Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1872
TUESDAY 17 JANUARY 2006
James Purnell MP
Thank you very much for coming. As you know, we are extending
our investigations into other parts of the BBC. Can I ask you
first: when do you expect the White Paper to be published?
James Purnell: Shortly.
You have no other guidance than that?
James Purnell: No. Obviously I am delighted
to be here. We value this inquiry. It has been extremely helpful
for us in developing the White Paper. We had hoped to finish it
before Christmas. My short experience in government is that White
Papers and Green Papers often take slightly longer than anticipated.
This is a very complex set of issues and I am sure you want us
to get it right rather than rushing it out. It is due shortly.
Having passed on that piece of experience, I am not going to start
getting myself hooked on any other date.
When we were set up, we were asked to get our report ready by
the end of October, which is some months away now. What are the
issues that are holding you up?
James Purnell: People should not read any conspiracy
theory or anything significance into that. It is purely the issue
of the complexity of the matter and desire to get it right. When
people see the White Paper, they will see there was no underlying
reason why we delayed it, other than just the desire to get it
When you come to the White Paper, will you be announcing the licence
fee increase at the same time?
James Purnell: No. We are intending to do that
later on. We are currently engaged in a process where we have
received the BBC's opening bid, I think you call it. That bid
has been submitted to review by consultants, PKF, and we and the
Treasury will jointly look at that evidence and make our decision
some time after the White Paper. That will also be based on a
further round of industry consultation on the model of having
these industry seminars along the lines of the Burns' seminars.
It was very helpful for the Green Paper and we intend to do that
for the licence fee session as well.
You used a very interesting phrase "opening bid" by
which I imagine you mean that you do not regard what has been
put in front of you at the moment as being the final word on the
James Purnell: You have been in this situation
more than me. You will know very well that all organisations will
expect the Government to scrutinise their proposals extremely
carefully and we would not be being thorough with the use of public
money if we did not do that. That is exactly why the process with
those consultants has been set up. We will be scrutinising all
of their financial proposals extremely carefully.
You say that the process is between you and the Treasury?
James Purnell: Yes, we have a joint committee
with the Treasury to do that.
Both sets of ministers will go through it?
James Purnell: Yes. We have collective responsibility
to the Government in the end but the issue of the licence fee
clearly touches on public spending and there is a direct role
for the Treasury being involved in that process.
Would you be disappointed if you were not able to reduce some
of the figures which have been quoted from the BBC?
James Purnell: I am not getting into a running
commentary on what the level of licence fee will be. We will make
those decisions based on a very robust analysis.
The Committee suspended from 4.33 pm to
4.43 pm for a division in the House.