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Acting chair urges nation to ‘believe in’ BBC as it faces difficult choices

BBC acting chair Dame Elan Closs Stephens (Aaron Chown/PA)
BBC acting chair Dame Elan Closs Stephens (Aaron Chown/PA)

Acting BBC chair Dame Elan Closs Stephens said the broadcaster needs people to “believe in them and to defend them” as it faces difficult choices amid ongoing financial pressures.

Dame Elan will mark five months at the helm of the BBC, having taken over from Richard Sharp in June, with a keynote speaker appearance at the 40th Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference in London on Wednesday.

She is set to address the autumn conference telling delegates that the corporation needs “focus and determination” as it seeks to make savings in the face of high inflation and a licence fee freeze.

Richard Sharp BBC resignation
Dame Elan Closs Stephens took over from Richard Sharp in June (House of Commons/PA)

“This has meant – and continues to mean – difficult choices, with implications for our services and of course for our audiences,” she is expected to say.

“However, I believe that the challenge is to make sure that a leaner BBC is a better BBC.”

The BBC’s current funding settlement is in place until 2027/28, meaning it must make cumulative savings of £2 billion before the end of the agreement.
 
Turning to the future of the corporation, Dame Elan will describe the BBC as “the envy of world”.

“It is an extraordinary national institution, and one of this country’s finest achievements,” she will say.

“But as with all great and long-lasting institutions, there is a danger that we take it for granted.

“In particular, there is a risk that we take for granted the reason it is able to achieve what it does for the UK – namely, its independence.”

Dame Elan Closs Stephens appointed acting chair of the BBC
Dame Elan Closs Stephens will reaffirm the importance and significance of the BBC’s independence (BBC/PA)

Dame Elan will say the independence of the BBC “needs safeguarding” which requires “strong systems of governance”.

She will add: “Without those systems, without agreed standards and norms, independence can fray – gradually, and then suddenly.

“That is why they require something else too. They need people to believe in them and to defend them.

“That goes for the BBC just as it goes for many other world-class UK institutions.”

Dame Elan will say the BBC offers remarkable value despite the “financial pressures” it is currently facing.