The mystery man of the BBC in Scotland

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By Kenneth Roy
 
It is difficult not to be angry, individually and collectively, with the 12 members of the BBC Trust for their part in the dragging down of a once-respected public institution. They call themselves the governors. A pretty pathetic job of governing they have done.
 

By Kenneth Roy
 
It is difficult not to be angry, individually and collectively, with the 12 members of the BBC Trust for their part in the dragging down of a once-respected public institution. They call themselves the governors. A pretty pathetic job of governing they have done.
 
In order to be angry with the person representing Scotland on this body, I looked up his or her name expecting to find someone I knew, or knew of, someone visible and prominent in Scottish life. Instead I found Bill Matthews. He and he alone speaks for Scotland on the BBC Trust, yet I would be surprised if many readers of this magazine had ever heard of him.

I will tell you what I been able to glean about Bill Matthews. It is not a lot. He seems to be an engineer by training, and worked for the Motorola Corporation for some years. Then, from 2000 to 2003, he was chief executive of Sigtronics, a company about which I have been able to discover next to nothing. It went into liquidation, but a management team, including Mr Matthews, bought some of the assets and established a company called Invint Ltd, which manufactured electronic components.

Invint raised around £250,000 in equity funding, a fairly modest sum. Mr Matthews said at the time that Invint was ‘in the fortunate position of being revenue-generating already, which simplified the whole investment process and allowed us to get started with a minimal shareholder base’. Get started it did, with the ‘strategic advice’ of Bill Miller, founder of the now-defunct Prestwick Circuits, with whom I worked briefly in the setting up of a local radio station in south-west Scotland; Mr Miller was not my greatest admirer, nor I his, and we soon parted company. But he certainly knew quite a bit about electronics.

Despite Mr Miller’s strategic advice, for one reason or another – I have no knowledge of the background – Invint had a disappointingly short life. In 2007, within four years of its formation, the company was dissolved; Mr Matthews had already left it.

He then embarked on what the BBC Trust describes as a ‘second career’, in which he ‘successfully combines a number of non-executive and pension trustee roles with a small management consultancy business’. The Scottish Government appointed him as one of its ‘non-executive directors’, whatever that means – I’m quoting here from his biography. He joined the boards of the Scottish Police Services Authority, the British Transport Police Authority and Network Rail.

At the moment he is to be found at NHS National Services Scotland, where he has recently been re-appointed as part-time chairman for a further four years (having already served two) on an annual remuneration of £24,960. In addition he earns £9,160 a year as a board member of the Security Industry Authority.

Mr Matthews’s public profile is so low as to be almost invisible. I have been unable to source a single article he has written, a single speech he has made, a single utterance of his other than some innocuous chairman’s stuff in annual reports. But we do have one or two clues about the motivation for his commitment to public service. It is explained by the BBC Trust as follows: ‘Bill decided to bring the benefits of his management expertise to the public sector…where his technical and business background provides a useful contrast to the prevailing public sector view of life’.

The prevailing public sector view of life – what does Mr Matthews mean by this strange statement, assuming as we must that the BBC is representing his point of view? I must plead guilty to having a public sector view of life myself. I admire the work of teachers and nurses and social workers and cleaners, and lots of other under-valued people with a public sector view of life, including most of the workers employed by the NHS which Mr Matthew serves for an annual remuneration of £24,960. Why, I used to admire the public sector view of life of the BBC.

But the idea that it is ‘prevailing’ in modern Britain is bizarre. On the contrary it is under sustained attack from a Westminster government with a fetishistic attachment to the dubious benefits of privatising public services. It is not the public sector which messed up the railway network or left Coe and his mates with a security nightmare before the Greater London egg and spoon race. We have to give the private sector the credit for both fiascos, and for many more too numerous to mention.

Mr Matthews is probably a nice bloke, kind to animals and old people etc, but I wonder what he is doing as Scotland’s only representative on the BBC Trust. It is true that, when he is not attending committee meetings, he is manager of ‘Scotland’s only professional gospel choir’ and that he remembers from his childhood the importance of the BBC in family life. But I don’t think that’s really enough to make this a credible appointment. Indeed I would go so far as to describe it is an incredible appointment. Whose bright idea was it?

There are many distinguished people in Scotland’s cultural life who would bring more to the enormous task of helping to restore the BBC’s standards and reputation. Let me name one possible candidate. Magnus Linklater, a writer, editor and broadcaster of long experience and universally recognised gifts, also has the advantage of having chaired a major public body (the Scottish Arts Council). A BBC Trust with Mr Linklater on board would be stronger for his knowledge and authority. But I offer his name only as an example. There are dozens of others.

Instead we have Bill Matthews. I suppose I have to direct my anger about the lamentable state of BBC governance against him. It is not his fault that he is not a big enough target.

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy and the Scottish Review