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29/06/2004

BBC Charter Renewal proposals submitted to DCMS

The BBC has today published its long-awaited contribution to the DCMS consultation and debate on Charter Renewal in 2006, with Chairman Michael Grade stating, "status quo is not an option."
The submission, ‘Building Public Value: renewing the BBC for a digital world’, sets out a nine-point plan outlining the corporation’s proposals on governance, devolution of its services to the regions, digital switchover and more.
Ever since the Hutton Report found the BBC’s current system of oversight by the Board of Governors to be flawed, the corporation has sought to regain the reputation unimpeachable credibility it once enjoyed. With that in mind, a new Governance unit, independent of and located apart from senior management, is proposed – intended to negate the suggestion the Board are currently too closely involved with BBC executives to provide effective supervision.
Additionally, the oft-levelled accusation that a cash-rich BBC has squandered public funds in pursuit of ratings has been met with the announcement that the Board will apply a ‘public value test’ to all new services, and changes to existing services, before approval. The public will be kept in the loop, with every BBC channel and service to be given a published service licence setting out budget, remit and performance targets. Any change will need Board approval, and a rolling cycle of transparent, independent reviews of BBC services and activities, including issues raised by audiences, will be created.
Among the more radical proposals is the intention to move investment and jobs out from London to the rest of the country, “to reflect the life and experience of the whole UK.”
The corporation aims to have 50% of its public service employees based outside London over the next 10 years, will invest £1 billion outside London over the next 10 years and move a fifth of commissioning by value to other parts of Britain. Manchester, which is set to become “the largest broadcast centre out of London”, will benefit most from this proposal. The BBC will also extend local radio to underserved areas, develop new open centres and multi-media buses across the country, and Milton Keynes, Britain's fastest growing town, will be at the centre of a new BBC region.
Proposals concerning the digital age take centre stage with the submission setting 2012 as the target for analogue switch off - two years later than the government’s target.
Ruling out more BBC channels, Mr Grade said: "The most urgent priority is not further expansion, but completing the challenge of creating a fully digital Britain."
Instead the BBC will focus on “opening up the creative potential and public, as well as private, value” of its services. Director-General Mark Thompson added: "We can help build an infrastructure, but digital Britain will only come to life if it also becomes a creative space in which the best ideas and the best talent can meet audiences who are hungry for originality and quality."
To achieve this, The BBC will “work with government and industry to fund and co-ordinate DTT build-out for all public service broadcasters; lead the campaign needed to achieve universal access; work with others to create a successful free digital satellite service; roll out DAB transmission and take up; and pioneer open access to the massive entertainment, learning and civic possibilities of broadband.”
The submission is strongly in favour of retaining the licence fee, maintaining that “as long as the British public wants the BBC to be an independent universal broadcaster… the licence fee will remain a powerful and effective means of paying for its services...”
It also suggests that the licence fee’s level should be set by an independent body separate from government, a “depoliticising” that “could be the final underpinning of the BBC's independence."
The submission proposes cost trimming by modernising collection through direct debit and online payments; exploring ways to make it more affordable for the less well off; and to reduce overheads to 10% of expenditure.
Also detailed is the BBC’s vision of its future role in building active and informed citizenship, culture and creativity, learning, and the UK’s voice across the globe.
(GB)
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