BBC's cost cuts redirect pounds 80m into programmes

Broadcaster buoyant: annual report claims fewer repeats and more peak time productions made by corporation
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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

The BBC's drive for efficiency realised more than pounds 100m in cost savings last year, pounds 80m of which was redirected into new programming, the corporation's director-general, John Birt, said yesterday.

Launching the BBC's annual report, Mr Birt said there were 300 hours fewer repeats last year, four out of five peak time programmes were made by the corporation, while a typical home tuned into BBC radio and television for more than 44 hours a week.

Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the BBC's board of governors, said: "I think we're in splendid nick. Some years ago the BBC faced real problems, though it's becoming fashionable to say that was not the case.

"Well, we've tackled our problems. It's been hard, hard work throughout the whole organisation and of course some problems remain. Nevertheless, we have transferred huge sums of money to our programmes and plan to do more."

As well as fewer repeats, Mr Hussey said the BBC broadcast 2,500 more hours on network radio, with an additional 6,700 hours on local services.

The corporation has come under fire on several fronts during the past year - for falling audiences on Radio 1, a perceived crisis in popular drama, a two-week commissioning moratorium earlier this year while it grappled with cashflow problems, and for being too London-orientated in its decision to broadcast an episode of Panorama featuring an interview with John Major on the eve of the local elections in Scotland.

However, Mr Birt said the year had been characterised by "high creative achievement and renewal in all programme areas". Programmes such as Martin Chuzzlewit, David Attenborough's Private Life of Plants, the D-Day commemorations and the World Cup coverage had helped hold the BBC's share of audience steady at 44.8 per cent and its weekly reach at 95 per cent of the population.

Mr Birt added that a quarter of all network radio and television programmes were being produced outside London, leaving the corporation on course to hit its target of a third by 1998.

Rodney Baker-Bates, finance director, headed off criticism that the BBC had become dominated by accountants and consultants by revealing that auditors' fees had fallen from pounds 5m to pounds 2m, while management consultants received pounds 5.5m, 35 per cent less than the previous year.

On the back of two new channels, BBC World and BBC Prime, received by 43 million homes worldwide, the corporation's commercial division, BBC Worldwide, lifted its turnover by 19 per cent to pounds 305m.

Looking ahead to the coming year, Mr Birt said that faced with rising costs for staff, talent and sports rights, the search for savings would continue. He added that more care would have to be taken to ensure that political reporting provides less focus on confrontation and gives "due weight to issues of substance".

Work would also have to be done in assessing how public standards of taste and decency had changed and how the BBC could respond, he said.