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Review of the BBC's Performing Groups

Tim Davie Tim Davie | 13:46 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2012

Last year, as part of the BBC's Delivering Quality First (DQF) strategy, I asked John Myerscough to conduct an independent, external evaluation of the BBC's six 'performing groups': the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra.

John, a respected professional with many years' experience in the classical music world, was asked to assess the potential for savings to contribute to the BBC's financial challenge, following the most recent Licence Fee settlement. He was given unrestricted access to the groups and invited to scrutinise funding arrangements and operations, and compare them to the wider orchestral sector.

Today we are publishing John Myerscough's report and outlining our savings plan for the performing groups, which draws from the report's findings but is also informed by a range of internal and external viewpoints.

John's report recognises that the groups are a core part of the BBC's public service remit and that each one plays a unique role in British cultural life, delivering high-quality performances of distinctive repertoire and supporting education and outreach projects. It also shows that they have increased their impact and performance in recent years and have already achieved levels of efficiency that compare favourably with other orchestras. Finally, it acknowledges that any savings plan must preserve the groups' quality and distinctiveness, and minimise the impact on audiences. This follows the principles of all the DQF savings plans, which have aimed to protect 'content' spend as far as possible.

We considered the option of closing one of the groups, but concluded that this could not be achieved without significant loss of value to audiences, which would be at odds with our DQF strategy. In John's words, this approach "would be inconsistent with the Corporation's editorial needs." We are, therefore, not proposing the closure of a performing group.

However, we have identified a plan which delivers substantial savings by renewing the 'creative vision' for the Performing Groups. In clarifying the unique role and purpose of each group and reshaping their operations accordingly, we agree with John's analysis that we can "achieve greater effectiveness, fit and flexibility" and achieve considerable savings while "fostering quality and distinctiveness".

More specifically, this approach reduces costs by: modifying the number of contracted staff in each group to match more closely their output; introducing some session-based contracts to achieve simpler operation and more flexibility; modernising some work practices to encourage flexibility and value for money; and lowering administration costs further by sharing functions, especially among the three London groups and the Proms. Limited increase in box office revenue, while ensuring we retain distinctiveness, also contributes to the plan.

In adopting this strategy, we believe we can achieve savings of up to 10% of the groups' total budget and have identified potential savings of at least £2.1 million per annum by 2016/17. As the report says, a savings plan of this nature "should be achievable but it will not be easy". Further, it is clear that if we were to attempt another round of cost-cutting at this level, we would have to close one of the groups.

This will be a challenging period for everyone associated with the performing groups and the discussions about how best to apply the changes will continue with staff and unions. However, I hope that we now have a clear sense of how the groups can contribute to the BBC's financial challenge while protecting their quality and preserving each one's unique role in British cultural life.

You can read the report here.

Tim Davie is the Director of BBC Audio & Music


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