Greg Dyke on Broadcasting

The BBC has to move north to be a truly national broadcaster
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The Independent Online

It's a shame that the joke doing the rounds at the BBC at the start of the new year is that the staff there face a bleak future because of the threat of the three S's - being sacked, sold or sent to Manchester. It's a shame because it means that the plan to move significant parts of the BBC to Manchester has been confused with the more negative plans to cut 3,500 staff and sell off some of the BBC's commercial businesses.

The move to Manchester over the next five years is necessary if the BBC really wants to be the national broadcaster and not what it is today, a broadcaster aimed disproportionately at the South of England middle classes. This bias will only change if more broadcasters live away from the South-east and more BBC programming commissioning is done away from London.

The sad truth is that the BBC has always served London and the South-east far better than the rest of England. Watch the breakfast news on BBC1 or listen to the Today programme on Radio Four any day and the presenters talk about places such as Ealing or Walthamstow as if everyone automatically knows them. They never do the same about places in the Midlands or the North. This unintended bias in favour of the South-east shows up everywhere. One weather presenter once said how bad the storms were in the South but that the good news was that they were moving north.

The same cannot be said for the nations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - which have always been better served by the BBC. The nations have always been a political force inside the BBC, and in recent years much more money has been spent there.

They have been helped by having their own governors on the BBC board who have often joined together as a threesome to act as a narrow-minded lobby group. The same has never been true for England. As a result England outside the South-east has suffered. As an example, the figures show that the enormous growth of children's production in Scotland in recent years has not come at the expense of London, but Manchester.

In his time as director general, John Birt recognised the problem of the English regions; he set up quotas and, in particular, moved some production departments such as religion and youth to Manchester, but the move was widely seen as a failure. The problem was that money didn't move with the departments so they still had to sell all their programmes to people in London.

The latest attempt, which has its origins in my time at the BBC but has been taken up enthusiastically by Mark Thompson, has one major difference. The money will be moving north. The two children's channels, New Media, Radio Five Live and BBC Sport, all of which will be moved to Manchester, are all self-commissioning and all have their own large budgets. In future all that money - more than £300m a year - will be spent by executives based in Manchester. People from London will have to go north if they want to get a commission in these areas.

And yet when the governors met to discuss Mark Thompson's whole master plan for the BBC, it was the move to Manchester which was very nearly rejected - not the sell-offs or the sacking of thousands of staff.

The governors first approved a skeleton plan for the move to Manchester more than a year ago, so why the sudden change of mind?

There were two reasons; the potential cost of the building in Manchester - not a concern the governors expressed about the new building in Glasgow when it was planned a couple of years ago - and a worry among the governors representing the three nations that although this was power moving out of London, it was still power staying in England. As a result the national governors demanded a 50 per cent increase in the amount of money spent on network programming in the three nations as their price for supporting the Manchester move. With chairman Michael Grade ambivalent about the whole plan, Mark Thompson had no option but to give in to this blackmail threat. In future, significantly more money will be spent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than is actually raised by the licence fee in those countries.

Given that this same bias in favour of the three nations can be found in almost every area of public expenditure, isn't it time for a new lobby group called EOSE - England Outside the South-east?

Corporation's last attempt to save a failing systen

While jobs are being cut right across the BBC there is one area where the opposite is happening - regulation.

With almost no-one other than the current BBC Governors still supporting the existing system of governance, in which the governors are both regulators and responsible for management of the BBC, the governors themselves are making a last ditch attempt to save it - by spending a lot of extra money. And most of it is going on the sort of people the BBC is firing elsewhere.

The department responsible for advising the Governors - Governance and Accountability - is being massively beefed up with something like 25 new jobs.

There will be strategy advisors, policy advisors and the rest all to be recruited from outside the BBC, along with a range of consultants.

The total cost will be well in excess of a million pounds. Meanwhile strategy and policy staff will be axed from other parts of the BBC and paid large redundancy cheques.

All this to try to save a system which is already doomed.

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