Birt pledges sweeping modernisation of BBC

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The Independent Online
JOHN BIRT, Director-General of the BBC, yesterday set out a sweeping range of measures to modernise the way the corporation is run, just one week after taking over the reins of power.

He promised an effective BBC which clears away red tape, territorialism and confusion of strategy. However, some senior managers who listened to his statement said afterwards their hearts fell at the prospect of being tied up in yet more committees.

There were no dramatic board of management sackings, and there was no mention of programme-making departments merging to work for both radio and television. This followed advice from department heads that it would not work. 'Bi-media is, I think, the way of the future for us. But I judged it too far for one leap,' Mr Birt said.

He confirmed that Bob Phillis, chief executive of ITN, would join as deputy Director-General, in charge of resources. The BBC's television service overspent by pounds 38m last year, and has probably overspent by pounds 21m or more so far this year. The BBC has to recruit a new finance director urgently.

Mr Phillis will double up initially as managing director of World Services for the first six months, the job left vacant by John Tusa's departure. He will also oversee the integration of World Service Television - the new satellite news service - with radio output from Bush House.

Liz Forgan is joining as managing director of BBC Radio on 1 February, in charge of its five channels, a less grand role than had been anticipated. This part of the BBC is expected to experience the most change.

She replaces David Hatch, who retains his board of management seat for the present as adviser to the Director-General. He will help the presentation for the charter renewal.

In a speech on the BBC in 1991 Ms Forgan, currently director of programmes at Channel 4, had said: 'It would be mad to axe Radio 1 and 2 on the grounds that the commercial sector provides the same thing. If there is any tinkering about, it should be with Radio 3 . . . which is hugely expensive per listener.'

Mr Birt, in a filmed address to staff, said: 'Liz brings creative vitality . . . as well as eloquent advocacy and powerful convictions about public service.'

Though promising a more 'open and accountable' BBC, he refused to answer questions on whether it was spending some pounds 60,000 to buy out Ms Forgan's 'golden handcuffs', signed in 1991, which contracted her to Channel 4 for three years.

The changes mean that there are now four women on the BBC's 13-strong board of management, compared with two before. The second newcomer is Patricia Hodgson, director of policy and planning, in charge of the BBC's charter review negotiations.

Liz Forgan will head a one-off programme strategy review with Alan Yentob, controller of BBC2, to decide what to broadcast on television and radio and what to weed out.

An annual performance review, starting in June 1994, will assess each department's output. 'The annual performance review will be the fly-wheel that drives the BBC and keeps us alert and self-questioning,' Mr Birt said.

Key structural changes include:

Streamlining the operation to focus on strategy, policy and performance.

The separation of programme production from commissioning and scheduling in television and radio, buying in programmes from a range of sources.

The creation of a separate resources, engineering and services directorate, to run the production side of the BBC.

The creation of a programme archive unit, and a more limited role for BBC Enterprises.

BSkyB will introduce a satellite channel for children next October, in partnership with the American channel Nickelodeon, it was announced yesterday.

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