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Report: BBC’s progress transferring roles outside London

November 24, 2023

By Colin Mann

The BBC has made progress transferring commissioning, production and journalism outside London, according to a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO), the UK’s independent public spending watchdog.

To achieve this, the BBC’s Across the UK plans involve moving decisions on budgets and funding outside the capital to improve audience portrayal perceptions, increase the BBC’s regional economic footprint, and support the growth of local creative industries.

The NAO report – The BBC’s implementation of Across the UK (ATUK) – assesses the BBC’s March 2021 blueprint and concludes that meeting its targets remains possible if the corporation can overcome challenges to date in transferring expenditure, notably audio production. By the end of the first phase of implementation in March 2023, the corporation had transferred 9.6 per cent of its £700 million (€805m) target for March 2028 outside London, against a planned 12.5 per cent. By June 2023, the BBC had reached its phase one target, and it is confident it will meet its £700 million target.

The BBC expects to move around 400 roles outside London and estimates that transferring £700 million of expenditure through the implementation of ATUK will generate an additional economic benefit of around £850 million in local economic growth.

By March 2023, the BBC had transferred £67.5 million, mostly to the West Midlands, Wales, and northern England. It focused on areas where it already had some presence at a scale it considered sufficient to make an impact on the local creative economy, rather than being thinly spread. By June 2023, it had transferred £88.1 million outside London, meeting its phase one target three months later than planned.

The NAO report found that the BBC’s October 2021 business case was underdeveloped, with no options appraisal for meeting objectives and no assessment of the local labour market. The NAO also found the lack of initial planning created delivery risks, with unrealistic timelines for moving roles.

The BBC has met many of the other phase one targets, having spent 58 per cent of its network television production budget outside London as at March 2023, close to its target of 60 per cent by December 2027. However, it has not been able to make planned progress regarding radio and music production. While it aims to invest 50 per cent on radio and music outside London by March 20283 expenditure in the regions remains at 41 per cent, the same level as in March 2020.

The BBC is also behind on its ambitious target to support 1,000 in-house apprentices across the UK by 2025. By March 2023 it had hired 60 per cent of apprentices outside London (369 out of a total of 617) against a target of 80 per cent. A separate West Midlands pilot Apprentice Hub, aiming to support local creative industry employers, made 27 apprentice placements against a target of 50 by March 2023. Demand from local employers was less than anticipated, though the BBC is reviewing how it can further incentivise demand.

The BBC is confident it is creating new employment opportunities outside London, while increasing local recruitment. It has been flexible in its approach, drawing on its experience from previous approaches, including its move to Salford.

The BBC announced in June 2023 that it would not move the BBC Concert Orchestra outside London as originally planned, which would have transferred £23 million spending outside the capital. In July, it also reduced its target for recruiting staff apprentices outside London from 80 per cent to 51 per cent.

While it is usual for plans to change and adapt, the NAO found that the BBC did not have an agreed process for requesting changes to ATUK until October 2022. The broadcaster did not review earlier changes, making it harder to track progress against strategic objectives. The BBC says it has now improved how it tracks the benefits of Across the UK.

The BBC is confident that it is broadly on track to deliver its commitments, yet it does not have a fully developed evaluation plan to assess its progress. The BBC considers that benefits will not flow until later phases are completed, and that early evaluation would not be helpful. The NAO concludes that without a robust evaluation framework and accurate reporting of data the BBC will not be able to capture benefits or change course if needed. The BBC is now in phase two of ATUK where, as it planned, it will develop its main methodologies for measuring benefits and impacts.

The report recommends that the BBC reviews changes since March 2021 to ensure it will achieve its objectives, reassess its capacity to support 1,000 apprentices and develop how it will measure benefits. It should also set out a revised communications and engagement strategy to secure greater buy-in from its staff and external stakeholders.

“The BBC has made progress increasing spending, activity, and decision-making outside London, already almost meeting its overall target for the transfer of network television production expenditure,” commented Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO. “However, it has made less progress in transferring radio and music budgets outside London and is behind on its ambitious target for apprentices.”

While the BBC should be commended for its efforts to make its content more reflective of the audiences it serves, it should improve its evaluation of the programme and set out how it will sustain the benefits of its plans beyond 2028.”

Dame Caroline Dinenage, Chair of the UK House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has urged the BBC to make good on its plans to boost the percentage of audio production outside London.

Commenting on the NAO report, Dinenage said: “BBC plans to boost the percentage of audio production outside London play a fundamental role not just in ensuring that the corporation reflects the lives and views of different communities, but in supporting the growth of our local creative industries.”

“Coming so soon after the cuts to local radio and the significant impacts they are having on local listeners, it is more important than ever that the BBC shows that it is committed to communities outside the capital. We want to see more progress on increasing how much of its audio production budget is spent outside London and on recruiting locally the next generation of talent through its apprenticeship schemes.”

“The Culture, Media and Sport Committee will be keeping a close eye on progress and how the corporation is using licence payers’ money to develop a vibrant media sector right across the country and not just in London,” she confirmed.



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