The Chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Richard Ottaway MP, on Monday welcomed the statement by Lord Patten, new Chair of the BBC Trust, that he was hopeful of reducing the impact of recently announced budget cuts at the BBC World Service. Mr Ottaway said that Lord Patten’s statement demonstrated the influence of the Foreign Affairs Committee in calling for the cuts to be reversed.
In an interview on Sunday (12 June), Lord Patten said that the World Service was “an institution to be proud of” and that he hoped to work with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to reduce the impact of the budget cuts. Lord Patten said that he hoped to be able to protect the World Service’s Arabic Service in particular.
Mr Ottaway said: “I’m very pleased to hear that Lord Patten recognises the extraordinary value to the UK of the BBC World Service, and that he plans to take up its cause with the Foreign Secretary. I’m particularly pleased that Lord Patten plans to prioritise the Arabic Service, at a time when the need for it couldn’t be more evident or more important. My Committee said that the Arabic Service should receive priority treatment. My Committee has found support across the House of Commons in calling for the World Service to be protected from spending cuts, and I look forward to hearing the outcome of Lord Patten’s efforts”.
At the end of January, the BBC World Service announced sweeping cuts to staff and services in order to cope with a 16% reduction in its funding by 2014-15. In a report in April, the Foreign Affairs Committee called for the cuts to be reversed and for funding for the World Service to be ring-fenced, in reflection of its disproportionate value to the UK as a source of ‘soft power’. On 19 May, the House of Commons endorsed a motion instigated by Mr Ottaway inviting the Government to review its 16% spending cut decision on the World Service.
From 2014-15, responsibility for funding the BBC World Service will transfer from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the BBC.