Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1872 - 1879)


James Purnell MP

  Q1872  Chairman: 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.

  Q1873  Chairman: 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.

  Q1874  Chairman: 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 right.

  Q1875  Chairman: 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.

  Q1876  Chairman: 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 subject?

  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.

  Q1877  Chairman: 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.

  Q1878  Chairman: 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.

  Q1879  Chairman: 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.

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