Cut of the day 7: Department of Culture, Media and Sport

No, it’s not the Department of Culture, Media and Sport being abolished, but there’s news in the Financial Times, and on ConservativeHome website of some serious spending cuts, which is where I saw this report,

“Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary, may control only a £2bn budget, but the Treasury is hugely impressed with what he plans to do with it. …. [he] has outlined cuts of 50 per cent in the running of his department in an attempt to protect frontline funding of arts and sport. … Mr Hunt’s aides say he was one of the first ministers to scrap official cars and end first-class travel. The Treasury is also impressed by his plans to move his department out of offices near Trafalgar Square with a view to sharing space with another Whitehall department, reducing an annual £10m rent bill.” – FT (£)

A few years ago, the memsahib and I visited the DCMS offices on an London Open House day. The guided tour focussed on the art on loan from the Government Art Collection. I sat in Dr Kim Howells chair, the then Minister for tourism and broadcasting, and admired his choice of art on his office walls. The offices are modern, light and spacious, not plush, but close to it. They are rather grandly placed just off Trafalgar Square [pictured]. So it’s to Jeremy Hunt enormous credit that he’s moving the DCMS offices.

A consensus forming on curtailing the BBC’s expansion

When I wrote yesterday about the ubiquity of the BBC and it’s expansionist tendencies, I hadn’t expected a further flurry of ministerial speeches on the subject. So, it was a surprise to read that the views of the Labour government’s Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, agree with mine, and more importantly with those of his Conservative opposite, Jeremy Hunt. 

The Guardian reports on Ben Bradshaw’s speech yesterday to the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention. Some of the key points in his speech about the BBC are that:

  • The BBC probably has reached the limits of reasonable expansion. 
  • The BBC is right to be looking more carefully at what it pays its stars and executives.
  • There may indeed be a case for a smaller licence fee.
  • The National Audit Office should have access to the BBC’s accounts.
  • The BBC Trust regulatory structure is not a sustainable model in the long term.
  • There’s an urgent need for a debate on BBC’s future, role, size, and funding. 

    The Guardian has a response to the speech from Jeremy Hunt, the conservative shadow culture secretary, saying accusing the government of stealing Conservative policies.

    “People will ask if there is any consistency whatsoever in media policy when the culture secretary has proposed abolishing a body set up by his own government less than three years ago.”

    It appears that Jeremy Hunt is addressing the same conference today. I imagine he’ll be working hard making adjustments to his speech. I’m not sure that it’s not preferable to be first, than have to both respond, while also putting your own ideas forward. More on this later, as they say.

    Too much information from the BBC?

    QI Fact of the dayWhen capturing the image of the BBC’s website for the previous post, I spotted this at the foot of the page. Surely a case of too much information, I know, this isn’t a great example, but it did get me thinking …

    The ubiquity of the BBC’s website concerns many in the media world, notably James Murdoch, head of News Corp in Europe. While holding no brief for the Murdoch empire I think he’s got a fair point on the BBC potentially throttling the development of online news outlets, and also when he says,

    “Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.” Murdoch also spoke about the BBC’s acquisition of Lonely Planet travel guides as a “particularly egregious example of the expansion of the state”

    Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary discusses his concerns at the size of the BBC, especially it’s scope and ambitions online. Though he is pragmatic in his view of BBC’s online coverage saying,

    “I understand that it is difficult for newspapers to charge, because of the quality of BBC News online, but we are not going to turn the clock back”.

    Interestingly Jeremy Hunt has a similar view to James Murdoch on the Lonely Planet travel guides, saying the BBC overreached itself, though he distances himself from privatising BBC Worldwide. Hunt is one of the unsung talents on the Conservative front bench, and I think has the necessary resolve to rethink the BBC’s role and the ability to clip it’s wings. Not to stop it from doing what it does best, but to put the brakes on its expansionist tendencies. Also, Jeremy Hunt’s ideas on enlivening regional media has the potential to strengthen regional identities and to provide opportunities for all those media studies graduates.