National Audit Office to access the BBC

(25 September 2010 4:20 pm)

MUMBAI: The National Audit Office (NAO) will be given full access to UK pubcaster the BBC's accounts for the first time.

Previously the spending watchdog could only undertake value for money studies if invited to do so by the BBC Trust. After weeks of negotiations between the BBC's governing body and the government, Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster formally revealed the terms of the deal at his party's conference in Liverpool this afternoon.

The BBC Trust says that it supports a move to allow the NAO to choose which areas of BBC operations it will review on an annual basis.

"In our view, this does not threaten the BBC's independence from Government or Parliament, provided that the NAO continues to report to the Trust and does not question editorial decision-making. Subject to further discussion between the Trust and the DCMS, we are confident that this change can be made through amendments to the BBC Agreement within the terms of the existing Charter," the BBC Trust said in a statement.

Adding further, it said, "The NAO already scrutinises the BBC's books as part of regular reviews it carries out for the Trust and it is an important ally in our push to deliver transparency and better value for money for license fee payers. Over the past year, we've taken significant steps to open up the NAO's access to BBC information further, in particular by ensuring they have a right of access to confidential contracts, including talent pay. And, following discussions with Government, we can now confirm we have reached agreement with the Government to bolster these arrangements."

While the UK Government said that the BBC had agreed to full access for the NAO, it also indicated that details of individual stars' pay - such as Jonathan Ross's former £6million-a-year deal and Jeremy Paxman's reputed £1million-a-year pay packet - could stay secret.

Margaret Hodge MP, the Labour chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, has said that her committee should be consulted before the NAO agreed to any limits on the information it may report to Parliament.