The Big Question: What will a BBC move out of London mean for programmes, and viewers?

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The Independent Online

Why are we asking this now?

Because of the controversy provoked yesterday by a speech that the BBC's Director of Vision, Jana Bennett, gave to the Royal Television Society on Wednesday evening. She set out the corporation's "Out of London" strategy, which is designed to ensure that half of all BBC programming is made outside the capital by 2016.

What is the plan?

The BBC wants to increase the proportion of the programming budget spent in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales from six per cent to 17 per cent by 2016, and raise the money spent in the English regions from 26 per cent to 33 per cent. The idea, said Ms Bennett, was to ensure that "people in every part of the country have a sense of themselves on screen".

Where will programmes be made?

The chief beneficiaries will be Glasgow, where the BBC has already built a digital broadcast centre at Pacific Quay, and Salford in Manchester, where the dockside mediacity:uk centre will house the children's and sports departments, future media and technology, formal learning and Radio 5 Live. Cardiff, which is already home to such shows as Doctor Who, Torchwood and Amazon, will now become the base for Crimewatch and, probably, Casualty. Belfast is also set to emerge as a creative hub, making dramas as well as pieces for The One Show magazine programme.

Is there sufficient talent in the industry outside London?

Of course! Just look at some of the biggest names in the independent sector such as the Scots Eileen Gallagher (Shed Media) and Alex Graham (chief executive of Wall To Wall), not to mention some of the biggest stars of television script-writing, Welshman Russell T Davies (Doctor Who) and Manchester-based Paul Abbott (Shameless).

What other shows are moving?

The Weakest Link, Newsnight Review and at least one Saturday night show will be made in Scotland, with Alan Yentob's documentary strand Imagine also being produced at the new Glasgow centre. Northern Ireland will make the BBC's Sunday morning religious programmes, as well as some Panorama documentaries. Birmingham will make the long-running daytime drama Doctors and will become a centre for gardening programmes, making specials on the Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows.

Hasn't the BBC always had operation centres around the country?

Yes, that's true. The corporation used to famously broadcast from Pebble Mill in Birmingham and is now based at the city's Mailbox building. BBC Bristol has a global reputation for natural history programming. BBC Scotland is renowned for genres such as children's television and comedy. In total, there are seven centres for network television production – at London, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester/Salford, Glasgow and Belfast – and that won't change. The difference is in the quantity of programmes they make, with the nations outside England nearly trebling their proportional share of the budget, although the overall cake may be smaller as BBC cutbacks take hold.

Who is complaining?

Most obviously upset are some of the makers of Question Time, which will have to relocate from London to Glasgow. The presenter David Dimbleby is reported to be furious over plans to take the flagship political show north of the Border. One member of the team was quoted saying, "It is bonkers. The seat of Government in the UK is not in Glasgow, it is in Westminster."

Do they have a point?

Well, Question Time is a much-loved BBC brand, and losing Dimbleby, who lives in south-west London and has presented the show in his unique way since 1994, would be a serious loss. But the programme is already filmed live in locations around the country by outside broadcast units and it is hard to see why a production office needs to be in the capital. Mentorn, the London-based independent company which has the rights to make the show until 2010, previously had an office in Scotland.

Is anyone else upset?

Many London-based BBC staff are unhappy at the prospect of having to uproot themselves and their families and head to the north or west. "We are dealing people and their futures," said one executive yesterday, "it is very complicated for some people." The plans have also caused concern in Bristol, where Casualty has been made since it began in 1986. The hospital drama is estimated to contribute £10m a year to the city's economy, although the BBC will not confirm this figure. A final decision on Casualty's future will be taken in the new year.

Is the BBC too metropolitan?

Historically, the BBC's output was at home in Broadcasting House and Portland Place was dubbed the "New Tower of London". The metropolitan nature of the BBC informed the creation of ITV in 1955, serving 15 distinct regions. In the current economic climate, with ITV and Channel 4 struggling to find money to fulfil their public service broadcasting requirements, it makes sense for the BBC to improve its service to the rest of the country. John McVay, of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, which represents the independent sector, said London's international reputation would not be damaged by the changes. He added: "London has always been a magnet for creative talent but that doesn't mean other places shouldn't have a crack of the creative whip as well. London will still account for 50 per cent of all network commissions made by the BBC, as well as making programmes for ITV, Channel 4 and Five as well." He pointed out that large numbers of London-based BBC staff were not originally from the capital and would welcome the chance to live elsewhere.

Can audiences expect programmes to change as a result?

They can. With commissioning executives based in cities such as Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and Salford, independent production companies in those regions will be given access they never previously enjoyed. Long-running shows that will move out of London are expected to take on a raft of locally recruited staff, which will in some cases have a significant impact on the content of the programmes.

What has all this got to do with the licence fee?

The BBC is desperately looking to protect its licence fee, having received £2bn less than it hoped for in the last settlement. Executives fear they are struggling to command the attention of Britain's youth when faced with competition from video games, YouTube and social networking websites. Sections of the population now watch no BBC shows at all, making a universal licence fee harder to justify. The "Out of London" drive is partly a PR exercise and partly an attempt to allocate the programming budget fairly, according to the demographics of the UK and its regions.

Can the corporation ever truly be a national broadcaster?


* An organisation that broadcasts to the world should be capable of properly reflecting its domestic audience.

* Unlike ITV and Channel 4, the BBC has the resources to provide comprehensive coverage in Britain.

* The BBC is funded by the entire country is obliged to represent the whole of the UK to itself.


* London is the most creative city in Europe and none of the BBC's big cheeses want to work anywhere else.

* With 50 per cent of network production based in the capital, the BBC will remain London-focused.

* Even with extra money for a few cities, most of Britain will have to go online for local news on film.