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Grade says BBC is implementing radical change

Category: BBC; New Media

Date: 08.11.2004
Printable version

In his keynote address to the CBI Annual Conference in Birmingham today, BBC Chairman Michael Grade said the BBC's public service mission for the 21st century remained unchanged, but the BBC has to change to demonstrate it can and will deliver it.


"[The BBC has] to return a dividend to the public whose licence fees support the BBC. A dividend not in cash. But a dividend nevertheless of real and measurable value to the public, both as individuals and as citizens," he said.


He described how the BBC's five core purposes, together with new governance initiatives, like service licences and the public value test, will provide greater clarity to drive the BBC to deliver its public service mission and to be more accountable for its performance.


Michael Grade said the Governors' response to the Graf review of – published today – demonstrated these changes in action.


He said: "We are publishing new, much more tightly drawn, objectives. They focus on how can be made more distinctive, and deliver more public value, in this developing and growing market.


"We've reviewed our portfolio of websites and closed some sites down because they would not meet our new test of public value.


"There are further closures and spending reallocations within online to come as we specify what we won't do, as well as what we will."


Michael Grade said an important element of the BBC's reforms was the changes to the governance system.


He said the need to change had been too pressing to await the outcome of the Charter review debate and he announced the Governors will be moving to new premises, located apart from BBC management, in the New Year.


He said: "Last week the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, was making headlines about the BBC Governors. She said the status quo was 'unsustainable'. I agree. I thought the old system was unsustainable too.


"Our aim is not to demolish the BBC's constitution, which has served the independence of the BBC so robustly. Rather it is to make the Board more clearly independent of management and ensure we have the objective evidence we need to make our judgements in the wider public interest.


"For the first time, the BBC Governors will be located apart from BBC management. We're about to start packing our bags in preparation for a move to separate premises, located between Broadcasting House and White City.


"Our independence from management will be underlined by the powerful symbolism of physical separation."


Michael Grade said that, whilst the current system of governance had been in need of radical reform, he believed it remained the most appropriate model for the BBC and he explained why other governance models currently being discussed would not work for the Corporation.


He said: "It's sometimes said that there's a fundamental design problem with a system that asks BBC Governors to be both cheerleaders and regulators.


"Of course there is a potential contradiction. But it's not significant – as long as the Governors don't confuse championing the BBC with championing the management of the BBC.


"The supervisory structure appropriate to a commercial broadcaster – albeit one with some public service obligations – is not right for the BBC which receives nearly three billion pounds in public money.


"The scale and character of the licence fee investment demands a supervisory structure that is both detached and engaged:


"Detached enough to take an objective and informed view of strategy and spending and wider public value considerations.


"But engaged enough and experienced enough to be able to offer ongoing support and advice to management as they spend that public money."


He identified some practical issues that an 'OfBeeb' model would generate - notably the potential for confusion and duplication - and questioned where ultimate responsibility would sit if there were both internal and external boards controlling the BBC.


He said: "Governance is not the same as regulation. Governance at the BBC is about stewardship. Stewardship of the public interest. And stewardship of the money.


"External regulators carry many heavy responsibilities. But they carry no responsibility at all for anybody's money."


He said one area of great importance to the Governors, and where they are looking to do more, is getting closer to licence payers in order to understand their concerns.


He said: "I think the internet and the new digital technologies should contribute to a solution.


"In the New Year, we will announce our programme of action to connect with the licence fee payers who are our customers and our owners. They deserve better than a passive role."


Michael Grade concluded by saying the BBC had contributed significantly to the quality of life in the UK for over 80 years and added: "If we want that contribution to continue into the 21st century then it's clear the BBC has to change and change radically.


"The leadership of the BBC is committed to making those changes happen, so that a strengthened BBC can continue to meet public expectations and public aspirations."



Category: BBC; New Media

Date: 08.11.2004
Printable version


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