No deal likely on BBC expenses

BECTU is expecting talks about new expenses rules to end without agreement.

A final draft of the new rules is due to be sent to unions on Monday January 15, and management have already warned that the changes will be implemented on February 1 2001, with or without agreement.

At a national level meeting on January 11, the unions asked for the starting date to be postponed to allow further discussion on major points of difference, especially meal and overnight claims.

However, management appeared to believe that most of the revised proposals tabled at the January 11 meeting were final, and would not be changed even if further talks took place.

Few further amendments were expected to be made by January 15, and if the final document is unacceptable, BECTU plans to ballot members for industrial action, most likely in the form of a work-to-rule.

The prediction that talks would end on January 15 came after management proposed several changes to their draft expenses rules which were originally due to take effect on January 1, but were postponed until February after union protests.

The major change was to meal allowances. Claims for lunch will now be allowed as actuality claims to a maximum of £6, supported by receipts. Staff would be eligible to make a lunch claim provided they were on duty for more than 5 hours, and were more than 5 miles away from any BBC base.

Management were optimistic that an "administrative solution" to the 5 mile radius could be found by January 15, and did not rule out the possibility of the BBC paying tax on meal claims within the radius.

However, as a quid pro quo for reinstating lunch allowances, management proposed to cut their original maximum claim for evening meals from £16 to £10, again on an actuality basis. Staff on detached duty for 24 hours or more would be automatically eligible for an evening meal, but others would still have to work 12 hours or more to qualify.

Overall, the changes in lunch allowances would put areas currently working on capped actuality on ceilings significantly lower than those in force at present. Areas which pay flat scale rates for meals would still be paying up to £16 a day for meals excluding breakfast, but a requirement for receipts would be introduced, and only the sum shown on a given receipt would be reimbursed.

Management proposed no change for reimbursement of overnight expenses, another contested part of the new expenses rules. At the January 11 meeting, they insisted that flat rate "Schedule A" payments would be abolished, and that all staff would move to a capped actuality system with a ceiling of £55 a night, or £61 if breakfast is included.

There would be some circumstances in which higher limits might be approved, for example in Central London, at events where accomodation is scarce, or situations where a room is needed for broadcast activities like location editing.

One concession was made on overnights - the £20 "family and friends" allowance has been re-introduced. Arrangements for "sleepovers" where staff like continuity announcers finish late and take a few hours rest on BBC premises before starting a morning shift, will also remain unchanged.

In response to union criticisms of the revised meal and overnight proposals, management agreed to consider whether the requirement for receipts could be relaxed in situations where they were difficult to obtain, but refused to allow the continuation of scale rate allowances even in areas where they worked smoothly.

Other changes to the management's proposals included a promise that guidelines would be drawn up for issue and use of corporate charge cards, with a provision for managers to authorise claims for accrued interest charges which were not the fault of individuals. Cash advances, however, were not reprieved.

Tools allowances, and the evening dress allowance, were reinstated, and management clarified their proposals for travel claims. Public transport was confirmed as the BBC's default mode of travel for staff, and car travel would be reimbursed at PT rate (20.1p per mile) unless "business reasons" or absence of public transport justified mileage claims at the higher Inland Revenue rate (17p-45p per mile).

Late Night/Early Morning Transport trigger times remain at 10.45pm until 6.30am, with scope for managers to authorise transport "outside the prescribed hours". A contribution from staff may be required if journeys exceed a radius of 30 miles from base.

Further changes in wording were promised by January 15, but the unions remained concerned that there would be too little local flexibility to work outside the national rules. For example, managers may not be able to alter the trigger times on Sundays when public transport is less reliable, and would be prevented from paying mileage costs, instead of taxi fares, unless "exceptional circumstances" prevailed.

Union reps also warned that the final abolition of telephone rental payments in all areas might prompt some staff to decline calls from the BBC at home.

Staff with BBC-issued mobiles will be allowed to make "reasonable" calls to their home numbers without charge, but other private calls will have to be identified and paid by individuals. Anyone with a WAP-enable 'phone is now in posession of a device classified as "computer equipment", and will be liable to pay tax on it.

A section of the new rules covering payment for eye tests and glasses was due to be re-worded by January 15, with the original scale payments re-inserted. Remuneration will remain at £15 for an eye test, £30 for lenses, and £30 for frames.

Management again emphasised at the January 11 meeting that the new policy was being introduced in an effort to rationalise payment of expenses across the Corporations, although they revealed, to union surprise, that BBC Worldwide Ltd, and all the BBC's orchestras would be allowed to continue with separate policies.

Detailed plans for an industrial action ballot among BECTU members over expenses are likely to be discussed at a meeting of the union's BBC Divisional Committee on January 17, once the final draft of the new rules has been received.

12 January 2001