BBC World Service
The decision to move funding of the BBC World Service from the Foreign Office to the broadcaster in 2014 will have "major long term ramifications" for its future, the foreign affairs select committee has warned.

In a report published today on the impact of the 16 per cent cuts earmarked for the service across a four year period, the House of Commons select committee advised that the World Service's income should be ring-fenced against spending cuts to secure its "value to the nation".

The report, Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service, also adds that the decision to move funding to the BBC was taken "at very short notice" with the approval of the Foreign Secretary secured only 48 hours before the formal announcement of the change.

In January the BBC World Service announced a series of foreign language service closures as it sought to find savings of around £67 million, as set out in last year's comprehensive spending review.

When announcing the cuts BBC global news director Peter Horrocks warned they would result in the loss of 650 jobs and cost the broadcaster more than 30 million listeners. On the same day it was announced that the foreign affairs committee would hold an inquiry into the impact of the closures and other cuts.

Publishing the report today chair of the foreign affairs committee, MP Richard Ottaway, said the value of the World Service in promoting the UK across the globe "far outweighs its relatively small cost".

"The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that the 'soft power' wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past, and that to proceed with the planned cuts to the World Service would be a false economy."

The report concludes the decision to reduce World Service spending by 16 per cent during the 2010 spending review period should be reversed, and resources made available for it to continue its operations at "roughly the 2010–11 level of staffing and output".

It adds if the service's funding is reduced in spite of this recommendation, the committee urges that cuts "are imposed in such a way as to minimise the damage done".

"In particular, the report calls for the World Service to commit itself to longer-term support for an unreduced BBC Hindi and BBC China Mandarin shortwave service, and to providing enhanced resources to BBC Arabic as required by the recent and continuing political developments in the region.

"There is a discrepancy between the relatively small amounts of money needed to avoid the most damaging cuts to the World Service and the scale of the Department for International Development (DFID) Spending Review settlement.

"Some of the activity of the World Service contributes to the wider aims of DFID and it would be appropriate to consider how an additional small element of the DFID budget might be spent on specific activities and projects of the World Service which are consistent with the terms of the International Development Act 2002."

The World Service said in March it was to retain an evening news radio broadcast in Hindi "for an interim period" while it explores funding proposals from commercial parties.

The National Union of Journalists today echoed the calls for the cuts to be reversed, with general secretary Jeremy Dear saying the cuts programme "has already done damage through service closures".

"The BBC must stop the cuts immediately, and also halt the selection procedures for compulsory redundancy right now," he says in a report on the NUJ website.

He added: "The attempt to cut the BBC World Service has inspired a level of international protest which echoes everything that BBC journalists have said about their concern for the service they provide.

"We hope, and demand, that the Foreign Office and the government now listen to the foreign affairs committee when its considered report so clearly agrees with all that opposition to cuts. Let’s not mince words. The report shows that the cutters have got it badly wrong in attacking the BBC World Service. This report is an opportunity to reverse that disastrous policy."

The BBC says it "welcomes the FAC's strong support for the World Service".

In a statement the corporation said: "It is of course for the government and parliament to decide on the priorities for public spending.

"If, in the light of the FAC report, the government is prepared to re-open aspects of the spending review settlement the BBC will be pleased to engage with them constructively.

"We look forward to the Government's response to the committee's recommendations."

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