The chairman of Channel 4 has branded the BBC as a "Stalinist" organisation with an "Alice in Wonderland" business strategy, after it emerged that the corporation's move of some of its operations to a new base in Salford has been budgeted at £876m.
The BBC is planning to spend a reported £218m on new television studios and a further £15m on radio and orchestra studios. Furnishings in new offices at the Salford Media City development will cost £37m, with £3,000 being spent on each of the 2,253 office workspaces, according to budget documents leaked to the City AM newspaper.
Luke Johnson, who made his name in business as chairman of Pizza Express and is currently the owner of Giraffe restaurants and the Patisserie Valerie chain, responded to the news with an extraordinary outburst, dismissing the corporation's level of spending as "ludicrous". He said: "This is typical of the politically correct, Stalinist behaviour of the BBC, which is embarking on a grand scheme for political reasons. Unlike those in the private sector, they are not subject to the commercial realities of a structural and economic recession. This is an Alice in Wonderland approach."
The Channel 4 chairman is not normally prone to such language and his comments reflect the tension in the broadcasting sector. Channel 4's has had to slash its programme budget by £100m in the past two years. Last weekend, Ed Vaizey, the Conservative broadcasting spokesman, accused Channel 4 of "crying wolf about its finances" and indicated that the Tories would block its proposed joint venture with BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm.
The BBC said last night that the figures were "early estimates from an internal budget document". The £876m total cost was spread over 20 years and would be offset by such things as the future sale of Television Centre in London.