No reversal of World Service cuts

Bush House

The government has dashed hopes that cuts of 16% to the World Service budget can be reversed.

Responding to a highly critical report by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), which called for World Service funding to restored to 2010/l1 levels, Foreign Secretary William Hague says the settlement is 'challenging but fair' and should not be overturned.

And he implies in his written statement that World Service had not demonstrated its commitment to making efficiencies in back office costs, ahead of front line services - something that Global News director Peter Horrocks strongly denies.

'World Service assured us at the time of their settlement that they were working to identify savings in this [back office] area. The degree to which they have done so is not clear,' Hague says.

Start Quote

The degree to which back office savings have been made is not clear”

End Quote William Hague Foreign Secretary
No clear evidence

'Details of precise proportions which the World Service devote to running costs such as HR, finance or IT, as compared to front line activity have not been published although many other publicly funded organisations do now routinely publish this information.

'The World Service have given assurances at the time of the spending review settlement that they would bear down on these costs, we have no clear evidence of how this has happened.'

Hague denies that the BBC's international services took a bigger hit in the spending review than other parts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, claiming that the World Service's share of the FCO budget will be slightly higher in 2013/14 than in 2007/8.

While the 16% cut to the World Service is 'proportionate to the savings the BBC will make as a whole under the licence fee settlement', Hague questions the need to close 650 BBC posts.

Hindi closure questioned

The 'proportion of staff cuts compared to reduction in funds appear somewhat disappointing', he says.

The FCO had not been consulted on the controversial WS decision to end shortwave broadcasting in Hindi - now partially restored - and Hague said that the BBC's case for the closure was 'not compelling'.

He welcomes World Service attempts to minimise the effect of the cuts on BBC Arabic, which will see 17 hours a day of live tv news scaled back to seven and similar reductions on radio.

But Hague concludes: 'The extent of these reductions was surprising even before recent dramatic events in the region.'

In its official response to the FAC report, the BBC makes clear that the 16% cuts in funding 'required significantly greater cuts in services because of the additional impact of the BBC-wide pensions deficit ands the lack of funding in the original settlement for restructuring'.

Disingenuous

Peter Horrocks was quick to rebut the Foreign Secretary's criticism about lack of transparency in where efficiencies were being made.

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It is disingenuous to claim the World Service has been opaque in explaining its finances”

End Quote Peter Horrocks Director, BBC Global News

'It is disingenuous to claim the World Service has been opaque in explaining its finances. We have kept the Foreign Office fully informed of our plans throughout this process,' he said.

'The World Service has had little option but to close five language services and reduce output in other services to live within the spending settlement imposed upon it by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last year. It has also announced plans to close in excess of 600 posts.

'Back office costs, such as finance, HR and IT, are suffering significantly higher reductions - on average around 33 per cent - than the frontline services.

Sizeable reductions

'Although it is true to say that the income of the World Service from the FCO will be roughly similar in 2013 as 2007, that ignores the considerable investment we have made in starting and sustaining two new tv channels, BBC Arabic and BBC Persian, with the encouragement of the government.'

Horrocks added: 'World Service has reduced its senior management pay bill by 32% since 2009, releasing money to be invested in services.These are sizeable reductions by any measure.'

The NUJ immediately condemned Hague's assessment of the cuts as 'shameful disregard for the listeners of the world and a travesty of reasoned debate and argument'.

• The implications of the World Service cuts will be debated in the Commons tomorrow.

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