Meeting date: Thursday, October 6, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 06 October 2016
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Island Health Boards, Underground Coal Gasification Review, BBC Royal Charter and Framework Agreement, Investigatory Powers Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Island Health Boards
- Underground Coal Gasification Review
- BBC Royal Charter and Framework Agreement
- Investigatory Powers Bill
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
BBC Royal Charter and Framework Agreement
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01828, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on the draft BBC charter.15:09
I welcome the opportunity to open this debate on the renewal of the BBC charter. The draft charter, which was published on 15 September, sets out the United Kingdom Government’s expectations of the corporation for the next 11 years. For the first time, the Scottish Government has had a consultative role in the charter’s development, which I ensured would apply throughout the process.
The Scottish Government’s approach has been to seek consensus and agree a vision that would bring the BBC up to date, make it more relevant to a devolved nation and bring its governance and delivery much closer to Scotland’s audiences. The process has involved a genuinely constructive dialogue with the many people who believe in public service broadcasting and believe that it can be better. That includes independent producers, other broadcasters, equality and diversity bodies, broadcast experts and, indeed, the Scottish Parliament in the motion that was passed on 23 February.
During that process, I have met the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the current one to reiterate our proposals and suggest how they might be incorporated into the charter. I contributed to David Clementi’s review of the BBC’s governance and regulation, met Ofcom’s chief executive and engaged with the BBC trust, the relevant parliamentary committees and a number of stakeholders whose expert views I have been keen to factor into our thinking. I have also had meetings with the BBC director general and BBC Scotland.
I will update members on what we have achieved and where we think the charter could be improved. The draft charter is an improvement, but it does not fully deliver the BBC that needs to be in place to properly serve the people of Scotland. Our vision for the BBC’s future is rooted in three overarching objectives, which are predicated on our commitment to the corporation’s on-going editorial independence.
The first objective is to empower BBC Scotland to address the concerns of audiences and deliver better outcomes, including more representative content across all outputs. The second is to ensure that the BBC’s governance and structure are more responsive, reflect the devolved nature of the UK and can deliver similarly decentralised decision making. Thirdly, through those structures, we expect the BBC to deliver better outcomes for audiences and implement commissioning and editorial practices that will support the growth and sustainability of Scotland’s creative industries.
We have achieved welcome improvements, including an enforceable service licence for Scotland. The secretary of state has confirmed that that will ensure that the commitments that Lord Hall made flow through to Ofcom’s new licensing regime and, more important, that the BBC will have to deliver for Scotland against tangible targets. We have achieved the welcome improvements of a dedicated board member for Scotland; a commitment to continued support for Gaelic broadcasting and MG Alba; proposals for the BBC to report on its contribution to Scotland’s creative economy for the first time; the removal of the charter from the election cycle; and a new public purpose to reflect, represent and serve the nations and regions.
We have moved into a new era of accountability and scrutiny. The Parliament will have powers to scrutinise the BBC, to call it to appear before the relevant committee and to hold it to account. The Parliament has already begun to scrutinise the charter through the work of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee.
The new BBC board will have a non-executive member for Scotland whose job will be to ensure that Scotland’s interests are understood and taken seriously. The unitary board structure that is set out in the charter is consistent with part of our proposals, but we believe that, to deliver better outcomes and greater transparency, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should also have their own national boards.
I noticed that the letter that Fiona Hyslop received from the UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport says that her involvement in the process for appointments to the unitary board over the coming weeks will include asking for her agreement to the final appointment. Is that indeed the case? Will the Scottish Government have what I might describe as a veto over the appointment?
We currently have input on the BBC trust appointment, and we expect to input constructively into what should be an open, fair and transparent public appointment to the position. Therefore, we will be involved. As in many areas of culture and heritage, we will do that constructively. I hope that the appointee will not only serve Scotland but have active input into a range of issues on a UK-wide basis. That person could be a link between the unitary board for the BBC and the Scottish board, which we still think there should be.
If the BBC is to remain relevant, it needs to keep pace with the realities of devolution. It should decentralise, its funds should be redistributed, and editorial and commissioning decisions should be devolved. Gaelic broadcasting is a good example of where a clear step change on one relatively small area of broadcasting would deliver improved outcomes across a number of areas, such as audience satisfaction and investment in our creative industries.
The agreement sets out a commitment for the BBC to continue its partnership with MG Alba for the next 11 years. We welcome that, but it does not go far enough and we must continue to press it home that nothing short of a credible move towards parity with the funding model that is in place for S4C is acceptable. The ask is modest—it is for 10 hours of original programming a week. That would constitute a relatively small investment from the BBC, but it would be a just and positive outcome that would have an enormously positive impact for audiences and for the creative sector.
We have emphatically championed the BBC’s editorial independence throughout. The BBC plays a crucial role in supporting the social, cultural and democratic life of our nation. Our policy position to decouple the charter from the Westminster election cycle has been achieved and the 11-year cycle is enshrined in the charter.
The BBC must be empowered to play the best role that it can in social, cultural and democratic experiences for audiences in Scotland. I am sure that we all look forward to a Daily Mail front page claiming that the charter blocks the creation of a “Scottish Six”, winning its author a particularly uncoveted prize from the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists Association later this year. The fact that STV might steal a march on the BBC with an “STV Seven” shows what can be done.
The draft charter sets a stronger public purpose—to reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of Scotland and the other nations and regions of the UK. I have continuously pressed for that and we have achieved it. What is more, in delivering that, the BBC must also invest in the creative economies of the nations and for the first time be accountable for that. That means that we should—and we expect to—see increased and improved content and programming that is made in Scotland for the people of Scotland and for the wider network, and which draws on the technical and creative talent that we have in Scotland, across all the BBC’s services.
That should not just deliver greater investment in our creative sector but see strides being made in the representation and engagement of Scotland’s diverse peoples, with richer and more complex narratives emerging in the wake of greater visibility for stories from Scotland and participation by women, minority ethnic people, disabled people and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across Scotland and across the UK. The BBC as an institution needs to have more diversity in its decision-making arrangements and it needs to draw on the diversity of talent and experience across the country.
That public purpose, coupled with the promises made by the BBC’s director general in May 2016, including additional funding for improving services for more dedicated content, marks a significant commitment to Scotland’s people—a commitment that we must hold the BBC to. The charter directs the BBC to set out in its annual plan how it will deliver on its duties, including improving services for Scotland, and we welcome the moves to strengthen the BBC’s requirement to report against its creative remit nation by nation.
I expect that requirement to encourage the BBC to look at the big picture across Scotland and take a more strategic approach, with an eye to a future that is structured by ambition, vision and energy, instead of the current situation in which it retrospectively assesses investment simply to deliver for the quota and relies on snooker coverage, for example, to make up the quota numbers. Snooker from Sheffield is hardly Scottish. I also urge the BBC to consider how it will take audience views into account.
The BBC is now required to report in detail on how well it is delivering against its plans, and Ofcom will act as regulator. A strong and well-resourced Ofcom is key in holding the BBC to account. I met Ofcom’s chief executive on 23 August and gained her commitment to work with us to ensure that the needs of Scotland’s people are properly served—specifically through a service licence that makes clear the expectations that are placed on the corporation. However, as we recently made clear, the regulator can regulate effectively only if it is properly resourced to do so; that should not be through top-slicing the BBC licence fee. I have committed to working with Ofcom to help with understanding the shape and scope of the service licence and I look forward to further discussions on the matter.
BBC radio remains part of the fabric of life in Scotland, and it is worth asking again how the BBC really views BBC Radio Scotland. Does the BBC see it as a truly national station, such as Radio 4, or does it view Radio Scotland as another regional station? Throughout the process, I have been clear that the BBC needs to invest more in radio in Scotland, in commissioning for the wider BBC radio network and in the funding of Radio Scotland and BBC Radio nan Gàidheal. It must also acknowledge the appetite for the expansion of national radio provision.
I welcome the secretary of state’s co-operation in her response to our requests and in my meeting with her. However, I urge her to go further. Scotland’s ask has been simple and credible and has been supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals who agree that business as usual is not acceptable.
It is unjust, unfair and plain wrong that Scotland raises more than £320 million in licence fee revenue but sees only 55 per cent of that return to Scotland in BBC spend. Without full commissioning and editorial control in relation to the licence fee money that is raised here, the BBC in Scotland will not be all that it can and should be. A simple analysis of the BBC’s accounts lays bare the misrepresentation about Scotland getting what it deserves and the remaining moneys being invested in wider services that Scotland’s audiences enjoy, because the BBC invests more in the other nations. Scotland has been losing out for years, and that must be put right.
We continue to press for change. The UK Government has at times taken what seems to be an arbitrary view on which matters are policy decisions for the BBC and which are legitimate items for a charter. We continue to assert that it is not appropriate to leave such crucial matters to the commitment of individuals who come and go.
Although the commitments that Lord Hall set out in his letter of 12 May, such as the commitments to
“set ‘portrayal’ objectives for all television commissioners”
and to make Scotland
“one of our Centres for Excellence for factual television production”
are welcome, decentralisation needs to be properly secured. Only by anchoring decentralisation in the charter can we hold the BBC to account.
Why is it that views from Scotland are somehow seen as partial and self-interested in comparison with views from the offices of BBC executives in London and Salford? A readjustment in the relationship will be good for all, enhance decision making and accountability and provide a better offer for audiences.
Now is the time for the BBC to be truly bold and ambitious for itself and, in so doing, to be ambitious for Scotland. I urge the corporation to seize the opportunity to deliver a step change in what it does and how it does that, to provide substantive, quality public service broadcasting now and in the future.
That the Parliament notes the publication by the UK Government of the draft BBC Royal Charter and draft BBC Framework Agreement.15:22
My goodness—the cabinet secretary finished just as someone else finished their speech yesterday, by saying that it is time for change and let us seize the moment. There we go.
Unlike in my favourite children’s television programme, this is not a speech that I made earlier. I was keen to hear what the cabinet secretary said in her introduction. I agree with a great deal of what she said; there is a considerable amount of consensus. She made a number of points that are challenges to the BBC, and I might not entirely share the analysis that underpinned those points. I will touch on that later.
In her speech yesterday, the Prime Minister bundled the BBC and the national health service together. I suppose that, in a sense, they are both cradle-to-grave services that we expect and enjoy. For me, it began with “Andy Pandy” and “The Woodentops” and continued through “Blue Peter” and “Animal Magic” to “Doctor Who” and on to “Nationwide” and “Reporting Scotland”—then with the formidable Mary Marquis, now with the equally formidable Sally Magnusson—and programmes from “Colditz”, “Secret Army”, “I, Claudius” and “Dad’s Army” to “The Night Manager” and “War and Peace”.
On the radio, there was “Junior Choice with Ed Stewart”, then Radio 1, then Radio 2—I sometimes think that a radio two and a half would suit me now. Drama, comedy, “The Archers” and the “Today” programme on Radio 4 are all part of my daily life. I am told that I will eventually revert to “Andy Pandy” and “The Woodentops” when I reach a later stage in my life.
Will the member take an intervention?
No, because I know that Mr Stevenson was probably on all those programmes at an earlier stage in his career. I am not putting myself through that. [Laughter.]
I benefited personally from the BBC World Service. My family was in Cyprus during the Turkish invasion in 1974, and we turned to the World Service for all the information on which we relied. Perhaps that is why Kofi Annan said that the BBC World Service is
“Britain’s greatest gift to the world in the 20th century”.
Throughout my life, the Radio Times has been a feature for looking at and cherishing all the quality programmes that are produced.
I am a friend and a fan of the BBC, but I am not uncritical of it, and nor was the former First Minister, who referred to the BBC’s coverage of the referendum as being nothing short of Pravda, which came as a great surprise to Comrade Bird and Comrade Taylor.
What we have is a charter for the next 11 years, which, as the cabinet secretary said, takes it outwith the electoral cycle. The participation of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament was one of the commitments that were made in the Smith commission and I hope that all parties feel that it has been fully vindicated and honoured. The Scottish Government has participated actively in the process, as have the other devolved nations. The BBC will now present itself to parliamentary committees having laid its annual accounts open to us. There is also an opportunity, halfway through the charter review, for an interim review, which is especially important.
Much of what could be available to us as a result of the charter will depend on the spirit with which the BBC seeks to deliver it. The interim review at the midway point will allow us to test whether that spirit is there.
I appreciate the arguments that Jackson Carlaw makes about the interim review, but he should be aware that there are concerns that, should there be a political wind change about the BBC, an interim review might be seen to be a threat rather than an opportunity.
I understand the point that the cabinet secretary makes. However, the charter ought to give the BBC the political guarantee that it needs. The cabinet secretary has identified areas in which she wishes to see the BBC respond to the new charter, so there has to be an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament as much as any other body to interrogate whether that is happening.
Such areas come down to editorial independence and commissioning here in Scotland. I will try to stay free of the jargon that many of us have picked up so, other than saying that I am not referring to it, I will not say the term “lift and shift”. The past charter said that a percentage of programming was meant to be established in Scotland, but producers and others found that the convenient way to bypass that requirement was to relocate established programmes to Scotland to tick the box, without leaving any sustained or permanent outcome for the creative industries in Scotland.
Such a policy has underpinned the 55 per cent figure that the cabinet secretary referred to. The amount of spend is a function of the genuine commissioning that takes place in Scotland. Because “Waterloo Road” was cancelled, that led to a drop in the share of that expenditure that was being allocated to Scotland.
That is not good enough, which is why I welcome the appointment of Ken MacQuarrie to a post that was abolished in 2009 and why I welcome the appointment of drama and comedy commissioners in Scotland. However, the key thing will be not just the fact of their desks being at Pacific Quay but their being able to genuinely influence the budget decisions that are made about the spend on programming here in Scotland.
There is a challenge for the Government. When the BBC launched the charter, it announced that a number of key programmes such as “Holby City” and “Songs of Praise” would be available for tendering around the UK and from the independent sector. The very same afternoon, Invest Northern Ireland was in touch with Northern Ireland Screen and all the independent companies in Northern Ireland to see how they could work together to secure those programmes in Northern Ireland.
From talking to the independent sector in Scotland, it is clear that Scottish Enterprise has nothing like the same enthusiasm for getting involved in investing in the creative industries. It is not just Creative Scotland with its small budget that we need; we need Scottish Enterprise, which is the equivalent of Invest Northern Ireland, to work with Creative Scotland and the Government to make sure that independent producers can take advantage of the new commissioning opportunities.
Programming is not just drama, although drama is hugely important. Programming can be documentary, which does not require studio facilities. We do not want programming that is just about Scotland; we want Scotland to make programmes about the world. If we are talking about drama, it is important that we have the studio capacity in Scotland to deliver that, and we do not.
I know that the Government has invested in supporting the Cumbernauld facility that is the home of the digital drama production “Outlander”, but there is huge potential beyond that. That is why I hope that the Pentland studios proposal, which I know is under active consideration—perhaps for a little longer than many would like—succeeds.
If we are to take advantage not just of the commissioning opportunities of long-term BBC series production here but of new international digital high-quality drama network production, both of which stimulate the tourism industry—as VisitScotland has found with “Outlander”; it is producing an “Outlander” tourism map for the many people who are coming here—we must have the studio capacity. The independents that want to take advantage of the BBC commissioning budget that could come to Scotland will need that studio capacity to produce programmes here, create the infrastructure and nurture the talent that we want to be developed in Scotland. There has to be a degree of leadership, not just from the BBC but from the Government, to ensure that we capitalise on that.
There are huge challenges for the BBC, and I agree with much of what the Government has said. The BBC’s editorial independence is fundamental. The charter gives us huge opportunities and we, through the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee and the Government, will work to maximise the potential for Scotland in the new environment.15:31
Scottish Labour welcomes the debate and the progress that has been made in recent months. We believe that the draft charter and framework agreement now offer a more certain future for the BBC in general and public service broadcasting in Scotland in particular.
A few months ago, there was real cause for concern. Changes proposed by Conservative ministers to the governance of the BBC appeared to call into question the editorial integrity and independence of the corporation. At the same time, the process of charter renewal in Scotland was in danger of getting drawn into the constitutional debate, which would have threatened the independence of the BBC from a different direction.
Today, we appear to have moved on, at least in some important respects. The UK Government has accepted that it should be the BBC and not ministers who appoint a majority of board members and that there should be a senior independent director, as well as a chair appointed by Government. The cabinet secretary’s approach to today’s debate confirms that SNP ministers also recognise the draft charter and framework agreement as a basis for further progress, although she clearly continues to have reservations, not all of which may be addressed in the weeks ahead—we shall see. Our focus now should not be on issues of constitution or governance; it should be on investment in creativity and adding economic value.
Lewis Macdonald mentioned governance. Surely governance is crucial in any organisation.
It certainly is. Mr McMillan will agree that the changes to governance contained in the charter have moved things forward, and moved them in the right direction. There is sufficient in that to allow us to focus on the issues of creativity and economic benefit that lie ahead.
A year ago, we had a debate on an Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee report on the economic impact of television and other creative industries, in which I highlighted the importance of quotas, under the BBC’s existing charter, for production outwith London and the stimulus that they already offered to Scottish production companies. That sector was well represented in evidence that was heard at last week’s meeting of the Europe and External Relations Committee, and its views on the draft charter are worth noting. David Smith of Matchlight said:
“The charter is a welcome step forward, but it is not the end of the journey by any stretch.”
David Strachan of Tern TV said:
“The charter offers a number of checks and balances that did not exist before that allow for scrutiny by this place and by other organisations.”
Rosina Robson of PACT—Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television—said:
“we are pleased with the overall shape of the charter and the agreement. There will be more opportunities for production companies in Scotland and around the UK to pitch for, because the BBC will be that much more open.”—[Official Report, Europe and External Relations Committee, 27 September 2016; c 2, c 1, c 2.]
Those witnesses set the tone for the committee’s evidence session and I hope that it is that approach that sets the tone for our debate today.
As well as improving the governance proposals for the BBC as a whole, the draft charter builds on the existing charter in strengthening the BBC’s focus on the nations and regions of the UK and its ability to further strengthen the independent production sector in Scotland.
As has been mentioned, very specific requirements are now placed on the BBC, which has been welcomed. The accountability of the BBC to the Scottish Parliament and the devolved Administrations here and elsewhere is central. We can look forward to many more opportunities to scrutinise the senior management of the BBC, as committee members did last week, and to hold it to account for delivery of its strategy and plans.
The amended public purpose is significant. The BBC must
“reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions”.
That of course does not just require representation of Scotland as seen from Holyrood or Pacific Quay; Scotland’s regions must be fully represented, too. Further, in meeting that duty, the BBC must
“support the creative economy across the United Kingdom”.
Again, that is good news for all of our creative hubs—Aberdeen as well as Glasgow and the Hebrides as well as the central belt.
The framework agreement commits the BBC to continued support for Gaelic broadcasting in partnership with MG Alba. That partnership is responsible for around half the total number of hours that are commissioned from production companies in Scotland, so that commitment really matters. However, as Fiona Hyslop said, it is not enough on its own. BBC Alba currently makes 4.2 hours of new Gaelic-language programmes each week, compared with the BBC’s equivalent Welsh-language commitment to 10 hours a week. We want a commitment to 10 hours weekly to really secure the future of that service. We believe that that should be funded centrally by the BBC across the UK and not simply diverted from the spend that is already undertaken by BBC Scotland. That would surely meet the spirit of the BBC’s new purpose, which is to represent the diversity of communities across the United Kingdom.
Television is hugely important but, as Jackson Carlaw said, it is not the whole story. Real progress has been made since 2006 through quotas for TV production outwith greater London, but we need to see real progress on radio and online content over the term of the next charter. The BBC can, if it chooses, set targets for the share of network radio programming and online content that is made in the nations and regions and, if it does so, Scotland stands to benefit accordingly. We believe that the new board of the BBC should make that an early priority.
The draft charter and agreement provide a framework for the work of the BBC over the next 11 years. By definition, a framework is not prescriptive. It does not tell the BBC what to do day by day or issue by issue, but it clearly indicates the direction of travel. It is for the BBC now to make its own decisions as a public service broadcaster independent of Government control. The appointment of Ken MacQuarrie as BBC director of nations and regions is to be welcomed as an indication of intent. There is also the intention to appoint commissioners in Scotland. The Parliament must use our new responsibilities to encourage such decisions by the BBC, which will move us further forward over the next 11 years.
One thing that the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee found last year was that, on film and TV, Scotland had lost ground relative to other nations and regions in the UK. Jackson Carlaw mentioned Northern Ireland, which has forged ahead with top-class studio facilities and a Government agency that is dedicated to the film and TV sector. I know that the cabinet secretary is aware of the positive lessons to be drawn from that and is seeking to address that. Northern Ireland’s success is also down to a culture of partnership working. Politicians there do not seem to see the BBC as a problem; they see it as a partner that brings in business and adds value. That is the culture that we should aim for over the next 11 years. We should work together to achieve sustained growth in programme production in Scotland and to realise the full potential that the draft charter now offers.
We now enter the open part of the debate.15:38
I welcome the consensual nature of the debate. In fact, it is so consensual that many of the points that I was going to make have already been made by Jackson Carlaw and Lewis Macdonald as well as the cabinet secretary, so that is a bit of a surprise.
As Lewis Macdonald and Jackson Carlaw said, last week the Parliament’s culture committee took evidence on the BBC charter from witnesses from the independent production sector, MG Alba and the BBC. As Lewis Macdonald said, independent producers in Scotland have welcomed the charter as a step in the right direction. I congratulate the cabinet secretary and previous committees of the Parliament, such as the Education and Culture Committee, on their input to the charter and its current shape.
Independent production companies, in particular, welcomed paragraph 5 of article 6 of the charter, which states:
“In commissioning and delivering output the BBC should invest in the creative economies of each of the nations and contribute to their development.”
The BBC must also report on its creative remit on a nation-by-nation basis, which is a good thing.
Article 6 outlines five public purposes, one of which is to
“reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions”.
The charter therefore says that strengthening television production in Scotland has both a cultural and economic purpose.
As the cabinet secretary said, director general Tony Hall admitted in May that the corporation has “not done enough” to reflect Scotland to itself and to the rest of the UK. Obviously, I hope that the draft charter will address that, but I am concerned that, in her oral evidence to the European and External Relations Committee last week, Lord Hall’s deputy Anne Bulford did not appear to show the same understanding as her boss. That is worrying, given that Mrs Bulford is in charge of the BBC’s finances.
As others have pointed out, the committee heard that only 55 per cent of the licence fee raised in Scotland is spent here, compared with 74 per cent in Northern Ireland and 95 per cent in Wales. Members have quoted David Strachan of the independent production company Tern TV, who explained lift and shift thus:
“there are companies that move to Scotland temporarily, rent a desk or two, put up a brass name-plate and consume quota, and then disappear as soon as their commission has finished.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 27 September 2016; c 6-7.]
An early example of that was “The Weakest Link”, and another example is the snooker from Sheffield, which is under review by Ofcom. That sort of thing has a real impact on employment. The committee heard that, between 2012 and 2015, employment in Scottish TV production fell by 27 per cent, despite the fact that Ofcom’s network production target was met. That happened because of lift and shift.
Lift and shift is not a new thing. It has been criticised for years; indeed, it was criticised during the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s inquiry into the creative industries in the previous session of Parliament. Industry witnesses told that committee’s members of very poor experience in gaining access to London-based commissioners in order to pitch their ideas; they spoke of phone calls not being returned and emails requesting meetings being ignored. The inquiry report, which was published in March last year, recommended that commissioners abandon their reliance on lift and shift and invest in independent TV companies with a permanent base in Scotland, setting a deadline of late 2016 in that respect. In fairness, that recommendation was addressed to Channel 4 as well as the BBC.
However, at last week’s evidence session, Ms Bulford point-blank denied that there was any evidence of prejudice by commissioners against companies outside London. MSPs repeatedly asked Ms Bulford for assurances that the 55 per cent situation would not happen again and requested that she name a more ambitious target. However, she failed to do so. She and other BBC witnesses fell back on discredited excuses, such as the assertion that, in return for its licence fee, Scotland gets access to prestige network services. As David Smith from Matchlight said, Wales and Northern Ireland also benefit from network productions, sporting events such as the Olympic games and Radio Four, but they still keep more of the licence fee.
The European and External Relations Committee also took evidence from Donald Campbell of MG Alba, who was pleased at the statement in the draft agreement that
“The BBC must ... support the provision of output in the Gaelic language in Scotland”
and provide a television service through partnership with MG Alba. However, he was concerned that there was no coherent policy in respect of minority languages. I think that we will all agree that BBC Alba, which reaches 15 per cent of the national audience, is of extremely high quality. It is also important to point out that there is no lift and shift in Gaelic TV: every penny allocated to Scotland is spent here. I note that Bannan, an MG Alba drama, is already being sold internationally, which puts it ahead of English-language drama from Scotland.
The industry witnesses to whom the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee spoke during its inquiry identified a lack of high-end drama from Scotland as a major cultural and economic failing. Last week, the BBC made great play of the appointment of a new drama commissioner in Scotland. However, as the committee discovered, they will still have to defer to decision makers in London and will have no realistic budget.
I also draw attention to the fact that, even when it has made a major economic contribution, much of the drama that has been made in Scotland up to now has not necessarily reflected authentic Scottish experience. “Waterloo Road” is a very good example of that. It would have been a good idea if “Waterloo Road” had built up the infrastructure in Scotland to allow us to do other things, but it has gone without appearing to have done so. That is a really significant problem.
Anne Bulford did not seem to recognise the fact that authentic drama that would appeal across the UK could be made in Scotland. That ignores the fact that vernacular dramas such as “Trainspotting”—one of our biggest cinematic successes—and American television dramas such as “The Wire” have been very successful in the past. They are very specific to the place that they come from, but they are still very popular.
The charter goes far in addressing some of the problems that we have identified in Scotland in the past, but it should be toughened up. If it remains unchanged, we should ensure that the Scottish Parliament gets the opportunity to scrutinise what the BBC is doing. We should ensure that the BBC is decentralised so that it delivers what everyone in the Parliament wants for the economy and the culture of Scotland.15:46
As a child, I was never allowed to watch “Tiswas” for fear that I would get out of hand. My parents banned ITV, believing that Chris Tarrant and Sally James getting pied and drenched in semolina, baked beans and custard was not a good example to set children. Instead, when the door was open, I obediently set the big old television to channel 1 to watch “Swap Shop” with Noel Edmonds on the good old Beeb, which was suitably inoffensive and educational entertainment.
Even if we have veered away in recent times to online streaming platforms, the BBC is always reliable. That is why many of us, particularly Ruth Davidson, still sneak a fix of “Strictly Come Dancing” or the “Andrew Marr Show”. To give it its due, the BBC is central to the lives of many people here and overseas, and it has a global audience of 348 million people across radio, the BBC World Service, BBC World News, television and online content. However, for the BBC to progress, reform is essential.
We debate the BBC’s charter renewal today because the current BBC charter expires at the end of the year. We welcome the new draft charter and, in particular, the enhanced emphasis on the nations, the increased input from the devolved legislatures—including the Scottish Parliament—and the commitment from the UK Government to listen carefully to the issues raised in our debates before submitting the final documents.
More than 300 organisations and experts have engaged in the charter review process and more than 190,000 responses to the public consultation were received. Eighty per cent of the consultation responses said that the BBC serves its audience well or very well. However, for all its notable successes, the BBC faced questions about its governance, its distinctiveness, its market impact, how it serves society, its efficiency and its value for money. Technology was also a key area of discussion. Further, the 2006 charter looked at digital switchover but said nothing about the BBC iPlayer. As the charter also said nothing about BBC Alba, it ignored two of the most successful TV content initiatives of the past decade.
Throughout the charter review process, the UK Government consulted the Scottish Government on the contents of the draft BBC charter and framework agreement, particularly on the areas that affect Scotland. Decisions on the forthcoming investment and on commissioning decisions will further develop the BBC’s offering in Scotland, and the BBC has affirmed its commitment to continue working with BBC Scotland to build Scotland’s share of network commissioning.
Giving evidence at the European and External Affairs Committee meeting last week, the deputy director general of the BBC, Anne Bulford, announced the appointments of a new drama commissioner and a new comedy commissioner for Scotland. The new commissioners will set portrayal objectives so that all areas of network content will accurately and authentically reflect the lives of audiences around the whole of the UK. A drama development fund will also be set up and Scotland will be identified as a centre of excellence for the BBC in factual production. Those promises are meaningful and we hope to see the intention that different cultures and alternative viewpoints will be represented. Additionally, the new draft charter ensures that a non-executive director for Scotland will sit on the BBC’s new unitary board and, as Fiona Hyslop said, become a link.
Members across the chamber put our trust in the BBC to meet its commitment to reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom in both its output and its services. Revisions have been made to reflect devolution and changes in our democracy in news and sport coverage, with the announcement of a nations edition of home pages for the BBC news website and, to follow, nations editions for the BBC iPlayer and the BBC sport website.
Delivering accountability to the devolved nations is integral, as stated in paragraph 5 of article 6—like Joan McAlpine, I quote the charter—in order
“To reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions and, in doing so, support the creative economy across the United Kingdom”.
We hope that those words will be put into action by Ken MacQuarrie, the new director of nations and regions. Mr MacQuarrie has been appointed as the voice for Scotland. He told the committee last week:
“how we invest in the nations and regions, and the creative economy of the nations is absolutely at the top of the director general’s priorities.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 27 September 2016; c 34.]
Under the charter, the BBC will agree a new partnership with Creative Scotland that will aim to match the partnership that it has with Northern Ireland Screen. Jackson Carlaw alluded to that.
Mr MacQuarrie’s comments about commitment to Scottish production were underpinned by the evidence that the committee took last week from stakeholders including Creative Scotland. The stakeholders want to see high-quality productions being staged and managed in Scotland that ultimately contribute to Scotland’s economy, avoiding the lift and shift concept, which has been mentioned. The new director of nations and regions also talked about encouraging new talent through Skills Development Scotland and setting up apprenticeships to further contribute to the growth of Scotland’s creative economy.
So, I leave it with you, dear Beeb. We are willing you all the way to represent Scotland’s stories of our hills, our lochs and our people. You have listened, and now it is time for action.
I will ask one final, parting question. Will the spirit of the new BBC charter entice the granny that everybody wants—Scots-loving, iconic baker Mary Berry—and the beloved quick-witted and satirical “Bake Off” duo Mel and Sue to produce a new series set on Carberry Hill in East Lothian entitled “Mary, Queen of Tarts”?15:52
It is perhaps no surprise, given that the first director general of the BBC, although that would not have been his title then, was a dour Presbyterian Scot, Lord Reith, that the original motto of the BBC was
“Nation shall speak peace unto nation”,
which is an adaptation from the book of Micah, chapter 4, verse 3. The BBC was innovative when it started and it remains so in the modern digital age.
Jackson Carlaw was not entirely incorrect in his response to my attempted intervention. I appeared on the BBC on the shores of Loch Earn when he was three years old. Of course, he missed out some of the most spectacular and impressive pieces of broadcasting that the BBC used to make. His biggest omission, which was due to his failure to accept an intervention, was the wonderful programme on a Sunday afternoon called “The Brains Trust”, which first brought Jacob Bronowski to the public’s attention. Jacob Bronowski later produced, wrote and was the inspiration for probably my favourite BBC programme, “The Ascent of Man”, part of which moves me to tears. He is standing in a concentration camp and he reaches down into a puddle and picks up some mud. He looks at it and then looks at the camera and says, “This is my family.” There is no more stirring piece of television than that piece by Jacob Bronowski, who came to us via “The Brains Trust”. In all honesty, only the BBC could have considered making those programmes.
Of course, it may be that Jackson Carlaw is related to another member of “The Brains Trust”—the Tory MP Gerald Nabarro. However, if Jackson Carlaw remembers anything about him, he will be hoping that they are not related.
The BBC also has the affection of SNP members for a programme that was first broadcast on 24 November 1962, “That Was The Week That Was”. It brought us David Frost for the first time and the wonderful cartoonist Timothy Birdsall. However, fundamentally, what it brought us was a satirical venue in which it was possible to probe the declining strength of the then Conservative Government under Harold Macmillan, and it probably contributed quite significantly to the ending of that period of Tory rule. We have a lot to be grateful to the BBC for.
I was particularly grateful as a youngster to “That Was The Week That Was”, because it was on late on a Saturday night and I was allowed to stay up that late for the first time to watch it, so it was a wonderful programme for me. However, it also illustrated something that we have kind of lost in modern broadcasting because it was of a length that was appropriate to what was going on in the world that week. In other words, if there was more going on, the programme just kept going because it was live and some of the content was improvised during the course of the programme. The rigid timetables that box off programmes today mean that we have lost some of the spontaneity and spark that we had in that programme.
I have a few general comments. The BBC produces one of the best current affairs programmes that come from Scotland—“Eòrpa”—and it has done so for some time. It is a Gaelic programme, but it is subtitled. It enables us to look through Scottish eyes at things that are going on elsewhere, particularly in Europe but occasionally beyond. Only the BBC has the option of making that kind of programme, and we love the BBC for that ability to pick up difficult subjects and bring them to us.
I will make a couple of points that I hope the BBC, which I am sure will be watching this debate, will take on board. BBC Scotland’s Radio Scotland is the poor relation, not simply in terms of the funding and resources that are made available to it but because of how it is delivered to us in the modern digital age. Digital audio broadcasting—DAB—radio, which BBC Scotland is on, is not delivered via any of the BBC multiplexes but via the commercial multiplexes. Two effects stem from that, one of which is that if we are in a car with a DAB radio, it will not retune from multiplex to multiplex as we go across Scotland, whereas we can continue to listen to all the London BBC radio channels as we go across Scotland. Secondly, there is no FM fallback, which means that if we lose the digital signal, there is not enough information provided to our radio set to allow it to fall back to FM, as Radio 4 does.
Radio 4 is one of the crowning glories of the BBC, and many of us in Scotland listen to it, but it has its failings in relation to Scotland but also in relation to the rest of the UK. In the very brief time that I have left, I will give one example. I was listening to a piece on Radio 4 about Sunday trading in England, and comments were being made about how the world would fall apart if shops were allowed to open on Sundays. No reference was made for English audiences to the fact that Scotland has had Sunday trading for many years and the world has not collapsed. However, what was even more fundamental for Scots listeners was that there was no explanation of the Sunday trading situation in England. I did not quite understand it until I went home and looked it up. The piece failed to represent Scotland in an English debate and failed to explain an English issue, which was of interest to us, in a Scottish context. That is simply a metropolitan error that the BBC has to address.
Let us hope that the BBC not only continues to reflect the world to Scotland but continues to reflect Scotland to the world.15:58
I am pleased to speak in this debate. I welcome the focus that the Scottish Parliament is giving to the BBC and the greater engagement that we are having with the BBC and BBC Scotland. I think that we are developing a more mature and transparent relationship, which is to be welcomed. Indeed, when George Adam and I hosted the showing in Parliament last year of the BBC’s “Doctor Who” Christmas special, even the most sceptical BBC-grudging MSP rushed for tickets, so I am pleased that we can all recognise the value of the BBC when we are presented with a quality product.
The BBC is a valued and trusted institution. It origins are rooted in the aims of educating, entertaining and informing its audience, and generations have grown up watching and enjoying BBC content. Founded in 1922, it is now competing in a much-changed media environment and a more competitive commercial market that presents big challenges for the organisation and its audience. However, it is admired throughout the world as a public sector broadcaster, funded by all of us, that produces quality programming with a depth and breadth not matched by any other broadcaster.
Although the headlines this afternoon are all about the charter, we cannot forget that the BBC has received a challenging financial settlement. I do not agree that the BBC should fully cover the cost of the over-75s licence fee, which will be the primary factor in its budget decreasing by nearly 20 per cent by 2020-21. The BBC faces a decade of declining resources and, although I fully support its role as a public sector broadcaster and the continuing use of the licence fee model, we need to recognise the BBC’s need to operate commercially and to be able to generate income when appropriate.
There is much to welcome in the draft BBC charter. I know that the cabinet secretary has raised a number of areas that she feels have not been delivered, but she should not sell herself short. At the start of the process, Ms Hyslop set out to get a good deal for Scotland, to get political consensus on the way forward and to champion the importance of BBC Scotland content. Any fair measure of the draft would say that she achieved those aims. For example, we have a service licence agreement for Scotland, a commitment to continued support for Gaelic, a dedicated board member for Scotland and a significant new public purpose to reflect, represent and serve the nations and regions.
The Scottish Government might not have got the full result that it wanted, but it is one that reflects the views of this Parliament. The recommendations that were in the Education and Culture Committee report are reflected in the draft charter. Those recommendations drew the broadest support from the Parliament, and it is right that they are used to determine the direction of a public sector broadcaster.
The level of Scottish content and spend will no doubt continue to be an issue of debate in Scotland. The figures around how much is commissioned in Scotland and how much is spent in Scotland need to be available and fully discussed. I would like to say a few things about those issues.
First, it is good news that a new drama commissioner and a new comedy commissioner have been announced for Scotland, that a new drama development fund will be established and that Scotland will be identified as a BBC centre of excellence in factual production. Those are all to be welcomed and will make better use of the fantastic talent that we have, build experience, confidence and relationships and secure more Scottish productions and, crucially, network productions that originate in Scotland. We have strengths in our current production.
A few weeks ago, I was at the recording of “The Dog Ate My Homework” at Pacific Quay. Members can look out for me in the school disco section of that programme.
I do not know whether members have seen the programme, but it has a school disco section in which parents and children have to stand up and dance. It is on CBBC, and members should look out for it. Children’s programming is a good example of Scotland’s strength in broadcasting. It is an area in which BBC Scotland excels.
We should be proud of where we are successful and are taking a lead, and we should have the confidence and necessary investment to grow, so it is welcome that the charter says:
“In commissioning and delivering output the BBC should invest in the creative economies of each of the nations and contribute to their development.”
That is a clear statement that will support that activity. We all have a responsibility to ensure that that is delivered on.
Secondly, I do not support the arguments around share of licence fee. It is an indicator of activity, but it does not tell the whole story. I think that we all agree that the lift and shift system needed to be addressed and that the quota needs to be fulfilled in a more meaningful way. However, the reliance on an interpretation of the licence fee share is not the right way to do that. Comparing Scotland’s share to that of Wales or Northern Ireland is not comparing like with like, for a number of reasons, including population difference. Further, the breadth of network programming is a strong argument against a percentage licence fee figure being calculated for BBC Scotland, and it is an attempt at the federalisation of the BBC by the back door. That would be a blunt figure that would not reflect what we get in return for the licence fee, including full BBC programming, radio, the iPlayer and the website. It is right and fair that a proportion of our licence fee contributes towards those services. To create an internal market for those services would be a disaster and would not be in the best interests of the licence fee payer, who is often ignored in these discussions. Audiences should be at the heart of this debate, and a look at any of the viewing figures for programmes such as “Match of the Day” or “Strictly Come Dancing” shows that people in Scotland value those programmes as much as people anywhere else and that we all benefit from being part of the UK network.
Thirdly, the BBC is built on shared values throughout the UK. Its funding model, its founding principles, its innovation and commitment to quality give all of us as a country a public sector broadcaster that is unrivalled around the world, and that is to be valued.16:05
I agree entirely with many of Claire Baker’s remarks, although I confess that I am heartily relieved that I do not have to watch CBBC any more. There may be a stage later in my life when that might happen again, but at the moment that is happily far off.
I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, for having to leave the chamber early this evening due to a number of transport-related challenges in my life. I also apologise to those on the front benches for not being able to stay for the final speeches.
The cabinet secretary set out a pretty fair assessment of the situation, and I genuinely think that the tone of those on the Government front bench on the important issue of the BBC charter has improved greatly. Fiona Hyslop made a very constructive and sensible speech, which is to be welcomed given the importance of the matter.
Nevertheless, Lewis Macdonald was right to set the debate in context. No Government can ever resist the temptation to interfere in the work of a broadcaster that is funded by licence fee payers and therefore, by definition, voters. That happens regularly throughout the world, and it has happened under successive Westminster Governments of all political persuasions. Lewis Macdonald made a fair point about a number of Conservative Governments over the years that have—I have watched it myself—grotesquely interfered in the editorial side of the BBC. I am very glad to see that that is not happening now—long may that continue. If we are to allow a broadcaster—although the BBC does much more than just broadcast—to develop and flourish, particularly if it is, as Fiona Hyslop said, to be an important part of the creative industries not just in Scotland but right around the UK, it is essential that it not be interfered with by any Government of any political persuasion.
Therefore, it is to the credit of the Scottish Government and the UK Government if they recognise the important distinction that Fiona Hyslop rightly drew out. Of course, they should make observations on spend, on investment and on how programmes come to be seen in different parts of the country, and they should push hard for greater investment in the important aspects of the BBC’s service across the country, but they should separate all of that very clearly from the BBC’s editorial independence.
The cabinet secretary raised three important points in her introductory remarks: about having more representative content; about the creative industries, which I have briefly touched on; and about the need for ever greater decentralisation of decision making. That, I hesitantly suggest, is a call that the Government needs to reflect on. The principle is admirable, but all of us who preach the approach of decentralisation need to carry it through into everything that we do and, as a constituency member, I have been on the end of lots of decisions being taken away from my part of the world by a Government that has centralised. By all means, the Government should make the argument for decentralisation within the BBC, but I ask it please to be consistent by operating in that way itself.
Will the member reflect on Lewis Macdonald’s point that it is all very well having commissioners for drama and comedy, but the question is whether we will have decision making on the budgets to support that? That is the core of the test that we want to apply.
I am happy to come back to that point, but certainly who—he or she—controls the budget will have a major effect on the effectiveness of the roles that the cabinet secretary mentions.
The other point to make in the context of the creative industries is that it is a strength of Scottish broadcasting that STV is not only there but pushes the BBC really hard, mostly in news production. Presiding Officer, you will be well aware of that because you have rightly hosted breakfasts for STV in Parliament—good events at which STV’s management team can be questioned. My point is that STV is good for the BBC because it pushes it really hard, in which context the point that was made about the proposed “Scottish 7” is important. Surely the objective test that we should apply to that concerns not only the quality of what we will see on our screens next year but where it will be seen, which I understand is a fairly significant issue, too.
Scotland’s independent radio stations are equally important in pushing BBC radio, including BBC Radio Scotland, on its quality, output and newsgathering abilities. Competition is important in both the broadcasting news and entertainment markets.
I am grateful to those who have highlighted the role of the Smith commission in driving the principle of what needed to happen on governance and Scotland’s role. As Joan McAlpine mentioned, the Education and Culture Committee in the previous parliamentary session deserves much credit for a series of recommendations that, as far as I can see, probably have been encapsulated in the new draft charter. Obviously, the Government has also played an important role in the draft, but it is occasionally important to recognise the role of a committee and how it has brought matters to pass.
Fiona Hyslop and Claire Baker rightly mentioned the new drama and comedy commissioners. There is the cabinet secretary’s point about budgets, but it strikes me as important that those individuals will be there, because their jobs will depend on how much they can get on to the network and how much they achieve within the BBC, and the fact that they will be pushing Scottish quality and a Scottish approach to comedy and drama is a very positive development, as is the drama development fund that has been mentioned.
A big challenge for the BBC is to invest in news and newsgathering, and particularly in the support of journalists, in Scotland to a greater extent. I graze news—“Today”, “Five Live” and “Good Morning Scotland”—in the morning. When the BBC brought up Jim Naughtie to co-present GMS through the events of 2014, he was supported in the same way as he would have been supported on the “Today” programme. I would hope that BBC Scotland would find the people, the resources and the research not only to put behind the excellent quality broadcasters that we have, but to make sure that the programmes have more depth and reach than they currently do.16:11
First, I will touch on Jackson Carlaw’s and Tavish Scott’s comments. Jackson Carlaw spoke about the Smith commission and the input that Scotland and this Parliament have to the BBC. Clearly, I warmly welcome that, but I have thought that for many years—certainly since this Parliament was re-established. The Scottish Parliament should have had that level of input back in 1999 rather than it just starting now.
The BBC is a hugely important cultural institution and it remains the single most important contributor to public service broadcasting in the UK. It plays an important role in supporting the wider creative economy both directly, through commissioning from the independent production sector, and indirectly, through investment in skills and training.
Examples of programmes have been heard. Joan McAlpine talked about “Waterloo Road”, for example. Despite it being a false situation—the programme was lifted and shifted—the programme was based in the old Greenock academy school and it certainly had a positive effect on the Inverclyde economy although, unfortunately, the effect on jobs and increased training has not been long-lasting.
As somebody who comes from Greenock, I endorse Stuart McMillan’s points. I note the big effect that such programmes can have on the economy, and that is to be welcomed. Does he agree that having a commissioner of drama with real power and a budget will perhaps ensure that we have a drama series from Scotland that is not axed because the plotline is not particularly credible?
I whole-heartedly agree. The programme was beneficial for the economy, but we need to have a longer-term vision and longer-term planning, and having that commissioner will aid that.
On audience reach, the BBC trust referred to data indicating that BBC television is consumed by a higher proportion of the population in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. We have a new draft charter, which I welcome, but I cannot help but feel that the proposals represent something of a missed opportunity, namely because they do not deliver fully for the Scottish audience. The Scottish Government supports the ambitions of BBC Scotland staff to be a high-quality broadcaster for the population of Scotland, but their ambitions will be realised only with increased investment and the decentralisation of commissioning authority away from Broadcasting House in London to Pacific Quay. The UK has changed dramatically since devolution, but the BBC has yet to catch up fully with the impact of devolution and truly reflect the complex, varied and rich realities of our society.
The independence referendum energised Scotland in 2014 and prompted a record 85 per cent turnout, as our population engaged with politics on a level never previously seen. That consensual democratic process played out on the world stage with audiences and Governments from far and wide taking an interest in Scotland’s future, our values and our culture. Through that and the global coverage of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games, Scotland engaged extensively with the world.
Scotland has clear and distinct needs and it is vital that the requirements of our audiences, our production sector and our wider creative industries are met. The Scottish Government’s proposals lay out measures for increased transparency and accountability, which will help the corporation to listen to and reflect its audiences.
A key concern that production companies have raised is that the commissioning process for network television has too much of a London focus. We heard that today and last week in committee. They have said that proximity is a crucial factor, in that it can be difficult for Scottish companies to win commissions because the centralised model, with ultimate decision making in London, puts them at a disadvantage. A federal structure would have empowered the BBC to better reflect the needs of the nations and regions that it serves and given BBC Scotland full control over decision making about how revenue raised here is spent. Full control over commissioning and editorial decisions would have had an enormously positive impact.
It is evident that substantial change is required for the commissioning process to grow the strong, sustainable and competitive creative industries sector that we seek in Scotland. Greater decentralisation of, and accountability for, commissioning and the accompanying budgets across the nations and regions would certainly rebalance the concern that the BBC has a London bias. It should also benefit the creative industries in Scotland by attracting, developing and retaining talent, thus helping the sector to become strong, sustainable and competitive. It is not enough to improve access to commissioners, welcome though that may be.
Implementing those improvements would not necessarily require the BBC to adopt a federal structure but would require even greater decentralisation of decision making, commissioning and accompanying budgets. It would enable BBC Scotland to take a longer-term, strategic approach to delivering sustainable, high-quality programming that benefits audiences, the global market and the creative sector. That could be a win-win for viewers in Scotland and across the rest of the UK. A fairer share of the licence fee money that is raised in Scotland being spent in Scotland could also deliver up to an additional £100 million of investment here, support up to 1,500 jobs and contribute an additional £60 million to the Scottish economy.
I value the BBC and I want it to succeed. I welcome the new charter and the support that has been pledged for representation of Scotland as a nation, for the creative economy and for the provision of the Gaelic language. However, the charter needs to be the starting point for an improved BBC in Scotland.
I call Ross Greer, to be followed by Alexander Anderson—sorry, I mean Alexander Stewart.16:18
The BBC is regularly said to be far more than the sum of its parts and that is true. There really is no comparison anywhere else in the world. There is no other public service broadcaster that offers such a variety of content across different mediums and to every corner of the world—Jackson Carlaw has already mentioned the services provided by the BBC World Service.
The BBC is a highly valued institution, up there with the NHS in the consciousness of people across these islands. However, here in Scotland—where support for public services and the principle of public service broadcasting is high—there are some deep-seated dissatisfactions with the broadcaster. I am not referring to conspiracy theories or tilted weather maps. There are widespread and legitimate concerns in Scotland about the nature of the BBC content that is delivered here and the commissioning and production process itself, which seems not to deliver for the production industry in Scotland.
Only 48 per cent of people here believe that the BBC is good at representing their life in news and current affairs. That compares with figures of 55 per cent in Wales and just over 60 per cent in England and Northern Ireland. None of those numbers is as high as we would want it to be, but it is notable that in Scotland the figure has fallen below the halfway mark. Given the reach of the BBC in Scotland—more than half of adults watch its news and current affairs programmes each week—it has a responsibility to provide high-quality programming that reflects the world that the audience lives in and in which the audience can have confidence.
I am concerned that, throughout the debate on BBC content in Scotland, we have focused quite narrowly on news and current affairs output. The breadth of what the BBC offers here goes far beyond “Reporting Scotland”, “Good Morning Scotland” and “Scotland 2016”. As has been mentioned, even within that narrow debate on news and current affairs, we too often focus on the idea of a “Scottish Six”—a comprehensive news programme in Scotland. I would enthusiastically welcome a “Scottish Six”. We are a nation with our own distinct politics, our own legal and education systems and our own health service. We have come a long way since devolution, and there is clearly a need for our main broadcaster and largest media organisation to reflect that. Scotland has come a long way, but the BBC has not seized that opportunity; it has fallen behind the curve in representing Scotland and our place in the world to audiences here and elsewhere.
I do not hold any grudge against the network news, which naturally leads with stories that have a major impact on or a major interest for a significant majority of its audience, but that is where the problem lies. UK-wide evening news programmes will not often lead with reports of what has happened in this Parliament, nor should they, but viewers in Scotland deserve a service that reflects the reality of the world that they live in. Given that—as Tavish Scott mentioned—commercial rivals have already announced their intention to provide a fully rounded Scottish news service, I am sure that we would all welcome further progress from BBC Scotland.
Progress is particularly needed on engaging with younger audiences. Given that the average age of a Radio Scotland listener is 53 and more than half of BBC Scotland’s news audience is over 55, it is clear that there is much work that we need to do to ensure that BBC services in Scotland are sustainable and that the audience is sustainable. Since the independence referendum, Scotland has seen a welcome rise in new media outlets such as CommonSpace, which have engaged very successfully with young people, particularly online. BBC Scotland has made a significant effort to expand its online presence, but much more is required for its reach to be sustainable over the coming years.
Of course, the BBC in Scotland does not exist only to provide news and current affairs output, as I have mentioned, nor would we expect all the content that is produced here for the BBC to be specifically or inherently Scottish. Although we have many notable successes that are distinctly Scottish, including “Shetland”, which is airing everywhere from Finland to the United States, there are plenty of success stories here that have no intrinsic attachment to our nation; they are just quality programmes that are produced by the talented and vibrant creative industry that we have here. An example is “Robot Wars”, which is produced in my region. “Question Time” is now produced in Scotland, although the quality of the programme and audience satisfaction with it have much more to do with the guests who are invited than with the production team behind it.
However, the reality is that investment in Scotland is strikingly low, as Joan McAlpine mentioned. For every pound that is raised here through the licence fee, only 55p is spent here. That compares with 75p in Northern Ireland and 95p in Wales—and that excludes spending on S4C. I would not expect spending to reach 100 per cent—that is not how it works, as Claire Baker explained. It is true that spending varies from year to year, but given that spending in 2014-15 was equivalent to 63p in the pound in a year in which so many major events happened in Scotland, it is clear that we are not close to what many of us would consider a satisfactory arrangement in Scotland.
Often, the figures do not tell the full story. As has been mentioned, the European and External Relations Committee recently discovered that significant amounts of snooker coverage, which is produced in Sheffield, was going towards the Scottish production quota, simply by virtue of the production team having a couple of desks at the BBC’s headquarters in Pacific Quay. During that evidence session, it was also disappointing to hear that production companies in Scotland felt that companies from outside Scotland were being offered longer-term contracts to entice them into the country, whereas indigenous companies were not being offered the same opportunities.
The BBC has already pledged to make significant improvements in a huge number of ways. The charter includes a number of welcome steps, and a number of other improvements will be made outwith the charter process. I really hope that an institution that we all deeply value can bring about the necessary changes to ensure that it has a secure future, with satisfied audiences in Scotland and across these islands.
I call the very understanding Alexander Stewart.16:25
I am delighted to participate in the debate. It has been great to listen to many of the reflections of members about the BBC’s output and the programmes and events from their lives.
The idea of looking at nations, regions and communities is included in the BBC’s remit of duty. That reflects what happens across the United Kingdom. Prior to the review taking place, there was an acknowledgement that the BBC had somehow fallen short in its broadcasting within and regarding Scotland.
Scotland and the way in which she is governed have changed dramatically over the past 17 years since the advent of devolution. We must now look at the new powers that are coming to Parliament, because they will give us even more responsibility for taxation and expenditure. The BBC must adapt to the new political dimensions and reflect them as it moves forward.
There is no doubt that debates on the BBC about transforming schools south of the border or industrial action by junior doctors have little relevance to many people in Scotland. We must ensure that debates about the education system and the health service in Scotland are promoted on the BBC. They are much more relevant to the listener or the person who is viewing them on the television.
For those reasons, the issue of charter renewal is incredibly important as the debate in Scotland moves forward. I was therefore very pleased to hear that the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport sought to consult widely during the review—in particular, to take on board accounts of what is happening in the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. The fact that the charter enshrines the commitments in the memorandum of understanding that was reached between the Scottish Government, the BBC and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is a good example of positive intergovernmental co-operation. We need positive co-operation. That is the type of collaboration that everybody in Scotland wants to see more of, as it makes a massive impact on all of us.
The fact that the BBC will now have to lay its accounts before the Scottish Parliament can only be a good thing, because that will increase the scrutiny and effectiveness of what is taking place across the public sector. Large sums of public money are being spent, and we need to ensure that they are protected. Editorial independence cannot be allowed to be removed and Government political infringements cannot be allowed. It is interesting that there were in some consultations overtones that verged on advocating that state control should be looked at. That would be taking things a step far too far.
The new charter will give BBC Scotland greater control over its budget and commissioning so that it can produce more programmes specifically for Scottish audiences. Those programmes must reflect the diversity of Scotland and its ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. We do not see that as much as we should in the sector, and it is important that that takes place.
The new commissioning editors for television comedy and drama in Scotland, coupled with the new drama development fund, will help to promote new programmes and talent across the sector.
The BBC produces some of the best programmes; many members have touched on some of those fantastic programmes. They ensure that we make the best of what we have from the licence fee. Our television channels and radio stations are quite remarkable in moving things forward, and that is very important for us.
The world is changing and, as we move into a more digital age, the BBC in Scotland and the rest of the UK must adapt to cater for people’s wishes and give them more access and control. The BBC is able to compete across the sectors. Technology represents a massive opportunity for us to ensure that we have high-quality performance, and programmes that are renowned throughout the United Kingdom. Many of those have already been discussed. They are real flagships for Scotland and they show to the UK, Europe and the world where we are. In moving forward, we need to look at how we ensure that we get the right balance so that we are reflecting what is being done within the process.
In conclusion, I very much welcome the revisions that have come forward today and I look forward to them reflecting the need, in modern times—socially, digitally and politically—to be bold. We need to have courage in moving forward and show that we have high regard for the BBC. Scotland has a big part to play and we can all look forward to the months and years ahead, because I have no doubt that they will be good.16:30
Many of the points that I will make are related to what others have said, but I have a wee bit of a different angle, although it is worth reiterating a lot of the points because they show that there is consensus across the chamber.
I am pleased to contribute today and I welcome the Scottish Parliament’s new, if not overdue, official role in the charter process. When the previous director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, appeared before the then European and External Relations Committee recently, he encouraged stakeholders to be robust in their critique of the BBC to ensure an open debate. It is in that spirit that I will proceed today.
The Scottish people and the Scottish Government value the vital role that the BBC plays as a public service broadcaster. However, for too long the BBC has not been working for the people of Scotland. The total license fee income in Scotland for 2014-15 was approximately £323 million—I know that some people have put the amount forward as a percentage. However, it was £323 million, but the BBC spend for Scotland for the same period equalled only £190.5 million.
As the budget falls in Scotland, so does viewer satisfaction. Figures from BBC Scotland’s annual report show satisfaction rates as low as 48 per cent—Ross Greer has mentioned that already—but the cuts continue. By the end of 2017 the BBC’s Scotland-only budget will have suffered a cut of £16 million in cash terms over 5 years. When disappointment is expressed about those figures, we are often told by BBC management in London that Scottish audiences consume a high level of network programming, such as the Olympics or football, and that we must pay for that with some of our license fee revenue.
However, now that we have access for the first time to information in the BBC accounts, that argument is easily dismantled. We now know that in Wales the BBC spends at least 95 per cent of the revenue that it raises from Welsh license fee payers, Northern Ireland spends 75 per cent of what it raises and it is estimated that England spends well over 100 per cent of what is raised there. In that light, I put it to the BBC that one reason for high consumption of UK-wide network content in Scotland may be the lack of any alternative in the form of distinctively Scottish programming.
There is a continuing hypocrisy represented by the savage cuts that are taking place in Scotland, while budgets across many services in England and the rest of the UK are being maintained. That was highlighted when budget cuts led to a substantial number of journalists being forced to take redundancy just months before Scotland’s historic referendum. The end result was that, at a time when BBC Scotland should have been demanding more money from the BBC centrally, it was instead accepting less. Mr MacQuarrie is now the BBC’s director of nations and regions. While I wish him well in his new role, I wonder how he will square presiding over Wales, England and Northern Ireland being allowed the privilege of spending the money that they raise while his former colleagues at BBC Scotland continue under the spectre of further cuts and potential job losses.
In relation to employment, commissioning—which was mentioned by Stuart McMillan—is another contentious issue that has been raised with the committee by independent production companies. The use of—I will say this slowly so that I do not make a gaffe—lift and shift to fulfil quotas is undoubtedly harming indy companies, as Joan McAlpine and Jackson Carlaw said. Employment in production in Scotland fell by 27 per cent between 2012 and 2015—network programme making that temporarily decamps to Scotland to meet quotas does not provide sustainable employment. It is also not conducive to the creation of programming that nurtures and reflects our distinctive heritage and cultures. If we in Scotland cannot provide an environment in which people who wish to work in the creative sectors can find sustainable employment, such people will go elsewhere. I am sure that members of all parties agree that we do not want talented people to be forced to leave Scotland. People who want to live and work here should have the opportunity to do so.
It is clearer than ever that real change will come only when funding and commissioning authority come to BBC Scotland. Now is the time for the creation of a Scottish board, as the cabinet secretary said—not just a BBC-appointed sub-committee—to allow BBC Scotland greater control over its budget and to give it meaningful commissioning power. If Scotland’s share of the licence fee revenue that is raised here was in line with Wales’s share, the BBC would spend at least an additional £128 million per annum in Scotland. Members can imagine what we would be capable of if the same resources were available to us as are available to our neighbours across the UK.
Perhaps some of the extra revenue could be channelled into the draft charter’s new public purpose, as members including Claire Baker have said, so that we reflect and raise awareness of the different cultures in the nations and regions. The regions are important. As president of Dumfries Ladies Burns Club No 1, I am all for that. Today is national poetry day, and we could do a lot more poetry events, with more Scots poetry, an a that. It is difficult to envisage how all that could be achieved with the current funding levels. BBC Alba offers excellent examples of the standard of programming that can be and has been achieved on a shoestring budget. In the current financial year, the channel received £9.9 million; the BBC spends ten times that on S4C in Wales.
You must close, Ms Harper.
This is my final sentence.
I hope that it is a short one.
I hope that members will support the sensible proposals in the Scottish Government’s policy paper, and I hope that we can continue to work together to create a new and improved BBC Scotland.16:37
We have heard a great deal about the issues on which we should focus over the term of the next BBC charter, to 2027. There are plenty of challenges ahead for the BBC, and there are challenges for this Parliament in supporting developments that will enhance Scotland’s cultural life and creative economy. Increased support for Gaelic broadcasting and more Scottish content on radio and online are just some of the developments that members have highlighted.
Fiona Hyslop began by saying that the Scottish Government has pursued a consensual approach. That is broadly to be welcomed. Joan McAlpine endorsed that, but it was disappointing that she did not find anything more positive to say about the BBC’s evidence to the then European and External Relations Committee last week. Anne Bulford made some important points that should be welcomed. For example, she talked about how the pattern of BBC spending will change as we go through the 11-year charter period, and about how opening up the whole production base to competition over the course of the period will create new opportunities—not least for independent production companies in Scotland.
I think that I made it clear that I welcome the charter and the framework that it sets out. However, does Lewis Macdonald agree that there is a belief that it is important to hold the BBC senior management to account in order to ensure that it abides by the spirit of the charter, and that there are some doubts about that in the BBC and certainly in the independent production sector?
In his evidence to the committee, Ken MacQuarrie highlighted the achievements under the existing charter and said:
“I take the criticism that has been offered in an open spirit and accept that there are areas where we have to do better.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 27 September 2016; c 35.]
I agree that that “open spirit” and positive engagement will be important for Parliament’s scrutiny of the BBC in the period ahead, but I think that the “open spirit” must come from both sides in the process.
The context of this debate is that the BBC serves the whole United Kingdom, as is clear in the terms of the charter, but is now directed to do so in a way that better reflects the diversity of our communities, which is welcome. That does not mean that we are moving away from a UK-wide network. I do not accept, for example, that a programme that reports a sporting event in England should not somehow be counted as a Scottish production—a point that was made in the debate. As long as the production company that makes the programme is substantially Scotland based, it can be counted.
What is important for our debate is that there are agreed criteria as to what constitutes “Scottish content” and what constitutes “a substantial base”, and that those criteria are applied by all interested parties.
It is not helpful to offer subjective judgments about degrees of Scottishness, as if some production companies that are based in Scotland are somehow more Scottish than others. There is no good reason why a Scottish company cannot make a programme in England—quite the contrary—nor is there is any need for Scottish programming to be programmes only about Scotland. As David Smith told the committee last week:
“We want to make representational content, but we do not want to make only representational content. We want to make Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Shakespeare—all those things.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 27 September 2016; c 20.]
It is also wrong to suggest that BBC Scotland is suffering cuts while the rest of the BBC is not. As Claire Baker said, those reduced budgets apply across the board and are to be regretted wherever they are impacting on the BBC.
Lift and shift has been controversial in the debate about meeting production quotas, and we have heard a number of comments about it this afternoon. It is important that those quotas deliver their ultimate objective of sustaining Scotland’s creative economy, and it would be wrong to suggest that incentivising companies to move here from elsewhere in the UK is always a failure. David Strachan gave examples to the committee of where lift and shift did not work, but he also made the point that career paths had been created by some programmes, such as in the production of “Homes Under the Hammer”. David Smith described how Mentorn Media had lifted and shifted “Question Time” to Scotland and, in doing so, had invested substantially and created a genuinely Scottish business as a result. I was pleased to meet Ron Jones from that company at a recent conference.
I am sure that Lewis Macdonald will agree that it is not so much the idea of lift and shift that is a bad thing, but when it happens, a medium or longer-term strategy also needs to be put in place.
Absolutely—and rather than seeing lift and shift as being permanently in competition with Scotland-based production, we should see it as a transitional stage in enabling the Scottish production sector to grow and thrive.
Another issue that has been highlighted today is the question whether a large enough share of the BBC’s income from Scottish licence fees is being spent in Scotland. It is fair to use that as a measurement, but it is a mistake to use it as a target. The BBC is a single corporation, serving the nations and regions of the United Kingdom; it is not a series of separate companies sharing only a common brand.
Many programmes that are made in Scotland are not counted against the totals. The live screening of today’s debate is paid for from the budget of BBC Parliament and is therefore neither output from BBC Scotland nor a Scottish production commissioned against the Ofcom criteria, but it is still a programme that is made in Scotland. We should be careful about not being too prescriptive about how these things are measured. We want the BBC to produce the best programmes, to support the greatest creativity, and to promote the best talent. Those should be its targets. It should achieve quality production—not aim for accountancy balances.
The BBC plays a central role in the life of this country. It is as important to Scotland as it is to any other part of the United Kingdom and it is as highly valued. Like the United Kingdom itself, the BBC is evolving to reflect the increased roles of the nations and regions of the UK in Britain’s cultural life. That evolution is to be welcomed and supported. We believe that the way to do that is to work with the grain of the draft charter and framework agreement, to encourage and enable Scotland’s independent production sector and to support those within the BBC who see promotion of the nations and regions as their task for the next 11 years.16:43
We have enjoyed an interesting debate with some excellent contributions from around the chamber highlighting the importance of the BBC’s role in Scotland’s creative industries. Having worked for 13 years in television, including a stint at the BBC, I must share with members the fact that I was always struck by the dedication of BBC staff in creating innovative programming for the whole of the UK.
There is a lot of consensus here and we agree that BBC output has a tremendous impact on our lives daily. It entertains, reports, teaches and informs. The BBC has gone through a remarkable evolution from its first radio broadcasts in the 1920s to 315 million iPlayer requests in just one month in 2016.
A big part of what makes the BBC so appealing to so many is its diversity. That is my point today: creative industries work best when there is a variety of cultures, traditions and opinions to draw from.
We know that 88 per cent of BBC viewing in Scotland is UK-wide network content, from “The Archers” to “Doctor Who”. Scottish viewers and listeners benefit from output that comes from across the UK, just as original production from Scotland is seen and sold the world over. I therefore welcome many of the charter’s proposals, such as the proposal to introduce a non-executive board member for Scotland, the commitment to ensure that Scotland is a centre of excellence for factual production and, as we have heard much about today, the introduction of new content commissioners in comedy and drama—I am sure that more will follow.
I turn to the contributions of other members. “Tiswas” and “Andy Pandy” were way before my time, but I feel quite enlightened by the nostalgia in the chamber.
The member bears a remarkable resemblance to Andy Pandy.
Thank you. I will remember that.
Like the cabinet secretary, I welcome advances in the charter, such as the board member for Scotland and the setting of tangible targets that this Parliament can monitor. The cabinet secretary made some excellent and relevant points about the importance of regional radio in Scotland and the spend on it as compared with England for example.
My colleague Jackson Carlaw said that, although we can be fans of the BBC, we need to be critical where appropriate. Like many colleagues, he noted the importance of the Smith commission commitments for the future and raised the important point that independent production houses and studios in Scotland need to be supported and that the Government has a responsibility in that respect.
Lewis Macdonald quoted an independent production company saying that this is a charter for 11 years and that
“it is not the end of the journey”.—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 27 September 2016; c 2.]
I agree. I also agree that all Scottish regions must be represented and not just the central belt.
Joan McAlpine picked up the point about employment in the production sector. I left Scotland many years ago to seek the gold pavements of London and work as a freelance TV producer, so I appreciate how difficult it is to find such work and am in favour of any moves to support more employment in the sector in Scotland and to encourage companies to set up shop here.
On the issue of the licence fee and the 55 per cent of revenue that is spent here, it is important that Parliament remembers that it is commissioning that drives budget. I do not think that we are looking at this in the right way. We are part of a national licence fee scheme that benefits us overall from the viewing that we get to enjoy across BBC television, radio and online.
I totally agree that we benefit from productions from right across the UK, but one of the points that were made at the committee was that too many of the network productions that benefit the whole of the UK are not made in the nations and regions; they are focused on the south-east. We need to ensure that more of that production is made in the nations and regions.
The important thing is to ensure that the commissioning commitments are honoured and that more commissioning takes place in Scotland. I am happy to agree with that point.
Claire Baker made an interesting point about the potential federalisation of the BBC, which does not work in the spirit of the licence fee. I am happy to associate myself with those comments.
My colleague Rachael Hamilton made a good point about the BBC online, which is an important place for news and entertainment. The BBC is developing nation home pages and there are some technical changes coming out in the near future on that.
Stewart Stevenson, as always, made some interesting comments on his appearances at the BBC. He made a moving point about “The Ascent of Man”. However, I wonder whether his speech qualifies as deviation from the subject under the rules of “Just a Minute”.
Tavish Scott made an interesting point—unfortunately he has left the chamber—about Government control of the public broadcast sector. I would like to think that many improvements have been made in that respect over the years.
Ross Greer made an interesting point about satisfaction with output. It is important that the BBC takes note of survey results, and I am sure that it will strive to improve satisfaction results in future. My colleague Alexander Stewart reflected on the changing nature of Scottish politics and governance and said that that should be reflected in BBC output, particularly news. He also mentioned diversity, which has been mentioned a lot today. It is important that we monitor diversity across various communities.
Overall, I consider the current proposals to be positive steps. The charter represents progress in promoting Scottish interests across the BBC and the proposals reflect the suggestions of the Parliament. That is a testament to the constructive debates that we have had in the Parliament, including many before I became a member. I acknowledge the BBC’s commitment to appear in front of and provide reports to the Parliament’s committees. I welcome the fact that the BBC is working closely with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to improve its accountability and provide more diverse content for diverse audiences.
The BBC needs to ensure that its new targets on representation are met, and the Parliament should monitor that closely. A great deal can still be done to better represent Scottish culture and its impact on the wider world. I hope that further openness has been cultivated as a result of the process and today’s debate.
Ms Hyslop, I will need to cut down your speech to about eight and a half minutes.16:51
At the start of the debate, I was desperately and frantically trying to think whether any of the TV programmes that were important to Jackson Carlaw were also important to me. I really struggled until he hit upon “I, Claudius”. Perhaps when I was a teenager, I shared with Jackson Carlaw a liking for political skulduggery and salacious storylines.
A number of important points have been made in the debate and I want to address as many of them as possible. The debate has been important and has shown the progress that has been made since the Smith commission. During the process, we have worked across jurisdictions and with the committees of the Parliament to make a real difference to what should be the outcome and the outputs for audiences and our creative industries.
I have been struck by the depth of insight afforded, the passion and, importantly, the genuine commitment to delivering the kind of BBC that the people of Scotland deserve. We are working collectively with all the partners, including the UK Government, as it finalises the charter; Ofcom, on the regulation; and the BBC, on delivery and its responsibilities to move the process forward.
The debate comes at a critical point in the process. The draft charter and framework have delivered on some of the Scottish Government’s proposition but not all of it. We stand here today looking at a real and tangible opportunity for the BBC in Scotland to deliver more and, importantly, to deliver better for the creative sector and also culturally. From the tenor of the responses and contributions, it seems that the Parliament appears willing to continue to support the Scottish Government to push for the delivery that we have been discussing over many months, including in the previous session of Parliament.
I want the BBC to deliver better and be organisationally structured to do so, with decentralisation where possible of decision making, commissioning and budgets. We should not have to depend on the good will of the individuals in the BBC who are there at the time. As I said at the outset, I have met and continue to meet the UK Government, the BBC and Ofcom to set out that vision and to reiterate the depth of feeling in Scotland behind the views that we are putting forward and the breadth of that across sectors.
I will address some of the points that have been made during the debate. In relation to a fairer share of the licence fee, points have been made about the disparity between Scotland, where 55 per cent of the licence fee comes back to be spent here, and Northern Ireland, where the figure is 74 per cent, or Wales, where the figure is 95 per cent. I take the point that Lewis Macdonald, Claire Baker and others made that that should be a measurement and not a target. The scrutiny that we now have by the committees of the Parliament will allow us to get underneath that and identify what is being spent and why, and whether it is benefiting the creative industries. We should remember that, in evidence to the Education and Culture Committee on 12 January, we heard from Ms Bulford that £35 million is spent on
“above-the-line commissioning for writers, directors, artists and production team talent.”—[Official Report, Education and Culture Committee, 12 January 2016; c 16.]
There was additional spend on production studios, outside broadcast rights, executive producers and so on. The point is that we want to ensure that the BBC’s investment in Scotland is fair and just and that it addresses proposals to improve the creative economy impact.
On Lewis Macdonald’s comments about the need to improve the MG Alba spend, I think that that would do two things. First, it would help with the public service requirement to reflect the nations and regions and, secondly, it would help with reflecting the impact on and input to the creative economy. After all, MG Alba has a very strong impact on independent producers. Indeed, Joan McAlpine made the same point in relation to the new and very important public purpose of serving Scotland.
In a very good speech, Rachael Hamilton referred to current iPlayer requirements and the fact that there is now a home page for regions on the BBC website. We might well ask why that has taken so long, given how technology changes, and the real challenge is to ensure that whatever is provided is fit for purpose not just now but in future.
Stewart Stevenson, in between references to the book of Micah, made a very important point about Sunday trading, how we can see the same story through a different lens, how helpful it is to have that wider perspective and how important it is not to take a metropolitan view. At this point, I want to quote the Welsh Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, Alun Davies—Wales and Northern Ireland are, of course, having similar debates. On 27 September, Mr Davies said:
“This is about how we change ... the culture within the BBC. I agree very much with the analysis from my friend from Llanelli, in that there is a metropolitan culture within the BBC that believes that it knows best for the whole of the United Kingdom.”—[Record of Proceedings, National Assembly for Wales, 27 September 2016.]
Moreover, in what I thought was an excellent speech, Jamie Greene made it clear that diversity is a strength that can benefit creativity. That is the mindset that we are encouraging the BBC to adopt both organisationally and structurally where at all possible.
Ross Greer reminded us why we are where we are on this matter by pointing out the deep-seated dissatisfaction with the statistics in the reports by the BBC with regard to how it reflects Scotland to itself. He also made a very important point that much needs to be progressed outwith the charter process. Although we are at the endgame of the charter process, much is still going on, with discussions between Ofcom and the BBC continuing. I should say that I, too, found “Robot Wars” strangely addictive when I watched it with my son, but I had not realised the Scottish production values in that particular programme.
Tavish Scott made important points about governance, but I should make it clear that we want to see a move towards Scotland and the Scottish ministers making appointments to the BBC board. With the current proposal, however, we would clearly take the opportunity to be involved and would have the key say. I do not think that there would be much of a difference if we led on this and the UK worked to agree things.
As I have said, decentralisation would allow for a greater degree of autonomous decision making at operational board level. The creation of a Scottish unitary board, not just a BBC-appointed sub-committee, is important. As I think Jackson Carlaw pointed out, one of the lessons that we can learn from governance more widely in the UK relates to external aspects to the BBC, either at UK or Scottish level, and we should consider such matters as we move forward.
I was very struck by members’ comments about how Scotland sees itself, and I thought that in her speech Emma Harper reflected the opportunities that we have in that respect. I also think that Claire Baker was correct to identify some of what we have achieved: an enforceable Scottish service licence for the first time; a dedicated board member for Scotland; a commitment to continuing support for Gaelic broadcasting and MG Alba, although we need to go further in that respect; proposals for the BBC to report on its contribution to Scotland’s creative economy for the very first time; and the removal of the charter negotiations from the election cycle. Finally, as Joan McAlpine pointed out, we have the new and very important public purpose of reflecting, representing and serving the nations and regions.
This has been a very good debate, and it has given us a few things to reflect on as we move forward. I am aware, though, that I have not touched a number of aspects. For example, there is a strong feeling in Scotland that Channel 4 occupies a unique position and we would be against its privatisation. Perhaps we will come back to that at another time; indeed, we have already touched on governance.
As the BBC appoints its new director for Scotland, it can grasp the opportunity—at UK level and Scotland level—to be bold and ambitious. The BBC can serve Scotland and itself and it can ensure that the way Scotland is presented by its public service broadcaster has a sustainable quality for not just today, but many years to come.