BBC World Service budget uncertainty 'unacceptable'

BBC New Broadcasting House The group of MPs wants the BBC to announce the World Service's funding as soon as possible

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Uncertainty about the BBC World Service budget as the corporation prepares to take on full funding of the service is "unacceptable", MPs have warned.

Foreign Office funding for the service will stop in April 2014 when it will be paid for out of the licence fee.

The Foreign Affairs Committee said the World Service could not "plan properly" because the BBC had yet to issue an operating licence to define its budget.

The BBC Trust said it had shared a draft licence with the service.

A World Service spokesman said the change in funding next April, when it will be integrated with the BBC's domestic news services, "provides certainty and stability".

But the committee of MPs said it did not see how the World Service could prepare when it would not know "either the priorities, targets or characteristics which have been set for it, or its budget" until a few months before the change came into force.

"We do not see how the BBC World Service can plan properly how to reflect its new priorities, pursue its new objectives or shape its output... given the short lead-in time," the report said.

'Direct conflict'

The BBC Trust said in a statement: "We are in regular, ongoing discussions with the World Service about the transition to licence fee funding from 2014 to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible, and we are already delivering on a number of the committee's recommendations."

It said it had "already consulted the World Service on the draft operating licence" and would publish the draft for wider public consultation in the summer "as has always been our intention".

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The World Service must continue to take into account significant audiences in certain parts of the world, such as rural India and Africa, who currently rely on shortwave radio”

End Quote Foreign Affairs Committee

There had been regular discussions with the World Service about the draft since February, it added.

The committee has also called for "some form of direct representation" from the World Service on the BBC's executive board, instead of by the director of news.

The report said World Service interests would be "in direct conflict" with those of other departments.

In October, the World Service announced it was to lose a further 73 jobs as part of the latest round of cutbacks to save £42m, with 25 jobs going in the English-language service.

Savings of £30m have already been made following its reduction in funding by the government in 2010.

The committee also warned that, while it was logical to withdraw shortwave radio in dwindling markets where audiences had access to the internet and TV, such services still had a place.

"The World Service must continue to take into account significant audiences in certain parts of the world, such as rural India and Africa, who currently rely on shortwave radio," it added.

The committee's report, which also covers the work of the Foreign Office and the British Council, also warns that the UK risks losing credibility if more senior diplomats are not fluent in a range of languages.

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