The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published its report on the BBC’s Across the UK (ATUK) programme, under which the BBC aims to move a further £700m of its spending outside of London by March 2028.

The report criticises the BBC’s move of this spending, saying it is being taken forward “without a clear plan”, with concerns around the “risks and impact of changes made to ATUK.”

The PAC’s inquiry argued that ATUK is “overly focused on moving spending outside of London as a measure of success in itself, rather than robustly tracking what positive change it is achieving by having done so.” The report says that “plans to evaluate the programme’s impact are only due to begin in 2025 – too late to change course if needed.”

The report further raises concerns that the “risks and impacts of changes made to ATUK’s scope were not well enough understood by the BBC, with changes made to local services potentially disadvantaging certain groups. Particular concerns relate to the BBC moving budgets from its local radio to local online services, in effect reducing services for older people or those less able to access online platforms, which was part of the original ATUK programme.”

The Public Accounts Committee also says the BBC’s reporting of ATUK “does not provide Parliament nor the public with a complete picture of progress. The PAC is concerned that the BBC claims benefits for ATUK publicly for activities not part of the programme when it is favourable for it to do so (for instance in the case of the relocation of its Birmingham premises), while dissociating other activities from ATUK when they could be seen as a bad news story, such as cuts to local radio.”

The PAC’s inquiry says that the BBC’s “confidence is misplaced that ATUK will deliver as expected.” And that while it has performed well in some areas such as moving TV expenditure outside London, “it is behind schedule in other areas with no plan to get back on track”, citing  audio production, “which has had just 1 percentage point of expenditure moved outside London since March 2020 , with a £23m shortfall in transferred spend resulting from the cancelled relocation of the BBC Concert Orchestra outside of London.”

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The BBC is seeking to liberate hundreds of millions in spending from the gravitational pull of London, and it is understandable that the simple act of having done so would feel like success. But as with every publicly-funded project, it is incumbent on the BBC to track what positive impact its spending is having at the same time.

“Parliament and the public must also be fully satisfied that the BBC is not simply cherry-picking examples of success in delivery of Across the UK, while sweeping bad news stories under the rug as not part of the programme, in particular cuts to local radio. It must also take care not to over-rely on partnerships with local authorities already dealing with extreme financial pressure. We wish the BBC fair wind with ATUK, and hope our report comes as a timely reminder of the importance of seeking value for money, rather than just money spent.”

Jon Creamer

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