Thursday, March 5, 2015


Here's a sort of spread bet. The BBC will start its next Charter with a new Chair and its first Chief Executive Officer (Danny Cohen, if wiser heads can get him off Twitter).

The business brain of Rona Fairhead has had five months to assess Auntie's governance structures, and yesterday rolled a hand grenade around the corridors of 180 Great Portland Street, where resides the BBC Trust, the unhappy 2006 creation of Michael Grade and Tessa Jowell. Unimpressed by the unwieldy assembly of Statements of Programme Promises, Service Licence Remits, Frameworks, Public Value Tests, Major Risk Analysis, etc, curated by Kroll and minded by Zeff, she says leave most of the BBC to a unitary board - and regulate it somewhere else.

That somewhere else is undefined. The Trust was born out of a fear of Ofcom, and what Ed Richards might do to Auntie. There's no current reason to fear the next Ofcom boss, Sharon White, and it would be easier to amend Ofcom's board structure to cope with the wider remit than start another quango. The current way - the BBC doing pretty much what it wants in the media landscape, constrained only by income and fear of Fleet Street, and Ofcom regulating what's left - has to change.

Easier doesn't mean better. And the big risk in all this is moving the principle control of the BBC to a model used by business, where the driver everyone knows and understands is the bottom line. We have whiffs of this already, in the move to BBC Studios. The new online portal will be called BBC Store, not BBC Library.  The old BBC, with its civil service/university management structure, is unloved by those who like making money. They hate its pay grades, training costs, employment codes, career commitments and the rest. And, in the end, they can't see the point of five orchestras, Radio 3, new writing, difficult opinion pieces, daytime shows that educate.  Someone has to define what will drive a unitary board to keep the BBC special.

The Trust will be remembered for saving 6Music and not spotting DMI. It might save BBC3. Would a unitary board do that ?

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