15 March 2016
Article by Robin Wilkinson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
On Wednesday the National Assembly will debate the Communities, Equality and Local Government (CELG) Committee’s recent Report into BBC Charter Review. The BBC’s Royal Charter is the constitutional basis for the BBC. The UK Government is currently drawing up a new Charter, to replace the current Charter which expires at the end of December 2016. The CELG inquiry was the subject of a previous blog post which explored the main issues that the Committee discovered during its work.
The Committee’s report, which was published earlier this month, made the following recommendations:
Recommendation 1: We recommend that the BBC’s statement of public purposes should be strengthened to ensure that the BBC reflects, represents and serves the needs of the UK, its nations, regions and communities.
Recommendation 2: We recommend that the next Welsh Government establishes, as a matter of priority, an independent media forum for Wales. The role of the forum should include, but not be limited to, reviewing, monitoring and evaluating Public Service Broadcasting provision in Wales and providing expert advice to the Welsh Government. It should draw on expertise from across the media sectors and academia.
Recommendation 3: We recommend that the BBC develops specific and measureable targets for portrayal of Wales in its network programming. It should report annually on progress against these targets (see recommendation 7).
Recommendation 4: We recommend that the BBC puts in place arrangements to decentralise commissioning to ensure that network commissioners for the nations and regions are based in those nations and regions.
Recommendation 5: We recommend that the BBC devolves a greater proportion of network funding to commissioners based in the nations and regions as a means of increasing the range and diversity of output, both locally and for the network.
Recommendation 6: We recommend that the BBC invests an additional £30 million into the services it provides for Wales.
Recommendation 7: We recommend that the BBC reports annually to the Assembly on its outputs and operations that are relevant to Wales, and provides an audited statement of accounts.
Recommendation 8: We recommend that the BBC appears before committees of the Assembly in relation to matters that are relevant to Wales.
Recommendation 9: We recommend that the fifth Assembly resolves to establish a committee on communications. This committee would ensure that the BBC and other media organisations operating in Wales are held to account publicly for the delivery of their responsibilities and commitments to Wales.
Recommendation 10: We recommend that, as part of the UK Government’s review of S4C’s remit, governance and funding, S4C’s future funding needs are considered on their own merits, separate to the BBC’s overall service provision for Wales.
Recommendation 11: We recommend that lines of accountability between S4C and the Assembly are formalised by way of an agreement committing S4C to submit annual reports and audited accounts to the Assembly, and to appear before Assembly committees.
Revised Memorandum of Understanding to formalise scrutiny of the BBC in Wales
In February and March 2016, CELG considered the draft revised Memorandum of Understanding (‘the revised MoU’) between the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the BBC. The Assembly is listed as a party to the revised MoU, but is not a signatory.
The purpose of the revised MoU is to formalise the consultative role for the Welsh Government and National Assembly in the Charter review process. It also commits the BBC to lay annual reports and audited accounts before the Assembly and to appear before Assembly committees.
The revised MoU is intended to supersede an earlier MoU between the UK and Welsh Governments and the BBC in October 2015. The earlier MoU did not include provision for a consultative role for the Assembly in the Charter review.
The Committee welcomed the revised MoU, and the formalising of the consultative role for the Assembly in the Charter review process. However, Members made two recommendations as to how they felt the revised MoU should be improved:
We believe that the revised Memorandum of Understanding should be amended to provide for Wales-specific annual reports and audited accounts to be laid before the Assembly (this echoes recommendation 7 from the Committee’s BBC Charter Review report).
We believe that full and open consultation with the Welsh Government and Assembly about the setting of the licence fee should be provided for in the revised Memorandum of Understanding.
The second half of today’s motion proposes that the Assembly:
Agrees that the BBC, if it accepts the committee’s recommendation, should lay before the Assembly annual reports and audited statements of accounts.
The BBC cannot currently lay reports before the Assembly as it is not captured by the categories of documents that can be laid under Standing Order 15. If passed, this resolution will allow the BBC to lay these reports before the Assembly in future.