Foreign Secretary William Hague updated Parliament on changes to the BBC World Service, including the closure of 5 language services and the opening of new services in priority areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa.
In a written statement, the Foreign Secretary said:
I can inform the House that I have reached agreement with the BBC Trust on the strategic priorities for the BBC World Service for the period 2011-2014. We have been engaged in close discussion with the BBC in the period leading up to and following the 2010 Spending Review (SR10).
As the House is aware, the context for the Spending Review was the fiscal legacy left by the previous administration. We agreed total expenditure limits of £253m/£242m/£238m over the first 3 years of the SR10 period. This represents a 16% cut in real terms. The FCO has provided a settlement that keeps the BBCWS’ proportion of the FCO family’s overall budget at or above its 2007-8 level through to 2013-14.
This settlement required difficult decisions to be made, and we agreed with the BBC that the overall objective was to ensure the World Service should remain an articulate and powerful voice for Britain in the world, and a trusted provider of impartial and independent news.
Under the terms of the Broadcasting Agreement between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the BBC World Service, no foreign language services can be opened or closed without my written authority. As part of the BBC World Service’s strategy, I have therefore approved the BBC Trust’s proposal to close five language services: Albanian, Macedonian, Serbian, Portuguese for Africa and English for the Caribbean. I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses copies of my correspondence with Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust, confirming this. 3.5 million people currently listen to the services that will be closed. The total World Service audience is 180 million.
The BBC World Service has also made strenuous efforts to find efficiency savings and drive down non-editorial costs, and will also be able to make savings from their move to Broadcasting House in 2012.
The BBC World Service asked for funds to help them with the additional contribution necessary for the deficit in the BBC pension funds. In the settlement, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were able to provide them with £13m per annum to help them with these extra costs. I have also exceptionally agreed that if the additional contributions are less than the £13m which the World Service have estimated, then the World Service can use the remaining funds for other purposes.
We are also providing an extra £10m per annum for new services in markets that we and the BBC World Service have identified as priorities. These proposals include TV programming in Urdu, in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Hindi to be provided to local partners. We have also guaranteed the capital for the move of the World Service to their new offices in West One.
These savings, together with the other changes the BBC World Service have announced today, should enable the World Service to prioritise their efforts away from shrinking markets and platforms (where there are developing local broadcasters, or short-wave audiences are falling) to growing markets.
The BBC World Service has an unparalleled international reputation. This Government is committed to supporting the BBC World Service, and ensuring it continues to retain its global influence and reach in a rapidly changing world.