Thank you convener, and thank you for inviting us to the committee today.
As director general of the BBC, I want to achieve a strong and vibrant BBC Scotland that reflects the nation that it serves, is full of confidence in its output and is properly fearless in its journalism.
We all recognise the pace of change in devolution, and that it is changing asymmetrically across the United Kingdom. The committee knows that only too well. Part of that change is this new way of looking at the charter renewal process with the Scottish Parliament, which I wholly welcome.
I say in no spirit of complacency or arrogance that I am immensely proud of the BBC and the output that we produce. Look at the breadth and quality of our programming over Christmas, from “Mrs Brown’s Boys” to “Sherlock” and so on, and at the way that our news teams in particular respond at times of crisis—such as the floods in Scotland—and provide an extraordinary public service to our viewers, listeners and online users.
I have been following the evidence that has been provided to the committee and there has rightly been proper debate and criticism of the BBC, but I hope that I have also sensed a belief, which I welcome hugely, in what the BBC should be and in public service broadcasting. We know that we are not without our flaws. There is a lot to do, but there are also things that we can be proud of.
I just want to say a few words of context. First, I think we have to look at the BBC in a global as well as a national context. Overall, the thing that obsesses me a lot is the fact that the amount of money that is spent on United Kingdom production in the UK by UK companies is in decline. I want a vibrant production sector in the UK—a sector that is not dominated by US studios but is UK production for the UK, and from the UK to the world. In that, I want a strong and thriving Scottish production sector that feeds into it, works in it and is a real part of it. That is the real prize.
That is why I stress hugely my wanting an open BBC: not an arrogant BBC, but a BBC that works as a partner with people, that supports the creative industries and which is also an open platform, where that is right, to help others to get visibility not only in Scotland or the UK, but globally.
I was really struck, while watching the David Bowie obituary that led “BBC News at 10” last night, when Sir John Sorrell said that he represents the most creative nation in the world. I really believe that. The UK—and Scotland—is an immensely creative nation.
My first point, therefore, is that production interests me a lot and I think that we have a big role there. Secondly, we have a role in which we need to look very carefully at how we serve Scottish licence fee payers, and also at how we portray Scotland, in two main ways. I laid that out just before Christmas in a variety of places.
In television, the network supply review that we have been talking about and examining has achieved a lot, but we can do so much better in telling the stories of Scotland not only to Scottish audiences but, moving on from that, to the whole UK and the world.
At the moment I am reviewing how we commission across network television. One of the aims is to ensure that we are representing and portraying all parts of the UK, particularly Scotland. We are also looking at how we can help to sustain production in the nations.
I want to ensure that in the next charter period we are not only telling Scottish stories to Scotland, but that we are taking Scottish stories, dramas and comedy to the whole UK and beyond. We are looking at ways within that of ensuring that we can tap into new talent—writers, directors and so on. I am sure that we will talk more about that, but I wanted to lay that point out.
The second issue, which concerns the news, is that the BBC’s principle has been neither to lead nor to lag in devolution. Now is the right time to ask whether we are getting it right and whether we need to change the balance. A lot of things have changed since the last time that was looked at by the BBC, which was before my time—I think it was in 2011. My view is that now is the time to make a change.
We are conducting a review of news, which will report in the spring. It is looking at the provision of news across television, radio and online. In that review there will, of course, be a debate about what has become known as the “Scottish Six”. I want to make sure that the discussion is about the totality of our services, and that it looks to the future. I am very aware, as we look at how people are consuming news, that they do so not just in the traditional and important ways that are our main services, but using mobile and online services. We want to make sure that those media are match fit as well.
I have already said that online there will be nations front pages for news, but today I also want to say, based on exactly the same principle, that Scotland should have its own front page on the iPlayer, on the BBC sport website and on the home pages as well. As we catch up with where we should be on data and we can personalise our services more, we will have a huge opportunity to offer licence fee payers in Scotland services that are more attuned to the things that they may want. That is important, too.
Finally, I want to stress the point about being open that I made earlier. We have a big opportunity with something that we have called the ideas service, but also with the work that we are doing in arts and in science, to open up the iPlayer to people who think and act like us, in a public service sort of way.
The iPlayer can be a backbone for what the BBC offers audiences; beyond that, it could be the backbone that enables the Edinburgh festivals, for example, to reach a bigger audience. We are looking at that, because there is a lot that we can do in that regard.
Finally, I want to devolve more decision making on how we provide services in Scotland to the BBC team in Scotland. It strikes me that there should be—in the technical language that we always use about these things—a service-licence agreement for the whole of what is done in Scotland, which should rest in Scotland, and that moving money between services, looking at the quality of services and adapting services should be matters for BBC Scotland. I believe that very strongly. As you know, a review by Sir David Clementi is going on into how we will be governed, and I have made the point strongly to him. I also believe that if we move to a unitary board for the BBC, there will clearly need to be a member on that board representing Scotland but also representing the fundamentals of public service broadcasting, which I know are dear to all of us.
Thank you, convener.