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BBC on target to reach Across the UK goals – but more needs doing for music and radio

BBC

The National Audit Office has published a report into the BBC’s implementation of its Across the UK strategy – a bid to increase its regional economic footprint.

In March 2021, the BBC stated that by 2028, it would transfer £700m of expenditure outside of London. This would include moving 400 roles to the nations and regions. The aim being to improve audience portrayal perceptions; support the growth of local creative industries; and bring an estimated £850m in local economic growth.

The Phase 1 period ended in March 2023, by which time it had achieved 9.6% of its £700m target – this was against a planned 12.5% (£88.1m), which was reached in June.

The majority of this went to the West Midlands, Wales, and northern England. 

The NAO said that the original business case from October 2021 was “underdeveloped, with no options appraisal for meeting objectives and no assessment of the local labour market.”

It also found a “lack of initial planning created delivery risks, with unrealistic timelines for moving roles.”

The BBC has, however, met many of its Phase 1 targets, spending 58% of its network television production budget outside London – close to its 60% target by December 2027. This included Morning Live heading to Manchester and the recommissioning of Greater Manchester’s Waterloo Road.

It has also moved the World Service Business team to Salford and its Learning and Identity Unit to Leeds.

However, there hasn’t been any movement in music and radio. This remains at 41% – the same level as March 2020. That’s despite moving a number of network programmes to Salford.

A spokesperson for BBC Radio said:

“We have ambitious plans for BBC Radio and we’re confident we’ll achieve our 50% target. Most of the radio moves were always planned to happen in the coming years, and since April 2023 we’ve made significant progress. We are on track with our key commitments to move The Asian Network to Birmingham and root Radio 3 and Radio 6 Music in Salford. We have created a network radio production hub in Cardiff and Bristol, and we have new shows coming from Belfast, Glasgow, Salford and Birmingham. Further changes are also planned, including Huw Stephens’ new 6 Music show coming from Cardiff in the new year and DJ Day Day’s Radio 1Xtra show broadcasting live from Birmingham.”

It is also behind on its target to support 1,000 in-house apprentices across the UK by 2025. By March 2023 it had hired 60% of apprentices outside London (369 out of a total of 617) against a target of 80%. 

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.

The BBC said it was “confident” in creating new employment opportunities outside of London – using experience from its move to Salford.

The NAO was also critical of how the BBC made changes to the Across The UK plans. It conceded that “it is usual for plans to change and adapt” but the 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 and as part of phase two it will develop its main methodologies for measuring benefits and impacts.

“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. However, it has made less progress in transferring radio and music budgets outside London and is behind on its ambitious target for apprentices,” said Gareth Davies, the Head of the NAO.

“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.”

In response, the Rhodri Talfan Davies, BBC’s Director of Nations and Executive Sponsor of Across the UK, said:

“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 said it would be reviewing changes it has made to ATUK since March 2021.

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