Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Second Report

7  BBC Monitoring

151. BBC Monitoring (BBCM), part of the BBC World Service, provides a service of international news and comment gathered from the mass media around the world. It supplies a range of public and commercial bodies, including the security and intelligence agencies, with recordings, transcripts and translations of foreign broadcasts. In 2004-05, BBCM kept track of national and regional developments across the world from the Middle East to Russia and Ukraine.[233] For example, the World Service told us how the BBCM had helped to unravel a confused picture of events during the Beslan siege.[234]

152. BBCM's four main stakeholders are the FCO, the BBC World Service, the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office. In 2004-05, the FCO contributed £7 million to the BBCM out of its total funding that year of £22.1 million; the other three stakeholders made up the balance.[235] The FCO, as the largest contributor, has been the sponsoring department for BBCM in Government.

153. As our predecessor Committee noted in its Report on the FCO Departmental Report for 2003-04, the FCO carried out a review of its funding of BBCM.[236] In June 2004, the FCO wrote to the Committee to say that it planned to reduce its contribution to BBCM by £2 million per annum.[237] Sir Michael Jay explained that BBC Monitoring's overall funding would, however, remain at its then current level as the difference would be made up by the other stakeholders and from a BBC Monitoring Reserve.[238] The Committee concluded that,

    […] it is utterly perverse that the future of BBC Monitoring should be placed in doubt at the very time when its services are arguably most important to the country's security and diplomatic needs, and when it is being almost universally praised by its users. We recommend that BBC Monitoring be given financial security by the FCO and its other stakeholders to ensure its future.[239]

The Government responded that,

    The quality of BBC Monitoring's output is not in question. However, faced with the continuing pressures on resources, the FCO has to determine which activities and products best contribute to delivery of the Strategic priorities, as outlined in the FCO's Strategy. This has meant tough decisions.[240]

The message could hardly have been clearer: BBCM was no longer a priority for the FCO.

154. It is unlikely to have been a coincidence, then, that in 2004 the Cabinet Office instituted a review of BBCM's future funding.[241] In July 2005 Dr Christopher Westcott, Director of BBC Monitoring, wrote to inform us of its findings.[242] The Review concluded that the partnership between the Government and BBCM represented "excellent value for money" and that it should be a "UK objective" to give BBCM stability and confidence, to allow it to focus on maintaining an operation that matches its customers' needs.[243] The Review also recommended that BBCM move to a "ring-fenced" funding arrangement, rather than receiving subscriptions from stakeholders, and that its sponsoring department should be the Cabinet Office, rather than the FCO.

155. It appears that BBCM's 'divorce' from the FCO was less than amicable. According to Dr Westcott, at the outset of the Review the FCO proposed a "non-negotiable" reduction of £4.5 million in BBCM's funding.[244] He went on to say that achieving the final financial agreement took "considerable time and effort" by the reviewers following "extensive discussions" with the stakeholders and HM Treasury and that these discussions had been made difficult by the FCO insistence that it reduce its funding of BBCM's by more than twice the £2 million reduction it had originally sought.

156. The Cabinet Office Review recommended an increase in average funding for BBCM to £24.6 million per annum for financial years 2006-07 to 2010-11, although ultimately the Treasury agreed an average settlement of £23.8 million per annum over the quinquennium.[245] The first table below sets out BBCM's funding for 2003-04 to 2010-11, and the second shows stakeholders' individual annual contributions from 2006-07.

Cabinet Office funding review of BBC Monitoring[246]

Stakeholder financial contributions from 2006-07[247]


1. In addition to stakeholder contributions in FYs 2006-07 and 2007-08 the Treasury has agreed to add £2.5 million per annum to BBCM's funding from the Counter Terrorism Reserve, making a total of £24.6m

2. From FY 2008-09 the Treasury will add £1.3 million per annum to BBCM's baseline funding

157. Nigel Chapman, Director of the BBC World Service, told us that finally BBCM had been given a stable financial footing, though he recognised that it faced challenges ahead.[248] He added:

    I think the stakeholders have also realised the value to Britain of [BBCM's] services, and that allowing it to wither on the vine, which was a fear many of us had, would have been a very bad thing to have allowed to happen, and it is not now going to happen.[249]

There will, however, be consequences from the reduction in funding. Dr Westcott told us that as a consequence of the £0.8 million per annum shortfall from 2007 the loss of up to 80 posts was likely to be necessary.[250]

158. When we took evidence from Sir Michael Jay we of course asked about the FCO's reasons for reducing its funding of BBC Monitoring. Sir Michael told us that although the FCO valued the work of BBCM, he believed it had been paying too high a share of the overall cost.[251] He suggested that reducing its contribution to BBCM was one way for the FCO to achieve its efficiency savings targets.[252] We are not convinced that a transfer of responsibility from one government department to another does, in fact, represent an efficiency saving. We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO explain how the reduction in its funding of BBC Monitoring has contributed to its efficiency savings targets; and whether the Treasury has accepted this.

159. We conclude that it is reassuring that BBC Monitoring has finally been given the financial stability it has been seeking and we believe that this should enable it to plan more strategically up to 2011. We also conclude that the quid pro quo for this certainty should be a continuing drive by BBC Monitoring to maximise its efficiency. We recommend that the FCO and the other sponsoring departments maintain their close interest in the operations of BBCM, to ensure that BBCM continues to offer excellent value for money.

233   BBC World Service, Annual Review 2004-05, June 2005 Back

234   Ev 99 Back

235   Foreign Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2003-04, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2003-2004, HC 745, para 166; Ev 112 Back

236   Ibid, para 166 Back

237   Ibid; Ev112;  Back

238   Ibid; Ev 112 Back

239   Foreign Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2003-04, Foreign and Commonwealth Annual Report 2003-04, HC 745, para 165 Back

240   Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Government Response to the Foreign Affairs Committee's Eighth Report: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2003-04, Cm 6415, November 2004, p 13 Back

241   The review was carried out by Sir Quentin Thomas (a former senior civil servant) and Sir David Omand (a former security and intelligence co-ordinator). Back

242   Ev 99 Back

243   Ev 53 Back

244   Ev 53 Back

245   Ev 53 Back

246   Ev 53 Back

247   Ev 50 Back

248   To be printed with the Foreign Affairs Committee's forthcoming report on Public Diplomacy, HC 903, Q 110. Back

249   Ibid, Q 110 Back

250   Ev 53 Back

251   Q 97 Back

252   Q98 Back

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