Today's report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on the BBC move to Salford makes intriguing reading, particularly one exchange between BBC North Director Peter Salmon and Meg Hillier, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, that happened back in July when the committee was taking evidence…
Peter Salmon is there, trying to big up the local job figures, the apprentices and the stat that 10% of BBC staff live in Salford; and Meg Hillier just slaps him down…
"That is all great, but I am an MP who was next to the Olympic site, and we saw how people can ﬁddle the ﬁgures on who is local and who is not" she spits "What postaudit are you going to do?...Are you doing any postaudit to see what real life changes you have made in terms of people who were living here before you arrived like a spaceship from outer space, and then started working here or got jobs over time?"
"We have instigated a piece of research on the economic impact of the BBC in the area" responds Salmon.
"…at the moment you have recruited 39 staff from Salford on the basis of
the 254 that you have recruited" Hillier adds "There is promise of 15,000 jobs in the wider area. I am aware that the council has taken a lot of risk in putting in infrastructure in terms of backing up buses and tram routes, and other facilities. There is a trust thing here. The local community has spent its tax money on supporting and welcoming the BBC, and it seems to me that if I were them, I would want something back for it..."
At last, somebody with some kind of authority is at least challenging the offical line on the BBC's move to Salford. Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, concluded today that "The longer term success of the move to Salford depends on the BBC achieving the wider benefits it promised. These include…stimulating economic and other regional benefits, including creating up to 15,000 jobs."
The MPs' report recommended that "The BBC needs to establish clear measures for all the intended benefits of the move, routinely monitor them and keep the BBC Trust informed of progress."
Meanwhile, as Salford people question the benefits of MediaCityUK, the MPs' report slates those who have truly benefited…particularly those eleven BBC staff who received over £100,000 in relocation allowances…
"Some relocation allowances that the BBC paid to staff to move to Salford seem excessive and its recording of exceptions, some of which resulted in higher payments, was inadequate" the report stated "In 11 cases, the costs exceeded £100,000 per person, with one costing £150,000. Around 10% of staff who relocated to Salford received allowances that were exceptions to the BBC's standard policy. In many cases, these exceptions, and the reasons for making them, were not clearly recorded by the BBC."
Written evidence to the MPs also showed that the BBC spent huge amounts on travel to Media City…
The cost of staff flights was £363,483, while `guests/talent/contributors' flights cost £307,038. Staff taxi costs were £211,021, while £391,908 was spent on taxis for `guests/talent/contributors'. Staff also spent £1,837,931 travelling by rail, while £588,734 was spent on `guests/talent/contributors'. Altogether an eye-watering total of well over two and a half million pounds. No figures were given for bus fares!
The MPs had a real go at Peel Holdings and the company's relationship with the BBC.
"The BBC risks becoming overly dependent on the Peel Group, which not only owns the BBC's buildings at Salford but also the studio facilities and surrounding property" said Margaret Hodge "As an organization funded by the licence fee, the BBC should set clearly defined expectations for its relationships with its commercial partners. It must make clear that it expects the companies with which it contracts to pay their fair share of tax.
"The BBC's decision to enter into a 10-year contract for studio space at Salford seems to take little account the fast pace of change in the broadcasting industry" she added "The BBC could end up having to pay for studio services it no longer needs."
The report added that "The BBC needs to demonstrate to the BBC Trust that it has assessed the potential risks of the Peel Group having a dominant position at its Salford site and taken appropriate steps to address them. It should also make clear its expectation that, as an organization funded by the licence fee, it expects companies with which it contracts to pay their fair share of tax.
"The fast pace of change in the broadcasting industry means that the BBC's decision to enter a long-term contractual commitment for studio services was risky" it adds "The BBC locked itself into a 10-year contract for studio space at Salford, and committed to a guaranteed minimum annual spend during the contract term. The pace of technological change in the broadcasting sector means that the BBC could end up having to pay for studio services that it no longer needs. In the first year of this contract, the BBC underspent on one type of studio service by £500,000."
Back in July, when the MPs were taking evidence at the BBC, Margaret Hodge had a top rant at Peel… "We do not have a full breakdown of what they do, but the company on the whole, at maximum, pays 10% corporation tax. That is at maximum. That is just totting it up. They do not pay their fair share of corporation tax."
The BBC's Zarin Patel responded: "Madam Chairman, I think it would be really hard for the BBC to take the part of HMRC in judging the tax affairs of companies with which we contract."
To which Hodge replied… "We are not asking you to be HMRC. We are just saying that when you are using taxpayers' money - the licence fee is a form of taxation - it ought to be with companies that pay their fair share back into the communal pot. That is all; it is a very simple proposition."
And added "Talking to people who live in the area, Peel - whatever it is they call themselves, as they have lots of different companies - have almost a monopoly on capital investment in this area, which always worries me as to whether or not the BBC then get the best price for them."
While Margaret Hodge and Meg Hillier have questioned the ethics and benefits of the BBC's move to Salford and the companies involved in that move, the Salford Star very much doubts whether anything is going to actually change.
Meanwhile, Salford Council insists on throwing more and more money at the project without asking any serious questions, and while cutting public services in the city, insisting it has, er, no money…
See also previous Salford Star articles…
• Think The Unthinkable – stop the £3million to BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the £2million a year MediaCityUK slush fund - click here
* BBC Hands Peel £500,000 for Nothing - click here
* How Peel has Cashed in on MediaCityUK with Public Money - click here
* Salford Council Spending Doubles at MediaCityUK - click here
* The Landing Chief Exec Company Rakes in £173,000 - click here
* MediaCityUK Water Taxi Cost Rises to almost £1million - click here
* Salford Council £75million Cuts While £20million on Prestige Spending This Year - click here
Read the full Public Accounts Committee report - click here