Former BBC CTO John Linwood to take legal action over his sacking

By Sooraj Shah
30 Jan 2014 View Comments

The BBC's former chief technology officer (CTO) John Linwood will take legal action against the organisation over his sacking.

The BBC had sacked Linwood in July over the failed £98m digital production system, after being suspended in May, with the organisation's chief executive Tony Hall stating that the project had "wasted a huge amount of licence fee payers' money".

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But Linwood has defended his role in the project, which was part of the Digital Media Initiative, aimed at changing the way staff developed, used and shared multimedia material.

In evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee, Linwood claimed that "nothing existed then or exists today in the market-place which can meet all the BBC's stated needs".

He admitted that the project was difficult and experienced delays, but said that his team "delivered a substantial amount of the DMI technology" and that the technology worked or "could, with limited further testing, have worked".

He added that much of the technology such as the Metadata Archive is in use in the BBC today by more than 5000 employees, while other technology had the capability of being used.

The former CTO stated that much of the project was delayed because of the large number of changes requested by the BBC to the requirements which has been previously specified by the organisation.

A key example of this was the production tools which according to Linwood were functionally complete by October 2012, but the BBC then told the executive board in May 2013 that there had been a change in business direction and the original vision of DMI was no longer valid, meaning that the production tools would not be required.

"Over the early months of 2012, it had become evident that the business was not speaking with one voice in relation to its requirements for production tools and that there was no senior owner on the business side who would take responsibility for implementation of the technology," he said.

There were technology issues as well, but any major issues had been addressed by October 2012, he said.

Linwood said that Accenture, which reviewed the Metadata Archive, "made no finding of technology failure", and slammed the BBC for telling the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Accenture had found in its review that "the kit doesn't work" and is "worth nothing", claiming that these were false allegations.

"To the best of my knowledge and belief, and based on the reporting to me by the project team throughout the project, the DMI technology which we built works," he said.

Linwood also said that the level of write-down was too high, but that at a finance committee meeting in April 2013, the BBC's director general said he wanted to "maximise the write-down". The executive board wrote off the full value of the DMI project, some £53m on 13 May 2013, Linwood said.

"In light of what had been delivered, the technology which was in use and ready to be used, my view was and remains that the scale of the write-down was unjustified," he argued.

Senior and former senior members of the BBC, including former director general Mark Thompson will give further evidence to the PAC on Monday 3rd February.

The chair of the PAC, Margaret Hodge, said: "The BBC needs to learn from the mistakes it made and ensure that it never again spends such a huge amount of licence fee payers' money with almost nothing to show for it".

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