6. What steps he is taking to ensure scrutiny of expenditure by the BBC. (52632)
In September last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) announced full access for the National Audit Office to the BBC accounts, and I am confident that plans will be in place to allow that to happen by November this year in accordance with our departmental business plan.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. At the moment, funding for the World Service comes from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget, as a result of which it is subject to scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee. When funding for the World Service transfers to the BBC, how will he ensure that those arrangements remain in place?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and that is exactly why it is important that the National Audit Office has full, unrestricted access to the BBC’s accounts, including the ability to examine its spending on the BBC World Service. I have a meeting with the incoming chairman of the BBC Trust on 9 May, and I will discuss that very point with him then.
Before the election, the Secretary of State said that it would be perverse for local television to receive public subsidy, yet he is forcing the BBC to provide £25 million of licence fee payers’ money to subsidise local TV. Does he not agree that it is perverse, at a time when he is promoting local TV, that the BBC is considering cutting local radio, which is so vibrant and so central to the heart of many of our communities? Can we try to achieve cross-party consensus and have a dialogue with the BBC about the importance of BBC local radio to many of our communities?
The question is about value for money and how the BBC spends the licence fee, and I am very confident that the agreement that I secured with the BBC last autumn will lead to efficiency savings and better use of licence fee payers’ money, but should not lead to reductions in core BBC services. I would be very concerned if any plans announced by the BBC were to lead to any such reductions.
Although I welcome the moves to increase the NAO’s access to the accounts of the BBC, the Secretary of State will be aware that the Comptroller and Auditor General has written to him to say that he will still not have the ability to decide what to do and when to do it. Does he agree that that ability is essential if the NAO is to have the genuinely unfettered access that he has promised?
I agree that the NAO should have unfettered access to the BBC accounts. I take heart from the comments that the incoming chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, made to my hon. Friend’s Committee, when he said that he wanted the NAO to have full, unrestricted access and to be able to go where it wished to ensure and scrutinise value for money at the BBC.