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BBC lacks clear plan to successfully deliver benefits of £700m in outside-London spending

17 April 2024

PAC report raises concerns over impact of local radio cuts as budget reallocations to online platforms effectively reduce services for some listeners

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today publishes its report on the BBC’s Across the UK (ATUK) programme, under which the BBC aims to move outside of London a further £700m of its spending by March 2028. The report finds that the BBC’s move of this spending is being taken forward without a clear plan, with concerns around the risks and impact of changes made to ATUK.

The PAC’s inquiry finds that ATUK is overly focused on moving spending outside of London as a measure of success in itself, rather than robustly tracking what positive change it is achieving by having done so (such as improving the relevance of is content to local audiences, or creating new, local jobs). Plans to evaluate the programme’s impact are only due to begin in 2025 – too late to change course if needed.

The report further raises concerns that the risks and impacts of changes made to ATUK’s scope were not well enough understood by the BBC, with changes made to local services potentially disadvantaging certain groups. Particular concerns relate to the BBC moving budgets from its local radio to local online services, in effect reducing services for older people or those less able to access online platforms, which was part of the original ATUK programme.

The BBC’s reporting of ATUK – including in relation to local radio cuts – does not provide Parliament nor the public with a complete picture of progress. The PAC is concerned that the BBC claims benefits for ATUK publicly for activities not part of the programme when it is favourable for it to do so (for instance in the case of the relocation of its Birmingham premises), while dissociating other activities from ATUK when they could be seen as a bad news story, such as cuts to local radio.

The PAC’s inquiry found concerns that the BBC’s confidence is misplaced that ATUK will deliver as expected. While it has performed well in some areas (such as moving 58% of TV expenditure outside London against a target of 60% by December 2027), it is behind schedule in other areas with no plan to get back on track. One example of this is audio production, which has had just 1 percentage point of expenditure moved outside London since March 2020 (currently at 41% against a target of 50% by 2028), with a £23m shortfall in transferred spend resulting from the cancelled relocation of the BBC Concert Orchestra outside of London.

Chair's comment

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The BBC is seeking to liberate hundreds of millions in spending from the gravitational pull of London, and it is understandable that the simple act of having done so would feel like success. But as with every publicly-funded project, it is incumbent on the BBC to track what positive impact its spending is having at the same time.

Parliament and the public must also be fully satisfied that the BBC is not simply cherry-picking examples of success in delivery of Across the UK, while sweeping bad news stories under the rug as not part of the programme, in particular cuts to local radio. It must also take care not to over-rely on partnerships with local authorities already dealing with extreme financial pressure. We wish the BBC fair wind with ATUK, and hope our report comes as a timely reminder of the importance of seeking value for money, rather than just money spent.”

Further information

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