Further blow at ITN as head of business affairs quits: Departure to BBC casts doubt over group's bid for London radio franchises

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The Independent Online
INDPENDENT Television News, which is recovering from the adverse publicity that surrounded its attempt to move News At Ten to earlier in the evening, has been hit by the departure of a key executive.

Mark Young, the group's head of business affairs, has left to join the former ITN boss Bob Phillis, who was poached earlier this year to be deputy director-general of the BBC. Mr Young starts at the BBC a week today.

The departure comes at a critical time for ITN, following hot on the heels of the resignation of Clive Timms, its finance director, who has gone to the Royal Opera House. It also casts a cloud over the application by an ITN-led consortium for two London radio franchises.

ITN has undergone a big shake-up over the past couple of years, starting with the revelation two years ago that the group had overspent its budget by pounds 10m and culminating in its takeover and rescue by a consortium led by Carlton Communications.

ITN's finances have since been helped by the signing of a five-year agreement with Independent Television to supply news at a reduced price of pounds 53m a year and the purchase of the group's headquarters in Gray's Inn Road, London, from the developers, Stanhope Properties.

In June, the ITV network floated the idea of moving News At Ten to boost advertising revenue but was forced to ditch the plan under pressure from the Independent Television Commission, which regulates ITV, the House of Commons Heritage Select Committee, and the Prime Minister.

ITN confirmed yesterday that Mr Young had been in charge of the franchise applications and had written a large part of the submissions that are currently being considered by the Radio Authority.

The authority is conducting telephone interviews with the applicants ahead of an announcement a week on Thursday about whether the incumbents will automatically be re-awarded their franchises. If any are to lose their franchises, the final announcement is expected in October.

The ITN consortium - which includes Associated Newspapers, Reuters, SelecTV and GWR - is applying for an FM franchise, with a mainly news-based talk station, and an AM franchise, with a sports and entertainment station. The consortium's main target is LBC, which has been under pressure since the collapse of its parent company, Crown Communications.

Since Mr Young's departure, the task of dealing with the Radio Authority has passed to Mervyn Hall, the head of input resources, who deals primarily with other news services used by ITN, such as Reuters Television and NBC.

An ITN spokeswoman said that the group had not yet started the process of trying to find a replacement for Mr Young.