Last month a National Audit Office report criticised the BBC for the £273m annual cost to run its estate, in particular its failure to meet a 2008 promise to cap building costs at 6% of licence fee income. The report found the cost of its Broadcasting House building was three times that of an average equivalent building in the UK. Here, the director of workplace and safety at the BBC, responds to the findings
It’s worth just remembering what the BBC requires from its buildings. They are often our production facilities as well as our offices, and as a global broadcaster the requirements we have from those buildings have evolved unrecognisably over the last two decades. The output of the BBC has increased from two to nine television stations and from five to 10 national radio stations as well as BBC online, iPlayer and Red Button. The BBC has distinct services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together with 39 local radio stations across the country, not to mention the World Service and the biggest newsroom in Europe at Broadcasting House.
We also need to recognise how much the digital revolution has affected the way businesses and buildings operate today. This is particularly true in media and we have had to adapt properties and change the way our workspaces are configured to remain effective. Our buildings have to be highly specialised, with studios, editing suits, digital storage and playout facilities - all set up to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
About 15 years ago, we recognised that many of our buildings were out of date and unable to support emerging broadcasting technologies. So we embarked on a programme to modernise the estate and be more efficient, which meant not increasing the cost to licence fee payers. It also became an opportunity to address our geographical spread across Britain so we better reflect our audiences.
The latest piece of that strategy came to fruition recently, when we announced the relocation of BBC Wales to Cardiff city centre and the sale of our two sites at Llandaff. This decision addresses the issue of an outdated and unreliable building and will bring BBC Wales right into the centre of the local community, helping to regenerate the surrounding area in the same way that Media City has done in Salford.
In total our property changes will save £67m a year by 2017. This has also allowed us to improve the already diverse range of our output, particularly with news and radio
As well as modernisation, efficiency was also at the heart of our property rationalisation and upgrade programme, and this was reflected in last month’s National Audit Office report. That programme is nearing completion and since the start in 2000 the BBC now spends 4% less in real terms on property. Between 2010 and 2017 we will have reduced the cost of running the estate by £67m a year.
Today more than 60% of our buildings are less than 15 years old compared to 5% in 1999. We have also reduced the number of buildings we occupy from over 200 to 154 and the overall floor space by nearly 30%.
We have replaced buildings like Television Centre and Bush House in London, Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow, Oxford Road in Manchester and Pebble Mill in Birmingham - in many cases much loved, but run down and technically obsolete - with modern, technologically advanced buildings such as Broadcasting House in London, Pacific Quay in Glasgow, Media City UK in Salford and the Mailbox in Birmingham. This has also meant we now have over half of our staff working outside of London for the first time.
Much of the discussion following the recent National Audit Office report focused on the significant investment that’s been made in buildings and particularly the running cost of Broadcasting House.
Although comparisons were offered, Broadcasting House is not easily compared with traditional business headquarters. It is very much a frontline working building operating around the clock, producing an unprecedented level of live output to our global and domestic audiences.
The way to judge its value is on output. It now produces nearly half of all programme output while being one of our most accessible and visited sites for audiences.
The consolidation of network news, world service, radio and television brought together teams that were previously spread across three major sites, thereby delivering operational efficiency to the organisation. Understandably this required exceptional levels of technology, resilience and security.
And while it costs more than some of our other buildings, that level of output means it offers good value, creating other efficiency savings - such as the £30m a year running costs for Television Centre - that are considerable. In total our property changes will save £67m a year by 2017. This has also allowed us to improve the already diverse range of our output, particularly with news and radio. Having staff based in one building means it’s much easier to collaborate and deliver quality programming both domestically and across the globe.
Looking past the headline seekers and pound signs of property development, the BBC is proof that better buildings can deliver better value for money. The efficiency we have found from our root and branch modernisation project has improved our service so even more of the licence payers’ £2.80 a week is being spent producing the world class programming that is expected of us.
Paul Greeves, director of workplace and safety at the BBC