Gov't considering BBC Worldwide sale

Part of a list of assets that could be sold to boost treasury

LONDON -- BBC bosses look set to come under further pressure to consider the sale of commercial arm BBC Worldwide after it emerged Tuesday that the division was on a list of government-owned assets being considered for a full or partial sell-off.

The government recommendation has been rejected by the pubcaster -- and comes just one day after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that public sector bosses earning over £150,000 ($244,000) a year -- including those at the BBC -- would have to justify their salaries.

BBC Worldwide has been included as an asset for possible sale in a new report: Her Majesty's Government Operational Efficiency Program Asset Portfolio, published Tuesday, which sets out a list of U.K. assets that are being lined up to be sold off to raise cash for the Treasury.

The report noted that any decision to sell off BBC Worldwide remained with the BBC's oversight committee, the BBC Trust, but pointed out that "the government continues to encourage the BBC Trust to look at the options for greater financial and operational separation for BBC Worldwide, including a sale or partial sale, perhaps as part of the BBC's ongoing strategic review of its existing activities."

Worldwide, which generated revenues of £1 billion ($1.7 billion) last year, oversees a portfolio of BBC-branded international channels including BBC America and Animal Planet, and licenses programs and formats for the BBC and a range of independent producers.

But a spokeswoman for the Trust rejected the recommendation in a statement.

"We note the Government's report. Worldwide is not up for sale. The recent commercial review did not set out to consider ownership, but to improve the operation of Worldwide within its current ownership structure.

"However, any business operates in a dynamic environment. We continue to keep an open mind about the appropriate ownership structure for Worldwide," the statement added.

The cash-strapped U.K. government, which is borrowing 90% of U.K. GDP to shore up the finances of the public and financial sectors following the bank bailout last year, is running a slide rule across a whole slew of government-owned assets and infrastructure projects, and has identified BBC Worldwide as a business that could be sold off.

"Through the publication of this document, the government is inviting engagement with the market on options and opportunities to manage businesses in a smarter way and where appropriate realize value while ensuring that core public policy values continue to be achieved," the report concluded.
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