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Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, January 18, 2024


BBC Annual Report

The Convener

Our second agenda item is our annual evidence session on the annual report of the BBC, which has a firm place in the committee’s calendar. We are delighted to be joined by Steve Carson, director, and Louise Thornton, head of commissioning, both from BBC Scotland, and by Alan Dickson, chief financial officer at the BBC. I welcome them all warmly and invite Mr Carson to make a brief opening statement.

Steve Carson (BBC Scotland)

It is a pleasure to be here, before the Scottish Parliament’s committee with responsibility for culture, and I am delighted to have alongside me the BBC’s chief financial officer, Alan Dickson, and the head of commissioning for BBC Scotland, Louise Thornton.

The year under review in the BBC’s annual report and accounts, as laid before the Scottish Parliament, runs from April 2022 to March 2023. That period included the death of Her Majesty the Queen at Balmoral, when BBC Scotland’s teams were central to the coverage of events for our audiences at home and around the world.

During the time under review, we delivered high-impact content, including the powerful drama “Mayflies” and the creative documentary account of Brandon Lee’s story in “My Old School”, both of which went on to win awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. We invested in content from across Scotland, including the drama series “Granite Harbour”, which was based in the north-east, and “An Clò Mòr”, a Gaelic-language family drama set in the Harris tweed industry, series 2 of which started this week on BBC Alba.

I would like to mention a few highlights that are beyond the scope of the time period covered by this annual report but that may be covered in our next annual report and accounts. The BBC’s “Across the UK” strategy has seen an increase in network commissions and co-commissions, through Louise Thornton, including “Shetland”, with the successful introduction of a new lead; “Vigil”; and “The Traitors”, which was the biggest new series for young audiences across all BBC titles last year—as you know, its second series is currently on air.

Radio 1’s “Big Weekend” came from Dundee in May. According to Dundee City Council, its estimated economic impact on the local economy was £3.7 million, which does not include the BBC spend or employment at the event. Audiences in Scotland responded very positively both in person at the event and through listening and viewing, as we know from iPlayer figures.

Other key moments included the hosting of the UCI cycling world championships in August, which was one of the biggest events that Scotland has ever staged. BBC Scotland was the media hub for global coverage.

Our news teams produced live online coverage for all BBC outlets when we were hit by storm Babet, in October. Since then, of course, there have been several storms.

It also feels appropriate to note the regeneration of one Scottish Dr Who into another Scottish Dr Who in what was the 60th anniversary year of the world’s longest-running science fiction show.

Throughout 2023, we celebrated the centenary of the BBC in Scotland: last March, we marked 100 years since the first broadcast from Glasgow; we marked the first broadcast from Aberdeen; and, last December—showing our long-term commitment to the language—we marked the first broadcast in Gaelic. This year, we will celebrate the centenaries of BBC learning and education, as well as our first broadcasts from Edinburgh and Dundee.

We know just how central our partnership with Screen Scotland is to growing the creative economy. That includes shared training and development initiatives and joint investment in content on titles such as “Guilt” and “Granite Harbour”. Screen Scotland’s recent assessment of the economic value of the screen sector in Scotland noted that the BBC’s content spend on TV production in Scotland represented fully three quarters of all public service broadcaster expenditure here during the year that was surveyed.

However, there is no doubt that we are operating under tight financial conditions. Since 2010, the BBC’s income has reduced in real terms by more than 30 per cent, and, as every household and every business does, we face the inflationary pressures of rising costs.

We share with members of the committee the common purpose of public service. For us, that means continuing to evolve and adapt our output, supporting the creative sector to make and deliver content in ways in which, and on platforms on which, our audience want to consume it. All of that is set against a competitive and changing media landscape.

We know that the licence fee is a privilege. That unique funding model ensures that we create BBC Bitesize content that is bespoke to Scotland’s curriculum; Gaelic services for speakers and new learners; our all-important news, weather and travel information for Scotland; new dramas that are filmed here as part of Scotland’s vibrant creative sector; support and coverage of a wide range of music genres in Scotland; and broad coverage of Scottish sport, through which we can look forward to following Scottish athletes at the Paris Olympics and the men’s football team at the Euros this summer.

We can share more with you, I hope. Louise Thornton, Alan Dickson and I look forward to discussing the annual report and accounts, and associated matters, with the committee this morning.

The Convener

Thank you for that introduction—and for allowing me to host a showing of “Dr Who” at Christmas time at the Parliament on behalf of the BBC. It was enjoyed by all who attended.

I will open with a dive into some of the financial figures in the report. On page 9 of our papers, there is a breakdown of spend as a percentage of fee income by country. I find it difficult to understand. Is there a global—United Kingdom—strategic spend that Scotland contributes to? In addition, the figures that are given are percentages, which is helpful, but it would be good to have an idea of the magnitude of the figures, in real terms, for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I would also like to know how you have got to a spend of 111 per cent.

Alan Dickson (BBC)

I will start by offering a few comments, after which I will ask Steve Carson to pitch in.

We are proud of the fact that it is a record year for BBC spend in Scotland: £262 million, against last year’s figure of £241 million. That is an increase of £21 million.

The percentage spend of licence fee income in Scotland is now 86 per cent, which is up from 77 per cent last year—an increase of 9 percentage points. We are really proud of that. What that represents from a BBC executive perspective is Steve Carson and Louise Thornton not just spending more on local services and content for audiences specifically in Scotland but working with our network commissioners to deliver more growth. In fact, that is the largest number behind that increase—it is about £15 million.

Of course, that feeds into the BBC’s total income. Last year, that was a record of £5.7 billion: £3.7 billion from the licence fee but also £2 billion from our commercial business. Scotland is an important part in that number.

With regard to the question of raising that income even further, I would like to make two points. One is that there is a lovely tendency when you look at an annual review to think that everything is static from one year to the next. Of course, everyone on this committee knows that that has not been the case, given the economy and the inflation that we have faced. In fact, the annual accounts year that we are looking at is the first year of the licence fee freeze. We estimated that that would be a funding pressure of £285 million. In reality, with higher inflation, the figure is more than £400 million, so there is significant pressure.

Therefore, we are actually really proud to see that growth from Scotland, because the savings that we have had to make are not the same for every division across the BBC. Pushing that further means continuing the great partnership with network colleagues to see whether more drama or other content can be produced from Scotland.

The last thing to say is that, because of the economy of the BBC, it is important to note that viewers and listeners—all our audience in Scotland—enjoy content that is not represented in those numbers, such as “EastEnders” and major sporting events such as the Olympics and world cups, which do not contribute towards Scotland’s spend. Scottish audiences really value those things. Sitting even above that, of course, the licence fee has to pay for the World Service, which costs £250 million.

Therefore, there are real ambitions—and a strategy across the UK, which Steve Carson might want to talk about—to go further, but against that backdrop. That is why the numbers in the annual accounts are particularly impressive.

Thank you for that. Wales and Northern Ireland are sitting at 111 per cent. Does that additional investment come from a UK pot of money?

Alan Dickson

Again, it will be a mixture of those two factors of how many network commissions are going through Wales and Northern Ireland and the local content. The infrastructure is also different in Wales and Northern Ireland, where you need fixed costs to be able to broadcast. Those areas have lower populations. You cannot pare back the investment in terms of the ambition, but we note those figures. We are constantly interested in the differences in the strategy with regard to how we might be able to improve the figures, and the strategy “The BBC Across the UK: the BBC 2022-2027” should definitely help us there.

Steve Carson

I will put a little more flesh on the bones of those numbers. On that metric that is published in the annual report and accounts of licence fee raised and spent in each nation, the direction of travel in Scotland is that it is growing strongly year by year. The figure in this annual report and accounts is 87 per cent of licence fee raised and spent. As Alan Dickson said, Scottish licence fee payers also contribute to the numbers for global news gathering and global sporting events.

However, the context is that, in cash terms, between 2021 and this annual report, Scotland has received an additional £54 million-worth of content and investment. As Alan said, that is good going and against the trend compared to other parts of the BBC. For context, in the not-so-distant past, the licence fee raised and spent figure was in the mid-50s. We are coming to the end of this financial year and we are confident that we can show that trend growing further in the next annual report and accounts.

That is helpful. Thank you very much. We will move to questions from colleagues, and I will bring in Keith Brown first.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

The total expenditure in the UK is around £6 billion, more than a third of which is raised from sources other than the licence fee. What is the equivalent figure for Scotland for money raised from sources other than the licence fee?

Alan Dickson

Steve Carson or Louise Thornton might want to talk about that. The commercial side of the business, which is growing—it has surpassed £2 billion for the very first time—might include things such as “Strictly Come Dancing” being rebadged as “Dancing with the Stars” and being sold across the world. It might include income generated through UKTV. The commercial side of the business is a rich seam and a growing business, and it also produces and has bases in Scotland. Louise or Steve might want to talk about that.


Steve Carson

BBC Scotland is clearly funded by the licence fee and is on the public service side of the BBC. Within that, we have several mechanisms for bringing in income. The Scottish symphony orchestra, which I am proud to say is an integral part of BBC Scotland, can make some revenue from ticket sales—it has a strong focus on bringing in young audiences, which it has done successfully—as well as from recordings.

Some income can come in through the licence fee-funded side. However, one of the ways in which we, in BBC Scotland, can bring inward investment into Scotland is by partnering with other broadcasters and other parts of the BBC. Louise Thornton has been particularly focused on that. It is what we call co-commissioning. We put our investment together with that of another broadcaster or another part of the BBC. Creatively and economically, that is a strong story for Scotland. Louise Thornton can comment on it.

Louise Thornton (BBC Scotland)

The way in which my commissioning team is set up is that each commissioner looks after a certain genre and we have point-to-point relationships with the genres within the network. For example, when we work with our comedy colleagues to develop a new comedy series, we put in 50 per cent of the budget and they put in 50 per cent. From that, we generate income into BBC Scotland.

Beyond that co-commissioning partnership, we are working closely with our colleagues in our commercial and business affairs team to look at where the BBC-owned intellectual property can generate more income. For example, a growth market is within podcasts. You might have seen a trend for podcasts being optioned for drama series. When we create brilliant podcasts through our in-house production team, we are actively considering how we can leverage more income back into the BBC from those titles.

Alan Dickson

It is true to say that a relatively small percentage of the £2 billion commercial income that the BBC generates is derived from Scotland.

Keith Brown

I expect that it is, but, for the committee, in trying to come to an idea about the fairness of the apportionment of funds, it is an important figure. If it is not possible for you to give it just now, it would be useful to have it subsequently.

In my experience, there has never been a time when there has been such widespread concern about the output of the BBC and other broadcasters. Increasing numbers of people, including young people, are not paying their licence fee. It is not just young people—I am thinking about my mum. That is bound to have an impact. Part of the issue is related to what those people perceive to be the nature of the BBC’s current affairs output. This week, we have seen reference to the fact that the BBC’s “The Nine” programme could have as few as 200 viewers. I do not know whether that is true, but it has certainly been reported on social media. There are real concerns about that. In recent times, the director general of the BBC attended a meeting of Conservative MPs at Westminster. Can we, in this Parliament, expect a similar kind of courtesy from the director general? Is it possible to have direct communication with him to raise some of those concerns?

Alan Dickson

Previous directors general have appeared before the committee, Mr Brown, so I imagine that—

It was not so much about the committee. The meeting that happened at Westminster was for a particular political party. Is that courtesy extended to all parties?

Alan Dickson

I am sure that the director general would be open to communication. If there are any issues or concerns to put to him, I am sure that he would respond accordingly.

Keith Brown

I will make one last point. The table that we have says that the spend as a percentage of the licence fee collected is 86 per cent. You referred to that figure. You also mentioned the fixed costs for nation-based organisations, about which the committee heard previously when it asked about Wales. If the nations are smaller, the spend gets to be larger. Given that there is a premium, if you like, to deliver services in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the 86 per cent figure seems quite small. It is less than 100 per cent of the licence fee collected and includes the premium that you have to pay. Is that a matter of concern and are you looking to address it?

Alan Dickson

No. First and foremost, we always look at our approach and strategy to address the need to serve audiences across the UK, particularly in Scotland, as well as we can.

At the top level, we have launched what is called the across the UK strategy, which, even in its early stages, is helping to support record growth. There are three aims behind the strategy. One is to transfer £700 million out of London to other parts of the UK between 2021 and 2028. That was not a financial or economic decision—we want to reflect the diversity of voice and the authenticity of all communities across Scotland and the UK. That is one thing that we want to do.

We also think that it is right to move the licence fee spend outside London. Everyone pays it in every part of the UK, so we think that that is important.

The final point is that we want people to be able to grow, nurture and develop their talent without having to move to London or anywhere else. We see the investment in creating vibrant hubs where people can have a career.

Steve Carson might want to say more.

Steve Carson

There are a few things to unpack in your question, Mr Brown. On the licence fee raised and spent, we would all agree that if every nation spent 100 per cent of the licence fee raised in nation, there would be no foreign news gathering bureaux and so on. The important thing is that the direction of travel in Scotland is that we are growing significantly year by year. That has been hard won; there has been confident investment from the wider across the UK strategy, and it also reflects the successful content that has been created with existing investment.

Structurally, Wales and Northern Ireland are smaller nations than Scotland. The cost of news provision for 6.30 bulletins this year is common to all nations. It costs roughly the same to do them in Wales and Northern Ireland, but it is more expensive in Scotland, as it is a larger country. The cost is spread among a smaller licence fee base in Wales and Northern Ireland, which is why the figure has historically been higher there. Going back not too many years, Scotland’s raised spend percentage figure was in the 50s. It is now in the 80s, and it is set to go above that.

Mr Brown, you also touched on coverage of the performance of our news programmes that has been in the press recently—specifically, the figure of 200 viewers of an episode of “The Seven” one Sunday evening. I think that all here would agree that we should not look at any show in isolation, whether by pulling out a single bulletin on a Sunday evening or even looking at an entire service, such as a news service on a channel or even TV news as a whole. We should not look at them in isolation from what they are, which is part of an integrated news division that operates across TV, radio, online and social media.

Quoting figures such as 200 viewers in isolation does not represent the actual performance of those titles. Audiences vary from show to show, but “The Nine” reaches more than 100,000 viewers every week and “The Seven” reaches more than 20,000 every week. On their own, they put news on the BBC Scotland channel ahead of any other news provider on digital TV in Scotland.

I am conscious that members have the Ofcom report “Media Nations” in their papers. That report from our regulator shows that, on its own, the channel is favoured by 10 per cent of the audience for news about Scotland. That is double the contribution of Sky News, and it is more than the main commercial radio stations put together. The channel makes a significant contribution to the news offer in Scotland on its own, but I would stress that it is not on its own. It is part of the BBC News Scotland portfolio—BBC One News, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Alba, BBC Radio nan Gàidheal and, crucially, news online—and it is included in the start of reinforcing our bases right around Scotland.

The situation is not static. We are always looking at the balance of resource across all our services, and we have seen significant shifts towards moving more of our BBC News Scotland resource into online and our bases, where we have seen strong growth. It is not a static process. The investment that has been made in the channel and “The Nine” is an investment in resource and an investment in people. That has now gone right through our schedule. People such as Martin Geissler, Laura Goodwin, David Wallace Lockhart and Rebecca Curran are all either new to or have been given opportunities with the channel, which is now part of our mainstream output.

The channel has always had a record of innovation and doing new things. We are proud of “The Sunday Show”, which was the first radio and TV simulcast using resources and some of the talent from the channel. That process continues, and we continue to innovate to make sure that we have the right balance of resources across our services to harness the power of them working together as audiences change.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Good morning, and thank you for your comments so far.

The record spend is very welcome and shows the commitment that is there. There have been some real successes, which you have touched on. Although audience satisfaction has proved to be good, there has been perceived to be some negativity in relation to how Scotland is portrayed by the BBC. That is an area for you to investigate and seek to make improvements in.

As you have said, you are having to compete to meet the demands of the modern viewer, whether younger or older, depending on what they are looking for. You must try to square that circle to ensure that you capture as many markets as you can. You are unquestionably achieving that in some areas, and I commend you for that, but there is the issue of how you manage to address the negativity.

You have mentioned the audience participation that is available with some programmes, and where you see the organisation going. I want to explore how you will cope as you look to the future. The BBC is unquestionably held in high regard; it has a certain status. However, you are competing with STV when it comes to local and regional news in Scotland and, in some ways, you are perhaps being overtaken.

It would be good to get a flavour of what you are trying to achieve and where you see the organisation going. What do you anticipate happening in the next year or two with regard to those areas that you need to command and control? Some of those areas are within your control and others are not.

Steve Carson

When it comes to the broader picture in relation to whether we are organised and have the right balance of resources across our services—TV, radio, online and social media—we constantly ensure that we are set up for future audience change. In that respect, I think that we are in advance of other broadcasters.

More than five years ago, BBC Scotland integrated into multiplatform commissioning and production, to use a slightly technical term. Louise Thornton commissions right across the genres. Our head of news is in charge of news operations right across the genres. From that point of view, we are in advance of other broadcasters.

With regard to future proofing, we are seeing really strong audience growth as a result of the investment that we have put into news online in Scotland, which has included investment in our bases around Scotland. Therefore, I think that we are set for the future. We are constantly making choices and decisions about how to make sure that we are on all services that our audiences want.

Our consumption figures remain high. Every week, nearly nine in 10 Scots turn to BBC programming in Scotland. Across a month, the position is nearly universal. On average, people spend more than seven hours a week with BBC TV and BBC radio in Scotland. People turn to us—consumption is strong. The proof of the pudding is that people turn to the BBC.

You are right in what you said about perception, which we keep a careful focus on. Our regulator and others such as the National Audit Office track how people perceive the BBC in Scotland. You are right to say that there are reports that show that people feel that Scotland is not portrayed as well as they would like. That is useful for us to know. However, other reports and surveys by the same regulator show a different picture. Last year, according to Ofcom’s annual report, 60 per cent of adults in Scotland had a positive impression of the BBC. The “Media Nations” report said that three quarters of audiences in Scotland were satisfied with BBC One; the figure was the same for the BBC Scotland channel.

The figures that relate to how Scotland is portrayed speak directly to the mission that BBC Scotland has always had. We are here to make sure that Scottish stories, places and lives are reflected to audiences in Scotland, and that we reflect Scotland to the rest of the UK and, crucially, to the rest of the world. We are not complacent when we see those figures; we know that we have work to do.

We look at that as a form of tracking. It also helps us to make the case for investment in Scotland—we have talked about the growth figures there. For a number of years, BBC Scotland’s mission has been to reflect Scotland, but it is now evident that that joins up with the wider BBC strategy across the UK. When we see figures about representation and portrayal, we focus closely on them, because they show why we need to keep up investment, to do more and to make sure that we are on all the platforms and services that our audience is on. We need to join together on that.

As I said, in recent years, we have seen historic levels of investment and historic levels of co-operation between BBC Scotland and the BBC content and BBC audio divisions. Across the UK, there has been direct investment in Scotland. A few weeks ago, I was with the BBC news network technology innovation team, which moved to Scotland just over a year ago. It is now expanding into America. It makes global content right here in Scotland. We recently announced the creation of a network BBC audio unit in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Big titles and new posts are moving here, and overall content spend is growing. That is driven, in part, by our mission: we must make sure that audiences in Scotland feel that they are represented.


Alexander Stewart

Your new concepts, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds, seem to be another way to capture people who come back to watch or listen to content at another time. That is an area that you are continuing to develop. Where do you see that new venture going for you?

Steve Carson

That is another reason why we are well set for the future. If we look back at the creation of the Scotland channel, it was always conceived as being what we call multiplatform. It had its own dedicated space on iPlayer. There is still a huge consumption of BBC Scotland titles on TV, but that is now shifting to iPlayer and BBC Sounds. I will hand over to Louise Thornton, who can give some examples.

Louise Thornton

That is absolutely the right question. We know that we are in a very competitive market, but we are also lucky to have a huge amount of tracking data, which tells us that the overall linear marketplace is in decline while the use of iPlayer, Sounds and other on-demand platforms is increasing. For example, about 6 per cent of our younger audience comes from linear BBC TV, whereas 23 per cent comes from iPlayer. You asked about catch-up, but live viewing on iPlayer is also increasing. We see that happening with sport and can track how many people are watching live sport on their phones through iPlayer.

When we commission, we think about our portfolio approach. We think increasingly less about whether something is an 8 o’clock show and more about what the iPlayer image will look like or how to get our shows positioned on the “new and trending” bar, which drives a lot of viewing. We want to work well enough across the BBC to ensure that Scottish content and portrayal are easy for audiences to find. Those are our two big challenges. We must make shows that feel big, confident and broad and attract lots of viewing and we must also ensure that we reach audiences with that content.

When I look at our performance, I am looking at the channel. I am really pleased that it is still the most watched digital channel in Scotland. Our reach is holding up and I am really pleased about that because it is still a fantastic shop window. We can see that we get audiences for live sport and comedy and that some of our big factual shows are still driving really healthy audiences. I also look at how our shows do on iPlayer, and our iPlayer growth has doubled in the past four years, which is brilliant. We are tracking upwards, which absolutely plays into the co-commissioning strategy that we have been talking about and our work with partners. We ensure that we have a strong digital marketing strategy for each programme.

That is the future for content and it is the same for audio. I have doubled our investment in podcasts. Sounds is a growth platform for us: we saw 30 per cent growth over the reporting period. Linear listening to Radio Scotland is holding up, which I am really pleased about because it shows that we still have a healthy linear listening habit in Scotland. Our discoverability on Sounds is key, as is having big, broad programmes that tell our stories and drive a lot of audience to hear our voice.

Steve Carson

I can give another example of our approach to working across services—one that shows how we are positioned in both places. You may be aware of a “Disclosure” investigation this week into obesity and weight loss. Our commissioning works across news and other platforms. The “Disclosure” investigative documentary on BBC One on Monday got around 100,000 viewers, according to overnight figures. That number will grow on iPlayer over the next seven and then 28 days. Online news articles based on the programme and written by the team attracted 1.5 million reads on the day, showing overall consumption across the portfolio.

Were those online articles being read on the news section of the BBC website?

Steve Carson

BBC News Scotland has its own home page and we have indexes for all parts of Scotland, but that is also available to audiences around the UK.

Thank you. Neil Bibby has some questions.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Good morning to the panel. You spoke earlier about growth online and of news online in particular. While that is welcome—that is how society is moving forward, using online and digital platforms—I have heard some concerns from local newspapers about the BBC increasingly duplicating their work covering local stories. No one is doubting that local stories will sometimes make national news, but I am talking about stories that would not otherwise be broadcast. There is concern, given that newspapers are really struggling at the moment. They are trying to secure subscriptions to boost their income and survive in what is a challenging environment and the increasing availability of free online content through the BBC is seen as a threat to their business. Do you accept that that coverage will inadvertently have an impact on local newspapers? Do you have any reflections on that?

I note that concern is expressed in the Ofcom report—to which you will say you are responding, no doubt—that viewers want to see more regional programmes. I wonder whether the balance is right there. If people want more regional content, perhaps that is about broadcast programmes, as opposed to online news content. I repeat the caveat that I made earlier, that local news will be national news on occasion, but it is a matter of getting the balance right to protect local newspapers while the BBC provides the service that you want it to provide.

Steve Carson

We are obviously aware of representations from newspaper editors right across the UK and Scotland, and we want to ensure that a positive social good is being provided, with a plurality of news gathering and news publication across Scotland. Indeed, Scotland has a long tradition of newspaper titles: it has more newspaper titles per capita than any other nation, going back a number of years. The BBC directly funds the local democracy reporting service, which provides licence fee funding to reporters who can work for local newspapers.

On the wider question, everyone in Scotland pays the licence fee, we have bases across Scotland and I—as director, working with the Scotland executive team and Gary Smith as head of news—want us to build and reinforce our ability to cover all of Scotland. Increasingly, that is done on radio and on TV. It would be wasteful to decide that we should not write up content as an online story, too. We are conscious, however, that, going way beyond the BBC, the newspaper industry is experiencing a lot of structural challenges, including issues around classified advertising, but we need to ensure that we reflect all parts of Scotland on TV, on radio and online.

We are aware of the issue and the local democracy reporting service represents one specific intervention. The fact that BBC News Scotland is the largest trainer and recruiter of journalists in Scotland helps, overall, to ensure that the pool of journalism from which newspapers can draw is sustained.

Neil Bibby

On the matter of responding to audiences, the “Ofcom Annual Report on the BBC 2022-23” found that

“Audiences from D and E socio-economic groups remain less satisfied with the BBC’s performance than those from other groups”.

Do you have any indication as to why that is the case? What is being done to address that?

Steve Carson

I will hand over to Louise Thornton in a moment, but that point relates to the BBC offer as a whole. I think that, within BBC Scotland, we have a stronger story to tell.

Louise Thornton

We take the point very seriously. The BBC Scotland channel has a C to D majority skew: 56 per cent of our audience are from working-class backgrounds, which is more than for any other BBC channel. We realise that we can add those viewers into the overall BBC portfolio. That plays into the strategy of ensuring that programmes get to as wide an audience as possible and that they are discoverable. The Scottish audience should feel that they are being heard and represented. We hear from our research that audiences really value it when they hear their voices and see the places where they live. Sport obviously does very well with that audience: that is a habitual audience for us and we continue to invest in that area.

Comedy is another area where we see a strong profile for the C to D audience. Our comedy investment is strong and we are working with the director of comedy, Jon Petrie, and his team to get bigger shows coming through. “Two Doors Down” is a fantastic example of a show where there is a strong profile among that audience. We can segment BBC Scotland programmes such as “Paramedics on Scene” and “The Ice Cream Wars”, and we can tell when we get that audience.

For us, it is about continuing to invest in those programmes and making sure that they are on the right platforms at the right times, while also making sure that the co-commissioning strategy is working and that we are doing more of those programmes where we really hear those voices.

Alan Dickson

That is a really good question, Mr Bibby. You can look at what appears on screen, but the issue also matters to us from a BBC group perspective. We are one of the few organisations that has set a socioeconomic target for the diversity of our workforce, which sits at 25 per cent. Currently, we are slightly below that, but we think that that target is really important in terms of making sure that our staff represent the audiences that they are there to serve. That KPI or target for Scotland tends to be slightly higher than that for the rest of the UK. Of course, what is happening on screen is important, but the BBC also takes that issue seriously in terms of the people who work for us and making sure that we reflect our audiences; that is really important to us.

Neil Bibby

There is one other point that I want to raise. It is not something that I have formally raised with the BBC before. It relates to Scottish content—specifically, to the coverage of the Scottish Parliament on the BBC Parliament channel from time to time, when the House of Commons is not sitting. I know that there is also coverage at weekends and so on, but it seems to me that we need more live coverage of proceedings in this Parliament—in both committees and the chamber—as and when they happen.

The BBC Parliament channel can show only one programme at a time, unless there is a red-button function, but we also have the BBC Scotland channel, which does not show any coverage during the day. I think that there is merit in looking at whether we can increase the coverage of proceedings in this Parliament to inform the people of Scotland about what is going on. I appreciate that you cover First Minister’s question time and various other things from time to time, and I welcome that. However, would you consider looking into how we can increase live coverage of Scottish Parliament proceedings in committees and the chamber, particularly when the BBC Scotland channel is there and does not currently have live content during the day?

Steve Carson

I will certainly take that point on board, arising from this committee appearance. As you say, we have extensive coverage of politics in Scotland across our outlets, including “Reporting Scotland”, and there are dedicated political correspondents based in this Parliament. You mentioned FMQs; I will also point out, for example, “The Sunday Show”, which is an example of innovation, bringing TV, radio, BBC Sounds and iPlayer together. “The Sunday Show” is in a prime slot on the main radio station, Radio Scotland, as well as on the main TV channel, BBC One.

We would just have to make sure that there would be an audience for live proceedings of the Parliament. The Scotland channel’s operating licence is, by and large, to start at 7 pm and that lies with our regulator. We can do a certain amount of programming before 7 pm, but if we were to go down the route of routinely, on a daily basis, broadcasting Scottish Parliament proceedings during the day, we would have to go back to the regulator and we would have to make sure that there was an audience for that.

Alan Dickson

Assuming that there was an audience and a demand, technology could be a help in terms of how we think about fixed channels and what it is now possible to live stream and have live intervention. The cost of doing that is coming down, so it is something that we are looking at across the whole of the BBC. If there were to be a discussion about broadcasting live proceedings, we would also look to see what technology or innovation was possible.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Good morning to the panel. I want to press you a bit more on the viewing figures of the various news programmes that Keith Brown referred to. I entirely take the point that it would be wrong to look at one day of one programme in isolation and plucking out a Sunday night in early January is a little unfair. Nevertheless, 200 people watching “The Seven” and only 1,700 watching “The Nine” are really low figures. Those are programmes for which jobs have been created and funding has been spent. When one of those programmes—I cannot remember which one—launched in 2019, three quarters of a million people tuned in. I am happy to be corrected on that, but I think that that figure was in a news report.


Another news report also stated that viewers of BBC Scotland have declined by a quarter between 2021 and 2023. Again, I am happy to be corrected if that is wrong. With all that taken into account, do the figures showing a low reach not worry you?

Steve Carson

We are not complacent. As I said, we need to be cautious about putting things in isolation. To look at one episode of one programme at a certain time slot and during a certain period of the year does not represent the totality of viewing. I will talk about the average audience for “The Nine” and “The Seven”, as well as other programmes that are part of the same grouping. For “The Seven”, it is about 8,000. “The Nine” can get some low figures of 1,700; on Monday night, it was 23,000. The investment that went into channel news was made throughout News Scotland. The talent and technology that I have mentioned boosted our coverage of the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. We look at things in the round, but the situation is not static.

In the past two years, we have made significant changes in News Scotland to divert resources to our online news. That is an on-going process. We are always looking at whether we have the right mix of resource on any given service. That is genuinely how we look at things, but I would say that the viewer numbers of 200 or 1,700 that you quoted do not reflect the totality of the performance of the whole service; that performance is a small part of our overall service. Content from “The Nine” can appear on our social media channels or on our online pages, generating significant views, and it can also appear on network news. That is what I mean by not looking at it in isolation. We are constantly looking at whether we have the right balance of resources on the right platforms and services. In the past few years, we have made significant changes to reinforce our online offer in particular. We have seen strong performance of linear radio news, as demonstrated by the Radio Scotland figures that Louise Thornton mentioned.

You also mentioned that there were 700,000 viewers during the launch week of the channel. Obviously, people were curious. That is on a sliding scale, and it is not an example of change. The BBC’s linear TV is declining, as is all TV, as people are doing other things. The key question is whether we are set up to be elsewhere as well—and we are. We have a strong position on iPlayer and online. Where we are seeing some downward changes in growth and in the performance of linear services, such as on the channel and on BBC1, that is being made up by iPlayer growth, which is doubling consistently.

Donald Cameron

I will change the subject to Gaelic broadcasting. BBC Scotland has a fruitful relationship with MG Alba, which contributes a lot to programming, joint working and some funding. The vast majority of MG Alba’s funding comes from the Scottish Government. Effectively, it has stayed flat for the past 10 years, which means that, in real terms, it has decreased quite significantly. Having experienced a freeze in your licence fee in the past couple of years, what observations do you have on the impact of a similar freeze—if we can put it like that—on MG Alba’s output?

Alan Dickson

The deputy convener is right to pick up on the fact that the harsh economic backdrop that I mentioned—the effect of the licence fee freeze, with funding pressure of £285 million, and the fact that it has increased to more than £400 million—has led to some difficult choices across the BBC. Whether that is about ceasing programmes or about having 1,000 fewer hours, as the director general mentioned, we have had to face up to the financial reality.

I think that I am right in saying that, broadly, our investment in Gaelic programming has grown over the period, which shows the value that we place in it and the synergies that we feel are created. The financial value is the headline number; that is how we think that the BBC can support Gaelic broadcasting more. If you look at the weight of the BBC and the type of content that we produce in children’s programmes—I know that the teams work jointly on trying to realise those synergies—it is not just the financial value.

There is no doubt that, in any challenged financial environment, you have to make choices. I know, and Steve Carson and Louise Thornton can also speak to this, that the teams work extremely well together and use really sharp practices to ensure that the audiences that come to our Gaelic programming still get great content. It is interesting to see the viewing consumption numbers as they move. With any challenge, the onus is on the team to see whether it can work differently and, perhaps, work smarter. If any teams represent that situation, it is the teams that work between MG Alba and BBC Scotland in providing Gaelic broadcasting.

Steve Carson

I will follow on through to your question, Mr Cameron. As Alan Dickson said, the freeze in funding to MG Alba is indicative of the pressures that are on all businesses and all public bodies. Of course, MG Alba’s funding is a matter for MG Alba, Ofcom the regulator and the other funder that is behind it—the Scottish Government. By contrast, you will have seen, over successive annual report accounts, that, in a tight financial situation, the BBC has increased its investment.

I am glad that you said that the partnership is a fruitful one. It really is a good example of different bodies coming together to create a service that is as important and special as BBC Alba. As you know, we are currently renewing the partnership, making sure that we answer these broad questions, that we have a good position on iPlayer and on digital content creation, and that we have a strong TV offer. We are also ensuring that we are able to get Gaelic language content out there to our audiences, including in high-impact genres such as drama.

Donald Cameron

I have a final quick question on another issue that is pertinent to the Highlands and Islands, which is the region that I represent. What happened last year with traditional music and piping programmes being cut was quite an unhappy episode. This committee played a role in scrutinising what was happening. What work are you carrying out as an organisation to improve transparency and communication with regard to that kind of decision making? There was a sense that participants and audiences were not really consulted. Do you have any comments on what you are doing as you look to the future?

Steve Carson

I will perhaps ask Louise Thornton to talk about the changes that were made and where we are on that, nearly one year on.

Louise Thornton

Sure. None of those were easy decisions to make. As Alan Dickson has stated, we are in a financial situation in which budgets are down, so we are under pressure. We are always in creative renewal, anyway, so the changes that we made were also a response to the fact that audiences are changing and because we are trying to grow in the BBC Sounds platform.

I do not know whether you have listened to it, but the piping programme is performing very well. We joined two teams to make programmes where, previously, we had two teams making separate programmes. That was a way to be more efficient and to get better-value content for the audience while maintaining our commitment to piping. In addition, we still broadcast the world pipe band championships, and we have created a podcast. We have made those changes, but we try to ensure that we are still committed to the cultural values of Scotland. We do not always go for the big, broad audience; when there is a niche audience that we serve, we aim to deliver in the most efficient way.

We have a really strong portfolio of traditional music right across our services. The young traditional musician of the year competition is very successful and we have launched two new competitions—young classical musician of the year and young jazz musician of the year—which was in response to thinking about our purpose as the BBC. Part of that purpose has to be about developing new talent and offering platforms for musicians.

In addition to that, the classical music programme changed, as you noted. We have a fantastic orchestra that we did not hear perform on Radio Scotland, so we changed the programme to ensure that we heard it. Those decisions were very tricky to make, but we engaged with stakeholders and listened to the audience, and the decisions were made against a backdrop of financial pressure.

I am really pleased to say that, on Burns night, we will have a fantastic offering in which we will bring together our young musicians and feature all the different genres of music. It will be a real celebration of Scottish culture. That is where the BBC can make an impact for audiences.

Steve Carson

The last part of your question was about what learnings we have taken from what happened. When we appeared before the committee last year, one of the issues was, yes, potentially, consultation. Obviously, we had to make a decision in the context of changing audiences, doing different things and a licence fee cut.

I think that communication was not clear, even when we appeared before the committee. People were hearing that all piping was going and that there would be no piping on Radio Scotland or BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, when in fact, it was moving from, as Louise Thornton said, two separate teams making two separate programmes to one programme across both services.

I recently met the producer in Inverness, and he said that, creatively, it had been good to think again about what they do. The figures have been very strong. This would be on me, but I do not think that we explained what we were actually doing across classical music, piping and the jazz programme.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

I am sorry not to be able to join you, although I am speaking from a very snowy Highlands.

I have three questions, if that is okay. I have a tendency to lump my questions all together, but on this occasion I will separate them and keep them short.

To pick up on the deputy convener’s questions on MG Alba, I wanted to talk a bit more about BBC Alba. It is worth putting in context that, according to your figures, BBC Alba reaches around 50 per cent of the total Gaelic-speaking population, in contrast with BBC Scotland reaching 13 per cent of the total population. Considering the size of its target group, I would suggest that it is quite successful.

Mr Carson talked about the fact that the BBC joins with the committee in concentrating on the public service that BBC Scotland offers; that is particularly noticeable when it comes to Gaelic output. I want to put on record the sincere thanks of Gaelic communities for the work that you do. That said, it is clear that there is a question about equity if we look at language programming across the UK. I am led to believe that BBC Alba sometimes gets bigger audiences than S4C, despite there obviously being more Welsh speakers, and despite the budget for Welsh language programming making BBC Alba’s budget look tiny in comparison. Is there a question of equity there?

Steve Carson

The funding for S4C which, as you note, is considerably in advance of funding for many other services, including services in the Gaelic language, has never been a matter for the BBC. S4C was set up more than 40 years ago by the UK Government at the time, and its funding levels from then until now have been set by the UK Government, not by the BBC.

I am glad that you paid tribute to BBC Alba, and I would also note BBC Radio nan Gàidheal and, increasingly, our online services. As I mentioned, in December we marked the centenary of services in the Gaelic language, which have always been a central part of the BBC offer in Scotland. Speaking personally and creatively, we would be massively impoverished without those services and the ability to broadcast them.

As part of the new partnership, we need to make sure that we continue to broadcast across all genres. Obviously, the BBC’s focus in what we supply to BBC Alba is on its crucial functions such as news, children and language learning, but it is incredibly important that our Gaelic services cover all genres, including music, drama and comedy.

The commitment in the BBC Scotland budget to BBC Alba and Radio nan Gàidheal is significant, with £10 million and £4 million respectively in the accounts, and those sums have grown over the years. Those are significant investments in our services, and we are delighted to make them, because those services are central to our offer in Scotland. Supporting an autochthonous language of this nation is a key part of our public service mission in Scotland.

Kate Forbes

I recognise your points about S4C, but the question of equity still stands. The spend as a percentage of the total local spend is around 8 per cent, which is not to be dismissed by any stretch of the imagination. Considering the content on BBC Alba, do you know whether the proportion of overall programming that is dedicated to repeat programming is increasing or decreasing? Is it funded sufficiently to be able to ensure that there is fresh content?

Steve Carson

I take your point. With our new service, there is fresh content on BBC Alba every day. Compared with the origins of BBC Alba some 15 years ago, there is an ambition to have more originations, as we call them, every day. We always have to box clever with the budget that we have—that applies not just to the BBC but to organisations across Scotland—but I think that what we and the teams across BBC Alba create with the funding is exceptional.

I suggest that audiences are moving away from an older version of television that was about first runs versus repeats. If you think about it, everything on iPlayer is a repeat. People are increasingly looking beyond what is on live TV and radio and consuming in other ways. The direction of travel for BBC Alba is to think hard about programming that will have a longer life on iPlayer, and that is where we have seen growth.

In all our services, we are looking at the value of the overall catalogue. Until comparatively recently, content on the iPlayer used to be deleted after 30 days for regulatory reasons. We are trying to compete with Netflix, which would not delete its best programmes after 30 days. Working with independent producers, we can now keep programmes on the iPlayer, including programmes in Gaelic, and that is increasingly where the viewing is. First runs versus repeats is a question that audiences are starting to move away from.

Kate Forbes

Thank you for that. I suppose that there may be a balance when it comes to the number of repeats on TV. Could you come back to me with information on whether you are noticing the proportion of repeats on TV, rather than on iPlayer, increase or decrease?

Steve Carson

Yes—will do. The other point is that we need to be careful that we do not just generate large volumes of hours of lower-impact programming. We think that it is better to say, “Right, we might have slightly fewer hours in one genre, but we’re going to have some drama. It is proportionally much more expensive, but it can be distinctive and impactful and it can serve a larger audience overall.” There would be a danger in spreading ourselves incredibly thinly across a large volume of hours, particularly when audiences are looking for bigger pieces on the catch-up and on-demand services. However, I will come back to the committee as you suggest.

Kate Forbes

Thank you. I imagine that the committee will continue to focus on that area, not least for as long as there are Highlands and Islands MSPs on the committee.

I have a final question. I note that your report contains something about the importance of the presence of the BBC across the UK. Homing in on Scotland, I have a bucket list of BBC studios to be interviewed in. I am doing pretty well across the Highlands, having been interviewed in Portree, Lerwick, Inverness and so on. Are you committed to retaining those physical presences in the more rural areas?

Steve Carson

Yes. In fact, we are committed to reinforcing and extending our coverage right across Scotland through the bases that we have. We may move out of physical buildings every now and then as some of the building estate needs a refresh. However, Portree, Inverness and Stornoway are hugely important centres for us.

Alan Dickson

As a news gatherer and a broadcaster, we learned some interesting lessons during Covid about the contributions that we can make remotely. We see that work as augmenting our other work and maybe reaching people that we could not reach before. Steve Carson is right about the importance of physical location, but this is another area where technology has offered our industry quite a step forward.

The Convener

I want to share something with you regarding the committee’s work in the context of Ms Forbes’s questions about the regional broadcast studios and Mr Bibby’s comment about really local broadcasting. When the committee held its inquiry into culture in communities, we went to Orkney and met stakeholders there, and in the morning I was interviewed in the studio in Kirkwall. As a parliamentarian who has worked in committees for a long time in this place, I note that the engagement that we got from the local community from that single broadcast, which brought the Parliament’s work right into the community, was fantastic. That was possible in that context, but it could be contrasted with a committee working in Glasgow or somewhere else, noting the focus of the broadcast news there. Given that experience in Orkney, I think that it would be helpful to get a reflection on that space and on how the work of the committee and the Parliament could be used.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I, too, have had that sort of experience on a committee visit to Orkney, where I did a lengthy interview with BBC Radio Orkney.

I want to ask about support for emerging grass-roots artists. The context here is that, across the UK, at least one grass-roots music venue is shutting every single week. There is a real pressure there, and there is a declining opportunity for new artists to get heard, both on the radio and through live performance.

The other context here, which Mr Cameron has already started to discuss, is the cuts that you have put forward and have now implemented in jazz and classical music, the regular programming for which has been taken off air—although I know that you have instigated a number of other initiatives to try and fill that hole. I am interested to know what your focus is when it comes to grass-roots live music and emerging artists. We seem to be in a perfect storm in relation to support for grass-roots music across the UK, and I am concerned about how that relates to Scotland.

Louise Thornton

I note the new competitions that we have launched, and that absolutely relates to your point. I am sure that you are aware of BBC Introducing, which is a fantastic pan-BBC brand, and we have invested in that show over the past few years, with two fantastic new presenters. That is not just on Radio Scotland; we have taken that on to the BBC Scotland channel, too, so we have taken a multiplatform approach. We are now running a “Scottish Act of the Year” programme annually, and we are committed to continuing to do that. The brilliant thing about BBC Introducing is that it can span genres.

Beyond that, we have a fantastic digital team working across all our arts and culture output—which captures the points that you have made about giving grass-roots and unheard musicians a bigger platform. That team is doing brilliantly. It is doing great work for BBC Scotland while also connecting with the wider BBC music portfolio through Radio 1 and 6 Music. That is the strategy: using the money that we have and using the connections and experience within the team to ensure that, when we find fantastic musicians, we can get them out across the BBC using a multiplatform approach. We then use moments such as our Big Burns celebration, when we can bring them together in front of a broad BBC audience and celebrate them across the platforms.

Steve Carson

To give another example, there is a strong commitment to support live music and emerging artists, specifically in the jazz genre, as I think that you are aware, Mr Ruskell. There was an announcement about the BBC audio base being set up, with some titles moving to Scotland, and one of the key titles is “Jazz Record Requests”, which is one of the longest-running programmes on Radio 3. To have that programme made by a production team in Scotland is a significant move in itself—albeit it is a request programme—and that needs to be allied to the fact that we are targeting young jazz musicians. We are working closely with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and there are other genres where we are helping to develop new and emerging talent.

Mark Ruskell

Radio 6 Music’s “New Music Fix Live” series of events in Glasgow made for some great listening, blending in jazz and other genres for a different audience. All of that is available on Sounds, of course.

It comes back to the fundamental point that we were discussing in the committee the previous time, about bandwidth and the opportunity to be heard. Listening to “New Music Fix Live” was great, but that was just four days of content. Given where we are now, particularly with the removal of “Jazz Nights” and “Classics Unwrapped”, I am interested to know whether there is more or less airtime for new and emerging Scottish artists as a result of the changes that you have made. The “Scotland Young Jazz Musician” programme was fantastic, but it was only two hours. I am interested in the metric of how much space there is now for artists to get heard. Even though some of the content that I am hearing is very good, it is only little nuggets.

Louise Thornton

Part of that strategy was to bring a genre such as jazz into peak programming. I could come back to you in detail on this, but across our afternoon show, which is a peak programme for us on Radio Scotland, we are now featuring more jazz talent. Vic Galloway’s Edinburgh show features some fantastic artists. We have key sessions, and in our Burns line-up in a week’s time, we have Georgia Cécile performing. That is important as well.

We have lost a programme dedicated to those performers. I know that that was a hard decision and that lovers of that programme have been very disappointed, but we have made a real effort across our peak programming to make sure that we are representing those performers. If you would like me to come back on that in detail, I would be happy to write back to you about where we have featured musicians.

Mark Ruskell

That would be useful. The BBC, as a public broadcaster, is there to help to create that platform. The point about live music venues is that that platform is declining, so if you are not going to do it, who else is? I would like to understand whether the platform is shrinking or getting bigger. It is a decision for you whether it is done by having a specialist programme or by getting particular genres or emerging artists into a range of other more mainstream programmes, but it would be very useful to know whether the platform is getting bigger or smaller, highlighting the opportunities that are there across genres.

Steve Carson

One other point is that the classics programme has changed. There is a classics programme on Radio Scotland, which features the BBC Scottish symphony orchestra more, which is a big positive, and it is performing more strongly than the previous show.

I am interested in the metrics for new, emerging and live music—that is where we are seeing the need to expand the platform rather than see it being stripped down.

Louise Thornton

Those genres sometimes blend, with artists such as Terra Kin, who we feature, being very prominent. I feel confident that we are delivering on what we said we would deliver, but we can come back with a bit more detail on that for you.

Mark Ruskell

I have a final question about news coverage around the general election. There is obviously a very different political context in Scotland. We have two Government parties in the Scottish Parliament that do not stand candidates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am interested to know your emerging thoughts on how you will bring the general election alive in Scotland and reflect the particular nature of Scottish politics. The various political platforms here exist in a very different way from those across the rest of the UK.

Steve Carson

At the moment, no general election has been called or is under way. If you look back at our previous coverage of elections, BBC Scotland and other news providers, such as STV News, have a strong track record of making sure that Scotland’s particular political cultures and decisions are fully represented.

As we go into an election, the process is that the BBC as a whole comes up with draft election guidelines for all sorts of coverage possibilities, to which we contribute, and parties are free to comment on that before they are finalised. Across the board, BBC Scotland news will make sure that we have incredibly in-depth, detailed and fair and proportionate coverage of an upcoming general election across all our platforms and services.

Are you looking at any particular innovative ways to improve or develop the way in which you approach elections this time around, or will it be very similar to previous elections?

Steve Carson

To go back to the channel news point, given the overall investment that went into people and technology, our 2021 coverage of elections at this Parliament was a step change forward. We are in active discussions with our news teams about how we move forward and build on that. It is a hugely important public service. The exercise of democracy in Scotland is, as you say, part of the wider general election, but with its own issues, its own candidates and its own parties. We absolutely make sure that we are covering that, and it is a good challenge to make sure that we are being innovative.

Keith Brown

I am happy to offer this advice for no fee whatsoever. [Laughter.] A sure-fire way to increase the BBC’s viewership figures is to address the absurd situation that we have in Scotland whereby we cannot see free-to-air international football matches, especially competitive ones, that involve our national team but can see matches from other countries. Would the BBC support the designation of international Scottish football matches as part of what are called the crown jewels?


Steve Carson

Because listed events, as they are called, are a matter of public policy, we are not free to offer an opinion on that. However, Louise Thornton has been a huge investor in Scottish football, and we can talk about our ambitions and what we currently do.

Obviously, Scotland’s qualification for the Euros and world cups would be covered by the rights that the BBC currently has. We do not have rights to everything but, in context, our commitment to Scottish football is strong.

Louise Thornton

Yes, it is a competitive rights market, as you know, but we have a strong track record. We just renewed our championship deal for four years. Obviously, we broadcast the Scottish cup—there is a great game coming up on Friday—[Interruption.] Yes, and on Saturday as well. We are also showing the women’s cup. We are an investor in football and we are also interested in any rights that come on the market—we would absolutely have a look at that.

Steve Carson

Women’s football and women’s sport generally are a big part of what BBC Alba has been pioneering across our services with Louise Thornton.

Louise Thornton

We work very effectively in partnership with BBC Alba on sport and we market across the platforms to make sure that we get the best viewership for the women’s game and for the women’s internationals, which we share with BBC Alba this year.

The Convener

I will return to Mr Ruskell’s theme about offering opportunities for new talent that is coming through. You mentioned Screen Scotland and one of the growing markets and successes in Scotland. I recently visited Bute high school with Education Scotland and Screen Scotland to see a project on an animation course for young people. Skills are an issue in that area, the more successful we get, because there is only a certain pool of people available. Steve Carson, you mentioned working with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the young musicians there. I am also thinking about the earlier comments about diversity. What are you doing to open pathways for young people in Scotland to have a career in the BBC in those areas?

Louise Thornton

There are various entry points to the BBC with regard to what we have been doing very successfully over the past few years. We have a project called the social, which is absolutely about working with new digital talent to create short-form content. Over the past year, the social team has been working with young people from all different parts of Scotland to create those pieces of content and with our news colleagues to try to get a wider platform for that content.

What we see with the social—I worked on it years ago—is that we have a great hit rate in the sense of people who have worked on it going on to have a BBC career. That is quite a hands-on way of developing new talent.

Beyond that, we have a partnership with colleges across Scotland, where we deliver digital skills workshops. The digital in-house team does that through its social project. That is about upskilling young people for future ways of working in television, because you do not just cut a programme any more—you think about your social strategy as well.

We also have a fabulous outreach team called the lab, which works with schools and young groups all across Scotland. Some of the young people that the lab has been working with are going to feature in our Burns programme on 25 January. We are very connected in the sense that we are out working with young people and trying to make sure that the BBC has an open door. We have other initiatives, such as the apprentices, which Steve Carson might want to talk about.

Alan Dickson

I can build on what Louise Thornton said, convener, because, from a group perspective, you have hit on an important point about the role that the BBC should play in encouraging new diverse talent into the BBC. From a BBC-wide perspective, we have an ambition and a target. We talk about 1,000 apprentices across the UK, and Steve Carson can give you more of a flavour of what that means from a Scotland perspective. We know that it is an important intervention and we are aware of the role that we can play, which maybe no other broadcaster can, in encouraging those skills and that development.

There are two areas: it covers new entrants and younger people, but it is also about staff apprenticeships. We have made great progress on that. Those socioeconomic targets that I talked about—in fact, all our diversity targets—are a big part of how we recruit and attract people into the scheme.

Steve Carson

As Louise Thornton pointed out, creatively, across everything that we do, part of our ambition is to look at how we can help to bring people through, whether directly into employment in the broadcast industry or into other parts of the creative sector. We like to think of ourselves as the largest creative organisation in Scotland but not the only one. We can be a catalyst for others, specifically in terms of workforce. At any given time, BBC Scotland and the BBC in Scotland would have around 60 apprentices across the board—in journalism and in technology. I think that the current figure is around 66. That is a significant investment in training up primarily young people—although they are not all young—to careers in our industry.

In those practices, you will have a lot of freelancers. That is bound to happen. Do you follow the fair work principles of the Scottish Government in terms of employment in Scotland?

Steve Carson

I would be very confident that we follow all employment practices in our engagement with our employees and contractors.

The Convener

That has exhausted our time with you this morning. I thank you all for your attendance at the committee. I will suspend the meeting briefly so that we can change witnesses for our next session.

10:06 Meeting suspended.  

10:11 On resuming—