Since the move was proposed in 2005, executives at the Corporation have maintained a public stance that the project, involving the transfer of five departments from the capital, would save money in the long run.
On a visit to the Salford MediaCity site in 2006, Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, declared: “This is a project which will be very cost effective. “In the long term it makes very, very good sense for the public, for the licence fee payers, in terms of value for money.”
Supporters of the move claimed that the £350 million up-front cost of moving to Salford would be more than outweighed by the savings to be made by selling Television Centre in west London and avoiding other costs of employing staff in the capital.
Yet the original value-for-money case presented to the BBC’s executive board in 2006 – disclosed to this newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act – shows that it was projected at the time that moving to Salford would be far more expensive than simply staying in London and renovating the BBC’s facilities there.
The document, headed “Strictly confidential” and entitled “BBC North – the value for money case”, states that compared with the cost of staying in London, the net cost of moving to Salford could be anything from £75 million more expensive to £15 million cheaper.
However, the projection takes into account £16 million in sponsorship funding for the BBC Philharmonic, from the government and Salford council, which was only available to the BBC if it decided to move north.
Stripping out this state subsidy, the move to Salford would have been anywhere from £1 million to £91 million more expensive than staying in London.
The cost projections in the 2006 document were made before the property price crash, which began in 2007 and which will make the move to Salford even more expensive.
In addition to reducing the revenue that the BBC will generate from the sale or lease of its defunct sites in London, the property slump will disrupt a scheme being operated by the Corporation to guarantee to buy the London homes of its employees who agree to move to Salford.
A second report obtained by this newspaper, drawn up for BBC management in October 2008 by relocation consultancy Governetz, says that the price crash will lead to a cost overrun on the home purchasing scheme of up to £8 million.
The scheme, operated by private sector partner Cartus, guarantee employees who are moving to Salford 95 per cent of the asking price of their London homes.
The slump in property prices is likely to add £11 million in total to the cost of the scheme, with the BBC directly liable for between £4 million and £8 million of the shortfall.
Governetz cautioned the loss could be greater still. Of three senior BBC managers who had been relocated through the scheme in the previous 15 months, only one had sold their home at asking price.
If that pattern were repeated more widely, the report warns, potential losses “could therefore be far higher than the £11 million postulated”.
The Governetz report delivered a damning assessment of the way in which the BBC had managed the move.
It concluded: “In all the circumstances it seems clear that the BBC is at high risk through over-dependence on contractor Capita and in particular sub contractor Cartus, weakness of project management control and wholly inadequate staff resourcing.”
The document warned that the BBC would struggle to persuade enough staff to move if these problems were not addressed, and said the Corporation risked becoming “mired in an employee relations disaster” by September 2009.
To date, 158 London-based BBC employees have chosen not to accept relocation and instead to enter the corporation’s redeployment programme, in which the BBC looks for alternative roles for staff in their present location.
Matthew Sinclair, research director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is incredibly disappointing if the BBC’s move to Salford is yet another Government efficiency drive that will wind up costing taxpayers more than it has saved.
“If this is the quality of their decision making, licence fee payers will feel they are getting poor value from expensive BBC managers, with their huge pay and extravagant perks.”
A BBC spokesman said: “We believe the BBC has a role to play in ensuring that the whole of the UK is reflected on network programmes as strongly as possible and that the licence fee is more evenly spread across the country.
“We have never presented Salford as a money-saving project. That said we are working as hard as we can to ensure that the project is delivering the highest possible value for money. In the long term – indeed, over 20 years – we expect savings on London operating costs.”