaster, all the moves are still in that direction.
As proposed, the Board has 14 members. The Chair and 4 Nation Members are non-executive directors (non-execs) appointed by an Order in Council (i.e. by the Government). 5 other non-execs are to be appointed by the Board (i.e. by the BBC) but the rules say they are to be proposed by the Board’s Nominations Committee which ‘must have’ a majority of non-execs and be chaired by the Chair of the Board. The Director-General must also be a member. (In theory, non-execs are independent of the organisation.)
The D.G. and three other executive directors are members of staff and responsible for the management and the administration of the organisation, i.e. the BBC. But although there is a mechanism under the draft charter to vary the total number of members and the make-up of non-execs and executive directors, this does not apply where a vacancy is intended to be filled by appointment in due course.
Because at the outset the Board’s Nominations Committee will be based on government’s initial appointments, when all other Board positions except for the D.G. will still be vacant. These would be filled in due course from prospective postholders by the Nominations Committee, i.e. by a committee where the majority of members must be non-execs, all of whom would therefore be the Government’s appointees at that stage – yet the Secretary of State says: ‘… the BBC will appoint a majority of the members of the new Board’.
That may well be the theory, but not one that seems intended to operate in practice.
In future, are the BBC’s stars to be paid as top professionals or as civil servants?
Announcing a threshold of £150,000 pa. above which BBC pay and salaries will be published for all to see, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Culture Secretary writes: “The measure rightly brings the BBC in line with the rest of the public sector, where civil servants above the threshold are named”.
Once again, a new Minister has apparently succumbed to the resentment of the Corporation that surges through its press opponents and some competitors. Does she really think that this draconian policy would have preserved ‘Bake Off’?
Surely the BBC and the public deserve better. While there may be a case for the pay of regular staff members to be below the threshold or for it to be accounted for in public, those who put their star status on the line, often broadcasting live and night after night, or who hold BBC audiences of millions in thrall to world class drama and documentaries, are competing in the global market for broadcasting talent.
How can Ms. Bradley possibly compare Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch or David Attenborough and a host of other BBC stars with civil servants; even the no-doubt brilliant civil servants who advise her?
Are Ms. Bradley and her advisers suffused with envy or what? Doesn’t her Treasury experience tell her something of the astronomic remuneration received without public declaration for high-paid executives in the banking and investment industries? As the Secretary of State for Culture, she has said: ‘I am a huge fan of the BBC. At its best it is peerless.’ Mind you, the only programme an internet search found that she had praised before her new appointment was The Archers…