8am GMT

BBC sell-off hit by £15m hitch

The sale of studios and post-production subsidiary BBC Resources is understood to have hit a hurdle after it emerged that the corporation could be left with a shortfall of around £15m.

Mediaguardian.co.uk has learned that around £50m is needed to cover the transfer of the pensions of BBC Resources staff to a potential new employer.

However, estimates of the amount the sale could earn vary widely - from £150m down to £35m.

Last year BBC Resources made a profit of £5 million on sales of £126 million.

If the BBC has to cover the £50m pension shortfall but the sale of BBC Resources raises only the lowest valuation, it could be left with a net loss of £15m.

In August, the BBC put the commercial subsidiary, which runs the corporation's studios, post production and outside-broadcast operations up for sale.

The sale process, led by Ernst & Young, invited bids for the whole of the BBC Resources division or each of its three principal operations individually.

Insiders said the BBC was hoping a surplus in the corporation's pension fund could be used to offset the £50m gap. But the pension fund's trustees have told them that cannot be done.

One corporation source said: "This is being discussed at the highest level."

A meeting is due to take place later this month between the corporation and unions about the sale of BBC Resources.

The Bectu general secretary, Gerry Morrissey, said: "The next key stage for us is when we see what bids come in for BBC Resources."

Commenting on the problem with the pension fund, Mr Morrissey said: "If the BBC gets less than £50million for BBC Resources then how can it fulfil its duty of care to licence fee payers?"

The BBC wants to use the cash to plough into international commercial expansion and content.

A BBC spokesman said: "The sale of BBC Resources will not leave a deficit in the BBC pension fund on an ongoing basis.

"As you would expect with a process of this kind, the BBC is having ongoing discussions with the pension trustees about the pension fund arrangements following the sale of BBC Resources.

"The trustees are committed to ensuring the scheme is properly funded to meet its future obligations."

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