BBC to lose in-house programming guarantee under radical plan to open up public broadcaster to the private sector

Exclusive: Percentage of production contracts that the public broadcaster must put out for competitive tender will be increased ‘up to 100 per cent,’ senior Government source tells The Independent

Charlie Cooper
Whitehall Correspondent
Wednesday 27 April 2016 00:09
'Dr Who', one of the BBC's most successful in-house productions
'Dr Who', one of the BBC's most successful in-house productions

The BBC is set to lose a longstanding guarantee that ensures half of its programming is commissioned in-house, under radical new Government proposals to open up the public broadcaster to competition from the private sector.

In a major shake-up due to be outlined in the Government’s BBC charter renewal white paper next month, the percentage of production contracts that the BBC must put out for competitive tender will be increased “up to 100 per cent”, a senior Government source told The Independent.

The plans are in line with the BBC’s own proposals, but are likely to deeply concern unions, who have accused executives and the Government of attempting to “dismantle in-house production” at the public broadcaster.

Many of the BBC’s best-loved programmes are made in-house including EastEnders, Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing as well as wildlife documentaries produced by the BBC’s world leading Natural History Unit.

Currently, 50 per cent of BBC programmes must be in-house productions, while 25 per cent must go to independent producers. The other 25 per cent is open to competitive bidding, with both BBC and independent production companies eligible to apply under a system known as the “window of creative competition”.

A senior Government source told The Independent that the white paper would set out plans “for the window to be opened much wider”, with “up to 100 per cent” of programming put out to tender, although some exceptions would be likely.

The broadcaster’s governing body, the BBC Trust, said last year that the growth of the independent production market in recent years meant there was a “strong case for reducing or even removing the 50 per cent” guarantee.

In December, the BBC announced plans to cut the in-house guarantee for children’s and current affairs programmes from 50 per cent to 40 per cent and to increase the amount guaranteed for the private sector from 25 per cent to 40 per cent.

Bectu, the television and radio workers union, attacked the plans at the time, accusing BBC executives of “caving in to pressure from the politicians and from commercial programme makers”. A union source told The Independent that the white paper proposals would provoke “even greater” opposition.

The Government’s BBC white paper, which is expected to be laid before Parliament next month, will set out proposals for renewing the broadcaster’s royal charter, which expires this year.

Ahead of the renewal, BBC executives have proposed one of the biggest shake-ups in the organisation’s’ 93-year history, with plans to absorb the majority of its in-house production unit into the new entity BBC Studios, which will produce and market programmes not only for the BBC but for other broadcasters on the open market, at home and internationally, returning profits back to the BBC.

Bectu general secretary Gerry Morrissey has called the creation of BBC Studios “controversial” and said last year that the move, combined with reductions to the in-house guarantee, “calls into question the intentions of senior BBC executives and the extent of their genuine commitment to public service broadcasting”.

A BBC spokesperson said: “By setting up BBC Studios and removing the current guarantee that 50 per cent of BBC programmes are made by in-house producers we will open up even more opportunities for creative competition while ensuring the BBC remains one of the world’s great programme makers.”

Meanwhile, the Radio Times reported that BBC director general Tony Hall is set to announce a major restructuring of BBC departments, abolishing long-standing divisions between TV and radio and introducing three “super-departments”, BBC Entertain, BBC Inform and BBC Educate.

The changes were due in Easter, but have been redrawn on a number of occasions and are now expected next month, BBC insiders told the magazine. The BBC has seen a number of senior executive resignations in recent months, including director of television Danny Cohen, head of BBC Studios Peter Salmon and controller of drama commissioning, Polly Hill.

A BBC spokesperson told the Radio Times the organisation was “looking at its optimal shape”.

“Clearly there will be lots of speculation about that, but people won’t have long to wait to see what we actually propose,” the spokesperson said. A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said the Government would not be commenting ahead of the publication of the white paper.

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