Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Joined-up approach needed to safeguard future of BBC World Service

The Public Accounts Committee report say that the BBC World Service must build on efforts to transform itself and meet the challenge to expand in a rapidly changing world.

Report conclusions and recommendations

In it's report, the Committee concludes the Service has transformed its services and ways of working, and reduced its costs, while increasing its audience.

Despite this success, the Committee finds there is room for improvement and raises concerns around new taxpayer funding of £289 million for the Service from 2016–17 to 2019–20.

The Service intends to use the extra grant funding, announced by the Government in November last year, to enhance and expand its services.

Future of funding uncertain

However, the Committee is concerned it is not yet clear whether this funding will continue beyond 2019–20 and urges the Treasury and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to inform the BBC of their intentions within the next 18 months so the BBC can plan properly beyond this date.

Accountability arrangements for the £289 million have not been agreed and the Committee recommends the FCO, BBC Trust and BBC should agree and publish these arrangements as quickly as possible.

The Committee concludes audience targets set for the Service by the BBC Trust and the FCO in 2013 "proved to be undemanding" and recommends targets set from January 2017 "are suitably stretching and subject to regular review".

Commercial income "has not matched ambitions"

The Committee is disappointed the Service reduced the amount of information it published on its performance and calls for it to "report publicly on a wider range of performance information and in more depth…to demonstrate better to the licence fee payer the value it delivers".

The level of commercial income generated by the Service has not matched ambitions set out in 2010 and the Committee urges the Service "to clarify its plans for maximising its commercial income, while maintaining editorial integrity, as soon as possible".

It finds the Service "faces significant strategic challenges in a fast-moving and competitive operating environment" requiring it to be "agile and flexible" in its response.

The Committee calls on the Service to put in place a robust framework for deciding priorities when adapting its services, which alongside other criteria "takes full account of the cost-effectiveness of individual services."

Chair's comments

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said:

"The BBC World Service provides an important service to many millions of people and promotes Britain and its values around the world.

However, it will only prosper if it continues to adapt effectively to changing circumstances and demonstrates a commitment to providing value for money for licence-fee payers and taxpayers in general.

To do this will require a joined-up approach from Government and the BBC.

In recent years the Government's approach to funding the Service has not been consistent and it is vital it sets out its intentions beyond 2020 if the Service is to plan properly for the future.

For its part, the Service should be more transparent in reporting its performance and work from up-to-date data when planning its next steps in what remains a competitive and fast-moving environment.

The BBC Trust or its successor must play a key role in this, not least in holding the Service to account for its generation of commercial income—a source of funding with the potential to make a bigger contribution to the financial stability of the Service."

Report summary

The BBC World Service has transformed its services and ways of working, and reduced its costs, while increasing its audience.

Despite its success, there is scope for improvement. The targets set for the Service have not been sufficiently rigorous and the amount of information available publicly on the Service’s performance has reduced.

Funding beyond 2020 uncertain

The Service faces a new challenge to expand, using the allocation of an extra £289 million from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to demonstrate the agility needed to respond to a rapidly changing world.

However, the accountability arrangements for the new funding are still unclear more than six months after it was announced and it is not yet clear whether this new funding will continue beyond 2020.

The Service also needs to clarify its plans for maximising its commercial income, while maintaining its editorial integrity.

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