Public Accounts Committee: Press Notice

The BBC’s management of risk

Publication of the Committee’s 66th Report, Session 2006-07

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

“From the very real threats to the lives of its correspondents in war zones, to the dangers to its reputation of failing to deal fairly with its viewers and listeners, the BBC faces a multiplicity of risks. But the Corporation and its managers at all levels are simply not doing enough to manage and anticipate those risks. This point was richly demonstrated in the case of the Blue Peter and other phone-in scandals.

“One key risk is that of failing to secure value for money for the licence fee-payer. The BBC’s management of that risk would undoubtedly be much the stronger if the NAO were given the same independent rights of access to the Corporation as it enjoys to other bodies funded by the public.”

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 66th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the BBC, examined its management of risk, including its risk reporting, training, and embedding of risk management within the organisation.

The BBC faces a wide variety of risks, ranging from reputation risks associated with its broadcast output to the safety of staff deployed to potentially dangerous parts of the world. The management of key operating risks, and detailed risk management processes, is the responsibility of the BBC’s Executive Board, while the BBC Trust is responsible for oversight of how the Executive Board discharges its responsibilities.

The BBC had identified 850 individual risks, but nearly a third of these risks had not been assigned to named owners. With nearly 300 risks having been reported to the BBC’s Executive Board, senior management were faced with a large volume of risk information, and there was no read across between the top risk themes they had identified and the objectives they had been set.

Among BBC staff with risk management responsibilities, who had been surveyed by the National Audit Office, 29% had never looked at the BBC’s guidance; 39% thought the importance of risk management had not been promoted or did not know who was responsible for promoting it; and 37% had expressed concerns about the adequacy of risk management training.

One risk for the BBC is the safety of its employees, as demonstrated at the time of the hearing by the abduction of Alan Johnston, the BBC’s Gaza correspondent. The Committee was pleased to learn of Mr Johnston’s subsequent release.

One of the main aims of the BBC’s risk management processes was to integrate risk management into planning and decision-making. But the extent to which risk management was embedded across the BBC was patchy, even in areas such as compliance with BBC editorial standards, for example the well publicised problems in the handling of telephone call-ins to Blue Peter and other programmes, where the BBC had considered risk management to be well embedded.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has provided the BBC and Parliament with a series of reports which have highlighted risks to the BBC achieving value for money. As the BBC Trust, however, has the final say on what the Comptroller and Auditor General can examine, there is still no fully satisfactory regime under which the BBC is accountable to Parliament for the value for money with which it spends licence fee payers’ money.