Off the rails 

3 July 2009 tbs.pm/1076

ITN newsreader Alastair Stewart calls for ‘Beeching’ inquiry into BBC

Weirdly misappropriate-yet-somehow-highly-appropriate analogy of the month: TV presenter demands inquiry that results in major cutbacks based on short-term desires which most people end up regretting many years later. Well that’s what happened to the railways as the result of the Beeching committee (apart from the TV presenter bit).

The ‘Beeching’ analogy serves a useful warning to anyone that is contemplating any major external review of the BBC’s functions that could particularly happen if a future government was of the Conservative persuasion, but could such a review actually turn out to be the best thing for the BBC in the longer term?

Since the BBC hasn’t escaped the prospect of its licence fee being ‘top-sliced’, this does seem to suggest that BBC management have singularly failed to convince central government that it deserves every penny of the licence fee as it stood.

And this also proves that the BBC Trust’s periodic surveys of BBC services to assess whether or not they represent value for money are simply just that, with no indication(s) as to which service(s) are more or less important than each other – BBC One may be more important than the CBeebies TV channel, but where does 1Xtra fit into this equation?

For example, if government ministers believe that 1Xtra as a service is less important than, say, BBC News, yet BBC management thinks otherwise, then something else will inevitably suffer as a consequence of BBC management trying to preserve both services in the face of financial cutbacks.

Getting both BBC management and cabinet ministers on the same track will be crucial as to what happens next, but justifying the existing licence fee based on the BBC’s components alone is the way forward as opposed to trimming back services based on theoretical desires, since that latter strategy proved to be a disaster for the railways.