BBC bosses: Squandering £160m of our licence fee

Broadcasting House: Part of the BBC's wasted £160m Pic Courtesy:vam.ac.uk

Update: Since this blog was written Chris Patten, chair of the BBC Trust, has decided to curb the very high levels of executive pay at the BBC – a first step to deal with the problem. But he will need to tackle how the managers control non journalist spending – such as IT contracts and property moves which cost licencepayers £160m.

Don’t get this blog wrong, this is not  an attack  on the BBC for wasting licence payers money on programmes. It is an attack on how the BBC has wasted  tens of millions of pounds by not controlling the money it spends on the boring bits – the money spent on property, studios and digital equipment that go to make those programmes possible.

Two recent reports from the National Audit Office – the body that on our behalf examines whether our taxes are spent wisely –  make very disturbing reading. They are into the BBC’s handling of some £2 billion of cash that is being spent on moves from  London  to Salford and Glasgow  and back to Broadcasting House in London and into cutting edge digitisation of  TV. I have written about this at length in The Journalist – the National Union of Journalists magazine  see http://bit.ly/mCekbZ .

In a nutshell they show that up to £160m was wasted on these plans because of delays, a botched private tender and exposed a  bad management attitude at the top.

As the auditors, not known for colourful phrases, said on people handling the  studio move to Pacific Quay, Glasgow :“It was sometimes difficult to engage senior staff in decision-making about their area as some seemed to either not fully understand their responsibilities or take them seriously enough.”

To put in context the money lost was enough  to run both BBC News Channel and BBC4 – or in radio terms the entire cost of running Radio Three and Four – for a year. That bad.

The reason why it matters is that the BBC is now having to make cuts to meet the government’s spending targets. Journalists are going to be sacked, programmes and parts of the BBC World Service , radio  and TV channels closed down. It can ill afford to make mistakes in its boring  bits.

I don’t mind paying a licence fee to hear Jim Naughtie and John Humphrys confronting a less than straight politician on the Today programme or  see  Ian Hislop and Paul Merton take the piss out of  Boris Johnson on Have I got News for You? I certainly am keen on Panorama exposing scandals in private care homes. I like to be entertained by comedians like David Mitchell or the lewder Russell Howard on Live at the Apollo or dramas like Case Histories, Waking the Dead etc.

I do mind paying a licence fee for some useless manager to spend millions giving IT contractor  Siemens a monopoly tender  to digitalise TV which then falls apart. Or giving some  property company £46m extra cash because  BBC managers can’t get their act together to move back to Broadcasting House in time and have to extend their leases at Bush House.

So I think it is time the corporation got a grip on this. And what are they and Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, doing. Trying to bind the hands of the very body exposing this waste from doing its job properly.

Over a  year in government nothing has been done. The head of the National Audit Office who has the wonderful name of Amyas Morse wrote to Mr Hunt last September trying to get three basic things done on behalf of viewers and listeners.  He wanted  unfettered access to information to the BBC, the right to decide what he wanted to investigate and the right to publish his findings when he and not the BBC wanted.  Hardly revolutionary stuff.

Not granted yet. So how about some interactive reaction. If you think the man from the audit office should get  his access on our behalf –  send him an email at  enquiries@nao.gsi.gov.uk  marked Amyas Morse ( as it says on their website). You think  the BBC Trust is blocking this email trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk or contact its chairman Lord Patten at pattenc@parliament.uk .

Finally you could remind Jeremy Hunt that he is supposed to have sorted this. Try jeremy.hunt@culture.gsi.gov.uk .  It is time the BBC had a metaphorical bomb put under it so it  gets its act together and doesn’t waste another £160m.

3 thoughts on “BBC bosses: Squandering £160m of our licence fee

  1. Hi David, could this be linked to the request by the Executive to the Trust to ‘rebase the proportion of the licence fee spent on the BBC estate from six per cent to eight per cent to take account of the move from a freehold to a more expensive leasehold portfolio.’ as mentioned in point 143.3 of the Trust meeting in November?

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  2. It has always baffled me as to why anyone in the media industry, anyone who was at the top of their game, who worked in one of the media industry World hubs, would want to move to Salford. Salford, only known for the theatrical location of ‘Coronation Street’. The fact is nobody who’s serious about their career would head off to the Siberia of broadcasting, Salford. So why did anyone think it was a good idea. Are we going to be moving City jobs from the square mile to Salford? Are we going to be moving researchers from the Houses of Parliament? Are we moving The music industry there? No they are all staying in London for good reason. So how will the BBC recruit staff to go North – they won’t be the best and happy to work anywhere, they will have to pay everyone more to make the move attractive, and they’ll have to make the move easy – huge budget for removal and relocation costs. Sounds like the sort of scheme we would run into in my previous big company employer – someone’s Mum lives up there and a senior member of staff wants to be nearby, or someone has a cottage in the Lake District and wants to be nearby. Otherwise there doesn’t seem to be any logic to this relocation.

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