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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 October 2007, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
BBC 'vision for the future'
On Sunday 14 October Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Sir Michael Lyons: photographer Jeff Overs/BBC
Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust

ANDREW MARR: Now, job losses, cut-backs, open revolt from senior journalists, and that's before we even get to the Queen debacle.

It has been a difficult year for the BBC.

It's had to apologise to viewers and listeners for misleading them over phone competitions.

The Queen was misrepresented in a trailer, for which the controller of BBC One resigned.

And it faces tough choices over it's programme priorities spending savings.

Well the BBC's Trust's Chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, joins me now. Welcome Sir Michael, in a particularly ingratiating way.

You have your meeting, your crunch meeting, with the Director General on Wednesday.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: We do.

ANDREW MARR: Now there's been a lot of worry expressed by BBC journalists in particular that the sort of core part of the BBC to many people, which is the news and the factual documentary current affairs part of the BBC, is going to take swingeing cuts. Is that the kind of thing that you can take a view on?

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Well the, the Trust has taken a view, and we've been working, looking very carefully at the Director General's plans over the last few months. And as you say our meeting on Wednesday of this week will make the final decisions about the framework for the next six years.

So not all the detail, but the framework. And cert.. the, the big issues that we've been tackling with, seeking to tackle, is one that the BBC needs to be more distinctive into the future, doing those things that other people don't do. And also those things that is does do, doing them in a distinctive way. In..

ANDREW MARR: So possibly fewer sort of cookery and reality and that kind of thing.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Well let's be clear, there is less money than was originally expected. There are many, many demands on the BBC in terms of different audiences, different technologies.

So there are some, there has always been difficult choices to make. And yes, running through all of this debate will be a very strong imperative to get absolutely the most from every pound of licence fee payers money.

And that goes even in those areas which the public themselves cherish as the most important areas of BBC output. And that's news and current affairs and, and knowledge and education. So they're right at the top of the public's list, but they're not, they can't be protected from the search for greater efficiency.

ANDREW MARR: But if, after this process, The Today Programme, the BBC news, Panorama, was doing less than it used to do, or it's coverage was less authoritative in any way at all, would you regard that as an acceptable outcome?

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Well I want to distinguish between those. I mean I think the only way that this, that the budget is going to be balanced is by doing less. The BBC will undoubtedly be smaller in six years time than it, than it is today.

And the emphasis the Trust has placed on issues of efficiency is to make sure that the first question we ask always is can you do something at, at lower cost, without reducing it's quality.

ANDREW MARR: And let's be clear, Mark Thompson said in the papers today, that that means maker fewer programmes.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Un.. undoubtedly it means making fewer programmes. But the other side of the equation of course is that one of the reasons for making less is so that you can concentrate the resource to ensure distinctiveness. So there's not a question here of diminution of quality.

ANDREW MARR: Which since there's no closures of channels coming must mean more repeats.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Well..

ANDREW MARR: It's a mathematical inevitability.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: It does mean that, well let's, let's deal with the question of repeats. Firstly let me firmly say that there's no rowing back on the policy of seeking to minimise pr.. repeats in prime time BBC One air-time.

So that, that policy stays in place. But of course what we know from, from our own viewing and listening is that actually there is an appetite to catch up with high quality programmes which we might have missed the first time round. So..

ANDREW MARR: So BBC sort of two, three and four, but particularly possibly three and four, could see more re-showings of popular shows which have been on one and two.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: They, they will be pr.. they will be programmed from amongst the sort of, the quality product the BBC produces, but yes there will be repeats there.

ANDREW MARR: Now it was reported that you've slapped down some of my colleagues. It's very rare for me to be in the position of trying to defend either Paxman or Humphries, a brave man who'd try that, but you describe their interventions as untidy.

I think the problem for a lot of BBC journalists is that if they're not allowed to criticise what's about to be decided, then there's your meeting on Wednesday and it's a fait accompli, it's too late. You can understand their frustration.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: I can understand frustration. But let me, let me come back to, to focus particularly on what I said, rather than the way that it got coloured in reportage. Firstly I didn't pick out any individual personalities. I'm not looking for a, for a fight with any particular presenters here. My message was to the whole of the BBC. And it wasn't there is no room for debate, you mustn't say anything.

Of course there must be a flourishing debate. But the flourishing debate should be inside the BBC. It would be I think regrettable if the message that was sent out to the public, the people who pay for the BBC, at this important time when we've unveiled the, the Director General's plans for the next six years, if what they heard was an internal battle, which essentially was a, is a self-protectionist battle.

What they want to hear is that that money is going to be used. It's every pound of it is going to be squeezed to get the maximum value. The BBC is going to be more distinctive in the future. But we are going to offer something to everybody who pays a licence fee, but equally we're going to cherish those loyal audiences and the products which they, and the programmes which they put the highest value on.

ANDREW MARR: But you know that the, the unions inside the BBC are very worried. There's a lot of talk of six hundred jobs going in news and current affairs, which is a heck of a lot of jobs.

Are you saying that once your decision has been taken, you've agreed with, with, with Mark Johnson, there is room for genuine internal debate, providing it's not on programmes like this, or The Today Programme? It's internal, and that that's not the final deal. Or are you saying that that is the final deal?

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: It sets the framework, it doesn't set all of the detail. And clearly the Director General and his management team will need to work back through. In some areas there'll be need for very specific debate and discussion. In terms of consequences for employment that will inevitably be the subject of those, the statutory requirement to consult very carefully.

So there's lots of debate to come, but the most important thing is that at this point we send a clear message to the public that the BBC is focused on their interests, what they pay for in the licence fee, rather than just the aspirations and employment consequences of it's staff, important though they are.

ANDREW MARR: Sure and we, we understand that. But when I talk about six hundred jobs in news..

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Yes.

ANDREW MARR: .. two thousand jobs plus maybe generally, you're not saying to me I'm scaremongering.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Well Andrew I'm not going to deal with any detail today. But I, but let me underline that there is no part of the BBC's output that can be exempt from the search for better value. And that's a very strong message that the Trust has given to the Director General.

There are no protected areas. If you can do things more effectively in any area, even the priority areas of news and current affairs, then you have to make those savings.

ANDREW MARR: Five years time, what's the BBC going to look like?

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: It's the big challenge I think. When Mark Thompson brought forward his creative futures vision he properly focused on the BBC of two thousand and twelve.

The debate about, that will have undoubtedly have been embraced, about the future of the licence fee. And all the technological and market changes which are taking place at the moment and will continue. What will it look like at that period?

Well I think smaller, certainly If a, if the Trust has it's way: More distinctive, better able to demonstrate that it uses it's money wisely and effectively. And continuing with that ex.. that very special role the BBC has, to contribute to the, the very nature of the country in which we live.

ANDREW MARR: And the, the very, very rough last few months, all these crises and scandals and so on, as Chairman of the Trust sort of calibrate how you regard the seriousness of this.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Well there's been some serious errors revealed, there is no doubt about that. They're not apocalyptic.

They haven't fundamentally threatened the BBC. And in every case both the, the management and the Trust have treated them seriously. And there are a si.. set of actions now agreed to be carried forward to deal with the problems identified.

I think we ought perhaps to take a lesson out of the, the England rugby team you know. Know when times are looking hard just concentrate on the core job and that will see you through.

ANDREW MARR: And do you think the licence fee is something that can be justified forever and a day?

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: I think that's a ve.. that, that is a question right at the heart of how we deal with the challenge of a little less money than we expected and how we make the BBC more distinctive.

If the British public are convinced that they're getting value for money, they're getting something which others don't provide them with, they'll continue to pay the licence fee.

ANDREW MARR: Sir Michael, good luck next week and thank you very much indeed.

SIR MICHAEL LYONS: Thank you Andrew.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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