the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

24 April 2009

Peter Salmon, director designate of BBC North, has insisted that people will be 'at the heart' of the new operation which is set to take up residence at Salford Quays in 2011.

Speaking to delegates to BECTU's annual conference on 24 April, Mr Salmon insisted that his ambition was to develop a creative centre which would be seen as the 'very best place to work', reminiscent of Granada Television in its heyday.

As someone who is from the North West, Mr Salmon spoke convincingly of his desire to enable BBC staff to experience 'bigger, broader and more interesting careers' as a result of the new technology, and new ways or working, which it is planned will define the new venture.

But whilst BECTU representatives voiced no qualms about the BBC's decision to make a significant contribution, via Salford's Media City UK, to its aims to spend 50 per cent of the licence fee in the nations and regions by 2016 (30 per cent is the current level), fears were expressed that some staff are being left behind.

There was criticism that staff in BBC Resources are being displaced whilst the BBC's partnership with ITV, in the resources business 3sixtymedia, leaves staff not in the NW with no place to go.

Unfortunately, Mr Salmon was unable to confirm whether 3sixtymedia would be supplying resources staff to the BBC at Salford Quays. He also predicted that talks about trying to get ITV to commit to Salford Quays would continue.

In the hour and a half long meeting, which also heard from Ken Lee, Head of HR for BBC North, BECTU impressed upon the BBC's managers that success at Salford Quays would depend on investment in staff and upon the right mix of staff and freelances.

Whilst Ken Lee explained that he could not say what the ratio of freelances to staff would be, he did say that where fixed term contracts were to be used, that this would be in respect of genuine contract roles.

"Staffing models must be honest ... where a role is deemed to be a fixed term contract, this must relate to a defined piece of work," said Mr Lee.

The Head of HR also encouraged the meeting when he stated that BBC North should start out performing better in terms of the BBC's diversity commitments. He said that he, and his team, intended to take full advantage of the new start presented by Salford Quays and that he looked to BECTU to help to make diversity happen.

Working with the recognised unions

Mr Lee also underlined his belief in working with the recognised unions. He said that early discussions, openness on the part of the BBC to the unions' ideas and, lastly, trust, would lead to more cooperation and less formality in the way decisions are made.

The BBC will know next week who amongst its senior management team wants to relocate to the North; from there, staff in the affected departments will also have to make the same all-important decision.

Only then will it become clear how many staff BBC North is likely to need to recruit from the local communities, bearing in mind the 1000 or so staff currently working from the base in Oxford Road, Manchester.

BBC Sport, Childrens', Formal Learning, BBC Five Live and parts of FM&T are all departments currently based in London which will move to Salford Quays; meanwhile colleagues in parts of Entertainment, Comedy and Drama, Current Affairs, Network Radio, Religion, local and regional departments and the BBC Philharmonia Orchestra will move the shorter distance from Oxford Road.

In closing the debate, which was chaired by the BBC Division's, Mark Scrimshaw, BECTU's President, Tony Lennon, urged the BBC to invest heavily in good training and to listen carefully to the union's representations on new ways of working.

Any caution which the union might express, "should not be taken as a sign that the union does not want new ways of working, but rather that we want to make sure that the new ways will work," Tony Lennon explained.

The debate, held on the eve of BECTU's annual conference in Bournemouth, will be the first of many discussions  between the BBC and BECTU about the development of Salford Quays and its impact on the BBC in the North and elsewhere in the UK.