Losing the plot 

1 September 2008 tbs.pm/937

BBC postpones move from R&D headquarters Kingswood Warren

Once the BBC R&D department were going to be relocated to a broom cupboard within the bowels of White City, and now…well…who knows? At least Erik Huggers has the right idea, although I suspect that the real reason is because (a) Octagon can’t find a new owner for Kingswood Warren, and (b) the property is now off the BBC balance sheet.

Especially the latter.

It seems mad that the BBC is now driven by accountants to a far greater extent than even in the Birt era, and someone somewhere has made the wrong decision in cutting back all the things that can’t be easily seen (eg. research and development) as opposed to those which can, as well as raising cash though property sales.

This ‘keeping up appearances’ attitude has also dented the BBC’s argument in keeping the licence fee cash currently top-sliced for the digital switchover, even though the options for spending that money post-digital switchover may prove to be distinctly limited.

Like a fair number of viewers, politicians don’t care about what happens behind the scenes at the BBC (even though they ought to) as long as everything superficially appears to be OK; axing BBC Three instead (for example) would have been a much more visible move from a public perspective.

Combine all of this with a management that seems to change its mind every five minutes (where’s the long term thinking in the BBC’s recent so-called ‘strategy’?), and you have a recipe for something that is ill-equipped to maintain the distinctive characteristics that the BBC has been renowned for.

So we’ll end up with a BBC renting its assets from a third party, arranging technical facilities through third parties and commissioning much of its programming output through third parties – it doesn’t take much of a genius to realise how vulnerable this could make what’s left of the ‘core’ BBC in five years’ time.

My next BBC prediction is that the much-vaunted move of some departments to Salford will be scaled back yet again, especially given the reluctance of BBC Radio 5 Live staff to relocate (specifically the presenters); the 2012 Olympics being based in London will be dragged out as an excuse for doing this despite that reason having already been rejected.

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