You currently have a chance to give your views on the future of the BBC. I hope you will take the opportunity to say that it is one of this country’s best assets and, free from those endless advertising breaks, offers great value for money compared to the expensive Sky and BT packages which line the pockets of Premier League footballers.

I am not a naïve fan of the BBC. I worked for them for thirteen years under managers of varying quality. It was over managed and paid its top staff too much. Most of the pooh-bahs have gone now, apart from Creative Director Alan Yentob. He should be on his way soon after his handling of the Kid’s Company affair. In 2010 the BBC were wrong to fight plans for Ofcom or a new OfBBC to replace the discredited governors system. The BBC Trust that was set up has failed to provide an independent overview of the executive.

So the Corporation isn’t without its faults but in the run up to Charter renewal in 2017, it has been subjected to continuous vilification in many newspapers. More worryingly the government have trampled all over the proper procedures regarding its future funding for the second time, the new Culture Secretary has hinted the BBC should compete less in popular programming and Tory backbenchers have maintained their tired campaign against the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation.

The press attacks on the BBC are motivated by falling newspaper sales, a loss of advertising revenue to the internet and a jealousy about the Corporation’s excellent news coverage. They should get their house in order. Shrinking the BBC is not the answer. We know what that leads too. Some years ago local papers managed to get BBC plans to improve their regional web pages scrapped claiming unfair competition. It did nothing to halt circulation slides and impoverished a part of the BBC’s service to the public.

Some parts of the Tory Party have always had a problem with the BBC, thinking it is biased against it.

In my thirteen years as a BBC journalist nobody remotely indicated I should favour the left. No such editorial policy has ever existed and it is essential that the publicly funded BBC should remain free of government pressure. That independence has been sorely tested with the recent overnight imposition on the BBC of funding free TV licences for the elderly.


Finally we come to the £145.50 compulsory licence fee. In an age when there are so many ways to access BBC services, why does the BBC have to be funded by TV licences? My answer is that at 40p a day it is very good value compared to Sky packages which are often £70 a month. People kid themselves if they say they never use BBC services as an article in next week’s Radio Times shows. Finally what is the alternative? Please not advertising which is making commercial channels unwatchable. The BBC should make much more of this. Would people really want subscription with the BBC begging on air for money to fund its programmes as happens with public broadcasting in America? A state levy like they have in Germany seems the only possible alternative.


After a summer where the government and BBC got in their trenches, a more conciliatory mood broke out at this week’s TV festival in Edinburgh. Perhaps the Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, has already picked up the public’s bewilderment that with all the problems we’ve got, that time should be wasted fixing a problem that does not exist.



Angela Merkel arrives at passport control at Athens airport. She is asked “Name?”  The German Chancellor replies “Angela Merkel”. “Occupation?” “No,I’m only here for three days.” I was told that one by a German friend by the way before you accuse me of old stereotypes. But at a time when relations are very tense between the successful Germans and the struggling Greeks, it might be worth considering how Greek and British small and medium sized businesses might benefit from the Mittelstand way of doing things.


Next week a sell out conference is being held here in the north by the German British Forum. Business people will find out how middle sized and small companies are supported in Germany by the mighty Mittelstand. If George Osborne is serious about Britain becoming economic top dog by 2030, he should try and squeeze into next week’s conference.


Not that it will be all about knocking the British way of doing things. The Germans admire our creativity, customer service and economic growth. However our productivity, lack of skills, short term shareholder focused approach to investment and lack of bank support hold back our SMEs.


So what is this mighty Mittelstand? It describes a middle sized company but has also come to stand for a particular German way of doing business which might commend itself to many northern businesses if we could get the economic framework right to support it.

95% of Mittelstand companies are family owned and 85% owner managed. They are customer, employee and community focused whereas many of our companies are obsessed with the short term need to reward the shareholder.


How is it possible not to worship at the alter of the shareholder? After all in this country it is they who are investing their cash. The German system is rooted in the regions or lander, the highly successful system of sub national government that we created for the Germans after 1945 but seem incapable of having here.


Mittelstand companies finance themselves from retained profits with bank debt and equity funding making up smaller components of the mix. Crucially they are supported by a network of three thousand independent banks. The UK has a dozen business banks. These banks have managers who know the local businesses.


There is a close relationship between business and education ranging from school visits at an early age and a well thought out apprenticeship scheme. 67% of German youngsters go into apprenticeships and there is no snobbery about vocational training with 50% training in trade, crafts and technology and 50% in administration and service.


This system of locally based finance has led to major export success particularly for the so called “hidden champions”, middle sized companies exporting all over the world and contributing 200bn Euros to the German economy. For instance Brita Water Filters rose from nothing to now having a 7bn Euro turnover. The “hidden champions” are founded on innovation, excellent product standards, and long service senior management.


As we debate how the northern powerhouse might look in terms of organisation and democratic structures, it would be good to build in some “mittlestand” thinking. Perhaps our Local Enterprise Partnerships could be part of the banking structure for our SMEs or possibly a Bank of the North with local managers in our towns and cities bringing their local knowledge to investment decisions.


Follow me @JimHancockUK


Only a banking union is going to save the Eurozone. That’s effectively an economic union which needs democratic political control. That means a United States of those countries in the Eurozone which leaves the continental countries outside the Eurozone as an uncomfortable rump plus the UK. London has the biggest banking and financial centre in Europe; therefore we should be part of the United States of Europe.

Whilst Eurosceptics (most of you) gag on this outrageous proposition, let me make my case. It won’t be easy in a country that has been heavily influenced for a long time by the anti-EU Murdoch press. Remember what former Prime Minister John Major told the Leveson Inquiry this week. How this jumped up Aussie press baron had threatened the Prime Minister of this country that if he didn’t change his policy on Europe, all his newspapers would aim to bring him down.

The Greek vote this weekend may accelerate the deepening crisis brought about by the contradiction of having a common currency without central banking control. Whether the Greeks elect a far left government that repudiates their bailout conditions or not, the President of the European Commission is already paving the way for a banking union to start next January.

It would mean common supervision of Eurozone banks giving the German Chancellor what she wants, joint accountability and joint control all in one.

Whilst euroscepticism is rampant in Britain, the response of European politicians to the deepening crisis is to see the solution in closer integration.

David Cameron and George Osborne won’t be taking my advice, although they will support the Eurozone drawing closer together. After all the Chancellor is convinced this Euro chaos rather than the Jubilee Bank Holiday or the wrong kind of rain is hampering our recovery. The UK will demand a strengthening of the single market involving all 27 member states to protect our large financial services sector.

But the Germans aren’t happy with the British government’s approach. They fear the danger of a 2 speed Europe if there is a tight Eurozone with Britain outside. But they aren’t going to get us in because most people in Britain think the Euro is a failure and we are well out of it. I doubt if that is a wise judgement in the longer term.

If we were part of a united Europe we would be able to add our economic and fiscal wisdom to a collection of countries that badly need it. We should be alongside Germany and France in spreading best practice from Eastern Europe to the Atlantic. That way we could ensure stability in our biggest market. As it is we are shouting advice from the sidelines and we could soon be down the tunnel and out of the stadium.

That’s because the pressure for a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union is wearing down all politicians. There are even suggestions that the Labour Party is dallying with this irresponsible nonsense.

Irresponsible nonsense to give the British people a say? I’m afraid so. There would be a big vote to get out and only then would we realise what we’ve lost. We’d be like Norway, obeying all the EU rules so that we could sell our goods but with no influence.