White Paper to require BBC to 'serve Scotland better'

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The BBC needs to do more to serve its nations and regions better, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has said.

In a statement to the House of Commons, he said the corporation would be required to give greater focus to under-served audiences.

Unveiling detailed government proposals for the BBC's future, he said the BBC Trust would be abolished and replaced with a unitary board.

BBC Director General Tony Hall said there would be a Scottish "sub-board".

In a letter to Scotland's Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, Lord Hall said it would oversee Scottish services.

"If implemented, this will provide clear accountability for the services provided in each nation and much more ability to shift resources around within each nation's dedicated services, further devolving decision-making to the nations," he added.

He also outlined a series of plans to improve the BBC's representation of the wider UK. They include:

  • Making Scotland a "centre for excellence" for factual television production;
  • Appointing a drama commissioning editor responsible for each nation, reporting to the controller of BBC drama commissioning;
  • A comedy commissioner to be based in Glasgow;
  • BBC "writers' rooms" to develop new writing talent in each nation;
  • Allocating additional funding to improve dedicated services in the nations;
  • Agreeing new partnerships with creative sector agencies in Scotland.

He said the BBC had "transformed" how much content was made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"But we accept those programmes have not done enough to reflect each nation to itself, and to the rest of the country," he added.

The BBC will also adapt its news output in each nation "to reflect greater devolution and changes in our democracy", the director general said.

In his statement to the Commons, Mr Whittingdale said "distinctive content" should be at the heart of what the BBC does.

He added: "The BBC will also be required to give greater focus to under-served audiences - in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds and from the nations and regions, who are currently less well served.

"That will involve the BBC building on its new diversity strategy, maintaining out-of-London production quotas, and ensuring that the BBC continues to provide for minority languages in its partnerships with S4C and MG Alba."

The white paper also outlined plans to:

  • Require the licensing of the BBC to include specific provision for the nations;
  • Maintain the commitment to "out-of-London" quotas "enabling a healthy independent production sector in the nations and regions";
  • Maintain a commitment to minority language broadcasting services.
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image captionJohn Whitingdale said the BBC must deliver 'distinctive content'

It was broadly welcomed by Scotland's Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, who had called for major decentralisation of the corporation.

She said: "The Scottish Government has called for the BBC to evolve to better represent the people of Scotland; improve its commissioning practices to support our world-class creative industries; and adopt appropriate governance and accountability structures, including a unitary board with representation from Scotland and a separate Scottish board.

"Today's White Paper broadly reflects our asks and is a first step towards realising the strong ambitions we have set out for the future of the BBC in Scotland."

Scottish Labour's democracy spokeswoman Claire Baker said: "There is a recognition in the white paper of the need for more decentralised decision making which will lead to greater Scottish content but this must be balanced with delivering a sustainable BBC, where skills and jobs are secured and high quality programmes produced.

"We will continue to work towards securing the best deal for viewers in Scotland and throughout the UK."

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