Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne has thrown himself behind the Commons
Public Accents Committee’s campaign for the National Audit Office to have
unfettered access to the BBC’s accounts on the ground that its licence fee has
been officially classified as a tax.
Speaking at a symposium in London marking 150 years since the formation of
the committee, he said the BBC’s account should be subject to the same oversight
as other publicly-funded bodies.
Under current rules, the NAO conducts a limited number of value-for-money
audits on aspects of the BBC’s operations by agreement with the BBC Trust.
The BBC has consistently argued it is not publicly funded but paid for by
licence fee payers and its independence would be infringed by NAO oversight.
But Osborne said: ‘Given that the licence fee has now been classified as a
tax by theOffice of National Statistics, it is certainly clear to me that
greater financial oversight and scrutiny of the BBC is needed.
‘This would not only be in the interests of licence fee payers. The BBC too
would benefit from external advice on how to achieve value for money.’
Osborne said: ‘I think it’s time for the BBC to open its books to the
National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.’
The government conceded limited access by agreement only when it transformed
the BBC into a trust and refused demands for it to go further.
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