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Cuts will leave BBC2 screening mostly repeats

By Ian Burrell

BBC2 will become a channel on which 55 per cent of programmes are repeats, in an overhaul of the Corporation aimed at saving £700m a year.

The budgets of most of the BBC's digital channels will be trimmed, including BBC3, BBC4, Radio 1 Xtra and Radio 4 Extra. Radio 3 will broadcast far fewer live and orchestral concerts, while Radio 5 Live will be told to drop comedy shows and deploy fewer staff at sporting events.

About 2,000 jobs will be shed over the next five years – including 650 at BBC News – as the Corporation tries to offset a 16 per cent drop in income caused by the TV licence fee being frozen for six years at the current level of £145.50.

Factual programmes will no longer be made in Birmingham, which only a generation ago was home to a major BBC production centre at Pebble Mill. However, Radio 4's long-running serial The Archers will continue to be recorded in the city.

BBC2 will no longer screen original daytime shows, except for some lunchtime news output. Original daytime programming will be left to BBC1, while BBC2 viewers will be offered repeats of BBC4 shows about history, science and the arts, and global news programmes such as Hard Talk.

BBC2, home to such popular programmes as Mock The Week and QI, has been ordered to make fewer "entertainment and panel" shows and will cut its current affairs output by nine hours a year.

BBC3, which has been told to "nurture and develop talent", will be moved to Salford, the BBC's key centre outside the capital.

Over the next decade the organisation will abandon its buildings in White City, west London – home to BBC television for 50 years – and house its London staff in the newly refurbished Broadcasting House, close to Oxford Circus. The BBC's other principal hubs will be in Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol. The Corporation will make further savings through a 15 per cent reduction in the money it spends on bidding for sports rights, including the agreement to share coverage of Formula One with BSkyB.

The BBC News Channel will see 6 per cent trimmed from its budget. The rolling news service will be expected to focus its resources more on covering genuinely important stories and reduce unnecessary spending on what was described as "filler material".

Music lovers will be concerned that Radio 3 must cut 25 per cent of lunchtime concerts and reduce the cost of its evening concerts. The BBC is conducting a review of its orchestras and singers to identify possible savings.

Announcing the changes to staff yesterday, BBC director-general Mark Thompson admitted that the job losses were "significant" but told them "this is about living within our means".

He said the BBC would maintain its reputation by "protecting" key areas of output. Accordingly, Radio 4 and the CBeebies channel will escape any reduction in income, while the flagship channel BBC1 will lose only 3 per cent of its budget.

Introducing the cuts, Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, said: "We cannot do everything we want. Some things we would like to do are luxuries we cannot afford. We have to focus on our core services and deliver them as efficiently as possible." He said the BBC "should be able to run an outstanding public service broadcaster" on its annual budget of £3.5bn.

In essence, the new plan amounts to a reversal of the BBC's strategy in the first decade of this century to expand its footprint by building a portfolio of digital channels which grew into major brands in their own right. In future, BBC4 will operate on a budget reduced by 9.6 per cent and will play a supporting role to BBC2, which has been told to establish itself as the Corporation's "home of authored, original UK drama". BBC2 will itself suffer a 6.1 per cent fall in funding by 2016.

The BBC confirmed yesterday that as a result of these changes, 55 per cent of BBC2's entire schedule would comprise repeats. In its report, it said: "The BBC makes hundreds of hours of output every day. Too much of it is still only broadcast once, even in genres (such as television drama) where carefully planned re-showings have been proven to add value for audiences."

In making the cuts, the BBC has managed to satisfy the demands of the Government that it did not cut any of its national services.

The digital radio channel Asian Network, which had previously been earmarked for closure, will be asked to operate on 66 per cent of its budget and told to stop broadcasting between midnight and 6am and no longer produce dramas or documentaries. Mr Thompson demanded that the strategy, which has involved a mammoth consultation process, produced 4 per cent savings above the 16 per cent required in order to generate an investment fund of £145m a year, which can be ploughed back into key programme areas.

The priority areas are original drama and comedy for BBC1, increased investigations budget for Panorama, additional journalists in China and other fast-developing countries and extra funding for the Proms.

BBC World News will be given additional funds in order to "strengthen the quality and reputation" of the BBC's international news broadcasts.

Life in Salford: Nice building, shame about the food

After all the obstacles that the BBC has overcome to drive through its £400m vision for a new base at Salford, an unexpected problem has been deterring staff from making the trek north: a shortage of local artisan cheesemongers.

BBC staffers reluctant to relocate to Salford have bemused corporation bosses by offering up a series of excuses for staying in London, including the complaint that Manchester did not have enough specialist delicatessens. Director general Mark Thompson told a gathering of North-west business leaders that staff had also claimed they could not move out of the capital because they were a vegetarian. Another said their male partner would never be able to find another job because he was a professional hairdresser.

Mr Thompson told the CBI dinner that one staff member told their line manager: "I liked Didsbury but I only saw one specialist cheese shop which put me off a bit to be honest."

John Axon, owner of the Cheese Hamlet, a specialist cheese maker in Didsbury, said he was confident he could handle all the dairy requirements of relocating BBC staff: "We have got 250 varieties of cheese from a relatively wide collection."

The BBC described Mr Thompson's comments as "light-hearted". Yesterday it was announced that nearly 1,000 extra jobs will move to Salford. So far 1,200 posts have been filled there.

Jonathan Brown

How the cuts will hit...

Fewer panel shows These will fall victim to cuts on BBC2. Its most popular shows include QI, which stands for Quite Interesting, a general knowledge comedy fronted by Stephen Fry. Mock The week, a satirical view of the week's news, is a combination of stand-up, games and discussion.

Regional studios to be axed The BBC closed down its famed Pebble Mill studio in Birmingham in 2004 and now it looks like the UK's second city could be losing its major importance to the Beeb's production efforts altogether, with the possibility of the drama and factual departments being relocated to Salford.

Less spent on sport Sport programming is expected to take a 15 per cent cut, leading to auctions for expensive events such as Formula One racing, likely to be left for ITV and Sky to fight over. The cut to Radio 4 Longwave will hurt fans of Test Match Special's cricket commentary and Radio 5 Live will also suffer.

And more... ... old favourites With more repeats looking likely to be filling the schedules on BBC1, the Corporation is expected to turn to its prestige back catalogue of documentaries and comedies, such as David Attenborough's nature documentaries, meaning there's a good chance we'll be seeing more of the nation's favourite nature broadcaster long after he's retired.

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