BBC cuts programmes after pounds 58m overspend

BBC TELEVISION has been forced to shelve six drama series and will be showing more repeats following an overspend of at least pounds 58m because of a series of lax financial and managerial accounting practices going back three years.

The series which will not now be commissioned include White Princess of Death, a prestige six-part original drama about drugs; On The Line, a sports programme; and A Hundred Per Cent, a youth programme.

Will Wyatt, managing director of BBC Television, said he hoped the cutbacks would not be evident to viewers.

He said no one was resigning because of the pounds 58m overspend in the pounds 517m annual network television budget, but he had strengthened the finance team at BBC Television Centre, under a new financial controller, John Smith. He will be assisted by three other accountants to control specific areas of the television budget.

On Tuesday, the BBC's director of finance, Ian Phillips, announced he was resigning after four years in the job. The BBC insisted yesterday that the overspend and his departure were not connected.

The initial pounds 38m overspend was only suspected last May as the BBC was preparing its annual report and account to Parliament which was published in July.

The overspend in the television service, although under investigation by the BBC's auditors, was not mentioned in the account. Their inquiry, completed in September, resulted in an immediate pounds 20m being cut from the current year's budget.

Since September, an audit committee of the BBC's Board of Governors, chaired by Lord Joel Barnet, deputy chairman of the governors, has been investigating because of the seriousness of the problems.

Mr Wyatt said yesterday the main reasons for the overspend were the introduction of producer choice with poor financial control, and in some cases double allocation of the same funds.

The cuts appear to negate commitments made by the BBC in recent years to allocate savings from cutting overheads into new programmes - especially original drama, an area in which ITV is twice as prolific.

ITV's dominance of Saturday night viewing has weakened. Cilla Black's Blind Date, one of its most popular family entertainment programmes, has been beaten in the ratings by BBC 1's relative newcomer, Noel's House Party.

Last Saturday, ITV moved Blind Date to compete directly against House Party: Noel Edmonds attracted 12.4 million viewers and Cilla Black just 10.5 million. Blind Date had previously been scheduled against Bruce Forsyth's revived Generation Game, which it regularly beat.

ITV's hold on Saturday viewing has also been weakened by the performance of Gladiators. After a promising start its ratings are down to about 10 million.

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