Tensions set to rise as BBC Scotland snubs Holyrood Committee for third time

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
Tensions are set to increase between a Holyrood Committee and BBC Scotland management after the broadcaster refused to release results of an in-house survey which asked staff for feedback on planned job-cuts.
 
The survey was requested by Holyrood’s Culture Committee when BBC Scotland management appeared before it earlier this year following claims that staff morale was at an all-time low and concerns over the effects of job cuts at the station.

However, it has emerged that despite pledging to co-operate with the cross party group of MSPs, BBC Scotland’s head Ken MacQuarrie has now refused to release the survey.

In a letter to the committee, Mr MacQuarrie wrote: “The information which staff provide for the BBC-wide survey is collected on a confidential and anonymous basis and the results of the survey are shared fully with staff; though published internally within BBC Scotland, they are not made freely available outwith the BBC.

“We have already communicated the BBC-wide and the BBC Scotland results to staff and each main department within BBC Scotland will be sharing its own results at a departmental level with teams.”

The decision to withhold the results of the survey will fuel speculation that it backs union claims of morale at an all-time low and worrying stress levels amongst staff in news and current affairs.

Appearing before the committee in January, BBC Scotland bosses were asked to make available a copy of the survey to the MSPs.  The refusal to comply with the request is the third snub to the committee after BBC Scotland management twice refused to appear, a change of mind was only made after an intervention by the head of the BBC Trust Lord Patten.

BBC Scotland is set to shed up to 120 of its 1250 staff over the next five years after London bosses announced it was to slash the station’s £102m budget by £16m.  The plan for compulsory redundancies led to strike action by unions who argued that staff should be re-deployed.

The committee has raised concerns over the ability and willingness on the part of BBC Scotland management to provide sufficient resources to cover the Commonwealth games and the 2014 independence referendum.

Fears of falling standards have coincided with complaints that the station is providing ‘selective’ coverage of the referendum debate with two foreign ministers complaining that their comments on the EU status of an independent Scotland were not reported accurately.

Some former BBC editors have also claimed that the cuts are causing “real damage” to news and current affairs coverage.  Writing in the Scotsman newspaper former reporters and editors attacked what they called “highly damaging decisions by BBC Scotland management”.

Former reporters David Calder and Eric Crockart, former news editor Carole Bentley and former political correspondent Kit Fraser were joined by former editor of Good Morning Scotland Douglas MacLeod.

In their letter, the five wrote of their “concern at the real damage being inflicted on BBC Scotland’s news and current affairs operation.”

Another who has criticised management is Professor Tom Devine.  The Historian has highlighted falling standards at Radio Scotland and talked of “rampant demoralisation” which he said was “obvious to any aware observer”.

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Speaking in January, he said: “Scotland’s quality print media are in dire financial straits at one of the most momentous periods in the history of the nation.  Hence the responsibility of the broadcast media has never been greater for information, comment, debate, the clash of opinions and the investigative power of first-class journalism.”

He added: “There remain presenters and interviewers of weight and authority, such as Derek Bateman, Izzy Fraser and Brian Taylor, but they are unrepresentative of the whole.”

The broadcaster also came under fire last month after claiming that it did not have to provide balanced coverage of the independence debate because the campaign had not yet officially started.