In My Opinion: Fiona Hyslop: Scotland has been short-changed on broadcasting

SCOTLAND has been short-changed by the UK Government on broadcasting.

On Thursday, the BBC announced proposals to cut 2,000 jobs across the UK – with an estimated 100-120 jobs going in Scotland alone. This is a result of last year’s damaging licence fee settlement negotiated by the Westminster Government which is obliging the BBC to operate with a budget reduced by 16 per cent.

The announcement came as the Scottish Government published the third and final annual report on progress implementing the recommendations of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission and on the same day the Scottish Parliament debated the UK Government’s omission of the Scottish Borders in its proposals for local television.

There have been some successes for Scotland’s television production sector since the Scottish Broadcasting Commission published its final report. Network production has increased, public sector bodies are working together to grow the industry, and recommendations for changes to the accountability arrangements for broadcasting in Scotland have partly been met.

However, three years after the Scottish Parliament unanimously backed the SBC’s key recommendation – the establishment of a Scottish Digital Network – we are no further forward. It is entirely unacceptable that Scotland’s public service broadcasting needs and our proposals for a Scottish Digital Network can be so blatantly ignored by the UK Government.

The Scottish Government has consistently made the case for a publicly-funded Scottish Digital Network, with the television licence fee the best possible source of funding – as recommended by the Scottish Digital Network Panel.

However, as broadcasting is reserved, that can only be implemented with the co-operation and agreement of the UK Government. Last year’s licence fee settlement, which was negotiated in secret, short-changed Scotland while allocating Welsh channel S4C £100 million per year in support from 2013-14.

Scotland contributes more than £300 million to the licence fee each year and it is only right that we receive our fair share. The UK Government’s damaging licence fee agreement means BBC Scotland is now facing the prospect of budget cuts, job losses and programming cutbacks. With some way to go until network programming targets are met, I strongly urge the BBC Trust to maintain a sufficient level of investment in Scotland.

Scotland has also been sold short by the UK Government’s proposals for local television. [Culture Secretary] Jeremy Hunt’s inadequate plans contain little or no provision for our rural areas. Viewers in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders currently receive local news on Channel 3 which is broadcast from Gateshead, and are arguably most in need of local television – yet these parts of Scotland are not even on the list of eligible locations. This was a point debated in the Scottish Parliament this week, when MSPs from the south of Scotland highlighted the critical need for better broadcasting services in the Scottish Borders.

A publicly-funded Scottish Digital Network would bring many benefits to viewers in all parts of Scotland – not just the largest centres of population which are commercially viable – as well as meeting the need for choice in public service broadcasting in Scotland.

The Scottish Government will continue to make the case for a Scottish Digital Network. During the coming year, we will enter into discussions with the UK Government about securing a specific allocation of revenues for Scotland from the forthcoming auction of spectrum once digital switchover has been completed across the UK.

We will also seek greater powers over broadcasting for Scotland. Our proposed amendments to the Scotland Bill would give Holyrood the right to establish the Scottish Digital Network as a public service broadcaster and to be involved in future licence fee setting arrangements.

Fiona Hyslop is Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Scottish Government.