Leading article: Clumsy decentralisation gives succour to the BBC's enemies

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The Independent Online

For a major corporate move that is supposed to take place before the end of this year, the transfer of 2,500 BBC staff from London to the new media centre at Salford Quays seems to be causing as many problems as it was designed to solve.

The central purpose – to distribute BBC operations, and jobs, more widely around the country and make the broadcaster's perspective more representative of the UK as a whole – remains intact, just. But the practicalities remain as fraught as ever they were; perhaps, given the approaching deadline, even more so.

Nor is it just about Salford Quays. The whole decentralising exercise remains almost as contentious as it was when it was conceived, more than six years ago.

In the past few days David Dimbleby, veteran presenter of the flagship programme Question Time, has made public his opposition to the move of that programme's production to Glasgow, where it will be under the auspices of BBC Scotland. Mr Dimbleby's objections also brought to notice the resignation of the programme's editor, Ed Havard, who preferred to leave the corporation than the capital.

It was revealed last weekend that the individual responsible for overseeing the move to Salford, Guy Bradshaw, works for a consultancy, is not on the BBC's staff, does not pay UK tax, and commutes from his home in the US state of Kentucky.

What message does that send to the BBC employees who are expected to move north about the commitment of senior executives to the project? If it is such a wonderful idea, where is the cheerleading for the enterprise from inside the corporation?

With as many as half of the London-based staff either refusing to move or expressing reluctance, a bit more leadership by example might have been useful.

One might counter that all this simply reflects the extreme metropolitan bias of the BBC, and the equally metropolitan mindset of some of its star employees; in other words, the very phenomenon that decentralisation was supposed to address. It could also be said that few people enthusiastically embrace a change in their status quo, and BBC staff are no exception. There is surely truth in both these points of view.

The difficulty is that the thinking behind many of the decisions that have been taken about who should move and why seems very hard to explain, as do some of the mechanisms – such as Mr Bradshaw's employment.

And the risk is that this incoherence will discredit what is, and remains overall, a necessary and laudable operation. David Dimbleby is right, Question Time draws much of its life-blood from national politics and therefore from the capital.

The timing of the move for BBC Sport, a year before the London Olympics, also looks, even if justified in the long term, an expensive choice. Yet the metropolitan bias of the BBC does need to change; people all over the country need to feel that the BBC reflects their lives, too.

At a time when the corporation faces a government less enamoured of its many merits than previous administrations, and the viewing public is more concerned than ever about value for money, the BBC needs to demonstrate that it knows what it is doing and why it is doing it.

In every respect, the decentralisation programme, including the move to Salford Quays, has left much to be desired. The consequence is that the corporation has made itself more vulnerable to its enemies, especially those on the political right, than it might have been, had it managed its affairs better.