The BBC Trust was the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) between 2007 and 2017. It was operationally independent of BBC management and external bodies, and its stated aim was to make decisions in the best interests of licence-fee payers. On 12 May 2016, it was announced in the House of Commons that, under the next Royal Charter, the regulatory functions of the BBC Trust are to be transferred to Ofcom.
The Trust was established by the 2007 Royal Charter for the BBC, which came into effect on 1 January in that year. The Trust, and a formalised Executive Board, replaced the former Board of Governors. The decision to establish the trust followed the Hutton Inquiry, which had heavily criticised the BBC for its coverage of the death of David Kelly; Labour's political opponents, as well as large numbers of its supporters, saw the Hutton Inquiry as a whitewash, designed to deflect criticism from Tony Blair's government.
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 BBC Trust closed on 2 April 2017 at the expiry of the 2007 Royal Charter, which had a 10-year lifespan. Labour had lost power in 2010, and other political parties had established a parliamentary majority by the time it came to the moment for a new Royal Charter to be written.
The Royal Charter established that the Trust should have twelve trustees, including a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and a member for each of the Home Nations of the United Kingdom. Appointments to the BBC Trust are made by Queen in Council, on the recommendation of UK government ministers.
The final BBC Trust membership comprised:
Trustees served for terms of up to five years (usually four), after which they may be re-appointed.
Since 2006 the following people were members 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 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. Patten resigned in May 2014 following heart surgery. He was replaced by the Vice Chairman, Diane Coyle, in an acting capacity until a new Chairman was selected. On 31 August 2014 it was announced that Rona Fairhead would become the new Chairman of the trust.
The Chairman is expected to spend 3 days a week on Trust business, and the Vice-Chairman up to 2 days. Other Trustees are expected to spend 1 – 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.
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 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 value for money. Ross was reported to earn £6 million a year.
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.
The concept of the BBC Trust came under severe political criticism once the Labour government had left power, in 2010. Both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats - who comprised the main parliamentary parties other than Labour - were highly critical of the Trust model, stating that it has "failed". Both parties favoured some kind of external regulation of the BBC.
Despite some early rhetoric about abolishing the Trust, the then Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made clear that he would only act within the envelope set by the Royal Charter, so major changes were not possible until the Charter expired after the end of 2016. Mr Hunt 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 subsequent Culture Secretary, Maria Miller had not made clear a position on whether the BBC Trust would exist under the next Charter, although it was widely expected that there would be some form of management and governance re-structure.
On 1 March 2016, an independent review by Sir David Clementi was published, which recommended that the BBC Trust be disbanded. Citing previous controversies involving the BBC, such as its handling of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal, a Newsnight report which falsely implied that Lord McAlpine was involved in child abuse (due to mistaken identity), controversies involving Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, and other internal issues, he concluded that the Trust was "flawed" and unable to sufficiently self-regulate. He suggested that the BBC be overseen by an unitary board "charged with responsibility for meeting the obligations placed on it under the royal charter and agreement, and responsibility for the interests of licence fee payers", and that Ofcom take on the BBC's regulatory oversight. Clementi stated that his proposal would give the BBC "no hiding place", and explained that "no good governance system will ever guarantee good outcomes, but if you have a single board with a good governance system, you know who's responsible. One of the difficulties in those cases was it wasn't quite clear if the trust were dealing with it or whether the executive board were dealing with it. It fell to both of them and neither of them."
The Trust was 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, Alex Towers.
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 had 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: