The BBC has strengthened its approach to managing its finances but should improve its financial reporting systems, according to a report by the National Audit Office (the NAO) for the BBC Trust published today. This is to ensure the BBC can monitor more frequently how its spending aligns with its strategic and editorial priorities.
The NAO’s findings included the following:
- The BBC has successfully challenged its costs through a series of efficiency programmes. However, limitations in its financial systems mean that financial reporting is slow and resource intensive and that the BBC cannot easily monitor what it is spending against its strategic and editorial priorities, which will become more critical as resources become squeezed.
- Following recommendations in previous NAO reports, the BBC has begun to benchmark its costs, both internally and with other organizations, but it is not clear that the results of benchmarking have so far influenced the BBC’s cost reduction plans.
- The BBC is making more effective use of the skills and independence of its non-executive directors to help it scrutinize and challenge major financial decisions, following concerns raised previously by the Public Accounts Committee that the BBC did not subject spending decisions to sufficient challenge.
- When comparing annual results against forecasts, the BBC has underspent against its forecast by at least 3 per cent in each of the last four years. The NAO notes that some level of underspend may be prudent; however, there needs to be close scrutiny to ensure that the BBC is clear about how much resource could be available for reallocation.
The NAO also recommends that the BBC Trust and Ofcom work together to explore the scope for coordinating the information they require the BBC to report to them, as current separate reporting arrangements and timescales take up resources that could be better used elsewhere.
In its response to the NAO report, also published today, the BBC Executive has committed to further improving the integration of its financial and performance reporting. The Executive is already upgrading its financial systems over the next eighteen months, to produce simpler, more standardised reports.
The Trust is satisfied that the actions the Executive has set out are appropriate. In its response to the NAO’s report, it has said:
- The Trust welcomes the NAO’s overall conclusion that the BBC’s approach to financial management provides effective support in delivering value for money for the BBC. We also welcome the NAO’s finding that the BBC has established strong governance arrangements and there is effective challenge at senior levels, including from the Trust and non-executive directors.
- The Trust will closely monitor the implementation of improvements to the BBC’s financial reporting arrangements, and will challenge the Executive to go even further in some areas such as the quality of information available to senior managers.
- While the Trust requires specific financial and performance information from the Executive as part of its role to scrutinise the BBC’s performance on behalf of licence fee payers, it will work with Ofcom to identify whether there are opportunities to co-ordinate the financial information that each body requires from the BBC.
- The Trust will ask the Executive to report back on the progress against the actions agreed in response to today’s report.