Schapps is wrong about its anti-Tory bias, but right that the BBC is too big, costly and unaccountable

by Kevin Meagher

Why should the BBC be immune from public spending cuts? This is the question Grant Schapps should have raised in his interview with yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph.

But instead the Conservative party chairman fell back on the familiar trope that the Corporation is some haven of left-wing zealotry and anti-Tory bias.

It’s of course a silly argument to prosecute when you consider the Corporation’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson, is a former activist in the Young Conservatives, its main political interviewer, Andrew Neil, is an adent Thatcherite and its chairman, Lord Chris Patten, is a predecessor of Schapps’ as Tory chairman.

The BBC does indeed have a bias, but it’s towards a metro-centric liberalism that despises traditional right-wing and left-wing politics and any opinion not originating from within its rarefied cloister.

The real issue with the BBC remains its humungous cost. The £3.6 billion a year that the BBC spends is seemingly immune from the harsh economising facing every other inch of the British public sector.

Auntie’s annual budget dwarfs the £3.5 billion to be spent on affordable housing over the next four years. And over the five years between 2010 and 2015, the BBC’s total domestic budget will have been £22 billion – half the proposed cost of HS2.

Schapps was on sounder footing, though, in criticising the BBC’s culture of exceptionalism. His calls to see the BBC fully comply with Freedom of Information requests and to open its accounts to the National Audit Office are perfectly in order. As is publication of all expenditure over £500 – a move already commplace in local and central government.

“They have ended up working in this culture which is buried in the last century, which is ‘we are the BBC, we do what we like, we don’t have to be too accountable’,” he rightly pointed out.

At this point, Labour should add, “hear, hear”. The words ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Savile’ are the last that are needed when it comes to underlining the BBC’s culture of secrecy and lack of transparency, let alone the soaraway costs of middling executives and overpaid ‘talent’.

The BBC should face salary caps – for managers and performers alike – and more downward pressure on its operating costs. As I argued in our recent book: ‘Labour’s Manifesto Uncut: How to win in 2015 and why’ , the whole of the BBC, save for essential London-based services, should be relocated to Salford to join the five departments already housed at MediaCity.

This would save money and spearhead the development of the creative sector in other parts of the country. The National Audit Office has shown the initial transfer came in on-time and under-budget and “maintained broadcast continuity.”

Politicians across the board should now be pressing to ensure we get more bang for our buck when it comes to public service broadcasting. Already the BBC is being forced to offer-up some of its funding to kickstart the 19 local television stations that are due to spring up all over the country in 2014.

With a remit to produce locally-focused content they are a better representation of public interest broadcasting than the BBC’s vanity stations, BBC3 and Radio 6 Music. The license fee could also be further top-sliced to help fund more talk news radio at a local level, where the BBC enjoys a near monopoly.

“Mr Shapps is right that transparency is key to the future of the BBC. So is its freedom from political pressure” was the arch response from a BBC spokesman who didn’t appreciate Shapps’ intervention; nor the fact that the license fee is a poll tax on ordinary people, which has kept performers like Jonathan Ross in the lap of luxury, courtesy of his infamous three-year £18 million contract.

The BBC is a great British institution, but not one that’s infallible. If we’re not prepared to ringfence spending on our schools, it seems perverse that we are doing so for millionaire chatshow hosts.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


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11 Responses to “Schapps is wrong about its anti-Tory bias, but right that the BBC is too big, costly and unaccountable”

  1. swatantra says:

    I personally do not want to see any more adverts and product placement iput n front of me. We get enough of that on the commercial channels; and we are bombarded with pop ups on our computers. Its a relief to get away from people trying to flog you things, and tune into the respectable oasis and sanity of the BBC. And I agree the Beeb is a public service and should not be paying 6 figure sums to anybody, entertainers or directors or CEO’s or Board members. A wholesale move to Salford would be welcome, and a few more regional accents would not come amiss.

  2. Nick says:

    It is biased.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24454006

    Pro Labour, and untruthful.

    Look at the spending figures over the last few years. Were there any years in which overall spending was down?

    Nope.

    There are no cuts in government spending.

    Time to privatise the BBC.

    Time to apply competition law on concentation over ownership, particularly on the news coverage front.

  3. ‘Millionaire chatshow hosts’, not to mention their own journalists and presenters (BBC Wales) nobbling thousands from the taxpayer in grants for their autobiographies, that incidentally only sell a couple of hunded copies if that, and even the former Controller of BBC Wales, Geraint Talfan Davies, having his ‘life story’ paid for in grants from the taxpayer.

    Title of his book? ‘At Arms Length’ and I’m not making this up!

    Julian Ruck

  4. Ex-Labour says:

    You are partly right and partly wrong.

    Firstly the BBC is inherently left wing and this has been admitted by both the previous DG Mark Thompson and also the new resident Tony Hall. I note you trotted out the old canard of Nick Robinson but missed the whole range of Guardianistas who now reside at the Beeb – particularly in news / political roles such as Katz, Stratton etc.

    As Peter Sissons points out “By far the most popular and widely read newspapers at the BBC are The Guardian and The Independent. ­Producers refer to them routinely for the line to take on ­running stories, and for inspiration on which items to cover. In the later stages of my career, I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of The Guardian and told ‘it’s all in there’.”

    Of course there is Ben Stephenson’s (Drama Commisioning Head) comment ““We need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncrasy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking.”

    Even now we see the latest recruits to the BBC media gravy train are ex-Labour politicians.

    There are numerous others who have spoken out, so lets not pretend that the BBC is anything other that a progressive liberal left wing orgnisation.

    Why does this matter ? Because we ALL have to pay for the BBC and we expect them to be be unbiased as their charter requires them to be. However all we ever hear and see on the news is good news on the economy burried and then a diatribe on cuts, wages, cost of living – almost a mirror image of the current Labour message (and of course the Gruniad and (not) Independant’s view of the world).

    You of course fall into the popular myth about the move to Salford. It has done anything but save money with the moving costs running into Billions, and where families have been forcibly uprooted and told to move whilst the metro-sexual chatterati that run the organisation continue to suck Cappucino at their Hampstead dinner parties.

    Where I do agree is that it is run like a private club, where “non-jobs” command astronomical salaries and middle managers are paid handsomely to leave, some only to return in a self employed capacity on another ludicrous deal. This is OUR MONEY they are using and having the right to dodge FoI’s is absolutely unacceptable.

    The BBC needs root and branch overhaul to regain public and political trust, and based on the managemants performance in front of the select committee that is unlikely to happen. So maybe Shapps has a point and its a warning shot over their bow.

  5. Dave says:

    All good points Kevin. Also important never to forget that Auntie is funded in about the least progressive way possible; given the universality of tellies in the 21st Century the licence fee is essentially a poll tax.

  6. Just for the record and note that the following was reported in the Guardian, Daily Mail and Telegraph (as informed by my FofI data) earlier this year.

    BBC Wales presenters and journalists who have screwed the taxpayer for their autobiographies and do remember that their Welsh publishers also receive a taxpayer bung to publish them:

    Mal Pope £4000
    Owen Money £6000
    Chris Needs £7500
    Jon Gower £8000
    Brian Meechan £4000 – this journalist interviewed me about taxpayer funding for the Welsh literati (Sunday Politics Show) but failed to declare that he himself had enjoyed a ride or two on the Welsh taxpayer gravy train.

    Costly and unaccountable?? The BBC’s London complaints people felt there was no case to answer.

    Julian Ruck

  7. AB says:

    Uh… you are aware that figure for Ross went towards making programming, and not just straight into his back pocket, right? The chat show, the numerous documentaries that his production company handles, radio, etc. You seem to word it as if he was handed £18 million for churning out an hour of The Jonathan Ross Show a week, which, of course, would be a ludicrously misleading representation of the facts for the purposes of political gains. Not that I’d accuse you of that, of course.

  8. “Just for the record and note that the following was reported in the Guardian, Daily Mail and Telegraph (as informed by my FofI data) earlier this year.

    BBC Wales presenters and journalists who have screwed the taxpayer for their autobiographies…”

    Mr Ruck, could you post the links to the three newspaper reports you cite? I can’t find them.

  9. Les Abbey says:

    I’m beginning to worry on how often I find myself agreeing with you Kevin. Yes to a salary cap at the BBC and not a high one at that. How about £50,000? Too often the claim is made that their best would be poached or that they cannot compete in labour market for these skills. Even that the BBC would be just a government paid training scheme for private and foreign media companies. Well we can live with that.

    It will bring on young and more daring talent and in the end it will not be a loss. While we are at it let’s bring more production in-house. This privatization via the back-door of having so much made by independent production companies just supplies profit to them and expense to the BBC. I know that the BBC is at present trying to slim down its management structure, but more has to be done. The organization needs more talent and less administration.

  10. Ex-Labour says:

    As my original comment is still awaiting moderation, then I guess you dont like the truth eh Kevin ?

  11. Sean Connor says:

    The BBC is too large. So is the Tory Television Channel, Sky News. My critique of the BBC is that it is biased to the right. Still I imagine you will find comfort in that

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