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Jan 24, 2015

A glass half empty?


Reception BH 1

I wonder why so many of us tend to focus on the negative aspects of an issue? It seems that our default position is that the glass is half empty? What would happen if we were to take a more holistic approach by weighing up both the negative and positive dimensions? The recent NAO publication on Managing the BBC Estate and associated press comment is a case in point.

As somebody who played a part in;-

  • Opening up the BBC to its audiences
  • Reducing the property footprint by 29%
  • Providing fit for purpose workplaces for the digital age

I feel that the NAO captured the essence of the situation when it said;- “the BBC has made good progress in rationalising and upgrading its estate… improved the use of available space and the cost of running much of the estate compares well with external cost benchmarks” – yet the reviews focus more on the negative aspects. Bottom line is the BBC estate was in a poor state at the end of 20th century and it now has space which enables the Corporation to continue to pump out great content to 97% of the UK population.

One could say that I’m biased however, the facts confirmed by the NAO audit speak for themselves;-

  • A large proportion of the estate has been upgraded and environmental performance improved
  • 100,000 members of the public have been on a visit to Broadcasting House since it opened in 2013
  • The size of the estate has reduced from 640,000m² to 457,500m²
  • Excluding the costs of Broadcasting House the cost of running the estate is well below (14%) external benchmarks
  • The efficiency of space has improved – between 2008 and 2013, square metres per person reduced from 14.8m² to 12m² – a 19% reduction

So the conclusion is that the BBC has made good progress in rationalising and upgrading its estate but the end result is distorted by the Broadcasting House costs. This is fair comment. However, looking back over the last decade Broadcasting House was a difficult project and it gave rise to a lot of challenge and sleepless nights. For me, the end result justified the effort in that the BBC has secured a value for money solution which will be regarded as one of the great public buildings of the 21st century. It is, in my humble opinion, a reinvigorated spiritual home for the BBC which the BBC can be proud of, London can be proud of and Britain can be proud of. Yes, the costs of delivering this very unusual, if not unique, building were high and the operational costs are much higher than those of a traditional central London corporate headquarters office. However,  I contend that Broadcasting House and the costs associated with it are value for money and as the NAO audit confirmed the BBC in continuing to squeeze and optimise space utilisation will see further value arising over time. But measuring the raw occupancy cost is just part of the equation, let me lay out some other factors;-

  • Firstly – finding comparisons for this creative powerhouse is nigh on impossible as it’s not an office, indeed Westminster town planners classified the development of a new home for the BBC under the generic term ‘Sui Generis’ a use which cannot be classified using standard categories such as office, retail or residential.
  • Secondly – by consolidating the old Broadcasting House, Bush House (the former home of World Service) and the news hub from Television Centre all under one roof calls for a very special building with lots of resilience, digital broadcast kit and security. As the entire building has been designed to operate as a backdrop for content with camera points littered throughout, BBC journalists can shoot material anywhere. In a post 911 period this did not come cheap.
  • Thirdly – there is the creative dividend which is another factor, difficult to measure yet it exists in the buzz one feels when walking around, the delight of audiences visiting shows in the revamped art deco radio theatre and the feedback from journalists that they can be more creative in this new hub of 28 different languages. It reminded me of one of the BBC Public Purposes – bring Britain to the world and the world to Britain. I wonder how that can be measured?


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