The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence from the BBC World Service

At its hearing on 16 March 2011, the Foreign Secretary told the Committee that cuts to BBC World Service were "not disproportionate" within the FCO family. He highlighted that "from the start of reductions in the FCO baseline in 2007-08 to the end in 2013-14, the World Service will be the same proportion of FCO spending at the end as it was at the beginning". (Q65).

The World Service has previously provided information on the 16% real terms cut in revenue funding announced in the 2010 Spending Review. To date, World Service has not provided data on how this compares to cuts in the FCO budget, because this data has not been available to us. However, we are happy to confirm that the figures the Committee has obtained from the House of Commons library are accurate with respect to World Service funding.

In the BBC's view, the central facts are that World Service funding was reduced by 16% in the Spending Review while the table included in the FAC's report on FCO Performance and Finances, published on 11 February 2011, showed that the real terms reduction in the net FCO budget (ie not including BBC World Service and the British Council) is 6%.

When considering the comparison with the 2007-08 position, we would make the following observations:

  • In common with all Government funded operations, World Service must make cuts from its existing levels of activity, ie its 2010-11 spend, not the level of spend it had in 2007-08. It is not clear why the 2007-08 position should be used as the relevant comparator.
  • 2007-08 was the final year of the 2004 Spending Review settlement. In the next year (following the 2007 CSR settlement), the Government increased World Service's revenue funding by £18 million to enable it to launch BBC Persian TV and to take BBC Arabic TV to 24 hours a day broadcasting. To reduce the level of cuts to other services announced by the World Service in January 2011, we could have closed these new television services to reduce spend to 07/08 levels. We have not proposed this because it would not be appropriate to curtail the most modern and most needed services in the portfolio, delivering significant benefit to their audiences particularly in the context of ongoing instability and uncertainty in north Africa and the Middle East. As a result, bigger cuts are being made in other areas to achieve the higher savings target.
  • There will be other variations to the BBC's and to the FCO's budgets which provide important context to the historic comparison. We note for example that the figures from the House of Commons Library obtained by the FAC exclude conflict prevention money. World Service additional money (for BBC Arabic and Persian, see above) has not been excluded from the figures.

We would also point out that the Library figures show the WS share of the total budget is not unchanged over the period. It declines from 16.0% in 07/08 to 15.6% in 13/14. That 0.4% reduction costs World Service £6.6 million per annum—equivalent to one-seventh of the £46 million total savings the World Service is required to make by 2014.

23 March 2011

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