Government reform of the BBC will ignore repeated calls for the National Audit Office to undertake a full review of its accounts. A greater level of public scrutiny, however, is still on the cards.
The green paper on proposed changes to the broadcasting giant’s structure, unveiled by culture secretary Tessa Jowell last week, hinted that the government would look at offering increased access to the NAO.
A move to allow the parliamentary body to perform a full audit of the corporation’s accounts, however, may be scuppered, despite repeated calls demanding greater accountability for the spending of public money.
The government is concerned that the public would react negatively to any large increase in parliamentary powers over the BBC, so soon after its battle with the corporation over the Dr David Kelly affair.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the area of financial accountability was ‘a very green area’, with much work to be done before a white paper could emerge at the end of the year.
But he warned that government-commissioned research found that just 4% of the public wanted greater parliamentary involvement in the BBC’s financial affairs.
These figures have not convinced Edward Leigh, chairman of the Common’s Public Accounts Committee. Having previously called for the NAO to be given full and permanent access to the BBC’s accounts, he hit out at the government for not expanding its powers in the current charter review.
‘Is it not a fact that the World Service has been subject to parliamentary scrutiny for years without any threat to editorial independence,’ asked Leigh during a Commons debate on the issue. He added that the BBC had ‘consistently resisted parliamentary scrutiny of nearly £3bn of public spending’.
Tessa Jowell responded that the government was waiting to see how new arrangements between the BBC and NAO worked before deciding on further action.
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