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BBC responds to NAO report

November 24, 2023

The BBC’s Across the UK (ATUK) strategy, published in March 2021, sets out the BBC’s mission to deliver for the whole of the UK. As part of the biggest transformation in decades, the pioneering programme delivers a blueprint for moving investment, programming and decision-making across the UK to get closer to audiences, support the country’s diverse creative sectors, and develop and nurture new talent.

Responding to the NAO review of the BBC’s implementation, Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director of Nations and Executive Sponsor of Across the UK, says:

“The BBC’s Across the UK plan is our commitment to root the BBC right across the UK. We welcome the NAO’s report and its conclusion that we have achieved good progress.”

“We’ve already moved significant spending and decision making beyond London, bringing the BBC closer to our audiences. Our plans are creating jobs and investment across the nations and regions, generating an additional economic benefit and developing and nurturing new talent.”

“Our plans are deliberately ambitious. We are making good progress in many areas and we are confident about meeting our targets. We are grateful to the NAO and recognise the challenges they highlight – we are alive to them and determined to keep up the momentum needed to deliver.”

The BBC says it is proud to be investing in the UK’s regional media and creative economies, especially at a time when a number of other major players are cutting back and when the BBC faces huge financial challenges as a result of a two-year freeze in the licence fee, with a 30 per cent real-terms fall in income over ten years from 2010. The NAO has recognised that the BBC took an informed approach, making certain that it targeted interventions in areas of the UK where it could make the most impact.

From the outset, the BBC committed that between 2021/22 and 2027/28 the BBC would spend an extra £700m cumulatively across the UK. As at October 2023, over £150m of expenditure has already been transferred outside London, and 58 per cent of BBC network television spend is now invested outside the capital each year. That’s up 15 per cent in the two years since the Corporation launched the strategy and means we are well ahead of schedule in meeting its goal to invest at least 60 per cent of network TV expenditure by the end of the Charter period.

“We met our overall programme phase one target for transferring expenditure outside London in June 2023,” it says. “We are building on our progress in audio, recognising specific plans have evolved in the context of other organisational priorities. We are focused and confident of delivering our target of 50 per cent of audio production expenditure outside London by March 2028.”

Any major programme of change will always have challenges, but the BBC is fundamentally on track to deliver the benefits of its ATUK strategy. To date, a number of significant decisions and announcements have been made, and it will be announcing further developments very soon:

  • 110 new and returning drama and comedy programmes have been commissioned, reflecting communities outside London and ensuring an authentic, diverse portrayal of the UK
  • Production moves have been announced including Morning Live to Manchester, Silent Witness to the West Midlands and MasterChef to Birmingham. The BBC also re-commissioned Waterloo Road which is set and filmed in Greater Manchester as one of two long-running drama targets
  • News teams are now based across the UK, with moves to English Regions (notably to Birmingham and Salford), Wales and Scotland and over 200 roles relocated to date, meaning that 50 per cent of the News story teams are now based outside London – including Newsbeat to Birmingham; World Service Business team to Salford; Climate & Science team to Cardiff; Technology to Glasgow; and Learning & Identity Unit to Leeds
  • BBC Radio has already relocated a number of network programmes to Cardiff, Salford, Birmingham, Glasgow and Belfast – including some weekday shows on Radio 1, 1Xtra and Radio 2. Network Radio has also committed to big live events moving across the UK, including Radio 2 in the Park from Leicester earlier this year
  • Signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) are in place in both the West Midlands and North East, setting out how to better serve local audiences and creative economies; and we have currently met or exceeding all our MOU commitments in the Midlands and North East, and exceeded the volume of commissions planned for the first two years for the latter
  • By the end of phase 1 we delivered almost 300 full-time roles outside London
  • The BBC now has over 600 in-house apprentices, with approximately 60 per cent outside London.

In response to the NAO’s specific recommendations:

[Building on the work the BBC has underway, it should] review changes it has made to ATUK since March 2021, including the underlying data it is using to track these, to ensure it will still achieve its intended strategic objectives.

Changes made on the programme are captured through a change log and their impact tracked through the implementation plan. More recently, this activity has been enhanced by the introduction of a formal change request process.

As the NAO reference, especially with the additional transfer expenditure already identified for television, we are confident in the achievability of the overall targets and delivery of the wider strategic objectives set for the programme.

We will continue to review any material changes to ensure these do not impact the delivery of the strategic objectives of the programme. Changes will be taken through the programme Steering Group and group-level Operations Committee, with additional oversight of the programme also provided via the Audit and Risk Committee.

[Building on the work the BBC has underway, it should] reassess how it will achieve its target of supporting 1,000 apprentices in any given year by the end of 2025 and the capacity the BBC has to recruit at such a scale.

We remain committed to the target to support 1,000 apprentices in any given year by 2025. Significant progress has been made to date and there is strong internal demand for apprenticeships. We have undertaken detailed planning sessions with divisions on apprenticeship growth within our recent budget cycle processes.

We recognise the difficulty highlighted by the NAO in our ambition to deliver 80 per cent of in-house apprentices outside London. We are reviewing this geographic mix to reflect our broader staff profile across the UK and an updated view on the availability of posts across our wider bases/locations – some of which has been caused by the need to deliver significant savings in parallel, especially given the most recent licence fee settlement.

With respect to the Apprentice Hub piloted in the West Midlands, as the NAO explain, demand was less than anticipated for reasons including the sector not growing at a fast enough rate, potential employers finding it unaffordable given recent economic conditions and other competing local skills initiatives. We are looking at how we can further stimulate demand and incentivise wider local creative parties to offer these opportunities.

[Building on the work the BBC has underway, it should] set out a benefits management strategy and plans for measuring changes in audience portrayal and economic growth without further delay.

As described in the NAO’s report, the development of methodologies for measuring and tracking economic benefits and impact were always planned for phase two of the programme.

Phase two commenced in April 2023 since which we have begun developing these frameworks and the detail within. These will support the audience measurements already in place and reported in the Annual Report and Accounts. We will finalise and seek approval through the programme governance structures by March 2024.

[Building on the work the BBC has underway, it should] examine how it will capture other benefits arising from ATUK.

Seeking to drive efficiencies is business-as-usual for the BBC. To date, the programme budget has already been reduced by £10m as a result of delivered and/or expected savings. We will continue to look for efficiencies within the programme, reducing budget and handing back funding where identified.

[Building on the work the BBC has underway, it should] set out a revised communications and engagement strategy.

Staff engagement to date has been focused more on the planning phase of the programme and on those staff/areas more directly impacted. It is recognised that communication & engagement is critical to any transformation programme – we will revisit our programme-level staff communication plans as we progress through this next phase of ATUK.

Externally, there is substantial interest in the BBC’s plans to move such a significant amount of expenditure across the UK. We engage widely with a large number of external stakeholders, focused particularly on areas where there is an opportunity to collectively drive forward the ambitions of the programme. We will review the stakeholder list developed by the NAO for the purposes of this study, and where the report highlights matters that are addressable within the scope of ATUK, we will consider where it may be helpful to engage further.

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