I'm not in any sort of position to write definitively about what might happen to S4C's budget next Wednesday - when the Chancellor stands up in the House of Commons to inform us of his Spending Review decisions. But I do note that there's been a fair bit of media comment yesterday and today. It may even be that I have 'inadvertantly' caused a bit of it.
Last Thursday morn I asked Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House during his weekly Business Statement session if he would arrange a debate on the value to the cultural life of Wales of S4C. I also pointed out to the Chamber how important S4C is to the development and promotion of the Welsh Language. Inevitably, the the truffle hounds at the BBC spotted this morsel, and wondered why I would be asking such a question at this time. They guessed it might be connected with a concern for next week's CSR announcement. Anyway, on Friday I had a call Radio Cymru asking if I'd do an interview for Post Prynhawn. I agreed, without realising that S4C and DCMS had already been contacted.
What I said, basically was this. Because of the scale and nature of cuts agreed to the S4C budget in 2010, there is now a strong case for not cutting any further at present. S4C is hugely important to the cultural and business life of Wales, as well as to the Welsh Language. I understand that the UK Govt is facing huge financial problems, and has to make significant reductions in spending - but any reduction in S4C's budget should be minimised (if there is to be any cut at all). This only repeated what I had said to Secretary of State, Maria Miller previously. All we can do now is wait until Wednesday. But we can look back at the history of all this.
When S4C was established in 1980, its annual budget was linked to an inflation formula. By 2010, the budget had risen to about £100million per annum - plus about £20million's worth of programming from the BBC. When every other budget was being cut, this could not continue. The inflation link was ended by the Public Bodies Act. I served on the Public Bodies Bill in Committee and received about 1200 emails protesting. Even more dramatically, most of the responsibility for the reduced budget was transferred to the BBC. Today, the BBC grant is around £70million, derived from its Licence Fee money. DCMS grants only about £6.7million. This meant a substantial cut in S4C funding overall, and an over 90% cut in the DCMS annual payment. That's where we are now.
Seems that there are rumours in the Welsh media world suggesting that the Sec of State might just abolish the DCMS payment altogether. No idea whether this is the case or not. I very much hope its not. I would be hugely disappointed to me if it were to be so. I would not be able to say anything else. Lets hope its just empty rumour. If it were to be true, I wonder whether the Welsh Gov't would be tempted to step in to help. Not sure whether it can, since broadcasting isn't devolved. But the Welsh Gov't can certainly invest money in the creative industries. It would seem odd if funding for S4C was emanating from the Welsh Gov't (with none from the UK Gov't) while broadcasting remained undevolved. Be an interesting position. But this is silly - all pointless conjecture. But I suppose, rather like a question to the Leader of the House, there's usually some underlying reason for 'pointless conjecture'.