Thompson piles on more BBC misery

Another 1626 redundancies have been announced at the BBC, bringing the Director-General's target for job cuts to 3780.

Speaking to staff via a live TV link from Television Centre today (March 21), Mark Thompson revealed that one in five BBC employees now face either redundancy or outsourcing as he delivers brutal efficiency savings to government in return for a further ten years of licence funding.

A further 2350 staff in subsidiaries BBC Broadcast and BBC Resources are facing privatisation, taking the number of staff affected by the shake-up to one in four across the Corporation as a whole.

The announcement of cuts in programme-making areas came only 10 days after unions were told that more than 2000 staff in back-office departments would either be sacked or outsourced.

BECTU, NUJ, and Amicus have repeated their pledge to fight against compulsory redundancies, and have questioned whether the BBC will be able to fulfill the promises being made about conversion of the UK TV system to digital technology, with expanded services, if cuts of this scale were implemented.

"This is the worst day in the BBC's history," said BECTU official Luke Crawley. "I can't see how the BBC will deliver all Thompson's promises about new services after ditching so many staff, and life for those who survive is going to be miserable.

"We're not against an efficient, productive, BBC, but many of Thompson's proposals are going to make it worse, not better, and that's what we'll be fighting against."

Most of the job cuts revealed today are the result of programme departments scaling back their capacity to deal with an expected increase in the BBC's use of independent producers.

To placate the independent production sector, which currently has a legal right to provide 25% of BBC TV programmes but wants a higher quota, Thompson plans to introduce a "window of creative competition" (WOCC) which allows independent companies to bid against in-house departments for commissions.

In parallel with the WOCC, BBC production departments are cutting in-house capacity from 75% to 60%, almost guaranteeing that the independent sector will provide at least 40% of BBC programmes.

Additional cuts in programme areas have been prompted by Thompson's demand for across-the-board efficiency savings of 15%, thought by unions to be a belt-tightening exercise specifically intended to demonstrate to government that the Corporation is capable of value for money savings similar to those imposed on the Civil Service by the Gershon Report.

Detailed cuts in posts among programme-making divisions of the BBC are:

  • Nations & Regions 735
  • Factual & Learning 424
  • News 420
  • Radio & Music 150
  • Drama, Entertainment, & Childrens 150
  • Sport 66
  • New Media 58
  • TV Division 47
March 2005 represents the culmination of a BBC restructuring launched by Thompson in June last year, with actual targets for savings being announced in the following December.

Identifying four key areas of opposition to the BBC, Thompson launched reviews of activity aimed at self-inflicting painful changes before the government took advantage of the current review of the BBC's Royal Charter to impose similar initiatives through compulsory means.

In December 2004 Thompson announced that there would be:

  • 15% cuts in all budgets to deal with claims that the BBC was "fat and inefficient"
  • an effective voluntary quota of 40% for independent TV productions - a move to appease a particularly powerful lobby group
  • transfers of production departments including Sport and Childrens' to Manchester, to answer claims that the BBC was "London-centric"
  • the sale of many of the BBC's commercial subsidiaries in the face of complaints from competitors that the Corporation was using the licence fee to intrude on their profitable turf.

With two major job cut announcements in March, and December's decision to sell subsidiaries - which has already led to BBC Broadcast being put on the market - Thompson has delivered the worst package of change ever seen at the BBC.

The DG's strategy to win a renewal of the BBC's Charter without a reduction in the Corporation's range of activities depends not only on this programme of change, but also on promises made by the BBC to facilitate the UK's total conversion from analogue to digital TV transmission, and a major move into new services like interactive and local TV, and public access on demand to BBC programming, including archive material.

Much of the cash raised by sacking and outsourcing staff will go towards these objectives. Over the next three years Thompson expects to release significant sums to invest in new services as follows:

  • 2005/6 £25m
  • 2006/7 £100m
  • 2007/8 £225m
  • 2008/9 £355m

Some of this investment will translate into new jobs in the future, according to the DG, but these would not be created until the cash had been raised by redundancies, raising the prospect of a phenomenon unions call "the revolving door", where sacked staff leave with severance payments only to be re-hired months later.

Unions are sceptical about Thompson's promises being delivered, despite this new investment, if staff are laid off on the scale he proposes. Many of the cuts, especially in Finance and Human Resources, depend on other people in the BBC taking on the work of those who are made redundant.

Adding a demand for even more output from these staff, on top of the extra administrative duties they will have to shoulder, could bring the production system close to the point of collapse, according to unions.

In his video address to BBC staff today, Thompson acknowledged that they were "going through a period of great change", and committed to handle the cuts "fairly and smoothly", with standard BBC redundancy terms being on offer to all staff whose jobs are cut. He also confirmed that there would be full and thorough negotiation with staff trade unions.

Unions representatives from BBC sites across the UK are due to meet on Wednesday March 23 to discuss their response to the Thompson changes, now that the scale of them is clear. Their policy of opposing compulsory redundancies and privatisation is likely to be reaffirmed, and the BBC could face severe industrial unrest later in the year.

Comments received

If this doesn't bring us all out on strike, it bloody well ought to.

The 40% outsourcing will result in the "silent studio" phenomenon that Greg Dyke abhorred (so do we all).

I believe there should be NO outsourcing , but that's a separate issue....

This is a crime against the BBC, and therefore against Public Service Broadcasting. No-one else DOES PSB anymore, for Christ's sake!

Get the legal side sorted out PRONTO,let's get the ballot going and let's get out on strike. NOW.

Simon, BBC staff, London UK 21 March 2005

I'm really worried about the long term effects of these radical changes. If the public think that TV is bad now...then wait for the next 5 years!

The BBC to me has felt like a great place to get extra training - like a finishing school in TV.

If this is the future then there will be no where left in the country to train and help nurture new talent.

It seems to me that we are picking up the debt of years of 'corporate' abuse!


Robert, BBC staff, London UK 21 March 2005

So much for a job for life.

We are already outsourced to Siemens which on paper looks really good. Wait for the hidden charges to kick in.

Anonymous, BBC 21 March 2005

Post-Hutton, post-News 24 failing to win news channel of the year AGAIN at the Royal Television Society... can the BBC afford to cut corners further?

I am sure the government will not continue to support licence renewal if quality falls further.


Richard, BBC staff, London UK 21 March 2005

It's time to take massive Industrial Action!

All British unionised workers, not just those in television and radio, should walk off the job to support the BBC workers in a nationwide industrial action that will bring the UK to a halt.

Ted, London UK 21 March 2005

Mark Thompson couldn't even be bothered to wear a tie, on the broadcast announcing so many job cuts.

Made me and some colleagues (and we are the ones that have been told we will be redundant in 5 months) feel that it was just another meeting he was going to ....

Undervalued, BBC staff, London UK 21 March 2005

It's time BECTU took a look at how the RMT [Rail Maritime and Transport Union] deal with industrial disputes, it works for them! ...and their members.

Anonymous, BBC staff, London UK 21 March 2005

Mark Thompson reminds me of John Birt ...

No apparent understanding of running a Public Service Broadcaster.

No apparent interest in the staff & organisation.

Just paying lip-service to his political masters.

Presumably like John Birt, Mark Thompson will depart the BBC leaving others to sort out the mess his changes will cause.

John, BBC staff, London UK 22 March 2005

Striking will just play into Thompson's hands. We have to be professional, unlike him, and get political support. The Board of Governors have already been discredited by the Green paper. Why did they have the right to approve his plans?

Anonymous, BBC staff, Glasgow UK 22 March 2005

Mark Thompson says we're all supposed to be more "agile" but there's been no indication of what "agile" means, how we know we're not "agile" now, and how we will know when we're "agile" enough. It sounds to me like he's overdosed on airport lounge management books which might help him when mixing with the 'blue sky thinkers' in Westminster but will mean he'll make a complete mess of the BBC.

Anonymous, BBC staff, London UK 22 March 2005

Could you not see it coming? I would have thought that the sell of BBC Technology would have been a clue to many!

Not even one letter of support was sent to Ariel (except from BBCT staff) so with that kind of "mentality", management will always win.

Andie, BBC, London UK 22 March 2005

I think we need to bear a few obvious points in mind.

If management had any intention of negotiating with the unions in meaningful or constructive way, they would have done so, months ago when planning these changes.

The fact that they are offering negotiations now indicate that they are willing to pay no more than a lip service to what they have already decided to do.

If we begin to negotiate on their terms, we negotiate on the back foot. We will have lost the argument before we start!

The fact that redundancies are phased over three years means the motivation to consolidate union support will require a degree more agitation that if all the cuts were made at one time. As a good many people will be feeling relieved that they were not selected for redundancy in this round and perhaps prefer not to acknowledge that they may be next.

But the fact is the next round of redundancies will come and when they do we will be in a far worse position that now to defend against them.

If in the next few weeks we can organised ourselves in a decisive, deliberate and determined manner and focus on the need to deliver a strong message back to management, then and only then will we have any chance of being taken seriously.

A part of what is occurring here is management announcing plans and then waiting to see what they'll be able to get away with. And they will get away with what ever we let them!

If we do not stand together now and demonstrate our ability to make our own demands there will be no point in us attempting to pretend that we are of any consequence in the proceedings that will follow, other than to help orchestrate our own redundancy package.

We need to stand together and stand together now and we need (each and every one of us) to make sure that our national officials are in now doubt about the fact that we need a show of strength and we need it now.

When we have managements attention, then we can begin to negotiate!

Roy, BBC staff, London UK 22 March 2005

I agree that the unions should move to industrial action ballots - but please don't go for piecemeal action in various departments.

The cuts affect everyone - those departments that aren't scrapped will be expected to work harder. By phasing the cuts over three years it wont make it easier for staff. It will just mean we work in a climate of fear for our jobs and unwillingness to fight for existing terms and conditions. It will be pitiful if we accept these cuts without a fight.

Tim, BBC staff, London UK 22 March 2005

I work for the BBC and am a member of the NUJ. I am directly affected by these cuts. My question is: How many managers and middle managers (who do nothing all day, every day and are a waste of money) are to lose their jobs? Please do not publish my name, as we live in fear!

Anonymous, BBC staff, London UK 22 March 2005

We should ballot for strike action now, it's the only way to fight the cuts. Disrupting the General Election coverage would be a good start.

Anonymous, BBC staff, Glasgow UK 22 March 2005

I'd just like to point out that I happen to one of those middle managers who according to one comment "do nothing all day, every day", and I have been told my job is being phased out.

Well I do work very hard and I am extremely concerned about my just as a hardworking staff who will have no one to represent them at a higher level, surely its time for BBC staff to stand together and stop this petty sniping or we are doomed from the start!

Anonymous, BBC staff, Nations and Regions UK 23 March 2005

In response to Thompson's speech our manager outlined savings proposals for our department. It was a gloomy meeting and it already seems inevitable that the quality of the services we provide will suffer. Thompson's cuts make no sense to me in terms of improving public service broadcasting, not to mention the apparent throw-away attitude to people's jobs.

Industrial action must be decisive and BBC-wide to be effective.

Anonymous, BBC staff, London UK 23 March 2005

As an admirer of the BBC, I can only hope that all of you do whatever is necessary to save the BBC from those who do all in their power to control what people know and think.

Martin, London UK 23 March 2005

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21 March 2005
Amended 22 March 2005
Amended 23 March 2005
Amended 25 May 2005