the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

14 December 2010

The BBC Trust has today (14 December) published the findings of its Strategy Review, Putting Quality First. Some familiar and important statements are made but we'll have to wait to learn what new and real changes are planned.

Not surprisingly, but to the relief of everyone who backs public service broadcasting, the final conclusions document, recommits to the BBC's central mission 'to inform, educate and to entertain' and centres on four key, but familar, objectives for the remainder of this Charter period to 2012:

  • Increase the distinctiveness and quality of its output
  • Improve the value for money it provides to licence fee payers
  • Set new standards of openness and transparency
  • Do more to serve all audiences.

Little new on services

But where is the detail about what this comprehensive research exercise means to services? 

The report confirms that 6 Music will continue unchanged but that the future of the Asian Network remains uncertain; this much has been clear since the summer. We can also expect proposals to cut the online budget by 25 per cent and a buyer is being sought for Worldwide's magazine business.

The signs are that it will be the New Year before proposals are tabled to reveal the full planned impact on staffing and services of the Strategy Review.

Key extract

Here is the key extract from today's releases which talks about services:

"This strategy is about a strong BBC in roughly its current form. Our review was not about radically reducing the number of BBC services, since there was no external change in technology, funding or audience behaviour demanding any significant immediate reduction. Responses to our consultation showed there was no strong appetite for that sort of reduction either from the public or from the media industry.

"Nonetheless, the Trust remains of the view that the BBC should be no bigger than it needs to be, and the BBC Executive has proposed a range of particular changes to individual services that it thinks make sense on their own terms. The Trust supports the Executive’s ambition to set clearer boundaries around future BBC activities, and in particular supports three key proposals around three key areas of particular market sensitivity. We accept the case for disposing substantially of BBC Worldwide’s magazine business, if the right price can be found. We agree that in the current market, the BBC should not launch new services that are any more local than its current offerings, particularly now that it is committed to offer support to any future commercial providers of local television news. We will pursue a 25% reduction in the BBC Online budget, to improve the overall quality and coherence of the service and ‘do fewer things better’. We expect to make an announcement soon about the nature of the changes involved.

"We will also consider carefully any formal proposal to close the Asian Network, although we do not now expect to receive a proposal to close or change 6 Music.

New licence fee settlement changes the picture, says report

"The BBC’s new licence fee settlement changes the picture somewhat. It is not realistic to expect that a 16% budget reduction can be made in the space of four years without some changes to the range of services and activities being required. In the course of the next two years, the BBC Trust and Executive will therefore need to agree a realistic target for productive efficiencies in the period from 2013/14 to 2016/17, and how any remaining gap in funding is best met. That is likely to require a more fundamental review of the cost base and the shape of BBC services than was undertaken in the course of the Strategy Review. It will also need to incorporate the reassessment of the television portfolio that we had expected would take place around switchover in 2012/13.

"The guidebook for this process will be the strategy that is set out here and the key
principles will be the four objectives we have set for the future BBC: increase quality and distinctiveness; improve value for money; set new standards of openness and
transparency; do more to serve all audiences.

"By increasing the pace of those changes to its culture and behaviour the BBC can ensure it sets the right boundaries as it goes through what will be a difficult period of change. If the BBC can show that, regardless of financial pressures, it is becoming more distinctive, more efficient, more transparent and more sensitive to its potential market impact, this strategy will have worked."

Commenting on today's releases, Gerry Morrissey, general secretary, said:

"The BBC Trust, under Michael Lyons, has completed the task it set itself earlier this year.

"However, there is little doubt that the licence fee settlement for the next Charter period, negotiated in haste as part of the coalition's October spending plan, means that this Strategy Review is just phase one of a much bigger exercise."

More on BECTU's submission to the Strategy Review