BBC Scotland chiefs set to appear next month in front of MSPs

BBC Scotland chiefs are to make a personal appearance in front of MSPs, having recently decided instead to provide a document outlining its plans, including its news and current affairs provision.

The Scotsman newspaper – which had recently reported alleged outrage at the BBC’s non-appearance the last time they had a chance to present to MSPs – today describes the decision as an ‘U-turn’.

But, in a statement, BBC Scotland has said it does not intend to discuss ‘industrial matters’ when it appears in front of the Scottish Parliament’s education and culture committee, on the 22nd of next month.

The committee has been considering, for several months, the issue of broadcasting in Scotland.

At a committee meeting in October, BBC Scotland decided to send a document of its intentions rather than attend in person. It stated, at the time, that there would be no drop in the number of hours devoted to news and current affairs.

BBC Scotland is facing the prospect of industrial action over the Festive period following an UK-wide ballot – involving members of the National Union of Journalists – opposing compulsory redundancy.

In August, it was announced that 35 posts – many of them in editorial – were are risk of redundancy at BBC Scotland alone, because of budget cuts following an agreement, two years ago, between the BBC and the Westminster government, to freeze the TV licence fee for six years.

For BBC Scotland, that has meant an annual 16 per cent cut in its budget.

But the NUJ chapel at BBC Scotland is holding fire on what it will do next until it becomes clearer, over the next few days, how successful management efforts have been in redeploying staff facing the axe.

The NUJ in Scotland has called for a moratorium on job cuts (plus additional funding), to ensure comprehensive coverage of the upcoming referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future and also the Commonwealth Games – both in two years’ time.

Says a BBC Scotland statement: “’BBC Scotland executives will attend a committee meeting in January – however this will not be to discuss industrial relations matters. The committee has told us it is preparing a report on ‘the substantive issues of future programming capacity at major events at BBC Scotland’ and we will contribute to that discussion.

“As we have said previously, the BBC has already provided a significant amount of documentation to the Scottish Parliament and has produced evidence in person on the issue of the savings programme – Delivering Quality First – on several occasions.

“When the BBC response to the [TV] licence fee freeze was announced, all MSPs were emailed with details of BBC Scotland’s response and on 24 January 2012 there was evidence from head of News and Current Affairs, John Boothman, to the committee.

“There was also a supporting paper presented to the committee for this meeting. On 29 May 2012, there was evidence presented in person by the then Director General, Mark Thompson, and the Director, BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie.

“Also, the Director, BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, and the BBC National Trustee, Bill Matthews, provided evidence on this topic to the Scotland Bill Committee a year ago, on 25 October 2011, shortly after the announcement on the BBC proposals to make savings following the licence fee freeze.

“A paper detailing BBC Scotland’s approach to the latest phase of the proposed savings was sent to members of the committee in advance of the meeting of 30 October 2012.

“A detailed point-by-point response by BBC Scotland to the [trade unions] NUJ and BECTU evidence presented to the committee on that day was subsequently sent to all committee members, to the Culture Secretary and to the party culture spokespersons.”