BBC North director hits back at The Sunday Times FOI report

Peter Salmon, director of BBC North, has hit back at critics of the BBC’s move to MediaCityUK in Salford and the response to a Freedom of Information request that has been used to bring fresh criticism to the project.

Writing in his blog on the BBC website, Salmon claims that the project has faced criticism ‘before the first stone was laid at Salford Quays’ and that media in the south claimed it to be a ‘vanity project’ that would never succeed.

He said that the move would help create ‘a new BBC for the digital age’ and highlighted projects that it had launched involving the community in the north of England including partnerships with produce Frankenstein’s Wedding…Live In Leeds as well as the Doctor Who theatre production The Crash of the Elysium.

“We've also been laying the foundations for partnerships with local universities and schools through Connect & Create,” explained Salmon. “Over two hundred students have completed work placements with the BBC and we have run specific placements with Vision+Media North West as well as Salford University. And as vitally, we are making a real commitment to local employment and training. So far we have recruited over 400 new people to BBC North and launched dedicated apprenticeship and ambassador.”

He added that, at the time of writing, over 700 members of staff were now working at the BBC in Salford, a number which would rise to 2,300 by April 2012, with 55% moving from London.

“So far, everything is going according to plan and we remain on time and on budget,” commented Salmon before turning his attention to address criticism that followed the release of an FOI to The Sunday Times at the weekend.

The FOI saw the BBC release its Risk Register for BBC North, detailing all hypothetical risks to the business, including worst case scenarios.

“This weekend, The Sunday Times pulled together a story under the misleading headline 'Auntie Fears Making No Friends In The North'. Inevitably they were very quick to list the most attention-grabbing risks listed in the register - everything from the loss of key staff and the potential reduction in programme quality to failing to understand Northern audiences or meeting efficiencies. Needless to say they didn't - for the sake of a more balanced report - make clear to their readers the precise nature of the register or the mitigations listed against these risks in their story,” said Salmon.

“It would be nice to hope that even our harshest critics could take a step back and look at the bigger picture, to stop their hectoring and begin to embrace a future that isn't London-centric. Of course, London will always remain central to our national Creative Industries, but good things can and are happening beyond the capital too.

“The North is amazingly rich with talent, people with promise and companies with amazing ideas like Sumo (Sheffield), Brass (Leeds), Amaze (Manchester), Conker Media (Liverpool), Pearl Works Productions (Yorkshire), Soundscape Productions (York), True North (Leeds) and Red (Manchester) to name but a few. All of them are making a real contribution to the future of television, radio and online and BBC North wants to help encourage, support and work with them.

“That is our ambition and - touch wood - we remain on track to realise this. But if we do encounter a bump in the road, or have to swerve unexpectedly for whatever reason, we should be confident that the Risk Register will help us find a solution,” he concluded.

The full blog post by Salmon can be read here.

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