BBCT bidders given jobs hit list

Both companies left in the race to buy BBC Technology have been shown a secret plan for redundancies.

Code-named "Project Leo", the plan was drawn up last year by managers in BBCT in a desperate bid to meet targets for price cuts and, according to rumours at the time, could involve hundreds of job cuts among the company's staff.

Although it was shelved after the BBC announced that it was putting BBC Technology up for sale, BECTU has now learned that full details of the redundancy plan have been given to Accenture and Siemens, the last two bidders in the sell-off contest. A third short-listed bidder, US giant CSC, abruptly dropped out of the race on June 10.

At a meeting today, June 14, senior executives told the union that Project Leo, which was "too upsetting" to reveal to the company's 1400 staff, had been freely handed over to BBCT's would-be purchasers.

Union negotiators were not told what the plan contained after refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement, but believe that BBCT's prospective new bosses now have a job-by-job list of the redundancies needed to meet savings targets.

"We always knew there was a risk of staff being fired once the sale went through, but it's astonishing that the current management are not just making the bullets, but loading them into the new employer's gun", said BECTU official Luke Crawley.

Since the sale of BBCT was announced last November, BECTU has warned that job cuts would be inevitable once the company was taken over. One of the main motives for the sell-off was the BBC's aim to save £20-30m a year on technology costs - a target that the union said could be achieved only through redundancies in the company.

In early discussions about the sale, BBC management argued that if job cuts were needed, BBCT's staff would be better off working for a large IT company with greater opportunities of redeployment, rather than the BBC itself.

However, staff themselves have since demanded that any cuts should be made while BBCT remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC, due to fears that severance terms and pensions would be worse after the sell-off.

BECTU has pushed since January 14 this year for talks about Project Leo to prevent the sale of BBCT by achieving savings in-house, even if redundancies are necessary. These talks were meant to have started at the June 14 meeting, but were aborted when the company management demanded that all union representatives present should sign non-disclosure agreements to keep the plan secret.

Negotiators said they were "insulted" by the demand, since the purpose of discussing Project Leo was to give union members an opportunity to assess whether the price to them of keeping BBCT in-house was acceptable.

Although management refused to reveal where the job cuts had been planned to fall, some pointers have emerged in the last few months.

  • The original advertisement for a 10-year exclusive contract which goes to the purchaser of BBCT, published in the European Commission's Official Journal (OJEC) last December, was written as if the sell-off was almost entirely concerned with Information Technology, and missed out the crucial broadcast engineering and consultancy services that the company provides. Union officials inferred from this that the privatisation exercise had originally been inspired by cost problems in IT.

  • The decision to include in the sale Broadcast Services, including BBC Television's nerve-centre the Central Communications Area in London, was referred to the BBC's Executive Committee at least once, indicating that expected cost-savings - possibly through redundancies - had to be weighed against the risk of channels dropping off-air after cuts were made.

BECTU has already given notice to the BBC of its plan to run an industrial action ballot among its members in BBC Technology, on the grounds that insufficient time has been allowed for negotiations about staff terms and conditions, and in protest at the management's refusal to give cast-iron guarantees about job security, pensions, and pay, if the sale goes through.

14 June 2004