The BBC is planning to move £700 million ($977M) in spending and hundreds of jobs outside of London as the corporation bids to better reflect the UK’s nations and regions after being criticized by government ministers for having a “narrow urban outlook.”
The BBC’s so-called ‘Across The UK’ strategy was announced to employees on Thursday morning, and is being touted by BBC top brass as one of the most radical reorganizations of the broadcaster in its nearly 100-year history.
The changes are partly motivated by political pressure, but they are also aimed at heading off existential threats. The BBC is facing unprecedented competition from big-spending streamers like Netflix, but thinks they don’t do a great job of representing the UK. The BBC wants to dominate in telling British stories and in turn ensure that audiences are prepared to continue paying for the license fee.
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Central commitments made today include cumulatively spending an extra £700M outside of London by March 2028, potentially averaging out at an extra £100M a year. Currently, just over half of the BBC’s £1.6 billion network television budget is spent regionally and across devolved nations, including Scotland and Wales.
The BBC pledged that 60% of its TV shows will be produced outside of London by 2028, which director general Tim Davie said will “grow our portrayal and representation of audiences across the UK.” This tonal change in output will involve moving people and commissioning power outside of London.
“We need to do more if we are to stay relevant and represent a UK that is changing fast, and where too many big editorial and creative choices are still rooted in just one part of the UK,” Davie told staff today. “Authentic, passionate storytelling from across all our nations, and from all its diverse communities, is what will truly make the BBC different from anyone else. People must feel we are closer to them.”
In practical terms, it means you will start to see more dramas, like the Welsh-originated series Keeping The Faith, popping up on the BBC. Indeed, the broadcaster has pledged to create and produce two new “long-running drama series” from the north of England and either Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. This could mean more shows like Casualty, which is made in Wales.
The BBC said it would move a total of 400 jobs outside of London as part of the overhaul, as well as recruiting more staff to work at national and regional outposts. Around half of this 400 will be BBC News staff, including relocating science reporters to Cardiff, Wales, and technology journalists to Glasgow, Scotland. Top BBC executives will remain in London, however.
BBC leaders will try to calm nerves that the relocation efforts will mean redundancies through the back door. They will tell staff that moving people out of London will not necessarily lead to reductions in staff numbers beyond existing initiatives, such as the plan to cut 450 news roles.
Other specifics announced by the BBC on Thursday include:
- More than 100 of the BBC’s new and returning scripted titles over the next three years will “reflect the lives and communities of the UK’s nations and regions”
- Moving BBC Studios-produced Morning Live to the BBC’s Manchester base in Salford
- Building a “center of excellence” for television production in Birmingham
- Ensuring half of the BBC’s radio and music budget is spent outside of London
- Moving most of 6 Music to Salford
- Flagship current affairs show Newsnight will be presented from Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, and Manchester throughout the year
- Radio 4’s Today show co-presented outside of London for at least 100 episodes a year
Davie has previously signaled the plan to diversify the BBC’s powerbase. In his first major speech to staff last year, which he chose to deliver from Glasgow in Scotland, the former BBC Studios boss said: “If we are going to get closer to our audience we need an organization that is based more across the UK, helping to stimulate the creative economy around the country.”
It follows comments made by culture secretary Oliver Dowden last March, who said: “The BBC needs to be closer to, and understand the perspectives of, the whole of the United Kingdom and avoid providing a narrow urban outlook.”
Responding to the proposals, trade union Bectu said it welcomed the nations and regions push, but was concerned about what impact it might have on members. National secretary Noel McClean said: “Our immediate concern is the impact on people, our members. As ever, the devil will be in the detail and Bectu will be going through the proposals with a fine tooth comb to ensure that workers are properly supported through these changes and that the need for redundancies is minimised.”
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