Entertainment & Arts

BBC censured for Salford move costs

MediaCityUK in Salford
Image caption MediaCityUK in Salford houses the BBC and other media organisations

The BBC has been criticised for paying some staff "excessive" allowances for relocating to its Salford offices.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the scale of some allowances was "difficult to justify".

But the committee said the BBC "did a good job" overall, completing the move on time and within the £224m budget.

A BBC statement said it was pleased the committee had "recognised BBC North was delivered on time, under budget and with no break in services".

BBC Sport, Children's, radio station 5 live and BBC One Breakfast were among the services that moved from London to MediaCityUK in Salford in an attempt to make the corporation better reflect the UK.

More than 850 staff relocated to Salford, with the last movers there by April 2012.

The committee's report said relocation costs for 11 staff members exceeded £100,000 per person, with one costing £150,000. The average relocation cost was £28,000.

'Risky' contract

"Some relocation allowances that the BBC paid to staff to move to Salford seem excessive and its recording of exceptions, some of which resulted in higher payments, was inadequate," the report said.

The BBC said that the 11 cases reflected the higher stamp duty and other costs involved in relocating staff who owned high-value properties in the South East, according to the PAC report.

Around 10% of relocating staff received allowances that were exceptions to the BBC's standard policy, the PAC added, noting the reasons for many of these were not clearly recorded.

But the committee concluded "the BBC completed most aspects of the move to Salford successfully".

In the long term, it said the success of the move "depends on the BBC achieving the wider benefits it promised".

It continued: "These include reducing the gap between northern and southern audiences in the BBC's market share and stimulating economic and other regional benefits, including creating up to 15,000 jobs."

The report went on to suggest the BBC "risks becoming overly dependent" on the Peel Group, the property giant which owns the BBC's Salford buildings.

It also said signing a 10-year contract to use TV studios was "risky" because the pace of technological change could see the BBC having to pay for studio services it did not need.

The committee also said it was "dismayed" by the failure of the Digital Media Initiative, a BBC IT project that was scrapped in May at a cost of £100m. It said it would examine the matter further later this year.

In response, the BBC statement added: "We have just celebrated two years of award-winning TV, radio and online content and the whole region is sharing in the momentum of MediaCity with spend by the public service broadcast channels in the region up from 15.9% to 20%."

'Success story'

Speaking on the BBC Blog on Wednesday, Peter Salmon, director of BBC North, said there were "lessons to be learned" from what he called "the biggest move in British broadcasting history".

He also admitted the corporation "made a couple of slip-ups" in relocating 854 people from the south of England to the north and said it would "never happen again".

However, Mr Salmon said that MediaCity remained "a big success story for the north of England".

And he insisted that the "flexible nature" of the BBC's deal with the Peel Group meant "we don't pay them a penny that we don't use to put programmes on air".

"What underpins the success of the site... are the brilliant skills of the people we recruited," he continued.

"That's why the place is thriving - because great people make it work, every hour of every day."

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