Dated 22 Jun 2004 (Column WA119/120) in the Lords' Hansard, Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government whether the BBC received any funding by way of grant or loan from the European Union in the period 2000–04; if so, what was the amount paid in each year; and for what purpose.
The answer given by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey) was to the point:
BBC's producers' guidelines make clear that co-funding from any third party is not appropriate for programmes aimed at a general audience. But the BBC does receive some EU funding for some specialised educational and support material (such as basic literacy and IT skills training for adults).
Interestingly, the Lord McIntosh does not set out the details of the borrowing from the EIB, and nor does he state what those "commercial purposes" are.
For the period 2000–03, the BBC expected to be paid £375,828 by the European Social Fund to help to pay for community outreach work (workshops, publicity, telephone support, databases) among learners and tutors using the BBC's online Skillswise and WebWise sites, which provide literacy, numeracy and IT skills resources.
For the period 2003–04, the BBC is expecting to receive a sum of between £130,961 and £139,959 in support of a pilot project which provides specially versioned online resources (basic skills and English as a second language) which are being used in community centres, learning centres (including UK online centres) and colleges.
The corporation also participates in various initiatives relating to the digitalisation and preservation of archives, which is funded from the Commission's R&D framework programme, the sums received or expected for these purposes being £74,837 in 2000, £52,024 in 2001, £133,394 in 2002, £195,125 in 2003 and £146,500 in 2004.
The World Service Trust is an independent charity which is not a division of the BBC, but it has also received some EU funding for media literacy, training and reconstruction projects across the world as follows:
1999–2000 £137,373 2000–01 £527,432 2001–02 £490,703 2002–03 £865,119 2003–04 £1,167,251
The BBC does not borrow from the EU, although its commercial subsidiaries do borrow from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for commercial purposes.
Reference to the EIB site, however, does reveal that a loan facility of £25 million has been made available to BBC Worldwide Limited "to finance the expansion of BBCW's investments in BBC's new productions over the period 2002-2004".
BBCW's portfolio of programmes, it helpfully adds, "focuses on news, education (incl. digital curriculum) and entertainment (incl. children programmes and music)". Er... news... education?
Interestingly, that is the only detail given on the EIB web site, but the BBC’s own annual accounts reveal that the EIB has in fact made two loan facilities available to "BBC Commercial Holdings".
The first, for an amount of £66 million, is available for drawing until March 2005 and must either be repaid in full as a single repayment by March 2013 or on an amortising basis by March 2015. The second, which is the one for for £25 million, is available for drawing until November 2003 and is repayable in one single instalment by November 2007.
It then adds the intriguing information that, as at 31 March 2003, nothing had been drawn down under either of these facilities, which invited the question of why the money was applied for in the first place.
This notwithstanding, the money is tainted. The task of the European Investment Bank, which is the European Union's financing institution, is – according to its own definition - to contribute towards the integration, balanced development and economic and social cohesion of the Member Countries.
The key word here is "integration", a political objective which – as some readers may be aware - is not at all uncontentious. One cannot imagine that the EIB could or would advance a massive loan facility to an organisation that did not support its overall aims, to which extent the very fact of the award is evidence that the BBC has bought into the European integration project.
Come the EU referendum campaign for real, this will become an increasingly serious issue, and one that should attract the attention of all members of the "no" campaign – once it's chosen the carpets for its offices and ordered the paper clips.