BBC’s Salford incentives come under fire

Staff at BBC Sport and the sport-centric Radio 5, who are due to move from London to Salford in 2011, are being offered guaranteed home sales, a £5,000 “sweetener” and up to £3,000 to spend on carpets and curtains to encourage them to re-locate to the north-west, where they will also keep their “London weighting” pay allowances.

Sport and Radio 5 are two of five BBC departments based at Television Centre due to make the move in an attempt to spread the corporation’s influence around the country to address, according to the BBC, “concerns that the organisation is not fully representative of the peoples of the UK”. The move involves more than 1,600 staff in total.

The financial incentives for the move have already attracted complaints from lobby groups, while the whole Salford MediaCity complex, of which the BBC is a principle part, is proving very difficult to fill with other occupants, according to the developers this week.

Further complainst about BBC spending are expected: within a year of making the move north, BBC Sport and the rolling-news and phone-in radio channel are expected to deploy large sections of their staff in London in 2012 to work on the London Olympics. One prominent BBC staffer who will not be moving north is Roger Mosey, the former head of sport charged with overseeing the Salford move: his recent transfer to head up the BBC’s Olympic operation will see him continue to be based in London.

All other London-based BBC staff must make a decision whether to move or not by September 30, with most relocating between April and December 2011.

Anyone on continuing contracts or fixed-term contracts with at least two years to run will qualify for the relocation package. Staff who do not qualify for the full relocation package will get a maximum of £8,000 for the move.

The BBC is employing a specialist relocation company, Cartus, for the house purchase scheme, including payment of solicitors’ fees, survey fees and stamp duty.

Cartus would pay eligible staff up to 95 per cent of the market price of their property, based on surveyors’ valuations up front, and up to 100 per cent if the property is resold for the full value. The BBC would incur any loss if the property is resold for less than the guaranteed 95 per cent, and any profit if it sells for more than 100 per cent of the assessed value.

Staff will also be able to reclaim payments for Home Information Packs, search fees, building society charges and mortgage arrangement fees.

The BBC will also pay £350 per trip to travel to Manchester for house hunting or family visits, as well as paying removal costs with a full packing and unpacking service and storage costs for up to three months.

Other benefits include help to get spouses or partners jobs in the area and specialist help with children’s schooling. Staff who qualify and do move will also get another £5,000 “relocation payment” on top for any “additional costs”.

Significantly, when the BBC agreed the deal with the unions, the London housing market was still soaring rapidly, providing the public service broadcaster with the prospect of funding its staff relocation costs from some property speculation. Now, of course, the national housing market is in the midst of a slump, with little prospect of the BBC recouping its costs.

“These payments are a slap in the face to the ordinary taxpayer forced to subsidise such generosity when they are facing the consequences of hard economic times,” Matthew Sinclair, research director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told The Guardian.

The BBC is due to take possession of its first Salford building in August this year, but they may be one of few occupiers in the complex for some time, according to Peel Media, the company developing MediaCity on the outskirts of Manchester. As yet, no north-west-based companies, such as Granada, or the Manchester Evening News, have agreed to move in.

“Persuading people to shift their business is going to be a significant challenge,” Paul Newman, head of communications at Peel Media, one of the companies working on the project, said at a conference yesterday.

“Many are changing their strategy on an almost daily basis. Advertising is falling of a cliff. It clearly doesn’t help – but it does focus people’s minds on what they want to do with their business.”

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