Lord Patten quizzed on BBC spending in Scotland

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  By Martin Kelly
 
The value for money Scots are receiving from the BBC has been called into question following publication of an official report that showed the corporation’s spend in Scotland dropped last year.
 
Newly published figures indicate that the percentage of the BBC’s total UK budget spent in Scotland is now only 7.6% amid fears that it will fall further.  Across England (excluding London), the total amount spent last year went up from 24.7% to 30.1%.

The SNP has now called for transparency from the BBC following concerns that there is no published breakdown of spending on BBC Scotland as a whole in the corporation’s latest annual report.

In a letter to BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten, Stewart Hosie MP has expressed his “disappointment” that there is no detailed breakdown for BBC Scotland saying the omission is at odds with the Trust’s claim that the corporation would “Set new standards of openness and transparency.”

In his letter, Mr Hosie writes: “I was pleased to see that you have provided cost breakdown’s to include the BBC’s spend on BBC Alba and BBC Radio Scotland, at £8m and £32m respectively.

“However, I am concerned that there is no cost breakdown to indicate how much was spent on BBC Scotland as a whole.

“No such figure appears in the Annual Report’s Full Financial Statements, or the BBC Management Review for Scotland which accompanies it.”

The call follows on from the revelation that less than half of Scots believe the BBC is good at representing their lives through news and current affairs, the lowest proportion of any of the countries in the UK.

In the letter, Mr Hosie adds:

“Scotland’s population share of the licence fee income alone would be over £320 million, even before the Scottish share of other BBC income sources is considered – far more than is spent in Scotland.

“It is vital that the substantial investment from Scotland is fairly benefitting Scotland, as we already know under current plans that spend on BBC Scotland will reduce to just £86 million in 2016/17.

“This must be considered alongside the statement in the Trust’s report that a majority of Scots do not believe that the BBC is good at representing their life in news and current affairs content.

“It is incumbent on the Trust to ensure that there is real transparency over the continued spending on the BBC in Scotland to ensure that Scottish Licence fee payer who contributes significantly to its income can be sure that they are receiving value for money.”

The letter comes as concern grows over the BBC’s ability to report accurately and fairly, matters relating to the independence referendum.

This week it was announced that London based presenter James Naughtie is to be parachuted into a high profile role covering the referendum debate.  Scots born Mr Naughtie, who presents the Today Programme on Radio 4, joined the BBC in 1988 and has faced accusations in the past that he has pro-Labour party leanings.

The author of Gordon Brown’s biography, Mr Naughtie faced claims of bias after asking then Treasury minister Ed Balls. “If we win the election, does Gordon Brown remain Chancellor?”.

This week Newsnet Scotland revealed that the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit had refused to look into claims that the BBC in Scotland had shown favouritism to the anti-independence campaign by selectively reporting comments made by Ireland’s Europe Minister.

Complaints by Lucinda Creighton that comments she made in an interview, given to BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan and widely reported, had been “misconstrued” and “spun”, were not reported by any of the BBC’s news outlets.