Producers and money men split over BBC cuts

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The Independent Online
A BITTER row has broken out between senior BBC programme makers and finance staff over the drive to clear the corporation's debts by cutting spending on programmes.

Producers and their colleagues, who are bracing themselves for job cuts as well as the cancellation of new programmes, say that the BBC did not need to commit itself to clearing its multi-million pound borrowing requirement.

The initiative, they say, did not come from the Government, but from the corporation - in particular Rodney Baker-Bates, its finance director. If that is the case, one senior source said yesterday, "then the BBC has put itself through a lot of unnecessary pain".

The crisis, caused by a commitment to cut out a borrowing requirement which was down from £183m to £80m last month, has already led to an indefinite moratorium on all new work.

The moratorium was placedlast month by BBC network television managing director Will Wyatt with Alan Yentob and Michael Jackson, controllers of BBC 1 and BBC 2 respectively.

All three are said to be privately angry with the crisis and reportedly share with departmental heads the "incredulity" that a similar moratorium has not been placed on capital expenditure, such as the building of a £3.5m conference facility at the BBC's training centre at Wood Norton in the Midlands.

The BBC has insisted that by forcing controllers to use up existing programme stock, the Corporation is releasing cash to pay off its "overdraft". Will Wyatt described it as "prudent cash management" which would not affect what appeared on screen.

Colin Browne, director of BBC corporate affairs, said that the borrowing requirement formed part of the negotiations with the Government arising out of the 1993 Touche Ross report into the BBC's efficiency. An agreement was reached to "significantly reduce" the borrowing requirement, and the BBC opted for a target of zero.

A senior drama source said: "We're being asked to produce the same number of hours for less money in real terms and eventually that will show on the screen . . . either in the number of hours produced or the quality the BBC and audiences are used to."

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