Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Powers that be

BBC Director General Lord Hall is going to get grumpy publicly later today, about Sir David Clementi's lazy answer to who should keep an eye on Auntie in a new unitary board, in terms of bald numbers and who appoints them. The fact that he's doing it at all (and that we were tipped off in yesterday's Telegraph) must mean that the usual channels have come back with a private answer from Whittingdale Senior at the DCMS that he's minded to stick to the Clementine Solution.  

Clementi's answer is lazy because he doesn't think enough people can be good at two things at once - understanding broad public opinion on the BBC in some particular part of the country, and anything else. One suspects that his view particular applies to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but that may be a gross calumny.

Let's look at current Non-Executive Directors, Trustees and their broad remits and experience, and see where the Clementi problem comes from.

BBC Executive
Dame Fiona Reynolds - Senior NED, quangos and one of the great and good; quintessentially English
Sir Howard Stringer - broadcasting, business, the USA and Wales
Simon Burke - accountancy, remuneration, consumer companies
Alice Perkins - governance, civil service, HR
Dharmash Mistry - digital, innovation, blow-drying hair
Sir Nicolas Serota (yet to arrive) - high art, culture, quangos

BBC Trustees
Rona Fairhead - big business, Pearson, Pepsi and pearls
Sir Roger Carr - big business from chocolate and Chubb locks to chair of BAE Systems
Sonita Alleyne - radio and diversity
Richard Ayre - BBC lifer and editorial complaints guru
Mark Damazer - BBC lifer and trainee editorial complaints guru
Nick Prettejohn - insurance, City money, remuneration and Radio 3
Suzanna Taverne - finance, museums and now serial NED
Lord Williams - former World Service hack, in role created to keep an eye on them
Bill Matthews - Scotland, unions and bass-playing
Elan Closs Stephens - Wales and university lifer
Aideen McGinley - Northern Ireland, civil service, redevelopent and community stuff
Mark Florman - England and merchant banking, philanthropy

There's a way round this. Aside from the new Chairman of the Unitary Board, the new NEDs should have two clear governance responsibilities each - and that includes the Deputy Chair.

The areas that need to be covered - England; Scotland; Northern Ireland; Wales; financial probity, audit and remuneration; competition and fair trading; editorial complaints and content issues; culture and The Arts; broadcasting, diversity and audience outreach; technology/innovation. Clementi thinks you need nine people to cover those ten remits, plus a Chair and Deputy, making eleven people playing against three BBC Executives. I think by doubling up more, you should bring that down to six, plus a Chair. And up the BBC side to four, so that a new Director of Content turns up alongside Hall, Bulford and Purnell.  Seven plays four is a much better balance than eleven to three.  

Does it matter ? Yes it does. A unitary board will see much more deeply inside the organisation than the Governors and The Trust ever did. The history of public appointees getting editorial issues wrong runs from Real Lives through the sacking of DG Alasdair Milne, to Governors accepting Greg Dyke's volunteered resignation. A better balance means a healthier and franker debate, even if the BBC management don't always win the case.

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