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
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.
Amended 22 March 2005
Amended 23 March 2005
Amended 25 May 2005