Thompson gets go-ahead for BBC investment plans

Liz Thomas

BBC chairman Michael Grade has underlined his support for director-general Mark Thompson’s proposals for greater investment by the Corporation in drama, comedy and entertainment.

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch, Grade said that before giving Thompson full backing he and the governors had “tested to destruction” the director-general’s plans for the radical overhaul of the Corporation designed to save £320 million and to safeguard the organisation’s future in the run-up to the renewal of its charter.

Among the proposals is the creation of a so-called Window of Creative Competition that will make 25% of programme commissions available to in-house BBC producers, independents or production houses owned by broadcasters on top of the existing 25% quota set by parliament.

Commenting on this, Grade said he is committed to ensuring that Corporation agreements with independent producers and those in-house are fair. He stressed it was important that the scheme applied a best practice approach that is as accessible for indies as it is for in-house producers. The BBC commissioned 175 independent companies in 2003/4, spending £308 million – an increase of 64% since 2000/1.

Grade added: “The governors will take a lot of time and care that these agreements are equitable and fair to both parties. At the end of the day the BBC has a duty to get the best programmes. There are arguments for the BBC to retain substantial in-house capacity. However, it is absolutely clear the independent sector is more than capable of producing programmes as good as or better than the BBC can.”

Meanwhile broadcasting union Bectu has called for a boycott of a questionnaire organised by management about Thompson’s proposals to relocate parts of Radio 5 Live, BBC Sport, children’s digital channel CBBC and CBeebies to Manchester. The union said it was much too early in the process for its 1,800 BBC members to start answering questions about whether they wish to move or not.

* X-Files star Gillian Anderson has secured a £500,000 deal with the BBC to appear in an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House. Anderson will play the role of Lady Honoria Dedlock in the costume drama, which the Corporation is billing as high-quality with a huge ensemble cast. The show is to air twice a week in the style of a soap opera for a total of 20 episodes.

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