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Some eye-popping statistics from the BBC orchestras report

Try this for size: the average annual spend of a BBC orchestra is £6.1 million, compared to £9.7 million for independent orchestras funded by the Arts Council.

Why so low? Here’s what John Myerscough writes in his report:

The principal reason for the lower cost of the BBC orchestras is their lesser investment in public concert-giving and lighter call on their
administration, with lesser call on marketing and concert-planning and no need for fundraising. The PG administration staffs average 17 FTEs (full-time employees, we think), which compares to 31 FTEs in the independents. The teams are notably lean and undertake some sharing of services amongst themselves. After taking the differences into account, they appear to represent good value.

Basically, the BBC orchs spend less on admin – and pay their chief execs far less than those in the public-funded sector.

The total annual costs of BBC orchestras and performing groups is £32.3 million. Individual budgets range from £5.0 million for the BBC Concert Orchestra to £8.1 million of BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Fascinating stuff.

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  1. FTE = full-time equivalent I think, e.g. 1 fte could be made up of 5 people working part time, 1 day each per week, etc.

    It’s amazing how much “marketing” costs when you are publically funded, and how little it suddenly costs when it’s your own money, (or alternatively when you have the rest of the BBC at your disposal!) Seems like a bargain anyway for some very fine orchestras.

  2. Can’t let that one past Tim! Marketing a non-BBC orchestra requires paying the going rate for advertising in very expensive areas such as Outdoor and mass media (TV and Radio), which the BBC orchestras don’t have to, of course. Income from ticket sales is not so important to the BBC orchestras either, therefore less is spent on marketing.
    p.s. I have worked in marketing for both types.

  3. Halldor says:

    If comparisons are eing drawn between BBC and ACE-funded orchestras in the UK, it might be worth taking a look at the number of public concerts they promote, respectively. I suspect the BBC bands perform appreciably less (self-promoted main home-venue seasons of 15-20 concerts, as against 60-70 for some of the non-BBC orchestras). And there seems less of an imperative to see those concerts filled. All of this has an impact on marketing costs. Also, I can’t think (off the top of my head) of any BBC orchestra (in the UK regions at least) heading up major regional education / community partnerships or running any youth ensembles. Happy to be corrected, of course.

    Which is not to say that they aren’t well run, and that they don’t fill a vital place in our orchestral ecology (as well as being terrific ensembles in their own right) – only that it wouldn’t be realistic to draw direct parallels with non-BBC orchestras, especially with regard to efficiency and value for money.

  4. I think this article could be seen as a little misleading. Only about £1.5million of regional orchestra budgets comes from the Arts Council of England. The rest, they have to make up from elsewhere…

  5. Stephen Maddock says:

    These ‘statistics’ are completely misleading. The BBC orchestras don’t have to raise sponsorship, sell £1m – £2m of tickets, run a pension scheme, manage a Board or local authority relationships, run choruses or a youth orchestra, run their own buildings or record labels etc etc like the independent orchestras do. They are totally different kinds of organisations. Added, to which, a huge amount of the average £9.7m spend by the independent orchestras goes on foreign touring. These are gross expenditure figures drawn (I presume) from annual accounts, not net cost.

    • The BBC don’t run choruses, eh, Stephen?
      Two of the BBC orchestras do in fact run symphony choruses, in case you hadn’t noticed.

      • …and the independents don’t seem to be running them on a shoestring:

        • Halldor says:


          Not quite sure what you intend to prove with that last link – that £24-27k for a highly skilled and experienced managerial position based in central London is extravagant? If so, I’d respectfully disagree; for comparison, when the BBC Singers advertised for a directly equivalent position last year, it was advertised at pay band 7, ie £29-43k.

          The fact remains that few BBC orchestras, if any, are obliged to fulfil as many roles as their non-BBC equivalents; leaving aside the question of choruses, they’re not obliged to run Development / fundraising departments; maintain independent finance, payroll, IT and HR functions, or maintain and run buildings, on top of the other things mentioned by @Stephen. In no sense are we comparing like with like here.

  6. Stephen Maddock says:

    You’re quite right, two of the BBC orchestras do indeed run very fine choruses. My point, rather, was that many of the independent orchestras now run several choruses as well as a range of youth ensembles (four choruses and a youth orchestra in our case at the CBSO) and, of course, you need to employ staff to do this, just as you need staff for all the other functions I noted above. A simple comparison of headcount is only telling part of the story, and not comparing like with like.

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