Maria Miller: BBC governance needs to change before charter renewal in 2017

Culture secretary Maria Miller has said there must be clarity over the respective roles of the BBC Trust and the corporation’s executive arm in the wake of the pay-off row.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society convention, Miller described the last year as an "annus horribilis" for the BBC.

She confirmed that its governance arrangements are being “kept under review” by the Government and she suggested that changes to these arrangements should come before the BBC’s charter is up for renewal in 2017.

She added that Monday’s appearance in front of a committee of MPs by former BBC deputy general Mark Thompson alongside BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and other leading figures at the corporation “was a grim day for its senior management”.

Miller told the convention: “I have been clear that there is ongoing confusion over where the roles and responsibilities of the executive stop and the Trust start.

“This must be addressed. It will come as no surprise to anyone here that governance arrangements are kept under review.

“Concerns over the Trust are not new. In 2009, the last Labour culture secretary told this conference that he was not convinced that the BBC’s governance model should stretch beyond 2016. He pointed to the tension implicit in the Trust being ‘both regulator and cheerleader’.

“And in the aftermath of Monday’s hearing a whole host of MPs and commentators once again lined up to declare the Trust model as ‘broken’. 

“It is no good waiting until a new Charter in 2017 to act.”

She added: “Ultimately, licence fee payers rely not only upon the right structures and governance being in place but also upon the BBC’s executive management using their good judgement. And I think serious questions were raised about that judgement by the scale of the severance payments made.

Licence fee payers expect their money to be spent properly.”

But Miller insisted that the BBC could “come back stronger” from what had been “one of the most challenging years in its history.”

She said: “There is a risk of events like this overshadowing the unstinting work of its staff.

“This must not be allowed to happen. The corporate dramas of the BBC should never eclipse its actual dramas.”

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