COMMONS

Chairman welcomes FCO's announcement on the World Service

22 June 2011

The Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Richard Ottaway MP, today welcomed the Foreign Secretary's statement that extra funding has been found to maintain the current level of investment in the BBC Arabic service and sustain the shortwave service of BBC Hindi.

Mr Ottaway said that the statement highlighted the work and influence of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

FCO commitment

The Foreign Secretary’s statement commits the FCO to providing £2.2 million per annum to “maintain the current level of investment in the Arabic Service” and allows the World Service to allocate some of the estimated £9 million over three years made available as a result of a lower than-expected contribution to the BBC’s pension deficit, towards “sustaining the Hindi shortwave service”. The FCO has further taken on board some of the Committee’s recommendations regarding the future management structure of the World Service once funding responsibility for the World Service transfers from the FCO to the BBC.

Mr Ottaway said:

"Both of these substantial changes to policy are welcome news. This outcome shows the importance of Parliamentary scrutiny and my Committee have been at the forefront of Parliamentary efforts, which have been supported across the House of Commons, to reverse some of the more damaging cuts to the World Service.

While this news is welcome, it does not meet all of my Committee’s recommendations and this extra money only represents a fraction of the overall £42 million cut to the World Service budget. We are pleased that the vital BBC Arabic and Hindi services have been maintained, but we remain concerned about the net reductions to service.

Recent events have further highlighted the importance of the BBC Arabic service and it is vital that this service is maintained. At the same time, my Committee considered it a folly to close the BBC Hindi service while it attracted over 10 million listeners."

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’. The Committee expressed particular concern about the proposed cuts to the Arabic, Hindi and Mandarin services. 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.

Image: PA

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