BBC stars criticise radio commissioning plan as 'threat to excellence'

Proposed increase in competitive tendering for content will squeeze programme budgets, warn Andrew Marr, Jarvis Cocker and Joan Bakewell

Jarvis Cocker, Andrew Marr and Dame Joan Bakewell are among almost 40 BBC radio stars warning that a plan to commission 60% of the BBC’s radio content by competitive tender “sets bureaucracy over creativity”.

A BBC spokesman denied that the proposals, contained in the draft BBC charter and agreement, would in effect privatise much of the corporation’s radio production, saying that instead it would boost competition between independent production houses and the BBC’s in-house production teams.

Under the plans, BBC in-house production teams will compete against independent production houses to make programmes. The 60% requirement only applies to eligible hours, the BBC spokesman explained, saying news programmes, “talent-led” daytime programming on Radio 1 and 2, and some of Radio 4’s best-known programmes such as Desert Island Discs and The Archers would not be affected.

The proposal is based on an agreement between the BBC and the industry body the Radio Independents Group, a culture department spokesman said.

The BBC stars, who come from across the corporation’s radio output, raised their concerns about the proposals in a letter to the Sunday Times.

In the past 20 years the BBC has gradually increased the proportion of content commissioned from external companies from zero to 20%. The open letter describes this as “a gradual rise that has fostered evolution while maintaining stability and allowing it to sustain its international reputation for excellence”.

But the draft BBC charter, which contains proposals to increase the proportion to three-fifths by 2022, would “threaten that excellence”, the letter states. The authors warn that it will add red tape and expense to the process of making radio content.

“This is poor value for money: the cost of commissioning-related administration will increase, but money spent on actual programmes will be cut, squeezing radio budgets that external and in-house producers already find barely adequate,” they write.

The letter continues: “It makes no sense to spend less on making programmes but more on the cost of commissioning them.”

Personalities from across the BBC’s radio output have lent their support to the letter.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “The BBC’s model of commissioning content from independent producers has been shown to work very well. This will not change anything about what the listeners can expect from BBC radio. BBC commissioners make the final choice about what they want to appear on the BBC and who is best placed to make those shows.”

A BBC spokesman said: “The government’s draft charter has proposed greater competition in commissioning across the BBC, but our focus will always be on delivering the best programmes for audiences regardless of who makes them, while helping maintain both a thriving independent sector and a strong BBC production base.”


Alice Ross

The GuardianTramp

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