No Decision Yet on Future for Scottish Opt-outs on BBC Two

Proposals on whether BBC Two might comprise entirely of UK-wide, networked programmes – thus jeopardising opt-out programmes specifically for Scottish audiences – are not expected to be decided upon until at least the summer, and then only provisionally.

In a presentation on wide-ranging plans for the BBC – called Delivering Quality First and including improving the technology staff have access to, slimming the property portfolio and reducing the organisation's staff layers – the Corporation's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, said that it would require the BBC's governing body, the BBC Trust, to approve something as important as turning BBC Two into UK-wide only.

Following a meeting with staff at BBC Scotland's HQ, at Pacific Quay in Glasgow, she told journalists: “We have a number of work teams which are all thinking 'blue sky' thoughts. And one of them is looking at whether BBC Two becomes an UK-only network, partly because it would save quite a lot of distribution costs – satellite carriage, particularly.

“While there are pros to that, because it saves money, there are also significant disadvantages; not least because of the Scottish output that is carried, Welsh and Northern Irish, on BBC Two.

“The other piece of thinking is: Could more of what BBC Scotland makes, for BBC One Scotland and BBC Two Scotland, be for BBC Two, nationwide, because they are clearly of BBC Two standard? So, how could you get more efficient use of what's made?

“The people who are looking at [the proposal] will come up with a firmer proposal, probably around June. It would then go to the BBC Executive in July. And a big change like this would require specific [BBC] Trust approval and they would almost certainly do some consultation before they reached a conclusion. You are probably not looking at a decision until the end of the year.”

Newsnight Scotland is probably the most high-profile of the Scottish opt-outs from BBC Two network. But there is the monthly Adventure Show and also Sport Nation, plus arts strand, ArtWorks Scotland, and programming from the T in the Park music festival. This weekend, BBC Two Scotland is broadcasting action from the Melrose Sevens rugby tournament.

It adds up to some 500 hours per year.

An increasing proportion of programmes made in Scotland are appearing across the BBC, UK-wide. And it's understood that the Corporation is well ahead of schedule in reaching a target nine per cent by 2016. But only four years ago, First Minister, Alex Salmond, set up the Scottish Broadcasting Commission partly to address fears stemming from the percentage figure languishing around the three per cent mark.

The Delivering Quality First is partly to maintain and improve the quality of BBC output, make it easier for staff to get things done at the Corporation, plus to achieve budget cuts stemming from a Westminster government decision, following negotiations with the BBC last year, that the price of the TV licence fee be frozen for six years.

Announced today is a maximum of seven organisational layers between the director-general, Mark Thompson (who was unable to undertake the presentation, because of a family bereavement), and the most junior member of staff.

Also, there is to be a Technology Fund to upgrade outdated broadcasting equipment, with an extra £1 million already found specifically for technology upgrades throughout the English TV regions, and for BBC Radio Northampton which faced a particular technology problem.

And a target 30 per cent reduction has been set for four years' time in the amount of property space the BBC takes up. Currently, it has over 400 different properties and a 30 per cent reduction equates to 170,000 square metres. But Thomson countered any suggestion that the BBC might withdraw its presence in towns and cities.

Staff were also reassured there are no immediate plans to change redundancy terms. Thomson pledged that, while a change cannot be ruled out in the future, if there is to be a change, staff will be given 18 months' notice.

No figures were released as to what, if any, job losses there might be. Under a five-year 'Creative Future' plan – now in its fourth year – BBC Scotland has lost 170 posts. A BBC spokesperson told allmediascotland: “There may be some more to come in the final two years but we don’t expect them to be significant in number.”