The BBC Trust is the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It is operationally independent of BBC management and external bodies, and its stated aim is to act in the best interests of licence fee payers, although they do not have any say in its composition.
In summary, the main roles of the Trust are in setting the overall strategic direction of the BBC, including its priorities, and in exercising a general oversight of the work of the Executive Board. The Trust will perform these roles in the public interest, particularly the interest of licence fee payers. — BBC Royal Charter (2006)
The Royal Charter establishes that the Trust should have twelve trustees, including a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and a member for each of the nations of the United Kingdom. Appointments to the BBC Trust are made by Queen in Council, on the recommendation of UK government ministers.
The Trust currently comprises:
- Lord Patten of Barnes, Chairman
- Dr Diane Coyle OBE, Vice Chairman and former Economics Editor of The Independent.
- Richard Ayre, former Deputy Chief Executive of BBC News.
- Anthony Fry, an investment banker.
- Alison Hastings, the Trustee for England and a former regional newspaper editor.
- Aideen McGinley OBE, the Trustee for Northern Ireland and former NI civil servant.
- Elan Closs Stephens CBE, the Trustee for Wales and former chairman of Welsh-language broadcaster S4C.
- David Liddiment, a former Director of Programmes at ITV.
- Bill Matthews, the Trustee for Scotland.
- Sonita Alleyne OBE, a former radio executive.
- Suzanna Taverne, former managing director of the British Museum
- Lord Williams of Baglan, former diplomat, appointed as International Trustee
Trustees serve for terms of up to five years (usually four), after which they may be re-appointed.
Since 2006 the following people have been members of the BBC Trust:
- Michael Grade CBE, now Lord Grade of Yarmouth – former Chairman, left the BBC to become Executive Chairman of ITV plc
- Dermot Gleeson – finished two terms, as a BBC Governor and a BBC Trustee
- Richard Tait CBE – finished two terms, as a BBC Governor and a BBC Trustee
- Chitra Bharucha MBE – former Vice Chairman, and acting Chairman; retired after one term
- Janet Lewis-Jones – former National Trustee for Wales; retired after one term
- Jeremy Peat OBE – former National Trustee for Scotland; finished two terms, as a BBC Governor and a BBC Trustee
- Sir Michael Lyons – former Chairman; retired after one term
- Dame Patricia Hodgson DBE – who resigned to take up a position on the board of media regulator Ofcom
- Rotha Johnston CBE – finished two terms as BBC Trustee for Northern Ireland
- Mehmuda Mian – finished two terms as BBC Trustee
Chairman of the BBC Trust
The Trust was originally to be chaired by Michael Grade, the then Chairman of the Board of Governors. However, in November 2006 before the Trust formally took over from the Governors as the governing body of the Corporation, Grade left the BBC to become Executive Chairman of ITV. Chitra Bharucha, then Vice-Chairman, became the Acting Chairman.
Sir Michael Lyons was subsequently appointed the first permanent Chairman of the BBC Trust, taking up the position from 1 May 2007. In September 2010 Sir Michael wrote to the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, stating that he did not wish to be considered for a second term as Chairman. He subsequently stood down from the post in April 2011.
Following a recruitment process led by the Government Chris Patten, Baron Patten of Barnes was appointed to the role and began a four-year term on 1 May 2011.
Remuneration of Trustees
The Chairman is expected to spend 3–4 days a week on Trust business, and the Vice-Chairman about 2.5 days. Other Trustees are expected to spend about 2 days a week. Since 2010 BBC Trust members have been taking an 8.3% reduction in fees (equivalent to one month's pay).
In October 2010 the Government announced that the fee for the Chairman of the BBC Trust would be reduced from £143,000 to £110,000.
The Trust's work
In October 2007, the Trust approved the BBC's strategic direction for the next six years, demanding a high quality and more distinctive BBC.
The Trust has approved several new services, including the iPlayer, HDTV and the Gaelic Digital Service, BBC Alba. The Trust denied a proposal to launch a new local video service in late 2008 due to concerns about competition with commercial producers, especially newspapers moving online. The Trust has also recently demanded that the BBC makes more programmes outside of London.
In May 2008 the Trust published its review of the BBC's website (bbc.co.uk), criticising the service for financial mismanagement, including a £36 million overspend. The departure of Ashley Highfield, Director of the BBC's technology department has been linked to the findings of the review. In June 2008, the Trust was highly critical of the BBC's network news reporting of issues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Trust was heavily criticised in the popular press for its review of the amount the BBC pays for "top talent" and failing to answer whether stars like Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton were worth their large licence fee funded salaries. Ross is thought to earn £6 million each year.
2009 Editorial Standards Committee report
In April 2009, the Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) of the BBC Trust published a report into three complaints brought against two news items involving Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. The report received widespread coverage in the UK and in Israel.
The complaints included 24 allegations of breaching BBC guidelines on accuracy or impartiality of which three were fully or partially upheld. The Independent's Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk was particularly critical of the ESC report, saying that the BBC Trust is "now a mouthpiece for the Israeli lobby". An editorial in The Independent said that the report demonstrated "a terrible absence of good judgement". Michael Lyons' response to the editorial, also published in The Independent, said that it is important to take complaints seriously and to be scrupulously careful about standards of accuracy and impartiality so that the BBC's reputation for fairness and impartiality is maintained.
Future of the Trust
The BBC Trust has already come under severe pressure by the coalition government. Both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have been highly critical of the Trust model, stating that it has "failed". Both parties favour some kind of external regulation of the BBC.
Despite some early rhetoric about abolishing the Trust, the former Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has made clear that he would only act within the current Royal Charter, so major changes are unlikely until after the Charter expires in 2016. He has instead expressed his support for changing the name of the Trust and installing a new non-executive chairman on the BBC's Executive Board.
The incumbent Culture Secretary, Maria Miller has not made clear a position on the BBC Trust's existence although it is expected that there will be some form of management and governance re-structure.
The Trust Unit
The Trust is supported by a team of 70 staff, known as the Trust Unit. These staff are independent from the BBC Executive and include specialists in audience research, performance analysis, and finance. The Trust Unit is headed by its Director, Nicholas Kroll.
In 2007/08, the BBC Trust cost £11.909 million to run; in 2008/09, £10.517 million; and in 2009/10, £10.502 million, excluding Ofcom fees.
The BBC Trust has four Audience Councils, which provide advice to the Trust on the views of the audience in each Nation of the UK. The four Councils are:
- Audience Council England
- Audience Council Scotland
- Audience Council Wales
- Audience Council Northern Ireland
- Department for Culture, Media and Sport (on behalf of Elizabeth II) (19 September 2006). "BBC Royal Charter" (PDF). Archived from the original on 8 March 2007. Retrieved 3 March 2007.
- BBC (28 November 2006). "Press Release: Michael Grade resigns as BBC Chairman". Retrieved 28 November 2006.
- BBC Trust (5 April 2007). "Press release: Sir Michael Lyons appointed BBC Chairman". Retrieved 10 April 2007.[dead link]
- BBC Trust (14 September 2010). "Press release: Chairman of the BBC Trust". Retrieved 29 December 2010.
- BBC Trust. "How Trustees are appointed". Archived from the original on 13 January 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2010.
- "New BBC Trust chair to take 16% pay cut". The Guardian. 25 October 2010. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/appeals/esc_bulletins/2009/mar.pdf BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee 3 March 2009
- Jonny Paul, Complaints of BBC bias partially upheld, Jeruslam Post, 15 April 2009
- Antony Lerman, The Guardian, 16 April 2009, What did Jeremy Bowen do wrong?
- The Independent, 16 April 2009, Bowen 'breached rules on impartiality'
- Robert Fisk, The Independent, 16 April 2009, Robert Fisk: How can you trust the cowardly BBC?
- The Independent, 16 April 2009, Leading article: Bad judgement
- http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/michael-lyons-we-have-a-duty-to-uphold-impartiality-1669926.html We have a duty to uphold impartiality
- Brown, Maggie (17 May 2010). "What are Jeremy Hunt's priorities as the new culture secretary?". The Guardian (London).
- Sweney, Mark (14 April 2010). "Jeremy Hunt: Tories would scrap BBC Trust". The Guardian (London).
- BBC Trust (5 July 2010). "Annual Report and Accounts 2009/10". Retrieved 5 July 2010.