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BBC vows to raise quality as it cuts services

By Ian Burrell

The BBC claims it is embarking on a historic “step change” in its priorities, shifting more money into the production of “quality” programming while cutting the amount spent on the website and closing two digital radio stations, 6 Music and Asian Network.

What had been widely billed by the director-general Mark Thompson as a cost-cutting exercise that would significantly reduce the scale of the BBC's operations — in the face of criticisms about overspending — turned out to be a statement of renewed ambition. The BBC Strategic Review will lead to £600m being “reprioritised” to what the BBC describes as “higher quality content”, with particular attention being paid to strengthening BBC2 and improving the standard of daytime television and the output for children.

The review pledged that overheads will be cut by £100m a year.

Some streamlining will take place on the BBC's popular website, which will be asked to cut its spending by 25% by 2013. “The Strategic Review listed 15 sections of the website that would be shut down, though many of them are already defunct. Also being shut down is amiafreak, a cartoon site advising teenagers on “vaginas, periods and willy worries”.

Mr Thompson promised that every page on the BBC website would carry at least one link to an external site. But the changes outlined in the review are unlikely to appease the BBC's critics in commercial news media who have long argued that the dominance of bbc.co.uk, which has 28 million unique UK-based users every week, inhibits their chances of a viable future.

The Conservatives have consistently warned the BBC that it has grown too big and the shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt indicated yesterday that it needed to act. “I am pleased the BBC is taking a long, hard look at exactly what it should be doing, but the truth of the matter is that we need to see actions not words.”

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw countered by saying that the BBC should not be intimidated by the Tories.

The Strategic Review sets out five “editorial priorities” for the BBC; namely to offer the best journalism in the world, deliver programmes which “inspire knowledge, music and culture”, ambitious UK-produced drama and comedy, outstanding children's content and coverage of events that “bring communities and the nation together”.

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