BBC Scotland (Budget Reductions)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 19 June 2013.

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Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

4. To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with BBC Scotland regarding the impact of reductions in its budget. (S4O-02275)

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The First Minister and I continue to have serious concerns regarding the impact of reductions in the BBC Scotland budget, and we have repeatedly made that clear to the BBC. Our concern is shared by parties across this Parliament as demonstrated by the unanimous report of the Education and Culture Committee on broadcasting published on 9 May 2013.

On 1 May, First Minister met the new director general of the BBC, Lord Hall, and raised concerns regarding the impact of the budget cuts. The discussions were positive, and I look forward to the dialogue continuing. In particular, I welcome the BBC’s announcement on 21 May of a new £5 million investment package that will help to create a wide range of new content for Scottish audiences in the run-up to next year’s independence referendum. It also confirmed that further investment will follow for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

Is the Government satisfied that BBC Scotland is currently sufficiently staffed to gather news in rural areas around Dundee, the north-east, the Highlands and Islands, Dumfries and Selkirk? What, if any, assurance has the cabinet secretary or the First Minister received from BBC Scotland about the provision of regional radio news bulletins to such areas following the planned digital switchover?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

On the first question, no, I am not satisfied. I also share the concerns expressed in the Education and Culture Committee report. Paragraph 37 says:

“When asked about the current level of local news reporting in Scotland, Mr Thompson”— the previous director general of the BBC—

“acknowledged that insufficient coverage of different regions of Scotland was a concern expressed to the BBC by the public in Scotland.”

Paragraph 41 says:

“We note Mr Thompson’s comments in response to insufficient coverage of different regions of Scotland. We would welcome an update from the BBC on the detail of its plans to ensure that coverage of different regions in Scotland is improved.”

I concur with that all-party report.

In relation to the digitalisation question, the UK Government has not, as yet, made any decision on the digital radio switchover, which might have a knock-on impact on some of the points in the second part of the member’s question.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Is the cabinet secretary aware of the rumour that the latest victim of the cuts at BBC Scotland is the well-respected and experienced journalist Derek Bateman? What is the cabinet secretary’s view of BBC Scotland saying that it will provide full in-depth programming in the run-up to the 2014 referendum while at the same time getting rid of experienced and knowledgeable broadcast journalists from its staff?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

It would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to intervene in the operational and editorial decisions of broadcasters, including the BBC, or in specific human resource decisions. I welcome the £5 million investment by the BBC in relation to the referendum. However, it would be unfortunate if the BBC lost expertise at the precise moment when the country and, indeed, the world need to hear our story.