Committee chairman Edward Leigh said the first value for money review by NAO chief Sir John Bourn – which examined Freeview, the BBC’s digital service – ‘clearly demonstrates the value of independent scrutiny’. But he continued: ‘It is not acceptable that the C&AG still does not have full rights of access to the BBC.’
He described the latest NAO report as ‘a step in the right direction’, but added that the watchdog should have a free hand in selecting subjects for scrutiny within the BBC, and a right to report to parliament as it saw fit.
‘Subjecting value for money in the BBC to full independent scrutiny would in no way undermine the BBC’s independence from government.’ Leigh said.
‘Our aim is not to rewrite the storyline of EastEnders, but simply to ensure that the BBC is as accountable to parliament as any other organisation spending public money.’
‘Regarding Freeview, we found that overall, the BBC’s investment has ensured an impressive four million viewers of the service,’ he added.
Under current arrangements, introduced after a campaign for access in 2003, Bourn has to agree the subjects for review to the BBC governors’ audit committee. The NAO is then obliged to report in the first instance to the audit committee rather than directly to parliament.
Leigh reiterated that he should be able to scrutinise how the BBC’s revenue of over £2bn is used.
The BBC launched Freeview after ITV Digital went into administration in 2002. It costs the BBC £7 per digital terrestrial household.
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