The BBC World Service has used savings generated since 2010 to invest in new digital and television services, and has successfully reduced its expenditure at a lower cost than expected, according to todays’ report from the National Audit Office. There is, however, scope to improve the approach to target setting and performance reporting.
The BBC World Service is an international broadcasting service that provides radio, television and online services in 29 languages. Since 2010, it has invested in new digital and television services, integrated its services more closely with the rest of the BBC, and in doing so, delivered efficiencies, and achieved an estimated audience of 246 million in 2015-16. In managing its transformation, the Service has closed five language services, opened one new one, and broadened the range of platforms it uses to reach its audience.
The NAO’s analysis of financial data indicates that, by 2014-15, the Service had reduced its annual expenditure by £46.8 million, compared to a baseline set in December 2010. The one-off implementation costs have been lower than expected as the Service has made fewer staff redundant than planned.
The NAO finds that the Service’s targets for audience size for a three-year period to 2016-17, set by the BBC Trust and Foreign & Commonwealth Office, were set at or below the Service’s forecast levels, and two of three were achieved in the first year. Despite this, they were not formally reviewed. Among the NAO’s recommendations is that the BBC Trust and FCO should provide for an arrangement to review targets.
The NAO finds that the Service has made a proportionate attempt to estimate the size of its audience, but could be clearer about the methods and uncertainty associated with the two key approaches it uses – on audience size and satisfaction – to report on its performance, and report publicly on a broader range of measures, and in more depth. The Service has reported that it has met its targets on audience satisfaction, but this is based on data for BBC News as a whole as the BBC considers that its overseas audiences do not distinguish between its different overseas brands. As the BBC continues to integrate its news services, it will become increasingly challenging for it to identify the performance of specific services.
Today’s report also finds that when the World Service has recommended language services for opening or closure, it is not clear how it has taken cost-effectiveness into account, despite this being one of the stated criteria it uses for this purpose.
"Last year, the World Service reached, on average, 246 million people around the world each week with impartial and independent news and current affairs. This follows a period of sustained cost cutting, increased competition from other broadcasters and a shift in the Service’s focus from radio towards a broader range of content across TV, radio, and online. This is a remarkable achievement and I am pleased that in their report today the NAO recognise that the Service has delivered Value for Money."
Nick Prettejohn, Chair of the BBC Trust’s Value for Money Committee, 28 June 2016
"The BBC World Service has successfully delivered much of what it set out to do in 2010, and has achieved value for money.
With its core funding protected as part of the Government’s White Paper on the future of the BBC, the Service now faces the new challenge of optimising the additional funding of £289m it will receive over the next four years.
The processes for setting its targets should encourage greater ambition, and the Service should look to report a broader range of performance information to give licence fee payers the confidence that it will continue to deliver value for money."Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office