the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

13 April 2011

World Service funding should be "ring fenced" says the Foreign Affairs Committee in its report published today 13 April.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has condemned the budget cuts at the World Service seeing them as “disproportionate” and its report goes on to say that the World Service “is of such value to the nation that its income should be ring-fenced against spending cuts”.

The chair of the committee, Richard Ottaway MP, went even further:

“The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown the ‘soft power’ wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past, and that to proceed with the planned cuts to the World Service would be a false economy.”

Budget slashed by 16%

The World Service does not receive any money from the BBC licence fee and depends entirely on the Foreign Office for funding. This year the budget has been slashed by 16 per cent (£46 million) and as a consequence the BBC has proposed language service closures which would mean the loss of 650 jobs at the World Service out of a workforce of 2400. The BBC has also announced that it will all but cease short wave broadcasting by 2014; a move which will have a direct impact on dozens of BECTU members working for Babcock placing their jobs under threat.

BECTU has criticised the closure of langauage services and the corresponding job losses and also the decision to end short wave broadcasting, making the point that 53 per cent of the radio audience listens on short wave and it is accessible to all levels of society.

The proposed replacements, FM and the internet, are only available in urban areas and to the better off. The committee commented specifically on this point saying that the World Service should “commit itself to a longer-term support for an unreduced BBC Hindi and BBC China Mandarin short wave service”.

International development

Some of what the World Service does contributes to the goals of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the report makes a strong case for transferring funds to the World Service. “A transfer of just 0.35% of DFID’s budget ... would compensate for the proposed 16% reduction in World Service funding.” The report goes on to note that the only obstacle is the lack of political will.

BECTU's assistant general secretary, Luke Crawley, said:

“These cuts can and should be reversed. It is clear that it would only take the transfer of a tiny percentage of the DFID budget to secure the funding of the World Service and the benefits would be enormous. The publication of this report gives the Foreign Office the chance to reconsider the budget cuts and reverse the policy."