Tories attack BBC over rising expenditure on imported shows

Shadow culture secretary accuses BBC of 'switching investment' from public service genres to entertainment shows

The Tories have criticised the BBC for increasing the amount it spends on imported shows while cutting the budget of children's programming and expenditure in the nations and regions.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, accused the broadcaster of "switching investment" from public service genres – such as children's and regional programming – where there was less competition from commercial broadcasters to entertainment where there was "already plenty of choice".

The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, last week admitted that the cost of imported programming jumped by £11m last year, from £90m to £101m. Thompson said this was down to the increased cost of buying Hollywood movies for the Christmas TV schedules, but added that he expected the figure to fall this year.

Meanwhile, Ofcom's annual public service broadcasting report yesterday showed the BBC's spend on children's programmes had fallen by almost 21% between 2004 and 2008, from £97m to £77m.

The BBC's expenditure on nations and regions news had dropped by 15% from £220m in 2005 to £186m in 2008, according to Ofcom. However, BBC nations and regions' output increased slightly from 4,742 hours in 2004 to 4,945 hours last year.

"If it is the cornerstone of UK public service broadcasting, why has the BBC reduced expenditure on nations and regions and children's programming?" Hunt said.

"Why is it still spending over £100m per annum on imported programming that we could watch elsewhere anyway? The concern is that the corporation is switching investment from public service genres where commercial broadcasters are providing less competition to entertainment programmes where there is already plenty of choice."

A BBC spokesman said the corporation was reducing the cost of programming to deliver better value for money, while on children's shows, it was concentrating investment on fewer projects, although its overall spend on children's services – including radio and online – stood at £125m.

"We are reducing the cost of producing our programmes under our efficiency schemes, including the latest £1.9bn efficiency drive, to deliver greater value for money for licence fee payers," he added.

"At the same time, we have maintained the BBC's overall UK reach. We are showing more new drama, comedy, entertainment and factual programmes than before, and we have concentrated our children's investment on producing fewer but higher quality original programmes such as the Sarah Jane Adventures and Waybuloo.

"Our quality scores for children's channels have increased since we introduced this 'fewer, bigger, better' strategy and, overall, we are spending £125m a year on children's content."

A BBC Trust spokesman said it had recently reviewed children's programming and was awaiting a response from management on issues such as its budget in the autumn.

"We recognise that children's programming and nations and regions production are important issues for licence fee payers," he said.

"The BBC Trust recently formally reviewed children's programming and stated that the BBC should remain the cornerstone of high quality UK-produced children's content.

"The trust report had a number of recommendations for BBC management including around the budget for BBC children's content and they will be reporting back to us on this in the Autumn. The trust has also set challenging targets to increase the BBC's production in the nations and regions, meaning 50% of network production will be made outside of London by 2016. The BBC executive has responded positively to these challenges."

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