New BBC Scotland channel a 'declaration of intent'

Lord HallImage source, Scottish Parliament
Image caption,
Lord Hall was appearing before Holyrood's culture committee

The BBC's new Scottish TV channel is evidence that the broadcaster wants to build an ambitious future in Scotland, its director general has said.

Lord Hall announced on Wednesday that the new BBC Scotland channel would start broadcasting next year.

It will include a news hour from 21:00, with stories from Scotland, the UK and the world.

On Thursday, Lord Hall told MSPs the news bulletin would be backed by all of the BBC's global resources.

And he predicted that plans for the hour-long programme "could teach a few lessons to news broadcasters around the world".

He was appearing at Holyrood's culture committee alongside BBC Scotland director Donalda MacKinnon and her predecessor Ken MacQuarrie, who is now the BBC's director of nations and regions.

Lord Hall said: "Yesterday was not about saying we have reached some sort of destination, but I hope we have laid the foundations for an ambitious future.

"Yesterday was a declaration of intent to significantly increase our support for the Scottish creative economy.

"But most important of all, to serve audiences by providing them with more programmes of quality from Scotland about Scotland, and to the network, and also giving them greater choice."

Biggest investment

Lord Hall has described the new channel - which will see 80 new journalists recruited - as the single biggest investment in broadcasting in Scotland for 20 years.

It will be broadcast from 19:00 until midnight every day and will have a budget of £30m - similar to the amount spent on BBC4.

There will also be an increase of about £20m a year for Scotland to make more UK-wide programmes, which will be focused on drama and factual shows.

BBC Scotland's news output on BBC One - including Reporting Scotland - will remain the same, while Gaelic channel BBC Alba will have its budget increased by £1.2m to £20m.

The announcement came after pressure on the BBC to establish a "Scottish Six" news bulletin - an hour-long programme which would replace both the current UK-wide news programme at 6pm and Reporting Scotland, which goes on air immediately afterwards.

Lord Hall told MSPs that putting the new flagship news bulletin out at 9pm, when there are no other news programmes broadcast, would allow producers in Scotland to draw on the global resources of the BBC.

He added: "I think the BBC is a team and I very much want Donalda to draw on the resources of the whole BBC, behind BBC Scotland the channel and all the things we do.

"I know that we can put the entire resources, journalist resources, global as well as UK, behind a news at nine o'clock for an hour.

"Talking to the teams yesterday, I think they can do something which is really new and fresh, using all the resources of BBC, which I think could teach a few lessons to news broadcasters around the world. I'm really excited by that proposition."

Committee convener and SNP MSP Joan McAlpine questioned the amount of resources being put behind the new channel, telling the BBC chiefs: "You spent £60m for example, commissioning Match of the Day rights, so £30m doesn't go that far."

Image caption,
Reporting Scotland will continue to be broadcast at 18:30 on BBC One

Ms McAlpine went on to state that currently only 55% of the licence-fee cash raised in Scotland is spent in the country and while this will rise as a result of additional cash, she said it was "still a long way behind Northern Ireland at 75% and Wales at 95%"

She asked: "Are we going to get to a position where Scotland has parity with those other nations in the UK?"

Lord Hall conceded 2015-16 was "not a good year" for the proportion of licence-fee money spent in Scotland, but said that would rise to 68% with the new channel.

He said: "We're moving and we're shifting, and I think the challenge now to BBC Scotland and ourselves is to see whether in terms of the network spending we can do more than we are currently committing to do.

"That depends on good ideas, that depends on winning commissions."

Image source, Getty Images

The new channel has been broadly welcomed by the Scottish government, which had been leading calls for a Scottish Six alongside greater BBC investment in Scotland and for BBC Scotland to have greater control over its budgets and commissioning.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that Lord Hall's announcement was "progress and hopefully a sign of new thinking" - but added it was "disappointing" there would be no Scottish Six.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said it was vital that the new BBC Scotland channel had "complete commission and editorial independence, and is provided with the funding needed to match ambition".

The BBC argues that the Six O'Clock News and Reporting Scotland both perform well in Scotland, but that the 21:00 slot on the new channel would offer the audience choice and quality, as well as comprehensive reporting of the news from a Scottish perspective.

The proposals will be subject to approval by the BBC's new unitary board and possibly by Ofcom.

The announcement on Scottish funding followed the BBC saying an extra £8.5m a year would be spent on programmes made in Wales. Plans for Northern Ireland will be announced shortly.