Opening Auntie's books

September 22, 2010 11:11 AM

In a triumph for transparency, the National Audit Office (NAO) is about to be given more access to the BBC’s books.  We have long called for more openness in how licence-fee payers’ money is spent and this new move comes after talks between the BBC Trust (which is there to make sure the Beeb listens to the voice of the public) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 

Openness about how the BBC is spending licence-fee payers’ money is a step in the right direction because more transparency brings more accountability.  If the public know how the Corporation is spending the licence fee, then they are better informed about whether they are getting value for money, and can act as a check on waste.  A NAO report earlier this year that revealed what the BBC coverage of Glastonbury music festival was costing each day (£580,000); it’s also thanks to the NAO that we found out that almost 500 staff went to the Beijing Olympics at a cost of about £4million.

The BBC already works with the NAO on a restricted basis, only looking at value for money in areas chosen by the broadcaster.   The public spending watchdog is getting more access now, but will still treat the BBC differently to other public bodies.  When the NAO investigates other public bodies it reports directly to Parliament, but in the case of the BBC its findings will go to the Trust first, which will then present a report to MPs.  It’s claimed this will mean the BBC can preserve its independence from political pressure. 

There is a big area that still needs more light shed on it though, and that’s stars’ salaries.  It is expected that, as part of this new deal with the NAO, details of celebrity pay will still remain a secret.  If the NAO isn’t given all the information they need to do their job, then it undermines transparency on spending elsewhere at the BBC, and undermines the Trust.  The BBC needs to reveal how much of our money they are paying top on screen personalities, then it can be up to viewers to say if they are value for money or not.

In a triumph for transparency, the National Audit Office (NAO) is about to be given more access to the BBC’s books.  We have long called for more openness in how licence-fee payers’ money is spent and this new move comes after talks between the BBC Trust (which is there to make sure the Beeb listens to the voice of the public) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 

Openness about how the BBC is spending licence-fee payers’ money is a step in the right direction because more transparency brings more accountability.  If the public know how the Corporation is spending the licence fee, then they are better informed about whether they are getting value for money, and can act as a check on waste.  A NAO report earlier this year that revealed what the BBC coverage of Glastonbury music festival was costing each day (£580,000); it’s also thanks to the NAO that we found out that almost 500 staff went to the Beijing Olympics at a cost of about £4million.

The BBC already works with the NAO on a restricted basis, only looking at value for money in areas chosen by the broadcaster.   The public spending watchdog is getting more access now, but will still treat the BBC differently to other public bodies.  When the NAO investigates other public bodies it reports directly to Parliament, but in the case of the BBC its findings will go to the Trust first, which will then present a report to MPs.  It’s claimed this will mean the BBC can preserve its independence from political pressure. 

There is a big area that still needs more light shed on it though, and that’s stars’ salaries.  It is expected that, as part of this new deal with the NAO, details of celebrity pay will still remain a secret.  If the NAO isn’t given all the information they need to do their job, then it undermines transparency on spending elsewhere at the BBC, and undermines the Trust.  The BBC needs to reveal how much of our money they are paying top on screen personalities, then it can be up to viewers to say if they are value for money or not.

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