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High life in sun for BBC battalion

THE RUTHLESS cost-cutting regime of John Birt's BBC was no bar last week to a luxury trip to the South of France by 84 senior staff.

Managers, sales staff and programme-makers spent the best part of the week enjoying sunshine and warm temperatures while attending a television conference in Cannes at an estimated cost of between pounds 150,000 and pounds 200,000.

The corporation sent ateam of 84 to the annual Mipcom event, where the world's television executives meet to buy and sell programmes.

The BBC's contingent was five times as large as that of Channel 4, which buys almost all its international programmes at Mipcom. The ITV network, which buys most of its foreign programmes there, sent six people.

The largest BBC group came from its sales company, BBC Enterprises, which sent 47 people, including two press officers, five business development managers and Tim O'Neill, the director of sponsorship.

The current-affairs team was nine strong, bolstered by the editor of Newsnight and deputy editor of Panorama. BBC Television boasted 18 people, including Janet Street-Porter, head of Youth Programming. BBC Wales sent four people and World Service Television sent three.

Mipcom, held every October in Cannes, is the keyinternational conference for the television business.

Registration costs 8,700 francs (about pounds 1,000) for every three delegates, meaning a bill for the BBC of pounds 28,000 under that heading alone.

Flights to Nice, the nearest airport, are among the most expensive in Europe. The cheapest costs pounds 393 return, or pounds 572 for business class.

Nor did the BBC scrimp on staff accommodation. At least six managers are listed in the Mipcom directory as staying in Cannes' most luxurious hotel, the Carlton, which charges upwards of pounds 145 a night.

Others stayed at four-star hotels such as the Majestic, the Gray D'Albion and the Martinez, all of which charge about pounds 100 per night. Meals in the city's best restaurants cost at least pounds 50 a head with wine. Even a snack, such as crepes, is about pounds 5.

The total cost of sending the BBC contingent has been estimated to have been at least pounds 150,000 and could have exceeded pounds 200,000.

Mary Collins, press officer for BBC International, defended the size of the contingent. 'It breaks down quite a lot when you look at it,' she said.

Some people had gone for just one or two days and there were only about 30 who were at Mipcom for the entire week.

'It is one of the things you have to attend. It is one of the most important TV festivals,' Ms Collins said.

Licence- fee payers would not have to bear the cost of the 84 who went to Cannes, Ms Collins argued. It would come from the budget of BBC Enterprises, the self-funding division which sells products and services, she added. The profits of BBC Enterprises are used to reduce the licence fee.