BBC accused of using Manchester move as fee bargaining chip

Political pressure has been mounting on the BBC this week to select a site for a proposed media centre in Manchester that could create 8,000 to 10,000 jobs.

The corporation indicated to Press Gazette on Tuesday that it would not be pushed on the matter of the move to Manchester, despite pressure from more than 70 MPs to make a decision.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Earlier this week the Department of Culture, Media and Sport indicated when they might be able to tell us about a licence fee settlement which they are now saying is towards the end of this year.

"The governors have always said that they will base their decision on the move to Manchester on value for money and affordability. One of the factors is the level of the licence fee settlement, but it is not the only factor."

More than 70 MPs in all parties have united behind a plea for BBC governors, at their meeting this week, to confirm the decision to relocate to Manchester, first announced in principle in December 2004.

The MPs' move reflects impatience at the lack of progress since then, arousing concern that the BBC is using the Manchester move as a bargaining counter in its negotiations with the Government over the licence fee.

Ministers as well as Northwest MPs have expressed their delight at the proposed move. But both chairman Michael Grade and director general Mark Thompson have told politicians that the move is dependent on the outcome of the licence fee bid.

Now MPs, most of them from the North, are pressing the BBC governors to choose between two sites suggested for the relocation. These are Quay Street in Manchester, where Granada TV is now based, or an 11-acre site in Salford.

In April this year, the BBC received best and final offers from the two councils in Manchester and in Salford for their propositions for a media zone, which the BBC is going to be part of.

Since then the team behind the ‘BBC North' project has been conducting a thorough evaluation of the bids and has been looking into the comparative risks, benefits and costs of the two.

The BBC's spokeswoman said: "We have gone through the process where we report on it to the various committees at the BBC, including the executive board, and it is due this week to be reviewed by the governors. Obviously it is in their hands as to what comes out of that meeting and the final decision over Manchester rests with them."

The campaign to pressure the BBC is backed by John Whittingdale, Tory chairman of the Commons media select committee, and several former ministers, among them Chris Mullin, Jane Kennedy and John Battle.

Tory shadow media minister Hugo Swire claimed the BBC licence bid settlement was being delayed because of tough bargaining behind the scenes, after new Broadcasting Minister Shaun Woodward told MPs the announcement would come "later this year".

But a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "We have never named a specific date for the announcement of the final settlement.

"As Broadcasting Minister Shaun Woodward made clear to Parliament, we will announce the decision later this year, in good time for the new settlement to take effect in April 2007."

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