John Whittingdale's reforms would change BBC much more than widely thought

Are the BBC reforms trivial, now that Cameron and Osborne have vetoed the culture secretary's more radical plans?

Absolutely not - although the impact of them may take years to properly assess, and many of them will be seen, erroneously, as rather dull technical changes of modest cultural and industrial importance.

Take the proposal to make the National Audit Office the official auditor of the BBC, replacing one of the Big Four international auditors (Ernst & Young is the current auditor).

This is in effect to turn the BBC into an official part of the public sector, in the way that the Bank of England, for example, is not.


Because the NAO reports to MPs on the National Accounts Committee.

And the National Accounts Committee will therefore, in effect, become the audit and finance committee for the BBC.

This reform alone will significantly undermine the independence of the new board being created at the BBC, and will significantly constrain its power.

If you doubt me, ask anyone at the Bank of England why it has fought for years to prevent the NAO becoming its auditor.

The new hold over the BBC of the NAO and PAC will force the BBC to be much more frightened of taking management and creative risks, for fear of being accused of wasting money.

And the BBC will become much more like a government department, in respect of its sense of rights and duties.

Maybe that's a good thing - though it seems to run counter to the motif of Whittingdale's White Paper on the new BBC charter, which is that the BBC should take more creative risks.

So the imposition of the NAO as auditor matters.

A view of BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London. Credit: PA Wire

Then there is the requirement that pretty much everything on BBC television, except for news and some current affairs, and 60% of radio should be contestable by the private sector - or available to be made by outside producers, subject to tender.

This could easily mean that the BBC ends up making almost nothing itself, unless the inhouse production business it has recently carved out of its own assets, BBC Studios, turns out to be much more flexible and nimble than is widely expected - because the private sector should routinely be able to make more competitive tenders than BBC Studios.

At which point the BBC would become a publisher of other companies' content - which again may or may not be a good thing. And is certainly a big thing.

Finally there is the appointment of Ofcom as the BBC's regulator, in place of the BBC Trust, and the related requirement on the BBC to produce only "distinctive" programmes that the commercial sector would be unlikely to make.

In practice these may be the most significant changes of all, especially in the light of the new operating licences that Ofcom will impose on the corporation.

How so?

Well at the moment the BBC Trust puts a huge weight on the "public value" of what the BBC does, whereas the history of Ofcom is that it is more concerned with the impact on competition and the operation of the market.

So there is a high probability that the BBC's activities will be much more severely circumscribed by an Ofcom highly sensitive to the impact of the BBC on the likes of the ITV and Sky.

In practice, the BBC's ability to make highly popular programmes, or invest in important new technologies, may be reined in.

A good thing? That is for you to decide.

But, again, it is certainly a big thing.