Updated: Tuesday, 2nd June 2020 @ 1:57pm

Exposing huge costs of BBC MediaCityUK relocation inevitably 'aggravated' licence payers, MPs hear

Exposing huge costs of BBC MediaCityUK relocation inevitably 'aggravated' licence payers, MPs hear

By Reece Lawrence

Top BBC figures were grilled yesterday in an evidence session over the corporation’s move to Salford – revealing that staff relocation costs inevitably would lead to licence payer ‘aggravation’.

Tough questions came from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chair Margaret Hodge MP and her colleagues at the meeting in MediaCityUK.

Facing Ms Hodge’s questions were BBC Trustee Anthony Fry, Director of BBC North Peter Salmon, and the BBC’s Chief Financial Officer Zarin Patel.

Mr Fry admitted that the outlay of £1million alone to 11 BBC staff would lead to ‘raised eyebrows’.

He said: “From a licence fee payer’s viewpoint, any numbers with regard of this sort of scale regarding individuals is going to cause at the very least raised eyebrows, and more than that, some aggravation.”

The incoming Premier League chairman added that he and the BBC Trust could not get involved in individual matters.

The session heard that 574 staff had been relocated to the area, but the BBC had paid relocation packages to nearly 900 staff – at a cost of £24million.

Ms Hodge said: “Half of Radio Three’s budget was spent on relocation – that’s the sort of equation that I might make.”

The session also examined the locations of BBC employees, where Mr Salmon claimed that 10% of BBC staff now lived in Salford.

“We need to make sure the people employed on this site are world class,” he said.

However, the committee made clear that just 39 new recruits were from the Salford area – out of around 350 new jobs that had been created.

Other issues discussed involved the site’s developer, Peel Group, and the BBC’s failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI).

The committee accused Peel Group of not paying their fair share of corporation tax, suggesting it paid a maximum of 10%.

Ms Hodge said: “They have almost a monopoly of a lot of capital investment in this area, which always worries me as to whether or not the BBC then gets the price for [the site].”

DMI, now known to have cost the taxpayer around £100million, was according to Mr Fry, a ‘complete catastrophe’.

Discussions cantered on a letter sent to Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC trust, from a whistleblower, former senior BBC manager Bill Garrett.

Discrepancies between Mr Garrett’s misgivings about the project – where he suggested the committee was being ‘mislead about the true performance’ of DMI – and the views of former Director General Mark Thompson were discussed.

Mr Thompson had told PAC in 2011: “There are many programmes that are already being made with DMI, and some have gone to air and are going to air with DMI already working.”

Ms Hodge added: “We were told that there were bits of this system that were working, that you were using them. That wasn't true. That just wasn't true.”

Committee member Richard Bacon MP claimed that Mr Garrett’s letter seemed to have been treated ‘like a normal complaint’.

Ms Hodge did acknowledge that the relocation was, in the main, proving to be a success, and said: “The context of the project on the whole is a well managed and effective transition.”

Picture courtesy of Duncan Hull, with thanks.

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