Memorandum by Equity
1. Equity welcomes this further opportunity
to contribute to the discussion surrounding the review of the
BBC's Royal Charter. As the trade union representing 37,000 performers
and creative personnel we recognise the importance of the BBC
in our society. The BBC is the most significant employer in our
sector and it plays an integral role in both the audio-visual
industry and as a community focus for the whole of the UK.
2. We have followed the Charter Review process
very closely over the past two years and made submissions at each
stage of the consultation. In particular we have made written
submissions to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport; presented
written and oral evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select
Committee of the House of Commons; participated in the seminars
held by Lord Burns and his Independent Panel; made representations
on each of the individual aspects of the BBC's own internal review;
and provided written evidence to this Committee of the House of
3. This evidence is consistent with the
policy expressed elsewhere, but seeks to address the specific
issues raised by this extended inquiry, which are relevant to
the interest and expertise of Equity and its members.
4. Equity has argued for much greater decentralisation
of BBC operations and particularly for a greater proportion of
production to come from outside of the M25.
5. The regional and national spread of production
in the UK has fallen short in recent years and has suffered from
the acquisitions of smaller ITV companies, the closure of regional
bases, reduced investment in regional programming and a narrower
range of programmes produced regionally. Furthermore, what passes
for "regional" production is simply being centred in
two main areas of the country (ie Manchester and Leeds).
6. The BBC does have the ability to work
across the UK to create a positive impact of the production base
and workforce. However, the BBC's proposed move of sport and children's
programme production to Manchester raises a number of questions
and does not appear to have been subject to the appropriate level
of detailed planning prior to its announcement. While it appears
initially to be a bold move designed to stimulate production and
create a centre of excellence in another part of the UK, there
is little evidence that regional programmes making will benefit
in terms of the number, diversity or investment in local production.
7. Moreover, in order to maximise its potential,
regional programme production must not be limited to specific
genres, or news and current affairs. It should include the possibility
of drama and comedy production for example, even if the broadcast
is restricted to the region in which it is produced. In this latter
regard, the BBC falls short of meeting these commitments in a
number of regions, but particularly in Northern Ireland.
8. In Northern Ireland the BBC has the capacity
to produce both excellent news and current affairs (due in part
to the unique history of the province) but also high-quality drama.
However, many such programmes are made elsewhere, including in
England and the Republic of Ireland. This problem is compounded
by Ulster TV, which does not seek to make any original drama,
comedy or entertainment.
9. In response to this state of affairs
Equity is working with Government on an initiative to try and
bring about a renaissance of cultural life in Northern Ireland.
Equity has suggested that the Northern Ireland Office takes a
central role in convening a conference of key representatives
in the arts and entertainment sector. This would include Equity
members, major broadcasters like the BBC and Ulster TV, the Arts
Council of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Films and Television
Commission, local authorities, key theatres and theatre companies.
10. The purpose would be to achieve a genuine
upsurge in cultural activity across the performing arts in Northern
Ireland, which would not only benefit Equity members but improve
the quality of life for its people. However, any conference would
not be an end in itself, but be the beginning of a cultural transformation,
leading to specific plans that would create a lasting legacy through
the associated economic, social and political benefits. We would
be grateful if members of the Committee would consider lending
their support to this initiative.
THE BBC WORLD
11. Equity supports the continuing and important
role of the BBC World Service as a key source of information and
entertainment for citizens around the globe. However, it has expressed
its regret at the decision that has been made to axe the popular
and award-winning soap "Westway", which has been a flagship
drama of the BBC World Service since 1997.
12. The BBC Director General Mark Thompson
has stated that the BBC planned to "foster audience understanding
of differences of ethnicity, faith, gender, sexuality, age and
ability or disability, by accurately and sensitively reflecting
modern Britain's diversity across our programmes and opening up
the BBC itself to talent from every community". Equity applauds
and supports this view and would say that Westway encapsulates
the true meaning of this statement and extends it to the world.
13. Westway offers a contemporary view of
Britain. It has a diverse group of writers and an equally diverse
cast where Asian, African, Nigerian, West Indian and Chinese Artists
play lead roles. Its excellence achieved the Commission for Racial
Equality Award for best soap, against contenders such as Eastenders
and Coronation Street.
14. The award-winning soap has included
issues, not only important here in the UK but across the world.
It provides a discussion forum for people in some countries where
these issues are relevant but may not normally be part of the
national conversation. It is not only an example of public service
broadcasting at its best but also forms a fundamental part of
the BBC World service by tackling major issues and presenting
them in a drama format. For these reasons Equity has argued for
the continuation of the only major drama carried on the World
THE BBC AS
15. Equity believes that the future of public
service broadcasters such as the BBC must lie as a producer and
commissioner of high-quality and challenging news programmes,
but also as a broadcaster that is able to make these programmes
available to audiences across a range of new and existing platforms.
16. The specific reference within the Green
Paper to the BBC's responsibility to serve UK audiences by "providing
more original programming (not repeated or bought-in) than any
other broadcaster" (para 1.24) can be met satisfactorily
only by continuing to develop its activities across these key
17. The changes in technology must not be
used as a justification to downgrade the BBC, from its position
as cornerstone of public service broadcasting, into either just
another platform provider or purely into a content commissioner.
Its future survival depends on its strength in both these areasas
well as retaining the critical mass which it has built up in respect
of its own production capacity.
18. There will be a symbiotic relationship
between the delivery of digital television and the huge range
of material available in future, with the expansion of different
platforms which can be used to access this material. Therefore
the more material that is available on new platforms the more
it will encourage the take up of broadband and its use as a platform
for viewing television programmes or as a download mechanism.
Similarly mobile phones with 3G capability will also benefit.
19. Conversely, Equity would hope that the
availability of these platforms can create an environment where
the broadcasters will innovate and offer high-quality original
production as well as new products and services, in order to keep
attracting the increasingly fragmented audience.
20. Equity is ready to work with the broadcasters
in developing these new and different platforms and has sought
to ensure that content can be made available for use on these
platforms when made under Equity collective agreements. To that
end Equity has agreed a trial with the BBC for the use of such
work during the trial of its interactive Media Player (iMP). We
are also in discussion with other broadcasters and producers about
long-term arrangements for the engagement of performers on Equity
agreements and the subsequent use of that material.
21. Nevertheless, it is the role of Equity
to ensure that the rights of artists are protected and that they
are rewarded appropriately for the future exploitation of work.
22. We are also concerned about the question
posed by Government in the Green Paper regarding the commissioning
of programmes by the BBC, which is based on the unquestioning
assumption that independent production must be increased. It is
implied directly that the independent sector of TV and radio producers
are somehow being handicapped by a restrictive market and that
"fairer competition" and the public interest is somehow
equivalent to greater independent production. This is confirmed
by the further consideration of mandatory quotas for external
commissioning, as is being proposed by PACT, the trade body with
a vested interest in increasing these quotas on behalf of its
23. The UK now has an extremely strong and
vibrant independent television production sector with an estimated
annual turnover of £1.4 billion. Equity supports the opportunity
for the independants to have a "fair chance" and many
of our members are employed in excellent programmes made by these
very organisations. However the sector is large and increasingly
concentrated with the largest 5 per cent of companies making 80
per cent of the programmes. These "super-indies" are
increasingly dominant and this trend appears likely to continue,
with further consolidation and reorganisation. This centralisation
of the main independants has also been accompanied by improved
rights and terms of trade in their favour. Therefore we would
raise serious questions about the assumption that independants
require further special consideration.
24. The improved openness and accountability
that is being proposed in the Green Paper is also welcome. Greater
transparency has been the theme of a number of reviews and investigations
of the BBC and its governance, including Lord Burns and the Culture,
Media and Sport Select Committee.
25. Therefore the concept of webcasting
of meetings of the Trust, the publication of detailed minutes,
research and voting records are all welcome improvements that
will help retain the confidence of licence fee payers, as well
as those employed by the BBC. External and independent appraisal
should also be part of this process, so that stakeholders and
licence fee players can submit their views on members of the Trust.
26. These changes can only assist in making
the BBC a more open and accessible organisation. However it must
also be aware of the dangers of being vulnerable to organised
but unrepresentative groups who may seek to impose their views
at the expense of the majority. Such groups should not be allowed
to dictate programme policy by curbing artistic integrity or freedom
27. The scrutiny of BBC spending is another
matter that should be addressed primarily by the BBC Trust in
a more open and transparent way than in the past. Accountability
for how licence fee money is spent also continues to be available
through the National Audit Office (NAO). We understand the concerns
expressed by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons
in its report on BBC funding in February 2005, which considered
a greater role for the NAO. While we do not see a compelling case
to review these arrangements at the present time, the scale of
organisational change that is taking place at the BBC may strengthen
the argument for NAO to provide further scrutiny in the coming
years. Therefore this matter should be kept under review.
28. Membership of the Trust is also of crucial
importance, if it is to be truly accountable for the activity
of the BBC and be an effective custodian of the licence fee. Therefore
we believe that it is vital for the Trust to include members with
creative and artistic experience and able to represent the views
of those who are employed or engaged by the BBC, as well as the
FTSE 100 corporate specialists that the BBC and the Government
have indicated will be required. We also support the provision
of professional and expert staff to enable members of the Trust
conduct the necessary scrutiny of BBC operations.
29. We would also wish to see members of
the BBC Trust able to address its public interest responsibilities
in other ways. In particular, we would wish to see the Trust show
greater willingness to engage with those who work for the BBC
than was demonstrated by the Board of Governors. The recent transposition
into UK legislation of the Information and Consultation Directive
(Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004) will
mean that from April 2005 employees in organisations with 150
or more employees have a right to be informed and consulted on
a regular basis about issues in the organisation they work for.
This should include employees being consulted on strategic decision
making with bodies such as the BBC Trust.
30. We welcome the extended inquiry being
conducted by the Lords Committee and are pleased to have the opportunity
to register our further response to aspects of the Government's
Green Paper on the future of the BBC. While the stability of licence
fee funding is welcome for the period of this Charter, there are
clearly serious issues which will need to be addressed in the
coming years. The debate over funding methods will continue to
be particularly contentious, especially as we move towards the
decisions over the future level of the licence fee and the consideration
of alternative or additional funding mechanisms.
31. We hope that the Committee will take
note of our views on these matters, as well as our immediate and
ongoing concern about the ability of the BBC to meet the challenge
of high quality original programming in an environment of 15 per
cent across-the-board budget cuts.
7 October 2005