BBC spends less than half its cash on programmes
Critics demand inquiry into ‘staggering’ waste
THE BBC was last night accused of ‘ mind- blowing’ excess after it emerged that it spends less than half of its money on programmes for licence fee payers.
Amid warnings that ministers may impose a five-year freeze on the licence fee, it was revealed just £2.4billion of its £5.1billion annual budget went on ‘public service content’ in the year to April 2014.
Most of the remaining cash was swallowed up by costs that included running its ostentatious buildings, middle-managers and services such as human resources and marketing.
The Corporation also pumped money into its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, and BBC Global News, producing content for audiences overseas.
But only £217million was spent on the essential job of actually transmitting the programmes around Britain.
MPs said the figures were ‘staggering’ and called for a parliamentary inquiry. Tory MP Bill Cash said: ‘It’s just mind-blowing. I can’t begin to imagine how they can justify it.
‘This revelation demonstrates the need for a radical overhaul of the BBC. The matter must be referred immediately to the Public Accounts Committee.’
Conservative Stephen Hammond, a member of the Public Accounts Committee during the last Parliament, said: ‘I would have expected at least three quarters of their money to be spent on programmes that licence fee payers see.’
Labour MP Helen Goodman said: ‘Either they’re very inefficient or they’ve got a very bad accounting system. They’ve obviously not got the balance right and since the licence fee is obligatory, we do need to be able to demonstrate how these costs go to service viewers.’
It was reported at the weekend that a five-year freeze in the licence fee was ‘ almost inevitable’ – a move that would amount to a £500million cut in the BBC’s annual budget.
According to the last set of official accounts, for the year to April 2014, the Corporation spent just £1.7billion on television programmes. Only £480million was spent on radio services, and £106.5million was ploughed into online content. Meanwhile, the Corporation spent £568million – nearly as much as the radio and online services combined – on ‘infrastructure and support’.
This includes the £141.2million cost of running its buildings, and a long list of backoffice functions such as human resources.
Today’s figures are likely to cast a shadow over the Corporation’s negotiations with Government over its funding arrangements, which are due to be revised next year.
The appointment of Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who has called the licence fee ‘worse than the poll tax’, has led to speculation that the Cor- poration will face major changes to the way it is funded.
Mr Whittingdale’s Department for Culture Media and Sport said it was too early to say at what level the licence fee would be set as part of the Charter renewal negotiations.
Last night broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby criticised the BBC’s ‘ enemies’ and warned against further cuts to the licence fee, which is set at £145.50.
He admitted that there were ‘things wrong with the BBC’, saying that its ‘ bureaucracy can still be slimmed’. But he told RadioTimes.com: ‘ The nation would lose massively if the BBC were to face any kind of demise.
‘I believe that while there are powerful vested interests who would like to see the BBC denied a licence fee. Without a licence fee the BBC could not do what it does.’ A BBC spokesman said of the spending figures: ‘This is a completely misleading comparison which ignores basic costs like getting TV or radio programmes into people’s homes, newsrooms and edit suites.
‘Without this we wouldn’t be able to broadcast and script and story development, without which we wouldn’t have any shows.
‘Licence fee payers rightly expect value for money and the reality is that more than 90 per cent of spending we control is on content-related costs while we’ve made savings of £1.1billion a year.’
Mr Whittingdale declined to comment last night. However, he has already made it clear that he takes a dim view of the BBC’s approach to spending.
Comment – Page 14
‘Worse than the poll tax’