Examination of Witnesses (Questions 2080
TUESDAY 24 JANUARY 2006
Ms Jocelyn Hay CBE and Mr Robert Clark
Q2080 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
Would the Voice of the Listener and Viewer be keen on the National
Audit Office looking at this?
Ms Hay: I think we need transparency from the
BBC and they themselves, I think, should show the benefits and
show some of the costs as well as the benefits of such a major
move. Whether in fact the cost, as I understand it, of building
a new headquarters in Manchester is going to be the best way of
using that money and make sure that it does not turn out to be
another white elephant; because the BBC has a record of investing
in new projects, building projects, and then successive chairmen
or directors general change the policy. I am not sure that it
is necessarily the best thing, but we have not yet seen all the
arguments, costs and figures, and it is open to question. It is
very much up to the BBC to prove its case, I think, , looking
at experience that it has already had of moving some departments
out of London.
Q2081 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
I think that they have not, in fact, fully committed to Manchester
at this point and are waiting for the licence fee settlement.
Do you think that I something that is causing difficulty, particularly,
of course, for those departments that may move from Manchester
and for Manchester that no decision is made?
Ms Hay: Certainty is something that would help
any planning process, because the more certainty you have got
the longer your planning can be. The question you had put to mein
how written questionwas whether this was not a form of
Q2082 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
I think that is a slightly strong way to put the question; I so
Ms Hay: Yes. I do not know that it is that,
but I certainly think that the costs as well as the benefits should
be transparent and be debated.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: Thank you
Q2083 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
One of the down sides of not being transparent is that you get
selective exposure, as the BBC have this week about their expenses,
which seems to involve a rather excessive amount of travelling
according to the newspapers?
Ms Hay: Yes.
Q2084 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
As well as move to Manchester the BBC is planning to spend £400
million on new ultra news and television services. Do you agree
with this idea? Lord Puttnam, who appeared in front of us, likes
it but is sceptical that the BBC is the type of organisation that
can actually tap into the local. He thinks they are potentially
envisaging a professionalisation of local rather than improvisation
Ms Hay: I do not know. Again, I think it is
something that should involve more pilot schemes, and more experience
before they invest the total amount. I think when the BBC moved
into local radio they invested in some pilot projects, because
it is very difficult in advance to predict what kind of service
viewers will take up, until they have actually experienced them.
Some people will say they would like it, some will say they would
not, but until they have actually experienced it, they do not
know. Predictive research is always very unreliable and very speculative.
I think here what would be most cost effective and most beneficial
is if the BBC tried some pilot schemes. The ones they have started
are too recent to provide any proper figures, but, on the basis
of some of those and one or two more, they should provide progressively
rather than invest the whole amount in one go initially.
Q2085 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
But you do not share the scepticism about the BBC's ability to
work with others?
Ms Hay: I do not think so. I think BBC local
radio, in the face of a great deal of criticism when it was first
mooted, has proved immensely popular and successful. But it has
taken time for that audience to grow and it is now totally different
to the commercial local radio offering.
Q2086 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
What I wanted to ask you was what your reaction was in one way
to our first report, because I think you will have seen, we suggested
that if Ofcom, which seems sensible to this Committee, was to
take on additional regulation of the BBC then there would be a
need to strengthen the content and be more open and transparent
to the licence fee payer. I wondered what you thought of that
reaction. I should say that their view was it would make them
less effective, because the consumer panel we suggested as a parallel
was less powerful, even though rather more open, they could see
what we are were getting at, but less powerful because they were
reporting direct to Ofcom and to nobody else.
Ms Hay: The content board.
Q2087 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
Ms Hay: The consumer panel.
Q2088 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
The consumer panel.
Ms Hay: It is an advisory panel.
Q2089 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
The Chairman of the content board is vice chair of the whole set
up. What your view is of the content of the board if you have
Ms Hay: We have heard remarkably little about
the activities of the Contents Board, and I think that is a bit
disappointing. It is very difficult to see exactly what they have
been doing because most of Ofcom's communications are conducted
on their website rather than in any other way and it is not a
particular user-friendly website. I do not know if I am alone,
but I personally find it irksome to have to stop what I am doing,
log on, go through a slightly tedious website then print off what
I want to keep and so on. I do not think it is user friendly.
The Content Board, as I say, we have not heard a lot of. It is
not easy to find out what they are doing. The main board ignored
one of the recommendations that the Content Board made. We had
Stephen Carter, Ofcom's Chief Executive, speaking at our conference
in November and he confirmed that when the content board recommended
that the main board's decision to relieve ITV of its responsibilities
in regard to non-news regional programming, the Content Board
opposed it and said it should be delayed for one year but the
main board overrode them. So I do not know what influence the
Content Board has with the main board. In Ofcom's work plan last
year the Content Board was scarcely mentioned. It was only mentioned
one diagram, nowhere else. So Ofcom is not as transparent in its
working as it might be. Therefore it is difficult to know exactly
what it is doing. The Content Board handles complaints, but again
it is difficult to know exactly how those are handled. It is not
as easy as it used to be with the Broadcasting Standards Commissin
to see what the content board is actually doing.
Q2090 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
Have you got any suggestions of how that could be remedied?
Ms Hay: We would like to see it more transparent.
Q2091 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
Ms Hay: If it could publish reports of what
it has done. Presumably you have interviewed members of the Content
Board here, have you?
Q2092 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
The Chairman was certainly here at the early part, yes.
Ms Hay: We have had members of the Content Board
speaking at different conferences, including our conference on
children's broadcasting, but again, although I think the member
was in favour of keeping the quota on ITV, ITV has been relieved
of some of its obligations, its hours in regard to children's
television; so it is difficult to see what the board has been
doing and how much notice the main board actually takes of its
In principle, without putting words in your mouth, the idea of
strengthening the board would seem to flow very naturally from
what you have been saying.
Ms Hay: Very much so, yes. We would like to
see that. We have pinned a lot of hope on the Content Board. The
Content Board was not in the original White Paper. It was put
in at the last minute, and I believe I am right in saying that
the Chairman of Ofcom actually spoke against it, when it was discussed
at Bill stage in the House of Lords, and I think the chief executive
also on another occasion at a different conference during the
preliminary period also spoke against it,, before Ofcom was legally
operational. So it has been pushed into the structure of Ofcom
and in some ways it does not seem to have such an obvious, clear,
transparent or effective role as the consumer panel. So, yes,
it would be good to see it strengthened because we believe it
is very necessary. Ofcom is operating very much as an economic
regulator and we had pinned a great many hopes on the Content
Board being able to influence content.
Chairman: I am immensely grateful. You
have been very patient and I think you have made some very strong
points in the evidence. Thank you very much. If we have got any
other points following up perhaps we could be in touch with you,
but we are slightly running out of time at this point. Thank you
very much, and thank you, Mr Clarke, for coming as well. We are