The BBC Trust has ruled that individual BBC online services, including news and sport, will have to prove they offer “distinctive” content or face greater scrutiny following its first review of BBC.co.uk. It also says it will not approve new investment until improved management controls are in place because of “poor” financial accountability.
Despite the criticism, the BBC Trust – the corporation’s governing body – concludes that BBC.co.uk is an “excellent service that is highly valued by users and makes a strong contribution to delivering the BBC’s public purposes”.
The review began in July last year with a 12-week public consultation and independent audience research. The Trust says that evidence suggests the service is providing “good value for money”. In 2006/07 the BBC spent 3% of the licence fee on bbc.co.uk compared with 70% on television channels and 17% on its radio services, yet it is now the BBC’s fourth most widely used service.
The review also looked at the service’s performance within the context of the wider market and against the terms of the BBC’s service licence. The Trust says that the BBC spent £110m on BBC.co.uk in 2007/08, 48% higher than the service licence baseline budget.
It says: “Most of this increase was not overspend, but the misallocation of £24.9m in overheads and costs to other budgets within the BBC, representing poor financial accountability.
“The Trust has concluded that tighter management controls are necessary for BBC.co.uk and has requested these be implemented to the Trust’s satisfaction before it will consider approval of the additional investment for the service as proposed by BBC management.”